The spirit of a city is put to test when it is faced with adversity. A city's true character, its resilience, its determination to bounce back and the compassion of its residents standing by those less fortunate only come out when all seems lost.
Breaking a hundred-year-old record, incessant and heavy rainfall in Chennai has brought life to a stand still. The army has been deployed to carry out relief operations and the navy has been put on stand by.
Even as the toll in rain-related incidents in Tamil Nadu reached a 197, several residents reached out to their fellow city dwellers on social networking sites, providing them information about places that were dry and where one could get shelter. Many who were fortunate to have their homes dry put out messages saying they would welcome anyone in need to spend the night with them, in safety.
But this spirit of Chennai that India is saluting, isn't something new. In fact, it was always there...
Back in 2014, when the city turned 375 years old, Outlook carried a few special pieces to mark the occasion which hailed this very spirit.
In her piece 'What Does Madras Bleed For?', Geeta Doctor wrote:
From the air, Chennai—or old Madras—presents itself like a box of Diwali sweets waiting to be savoured. There are houses in cochineal pink, or ‘muttai pink’ (candy pink), as the colour is described, in iridescent greens, indigo blues, Gold Spot oranges, citron yellows, deep purples and many in combinations of one or two of these colours. The colonial whites, the creams, the deeper municipal ochres on the walls have all been replaced in places where the government fiat runs by marshmallow pinks.
Chennai has now become a rainbow city of many different people, speaking in many tongues. You no longer look for the familiar signs of caste and community affiliations that once upon a time people wore proudly on their foreheads and wrapped around their waists to proclaim their sense of belonging. You no longer believe in the old Tamil saying—“Every town is our hometown. Every man is our kinsman”—but glare suspiciously at the outsider and ask: where are you from?
Indian actor and politician Khushboo spoke of that same spirit:
Chennai exudes a special kind of energy that you won’t find in any other city in India. The warmth and generosity of its denizens is surely a big reason for that. They might not strike you as very expressive when you first meet them, but they are very helpful and they’ll always stand by your side when you need them. They are typically courteous and welcoming to outsiders. That explains the recent tourism boom: our beautiful city and its precincts now attract people from all over the world.
Timeri N. Murari wrote in his piece:
The old Tamil Brahmin component is cohesive, and difficult to submerge in any new identity. They visit their temples regularly and draw the morning kolam outside their doors, even in the new flat-style living they’ve adapted to. The Tamils have such a strong, unshakable belief in themselves that Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Sikhs live together without the dread of riots. The Tamils are confident that, over the centuries, they have always treated the different religions with respect. They remain a courteous and gracious people, and have not yet picked up the abrasive habits of the north or the west.