Is Chennai secretly cool because it lives up to a certain pretentious yardstick, or has it always been so?
Is Chennai cool? There’s a gentle breeze blowing right now, but it’s been simmering for the last few days.
Recently, a friend of mine from Hyderabad linked me to this article and asked if it resonated with me. He loves Chennai because of the circle of friends here, food, beach and the weather, which oddly enough, put its best behaviour on display during the two occasions he visited. Needless to say, the sambar, a drive down ECR on a mildly rainy day, a great movie experience at Sathyam, which included some serendipitous celebrity spotting and some crazy partying later saw him leave the city with a heavy heart and multiple repetitions of "your city is way cooler machan". You can tell a bloke’s converted when he says machan instead of macha.
If this article he shared is any representation of the city that I have grown up believing is Chennai, either I’ve grown up in a completely different city or I’m in a parallel universe. In order to lay my disbelief at rest, I have decided to go ahead and analyse it.
The author has chosen four representatives to explain why Chennai, as he affirms, is “secretly cool”. To be honest, I haven’t heard of these people, although a couple of their surnames sound familiar. That is not to say relatively unknown people shouldn't represent my city, for it is relatively unknown people that came together and helped it stay afloat during the deluge last year.
By my own assessment, I consider this city, by virtue of being its resident, reasonably cool. On a scale of the Ice House ice bars imported from America to keep our colonial masters from melting into the Bay of Bengal to the cappuccino at Starbucks, let’s say we’re about as cool as the Aavin milk packet that gets dropped at 5 am outside my door.
Then why do I feel like that kid who studied hard all his life, and even took extra classes, only to have an out-of-syllabus question slammed at him for 16 marks in a 30 mark test?
I read further, hoping to find something I could relate to, skipping past an ill-informed comparison with Bombay about the lack of places to catch up over a drink, and finally begin to empathise with one of the 'dudes' who says he started drinking quite late in life. Except, he attempts some self-deprecatory humour, calling himself a “sissy” in the process, but hey, what’s a men’s magazine without the obligatory man-shaming and casual sexism?
The article goes on to talk about sporting infrastructure and a sense of community. Someone calls the city an “expanding village of sorts”, and another takes credit for bringing back an active lifestyle into the city from the various places he’s been to. I’m clutching at the straws here, trying to find something I can nod along to and say “yes, I totally get you bro, we’ve got Ultimate Frisbee and the best molaga bajji!”. But no, the topic suddenly moves to surfing.
To be honest, I have no opinion on surfing. Great, Chennai has a surf school. Am I going to bring it up at the next terrace party at Upper West Mam, as my friend likes to call her West Mambalam house? Probably not, and for the same reason I wouldn't take a doorknob to the party as a present.
I increasingly find myself trying to feel sorry for this 'manel' as they discuss with the admirable surprise of the uber elite, how even their houses had water during the floods and how some kids on the roads helped clean it up.
They then talk about motorbikes and racing. No reference to Thala Ajith and therefore, as a normal Chennaiite, I cannot relate. At some point in the article, there is mention of a racer named “Rajini” and the author quotes himself as saying “hmm, Rajini from Tamil Nadu, eh?”.
Of course, how can a pointless article about Chennai be without its Rajini reference, because anything with Rajini is cool yaar, no?
More Vogon poetry about racing, rich people crashing their bikes and suddenly the article is over.
The author has decided that Chennai has lived up to his definition of coolness, which seems to comprise a bunch of elitist criteria such as the presence of a certain five star hotel pub that will pour him his complimentary whiskey in exchange for gratuitous mentions and a bunch of businesses masquerading as yardsticks of the city’s cool. But hey, look on the brighter side! Chennai has conformed to the author's idea of “cool” thereby earning itself a patronising write up in a men's magazine, the only thing lacking pretense in this whole affair being the exclusion of the token female representative.
The article begins with:
“It’s a safe bet that Chennai isn’t the city you think of as up-and-coming or cutting edge, in the context of New India on the warpath”
One similarity between the author and us Chennaiites is that neither of us seems to be good at this betting business. The author has this article to show for it, and us, our IPL team. But hey, there's a key difference. Despite all the sand in the longest urban beach in Asia, we've still got our heads above it. And we still love our Super Kings, because we can tell an individual from a team.
Is Chennai cool? There’s a gentle breeze blowing right now, but it’s been simmering for the last few days. Our recently-retired weatherman on the other hand, is cool. Everybody knows him. As are our RJs, actors, musicians and comics. As is the waiter who served the author of that article his whiskey. Or the auto driver with his own website and Wi-Fi in his auto. Or MS Dhoni. I could go on. But let me first look up what “bon viviant” means while I sip on my filter coffee. I think my coffee is secretly lukewarm.
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