by Madhulika Narasimhan
As I excitedly rushed to get to my seat near the window, knowing well enough that everybody else on that flight had a seat allocated for themselves and would not conspire to take mine specifically, I wondered what really was the reason for me to feel this special attachment to a place I visit only once a year for a brief period. I have lived in Delhi all my life and yet I do not feel the same way about this city, that I have seen growing with myself. As the pilot announced the departure of the flight, I looked out of the window, a smile on my face, not feeling sad about leaving or that I would miss my home. It kept reoccurring to me that I was in fact going home, to a place where I really belong. I closed my eyes (more as a result of my fear during take-off) and could instantly place myself on the loud and narrow streets of my most beloved city.
I keep walking past shops that would invariably be called ‘Tirupati’, ‘Annamalai’, ‘Meenakshi’, or more commonly ‘Saravana’, and could be anything – a restaurant, a travel agency, a clothing store or even a mini mall! People on their way out – to work or school – even if they happened to be in a hurry, not failing to remove their footwear outside their building, standing with folded hands in prayer. No, they were not worshipping their home but the idol of Vinayagar (or the more familiar Ganesh ji in the North) placed inside the miniature temple of sorts within the pillar –a tradition found in almost all houses, offices and residential buildings in the city. The small tea kadai (shops) at the end of every street were already busy at 06:00 hrs with men in veshti (dhotis) sitting on the benches outside reading the newspaper. Oh and the hot bajji (its North Indian counterpart being Pakoras) almost tempted me to get into the tiny and for most people, unhealthy, place and start gorging on them despite the fact that I would be the only female in the Y chromosome-dominated place. Walking past that shop hurriedly to overcome my temptation, I come to a street lined with women sitting on the ground with baskets of flowers in front of them, all of them calling out to me at the same time, asking me to buy the flowers. I politely refuse and continue to walk along, satisfied with smelling the aroma coming from the malli poo (jasmine flowers) decorated in the oiled, plaited hair of almost all the women in the city. I look at the huge billboards and read the words written in the most beautiful language, and even that makes me feel elated! Unsurprisingly, the sixty foot Rajinikanth cutouts smiling down at the worshipping crowds are always a sight to watch! Just as I began walking along the beach, smelling the fish faintly, and admiring the life size cutouts of actors lined up for eager fans to get pictures clicked with, that the flight’s descent was announced, bringing me back to the present but with an ever increasing sense of thrill. I looked out the window yet again, this time to find rows of palm and coconut trees, hills and many colourful gopuram (a tower above the temple) spread across the city. As I imagined the most delicious rasam and sambhar made by my grandmother that would be waiting for me at home, I knew immediately I was going to get to them soon enough as the pilot announced our arrival, “Vanakkam Chennai!”