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VANAKKAM, CHENNAI

Impressions of the “real India experience”


The first three words that came to my (extremely tired) mind when I left the airport were:
Heat. Noise. Crowd.

Then the first (rhetorical) question: Did I really want to come here?

And the first realization: Namaste in not useful at all in Tamil Nadu.

Daily crowd on the streets of Chennai
Daily crowd
I left from -15 Celsius degrees and arrived to 30 degrees – well equipped with winter clothes. With 0 rupees in my pockets (as far as I knew I could exchange money only in India) and without a drop of water (but a lot of good advices on where and what can I drink), it was a great warm-up for my body to bear with the humid heat of Chennai weather.

At a first glance it seemed to me that this city never sleeps; between 4 and 5 in the morning there was so much noise in the front of the airport as in the middle of a rag fair. What I first heard was a mixture of human voice, a variety of honks and the sounds of awakening nature.

And the crowd: actually I enjoyed it from the first moment after the idleness of winter and the empty, frozen streets of my hometown; with all the movements, interactions, energy and freedom that a crowd includes; the questions of auto rickshaw drivers (Madam? Madam?), the overheard but incomprehensible dialogues, the laughs, calls and shouts.


Since my arrival - however - I have discovered calmer and more silent sides of Chennai.😊

The first (rhetorical) question aroused in me when - from the windows of the cab - I have seen the incredible amount of trash on the streets, the imperfect details of otherwise beautiful buildings (which I couldn’t observe from Google Maps) and the indescribably chaotic traffic. But as I already arrived I didn’t try to find excuses or explanations; I was just thinking about how am I going to survive the next 6 months?

Good news is that since then I already have the answer, which might not help everybody, but it works for me. Try to overlook what you don’t like and search for what you like. You will surely find. 😉

And if you decide to visit Tamil Nadu, then forget Namaste. Learn Vanakkam. In India there are 22 official languages, and although you can survive with Hindi in multiple states, it won’t help you too much in the South. If you come to Chennai learn the basics of Tamil, like ana (brother – useful with drivers), sari (good, okay), amaam (yes) and illai (no).


Women selling fish close to the seaside in Chennai

What do you associate with India?


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Prologue

On the plane from Abu Dhabi to Chennai I was sitting near an Indian woman who was traveling with her daughter of only a few months. She was from Delhi, but for the past few years they have been living in the Netherlands. When I told her that I am going to live in South India for the next 6 months she said: I don’t want to discourage you, but I think you will have a hard time. Because of food. Mainly.

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