On 22nd August, Chennai celebrates its birthday. Yesterday was its 373rd birthday. My tribute to this wonderful city! Madras (now Chennai) had always been the stereotype voor for me. Chennai represented all that was South Indian (remember, there was a time, when South Indian was presumed Madras aka Chennai!!) – masala dosai, idly, bharatnatyam, MGR, Kamalahasan, Rajinikanth and all. In spite of having grown up in Bangalore, destiny seemed to have groomed me well enough to adapt to a Tamil surrounding. My best friend in school was a Tamilian, my neighbor akkas were Tamilians and family friends lived in Chennai. I frequently kept hearing old Tamil film numbers on loudspeakers. My little mind then knew not what the songs meant yet I enjoyed them all the same humming them making others laugh in return. My father’s chance posting landed my family and me in Chennai. Ooh! I was warned about anti Hindi campaigns, about hatred against everything North Indian and all that ‘lottu-losku.’ I remember coming with bag and baggage to Chennai a day after MGR died. The roads were eerily lonesome, all the shutters were down and papers strewn on streets. Wow! What a welcome to my new home, I wondered silently. I got admitted in school, which was an English medium all right but where many students spoke Tamil to get that ‘bonding’ feeling I guess. I remember hesitating to speak the local language although I learnt the language surrounded by Tamil words filtering in my ears and brain, getting stored for future use. Here, I give due credit to my friends for bearing with my murdering pronunciation especially of words like Kuzhal Mozhi. I wondered then, as to why somebody would be called so. It was only later when I learnt the difference between La and Zha did I understand. Until then, I rocked my friends with my atrocious pronunciations! The ride from home to school and back home carry many memories for me. It was here that I learnt all the tricks that required you to hold yourself without falling. More than anything else, watching passengers of all ages and professions discussing almost everything under the sun, made me master the Tamil language at great speed. Pallavan Transport Corporation had become my Tamil dictionary! Much before I frequented Pondy Bazaar and More Market, Burma Bazaar was a terrible attraction selling all those imported goods at cheap rates. I still can flashback into that particular piece of history of mine and relish that feeling of exhilaration at having got a nice product for a good bargain. Fountain Plaza, Cisons Complex, Pondy Bazaar and Ranganaathan Street were some of the main shopping attractions for me. After Bangalore, Chennai had become home for me. It had become a storehouse of memories from G.K.Vale to St. Thomas Mount, from Higginbotham’s to Landmark – Buying second hand books with my friend Aruna on Mount Road, searching for that right paintbrush for my oil paintings from the shop near LIC Building. Much later, Mylapore became a favorite haunt what with my Math tuition for the 12th Std. being taken there. That phase exposed me to the Tamil Brahmin way of life in Chennai with different kinds of houses (agrahaarams), the maamis and the beautiful kolams spread right across the road. When I think of Chennai, memories just come gushing out like a spring of colors on a painting board. I know Chennai is different now; a different modern culture has captured the imagination of Chennaites today. The IT boom has not spared it either. Many of my neighbors I grew up with are settled abroad – courtesy IT. But the spirit of the city remains the same. The Music Academy still religiously has its annual music festival in December. I remember attending the Reggae concert at Music Academy apart from the numerous English plays. The Alwarpet sales and exhibitions caught my imagination many a time frustrating friends and family alike! The city is crowded now. Many youngsters in glamorous outfits zoom around on bikes and cars. Even though the temptations of competing with other metros are high in terms of style, lifestyle and values, thankfully the spirit of Chennai remains the same. Hospitable, simple, friendly people and delicious food are reasons enough for people across the globe to keep coming back here. Three cheers to the Chennai charm!