Southern India. It’s warmth, sweetness and depth in the food, a constant, gentle breeze travels from the Bay of Bengal.
Chennai (formerly Madras), is a bustling port for the tech industry wrapped around layers of growth: history, culture, religion, music, colonialism, film, cricket, food, conservationism. Each seasonal expansion brings new people, ideas and motives to the port. New growth pushes up against the sea walls of India. Ever outward.
This story can be found in any part of the world, no matter the economy, culture, religion. Growth pushes some. Whether migrants, the elderly, religions. While displacement can follow, others find a way to grow in the seams. Standing where they have always stood and enforcing the city to spread around them.
St. Mary’s Road is, like most in Chennai, tree lined. Trees that grow where they wish. Any direction they choose is allowed, the world and the pavement make space. Starting at the Western end; the Crowne Palace and Raintree hotels house visitors, business trips, weddings from the rest of India and beyond. Those who come to the relaxed side of the country to explore and, somewhat paradoxically, to work.
Travel east, towards the sea and pass a communal cricket ground among street stalls, and a corner where TukTuks came to die. Floodlights illuminate the dusty square that enshrines four matches. Intertwined balls pass from the adult’s boundary to the childhood game.
Further still, round a bend and under a bridge, part pasture for a praised cow, part waste dump for a slum, and a left turn. Here, a street built between the rings of growth, is an inter-seasonal community. A roadway wide enough at times for a bike, so that the apartments on either side, holding back progress, can speak to each other no matter the weather.
Deeper in and the people (rickshaw drivers, electronics repairmen, cleaners, grandparents, weavers, children, students) greet all who make it that far.
The pressure from outside creaks and groans but, inside, the laughter of neighbours, the chatter of ancient friends, of older boys keeping the younger just out of reach of trouble. Girls swapping clothes, women standing at windows watching each others’ televisions.
A city within a city. The hybrid of past and present, and the true core of Madras is here. Among the goats and rubbish fires. When the rain comes, and the trees drink thirstily, the street becomes river, and takes the little excess that can be spared into the roots and roads outside.
There will seemingly always be space to stay in Chennai.