Monday, April 19, 2010

Chennai, What Is Your Identity?

So there was this Reliance Communications ad on the occasion of the company acquiring 100 mn customers. It was a Mario Miranda style cartoon of a crowded India with representation of various cities.

There was Qutub Minar, Gateway of India, Charminar...I looked for a sign of Chennai. And to my disappointment, there wasn't any sign of the city.
From a time when Chennai/Tamil Nadu represented the South, it is fast fading into oblivion. Bangalore is considered more cosmopolitan, and for housing IT companies, Hyderabad is also known for IT industry despite the fact that it lags behind Chennai and, of course, Kerala is "God's Own Country". In fact, I think Kerala has become the face of the South. At least the ad agency of SBI thinks so.

In terms of economy and culture, Tamil Nadu is far ahead than any other Southern state. But that it is the Detroit of India with Ford, Hyundai, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Motors, TVS, Caterpillar and many auto ancillary units are here doesn't seem to help. That Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and Foxconn are here doesn't count. That its Chola dynasty was a large empire dating much before the times of Mughal dynasty is forgotten. That some of the temples and architectures date back to BC is erased from the memory. Well, that is another story.
But then I pondered. If there was a face to Chennai, what was it? Every city has an identity. Paris - Eifel Tower, London - Big Ben/London Eye, Jaipur - Hawa Mahal, Kolkata - Howrah Bridge, Cochin-Jew Town...

Chennai?

Marina Beach? India has a large coastline. There won't be any differentiation. And let's admit, despite being the second largest beach in the world, Marine Drive in Mumbai has a better recall than Marina in Chennai.

Central Station? Maybe, but it is just a station. Rippon Building? Maybe, but I doubt if anybody outside Chennai knows about it.

St Thomas Mount or Santhome Church. There are so many churches in India, as old!

Factories - Ford, Hyundai, Nokia, Motorola...Nah!

Probably the answer lies in culture, history and religion. Hindu Temples? Which one? Kapaleeswarar, Parthasarathy? Probably. But do people outside Chennai know about them. Tanjore Big Temple! But that is about 300 km south. Mahabalipuram is also not exactly in Chennai.

Napier Bridge? But though it is distinct, it's a small structure.

Wish we could have done something while designing the new assembly complex. It is more contemporary and I don't think it is a structure that will get etched in the memory of Tamilians, themselves.

Now, I am confused more than ever. Or should I be happy that there are so many facets to this city?

PS: Did You Know (courtesy Deepak Chopra): What is the ABC of Chennai? Adyar, Buckingham and Cooum, the three rivers/canals in Chennai.
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