It was weird being back in Chennai after these two and a half years. In some ways it felt like I had never truly left – as if I had just been away for the weekend, and was returning to my old apartment in Mylapore. I got off the plane, passed through the usual customs procedures, emerged at arrivals hall and found my driver. It could have been Lucian standing there. Leaving the airport and joining the stream of traffic headed city bound was just so natural. Driving back along TTK Road, passing the late night activity in all the shops, was like déjà vu… I was just coming back after a week in Bangalore, or maybe a trip to Bangkok.
I emerged from the car at my guesthouse; the air hung thick, hot and humid, like a familiar fog through which to swim. The street was silent in the early morning, but like always in Chennai, a certain humdrum continued in the background – at the end of the street an autorickshaw or two scooted along, and the peeling walls on the perpendicular road were illuminated by the glow of the nearby shopping district. The hair on the back of my neck stood tall with delight but also nervousness at the uncanniness of it all; after nearly two and a half years away, and my emotionally messy departure in late 2012, I was back.
Chennai has changed- naturally, it’s not the same city that it was a couple of years ago. Walking around on Sunday, shops I used to frequent have closed, others have opened in their places. Lloyds Road looks a little less frenetic, Citi Centre Mall and Express Avenue a bit quieter than I remember them being. Dare I say, they look a bit dated, and a bit depressed compared with before. The roads around the airport are chaotic with development of the Chennai Metro Rail, still awaiting opening. Some shops, precincts and roads seem to have been consolidated; rearranged, downsized or better organised. It is strange to see things so familiar, once part of my daily existence, but with only slight changes; and the knowledge that I am only here on holiday for a week is tantalising and unreal.
Of course, people have moved on too; my favourite Cafe Coffee Day is still there, but the staff have all left; one back to Bangalore, another to Dubai for work. The maid that used to work at my block is no longer there, although the watchmen are still there. Walking past my old apartment, I felt an obvious sense of familiarity, but also a strange pang of disconnect.
Looking back up at that apartment block, I remember that I have changed too. In the two years and four months since I left Chennai heartbroken, I’ve realised things about myself that were a long time coming. Once I figured out what it was, I finally started doing what it was that I really wanted to do. I’ve become more proactive. I’ve become healthier and lost 18kg. I’ve become free. I’ve freed myself from so many shackles with which I once restricted myself. I once described my life in Chennai as a dream. Nowadays I don’t dream, I do.
Life in Chennai may have been a dream, ultimately one has to wake up from a dream – and when I did, the results were not pleasant. In coming back to Chennai this year, I realise that the person who left Chennai in December 2012 was dependent, lost and frightened. Dependent on the universe to steer my life, too lost to clearly state (to myself) where I wanted my life to go, and frightened to take control and see the results.
I write this as I leave Chennai after a week here. I leave with a smile on my face, knowing that this goodbye is very different from last time. I will return again soon; two years and four months has been too long. But perhaps that’s as long as it took for me to be ready.
Yes, Chennai is a different place now.
I must give some credit to my blogging friend Sarah Chamberlain for the inspiration for this post. While everyone’s experiences are different, and mine are vastly different to hers, I am always inspired by her courage to share intimate stories of personal growth and realisation, which somehow resonate with me on the other side of the duniya. Her fantastic blog, Sarah Somewhere, has in part contributed to the courage which it took for me to share these thoughts with the world. So thank you 🙂