Ode To Abu

Monday, 1 April 2013

A for Aaah-nandam! :-)

This blog post is part of the A to Z Challenge. This challenge involves writing a blog post on any topic/theme in the order of the alphabets from A-Z. The blog posts have to be written each day through the entire month of April, excluding Sundays.

My chosen theme is the city of Chennai, its happenings, events, and my memories and experiences connected with this place.

Chennai, and what it means to me -- different thoughts, experiences and feelings arise. When people ask me how long I've been here, I smile and say, "Too long!" I say it lightheartedly yet wistfully. When I travel I sometimes wish I lived in some of those places at least for a li'l while, 'coz a new place is at once refreshing, fun, interesting and different. Once back at my abode in Chennai, I feel a certain fondness for this city just that wee bit more.

A multi-cultural hub now, Chennai is many things to many people. What I love about it is its culture, which is now of a myriad hues, yet everything stays distinct. The lines haven't blurred, at least not just yet. I'm referring to how the traditional stuff stays that way, the modern has evolved, and both co-exist in peaceful harmony. 

Lights! Sound! Action!

No, this is not about Kollywood or Chennai's famous movie industry. That would be too obvious and boring. I'm referring to the many theatre production companies sprouting in the city. Some of them have cool names as well. The fact that English (and even some Hindi, not Yindi, please note) theater thrives here and ranges from and represents the classics to serious plays to adult humour to slapstick family dramas and now the standard stand-up comedy acts, just goes to show that residents of this city are all for variety. The average Joe and Jane - or more to the point - Aditya and Aditi of the city, your neighbourhood maami*, uncle and every other college chica is doing theatre these days. Even work colleagues seem to be moonlighting on stage over the weekends. Plays are hip, happening and some are horrendous as well :-)  

Have enjoyed many thoroughly during the September Theatre Fests organised by The Hindu newspaper. Some of the best of Bombay's and Delhi's playwrights, actors and directors have done shows here. It was such a nostalgic trip for me 'coz going to plays were a regular weekend activity in Bombay and other places I lived in before moving here. With time, more and more local theatre houses began to catch the stage-acting bug and plays were a common sight locally -- S. Ve Shekhar and Crazy Mohan plays not withstanding!!  

All Art & Soul

The art scene has had an understated yet steady impact on the city for decades. With Cholamandalam Arts Village established eons ago with the many artists and sculptors that ruled the roost then, restaurants and corporates promoting art and artists, and art galleries mushrooming over the years, the arts and the artsy folk have never had it better. They might have their own views on the matter, but for a lay person like me whose only job is to view it and enjoy it, I have no complaints. Have part-timed at an art gallery once and it was a lovely experience. Interacting with the artists, hosting shows and being surrounded by fabulous & colourful works of art was wonderful. It was probably the one time in my life where I went to work with a smile on my face every day! 

I recently met some people who were talking about starting an art appreciation club. The venue was to be the Hyatt and these would be monthly sessions introducing members to the art world, a variety of art work, meeting the artists etc. They believed it was time for a conservative city like Chennai (where only a minority would consider investing in art) to be opened up to a fascinating world, where your living room piece of art could hold the centre of attention at a gathering all evening, and not just be a conversation starter.

Feeding Frenzy!

What one can say about the food available in this Singara** city? A gastronomical paradise with restaurants serving world cuisines and jostling for real estate space in the most expensive parts of the city. How far has Madras# come from the much parodied Idli-Vada-Sambar*** corner street kadais****! The good part is those are still doing well (pssst...some even better than the fancy upmarket eateries) and more to the point, still enjoyed by even the ones that visit the fancy upmarket eateries! :-) Speaks a lot for the conventional mixing well with nouveau change, blending nicely like dosa batter and cupcake cream frosting!

At every hop, skip and jump we have Japanese, European street, French desserts, Italian, Thai, Far Eastern, Tex-Mex, Bombay chaat houses, Rajasthani delicacies, South Indian tiffin joints, Fusion, and tons more. There's a Times Food Guide book for the entire gamut - so go pick one up and go on a binge! The variety available is seriously jaw-dropping, the food tantalizing, the experience one of a kind. Chennai really does have something for every foodie. And if you disagree, just wait for the next month when a new eatery opens up and blitzes the papers with its advertising and food reviews and recipe columns. Food can never ever go out of style in Chennai! Nope. Na-uh. Burrrppp!!

The Food of Love!

Music, of course! :-) Amazed by the fact that in the span of one week (sometimes many of these happen on the same day at different parts of town making my life very difficult), you can spot Rabindra Sangeet##, Sufi bards, German jazz quartets, an open-air rock concert, Carnatic vocals, Hindustani recitals, Bollywood tribute renditions, inspiring instrumentals and TONS of fusion and so on and so forth! Spoilt for choice, a music aficionado living in Chennai can practically live on music all through the year, what with events happening round the clock. The sabhas*****, though, make sure you are overfed thanks to the finger-licking variety of food (almost like beer-on-tap) readily available to cater to all palates. The December music season in Chennai is our very own Oktoberfest!

The annual MetroPlus November Fest by The Hindu newspaper has seen a loyal fan in me for many a year. In much enthusiasm, I've at times attended the entire gamut of performances every single day of the music fest. Most of it is enjoyable, while there may be the occassional day of boredom where the music doesn't move me at all. Except perhaps out of the seat and out of the hall :-) In very rare cases, though. Care is usually taken by The Hindu MetroPlus to bring in a wide variety of musical genres from around the world - vocal, instrumental, quirky, funky, fusion, mixed jams, experimental chaos, electronic exotica - the works. A lot of the acts are rather imaginative, unique, experimental, intriguing, interesting and certainly a lot of fun. 

Have attended different musical shows, programs, and concerts over the years, but still feel like I've missed out on so much since there's always some show or program going on here. Recent ones that piqued my interest were the Tetseo Sisters, a group from Nagaland, who sing and dance and introduce their folk strains with a big smile on their faces. Unfortunately, I missed attending this because I got the dates mixed up! :( This was something I was really looking forward to for its novelty factor. Putting it in my wish/to-do list.

Then there was Edo & Jo who live in Australia, but visit India to meet their guru and be further inspired to create bhajans^ and kirtans^ with a very cool twist - almost using pop/rock hooks in their background musical scores. Their version of 'Jai Jai Durge' actually rocked the house! There were these drum beats that were totally foot-tapping and for a moment it almost felt like a rock concert with people yelling out the chorus! It was very, very cool indeed. I liked them so much I picked up a CD and the sound quality blew me away. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it. Later I realised Apple might have had something to do with it :-) The vocals are smooth and their music is easy on the ear. They were to play on the Marina beach the morning after I saw them at an evening performance, and I actually awoke early and dragged people there in my excitement. Watching the sun rise and listening to them in the cool, breezy open air at dawn was an almost surreal experience.

Another recent beautiful moment was watching Karthick Iyer, a budding electric violinist, in action. Primarily mixing Carnatic music with fusion, you would think his violin would be his most prized instrument. :-) No doubt it is, but so is his Macbook! Ably providing the background score, the Macbook was his constant go-to with one hand, while the violin was in the other. Today's young musicians cannot imagine plain vanilla music rehearsal jams or huge gigs without a computer or software adding, enhancing and even padding the whole musical performance. Nevertheless, it was electric all right, and different. He played fusion, some popular Tamil film music, and some of his own album compositions  to an enthralled audience. 

All of the above performances were free of charge for the audiences courtesy 136.1 Yoga Studio, which has been popularizing not just yoga, but lately a yogic lifestyle, and increasingly nowadays, the arts. Many international shows brought down by the British Council, Max Mueller Bhavan, or Alliance Francaise do not cost a dime. Free passes entitle the holder to an evening of melodious music or unique performing arts.

Dancing Queen

A blogpost about Chennai that does not refer to dance in the same breath would be sacrilege. Besides traditional dance forms such as Bharatnatyam, Odissi, or Mohiniyattam, modern dance schools have taken the city by storm. Jazz, Hip-Hop, Swing, Bollywood and Be-boying have become the rage. Most school kids are enrolled in some dance class or other as part of their 'extra-curricular' activities. Parents proudly state their child is performing at a sabha or an auditorium and print invitations on expensive art paper for arangetrams******. They make house-visits to 'specially invite' their friends, family and neighbours to these prestigious events that make a young person (who is yet to reach a double-digit number in life) nothing less than a mini celebrity.

The famous dancing divas of Chennai have acted in many movies and popularized their art in more ways than one. They tour the world with their dance dramas and performances that are based on mythological stories and riveting historical tales of our rich cultural heritage. Today, students of modern dance travel to foreign shores to learn dancing and return to "namma ooru"******* to unravel their dream - of opening a dance school in their hometown, i.e. Chennai. Full circle it is, indeed.

So yes, it is "aanandam"### to live life in Chennai. Dollops of theatre, art, food music and dance make for a blissful, rich, diverse environment to live in and dive into! 

I start off the ABC Challenge raising my steel tumbler and davara******** of filter kaapi********* as a toast to Madras, Nalla********** Madras! Keep on rocking, Chennai!

*maami - Tamil word meaning elderly woman.
** Singara - Tamil word meaning beautiful.
#Madras - old name of the city given by the British, eventually changed to Chennai.
*** Idly-Vada-Sambar - A popular South Indian breakfast combination of steamed rice cakes-fried rice dumplings that resemble a doughnut-lentil and vegetable gravy.
****kadais - A 'kadai' is a little corner shop selling snacks/food items/sweets/cigarettes etc.
##Rabindra sangeet - Poetical verses and lyrical Indian classical and folk songs in the Bengali language written and composed by Nobel Prize winner, poet, writer and composer Rabindranath Tagore.
*****sabhas - Tamil word meaning auditoriums.
^bhajans and kirtans -Devotional music.
******arangetrams - Tamil word meaning 1st public performance by a trained student of the dance form, Bharatnatyam.
*******namma ooru - Tamil words meaning 'my hometown'.
###aanandam - Tamil word meaning blissful or 
********davara - Tamil word for a square-shaped steel saucer.
*********kaapi - Tamil word meaning coffee.
**********Nalla - Tamil word meaning good. The phrase is part of a famous Tamil movie song.


  1. Dollops of theatre, art, food, music, dance...what's not to love!

  2. Another lovely tribute to Chennai.

    Joy always,

  3. Just saying hi, I'm also doing the challenge, nice post, thanks.

  4. Talya, indeed! :) Chennai does have something for everyone. The people are friendly and there's enough to keep one engaged. The only dampener is probably the weather! Thanks for stopping by and reading :) Did you get all the colloquial references? Have updated the words and the meanings now.

    Susan, thank you :)

    Maggie, hello there! All the best to you too for the challenge, shall stop by :)

    Akash, the Chennai theme was inspired by you :) Welcome here!

  5. Replies
    1. Wow Prashanth, thanks so much for reading every post from the challenge so far! Very encouraging :)

  6. Hi Sumita,
    Good to meet yet another Indian that too a South Indian a to z place.
    Very well written pages are here to read, and ha this intro is good one too,
    but sad to note that your posts are lengthy ones, which quiet often people
    may skip, especially at this time of a to z challenge period.
    so make shorter posts.
    Good Wishes
    Keep in touch
    I am
    Philip Ariel @ Philipscom
    An ambassador to A to Z Challenge @ Tina's Life is Good
    And My Bio-blog

    1. Hi Ariel, thank you so much for stopping by from A-Z. Am trying to reduce the length of my posts, I do tend to get carried away! Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. liked the aviyal mix you provided about Chennai