Chennai, Madras of yore, has been one of the four original metropolitan cities of the country, though after the IT boom, Bengaluru(Bangalore of yore) seemed to have overtaken Chennai on certain growth parameters. However, Chennai continues to be original in many senses for North Indians like me for whom Madrasi (of Madras) will remain colloquial for everything South Indian – people, food, culture etc. Delhi was introduced to South Indian cuisine – Idli, Dosa, Vada etc. by Madras Hotel, which continued to tickle the taste buds of gastronomes till the early part of last decade before hanging boots! Most of the civil servants and senior government officials living in and around Lutyens Delhi were people from Tamilnadu. Grand Trunk Express between Madras and New Delhi was the sole connection between these two cities till host of other trains were introduced gradually. Swami Malai Temple, Delhi Tamil Sangam etc all had Tamilnadu /Madras connection.
An avid lover of South Indian food and admirer of South Indian simplicity, I was immensely excited during my first visit to Tamilnadu with my parents, with Madras being the hub. Madras had not become cosmopolitan in the sense we know perhaps Mumbai to be, but I was fascinated by the architecture, pure form of Hinduism, discipline, extremely cheap my favourite South Indian stuff – idli, vada, dosa, aromatic filter coffee, availability of hot cup of horlicks at neighbourhood restaurant etc. With each subsequent visit, the metamorphosis of the city is amply evident. While industrialisation has always been Tamilnadu’s strength, in new Chennai, one comes across IT hubs all over, swanky buildings with glass facades, international cuisine, fast food and new age local transport -Metro! In one of my earlier visits, I was advised to take local train from the city to get down at Trisulam station from where the airport was walkable. That railway line and station still exist, but I wonder whether any flier takes this option any more in a city, where traditional is beautifully married with modern!