It has been 13 or so years since I left Madras and I miss it. No, I wont call it Chennai because it is as rude as calling your parent with a different name and the word "Chennai" is jarring and insulting.
I was 17, traded Madras for Salem to complete my undergrad. Those 4 years were miserable. But for some close friendships I developed, the experience was lousy. Most of it probably had to do with my personality but every other weekend I ran away to Madras. I was head over heels in love with the city. Many times in ragging, I was slapped for referring to Madras rather than call it "coovumpatti" as the non-Madras seniors liked to call it. Not a very smart move but then the age of 19 is strangely idealisitic, often due to trivial pride. After the 4 undergrad years, I spent one year in Madras before coming to the U.S. That year is all but forgotten and better left that way.
I miss a lot of things about Madras. I miss travelling in 29C from Perambur to Nungambakkam. I miss the many hours of browsing books in Landmark and Higginbothams, longingly thumbing through many books that I could seldom afford to buy. I long for the don't-care attitude of foot-boarding in packed Pallavan buses. I miss the early morning coffee and the Hindu paper - not only the news but for the strangely soothing smell of the newsprint mixed with fresh aroma of the coffee. I long for the Potato and Sepankizhangu roasts that Amma makes on Sundays. What better way to spend a rainy day than to eat spicy-hot pakodas and swig down huge tumblers full of filter coffee? I ache for the many varieties of Mangoes and bananas. I miss the train rides from Park to Chromepet and the many summers vacations I spent there.
Nostalgia aside, I am not sure I can live there anymore. Many years of living in the US has made me realize that my body handles humidity badly and humidity is the only certain thing about Madras. Humidity and the heat wreak considerable havoc - by 11.00 A.M in the morning, my body shuts down and refuses to function. I like to think that if I lived there for one more year, I can get used to it but I am not sure.
The city itself has changed considerably - some for better and some for worse but never the same. That saddens me. Whenever I visit home, I expect a sense of soothing familiarity but Madras only bewilders me. It is unsettling to be a stranger in one's own hometown. None of my friends lives there. The engineers are in the US and the doctors have made UK their home. All my relatives lead hectic lives in tune with the changing pace of the metropolis. Paavana travels to Bangalore to spend time with her parents. I end up spending most of my time home - immensely glad to be with parents but equally listless because I have nothing much to do.
I am not sure if I can find a satisfying job in Madras. I am afraid of the heat and humidity. Living in India, irrespective of the city, will be immensely satisfying, at least personally. It would be cool to live two hrs away (at least by flight - now that the days of the discount airlines are in) from Parents and Parents-in-law. I like Bangalore - great climate, better jobs (in the industries I like to work in), cosmopolitan and Parents-in-law are there. However, living in Madras will be special.