Chennai will be celebrating its 377th birthday this August. As a queer man, I thought I should write how IPC Section 377 and Madras day are colonial hangover. While I am for Section 377 to go away, I probably wouldn’t mind celebrating Madras day. I am not even going to write about Madras Day in this piece.
I did not grow up in Madras or Chennai. I am a migrant. I moved to Chennai when it wasn’t Madras anymore and I have lived here for eight years on and off. I cannot understand the emotion Madras brings in some people. Madras and Chennai are both a city to me. A city where I live, work and call home today.
There is a lot written, said and sang about the welcoming nature and warmth of Chennai-Madras, but there is a cruel side to the city. Not the underground mafia. The cruel side of us - the people of Chennai. One can judge a person based on where they reside, based on the Tamil they speak or their dietary habit.
When I first moved to Chennai, a friend casually corrected my Tamil when I said ‘anthanda’ (that side). When asked why, he said that ‘low-class’ people use ‘anthanda’.
As I live longer in Chennai, I learnt how everyday activity and language defines you as a person. Today I struggle between ‘soru’, rice and ‘saadham’. This is not just terminology confusion, but an unconscious bias within myself on preferring one term to the other.
Renting a place to live in Chennai is not an easy task. I dread the process of finding a place to live. The kind of insensitive question posed by the prospective house owners cross all the limits of decency. Single persons are one of the disliked lots when it comes to renting houses. Renting a house as a single man is comparatively easier than renting a house as a single woman or a trans-person.
But I should say that the entire process is highly demeaning. It doesn’t matter that this single person pays as much rent as everyone else in the building. A single or unmarried person is someone who should not socialize by inviting friends and family to their house. We are expected to give up our parking space - which we pay for - to the ‘families’. The sneeze by a single person is louder and disturbing than the ruffle created by the domestic violence of the married couple. Somehow, the guests visiting the single tenant don’t deserve the same respect as the ‘family’ tenant.
Next - in no order - is the non-vegetarians. Irrespective of your marital status, your dietary habit plays a huge part in where you can live in the city. The dietary caveat is not an innocent preference. It has a deep-rooted caste prejudice. Sometimes, I also wonder what is the stand of a person on such ‘dietary preferences’ who chose to be vegetarian or vegan for ‘ethical’ reasons.
One of the many memes that celebrates the nostalgia of Chennai is “Madras is an emotion - Chennai is a city”. A city doesn’t exist in vacuum; the people make it what it is. This makes me wonder if people who lived in Madras changed overnight when the city was renamed.
There are many things that I wish Chennai had and there is equally number of things that I like about Chennai.
Chennai, like any other city, is unfriendly to new-comers. There are well-defined boundaries – regressive boundaries that we draw as a community. We restrict who can enter our spaces, but fail in the urban madness. We elbow for our spaces and at the same time we cringe and push out those with whom we don’t identify with. Chennai as a city gives us the freedom. As Chennaiites – the people of Chennai – we try to curtail that freedom at any given opportunity.
When we showcase and celebrate the city, we choose what we identify with. Our events and celebrations are handpicked based on our ‘preferences’. By the way, who decides our preferences and boundaries? Who decides who fits in here?