Aravind Subramanian says he has two types of fans. The first type has followed his stand-up comedy act over the last five years, and the second type has got to know him more recently, thanks to a viral video of his, where he flies the flag for the ‘Stop Hindi Imposition’ movement by poking fun at the Bollywood movie Chennai Express and the Lungi Dance song, in particular. Watch Arvind’s video here, if you haven’t yet.
The Chennai local, who has brought his stand-up routine to Mumbai right now, directs the spotlight on his beautiful city, and tells us where to go, what to do and where to eat in the Tamil capital.
Mylapore Temple Tank
One of my favourite spots in Mylapore – it’s the part of town where I grew up – is the massive temple tank and the thriving communities around it. You can find great vegetarian restaurants and popular biriyani spots coexisting side-by-side there. If you’re in the mood for some intellectual stimulation, head over to the oldest bookshops in Chennai – Ravi Book House and Sri Vidhya Book Centre. Or stop by the road-side stall of this old man who’s become famous because he sells the city’s biggest collection of second-hand books, right there on the pavement.
The Cricket Experience at Chepauk
Cricket fans should head to Chepauk, and the MA Chidambaram International Cricket Stadium, for a test match, if one is on. What an experience it is! It’s true what they say, the Chennai test cricket crowd is a different class – self-aware and very cricket-savvy. My favourite thing about watching a match there is the regular banter between the crowd and one of the fielders at the boundary. These legendary exchanges are the sort which you’ll go back home and tell your friends about.
And if test cricket isn’t your thing, don’t worry – Chennai Super Kings will be back in the IPL next season, and the city is so excited about this. The growth of CSK in Chennai is a huge deal. They gave the city something to be proud of.
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You can’t sustain yourself on cricket alone. When players take their lunch break, head out to Triplicane, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, and grab lunch at one of the very affordable Andhra restaurants around. Or if you can wait until the match is over, go straight to the legendary Rathna Café and let the sambhar and kaapi flow. Five days of this over the course of a single match is a beautiful ritual.
For foodies, a great time to visit is during the month-long Chennai Music Season, which takes place in December. Wedding caterers run the canteens at the sabhas (cultural centres), and the menu will have delicacies that you won’t find anywhere else – it’s the sort of food you can get only when your South Indian friend is getting married.
And if you’re longing for some North Indian flavours, head to Mint Street, one of the oldest streets in the city. Located in the city’s commercial centre, George Town, it’s dotted with excellent restaurants and street food stalls.
Tamil Isai Sangam
In the heart of George Town lies an auditorium which was built just to host performances of Tamil Carnatic music. It was founded as a form of protest because the Carnatic scene was earlier full of mostly Sanskrit and Telugu songs, despite most of the artists being Tamilian. Personally, I think it’s a beautiful way to embrace your own culture. The best way to promote an elitist form like Carnatic music to the people is to go past the limits of caste and class by using the language most commonly spoken by them – Tamil. And instead of the typical devotional themes, the songs here are often based on revolutionary Tamil poems by the likes of the legendary poet Bharathiyar.
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Shopping in T-Nagar
Walking along the roads and shopping from the stores that line the roads of T-Nagar is the closest you get to Mumbai in Chennai. Start from Panagal Park and make your way towards Ranganathan Street for the optimal shopping route. It’s a great way to find the small shops and small businesses that are typical of the area.
Chennai’s Secret Spots
Walk through Kalakshetra, or the Theosophical Society, which is set in a quiet, lush green oasis. For a better understanding of the city’s cultural identity, visit the little-known Vasanta Vihar, which serves as a repository for the writings of famous scholar and philosopher, Jiddu Krishnamurti. While it’s open only to those who go there to learn more about Krishnamurti, it’s ashram-like atmosphere will be attractive for those looking for solitude.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Srinivasan Ramesh; Images via Instagram