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As a Delhiite, a move from Delhi to Chennai meant that we had to work hard to let go of our earlier way of life, even though my husband was a Tamilian!
In a reverse of Chetan Bhagat’s novel 2 States, I, a Punjabi married a Tamilian.
I was born and brought up in Delhi and lived there my entire life. My husband had also spent a large part of his life in Delhi. So much so, that often he was known as a Delhite with a South Indian surname. After marriage, we were living in Gurgaon and had settled into a busy corporate lifestyle in a fast paced world. Last year, we, along with our 3.5 year old son, relocated to Chennai on a professional opportunity.
The North-South divide in India is quite well known. While it may be a cliché, there is some truth to the differences. I have described below some based on my personal experience-
In Gurgaon, we led very individualistic lives, engrossed in our own affairs, not even knowing our neighbours next door. On the contrary, people in Chennai believe in community living. Those residing in secured apartments do not even shut their main doors to let guests walk in any time. Another contrast was the way people dress up.
In Gurgaon most people just need an excuse to bring out their most fashionable and expensive outfits. A trip to the mall is like a visit to a fashion show with women sporting their best dresses. In Chennai, akin to their personality, people dress up more simply and mostly in traditional Indian clothes. It is indeed true that half of the men on the streets actually wear lungis and most women are in shiny sarees. While in Gurgaon I was used to wider roads, though with so many potholes, and a large stream of high-end cars, Chennai has narrower roads, many SUVs, lots of two-wheelers and many more pedestrians. And yes, Chennai loves its posters and banners with many politicians or actors / actresses staring at you at every point on the road.
When we started house hunting in Chennai, we were looking to replicate our life in Gurgaon where we stayed in a condo, which is basically a large apartment complex with a self-contained club, swimming pool, park, sports facilities etc. and the city was littered with similar complexes. However, Chennai did not have many such places in the main city and they were more common on the outskirts. The brokers often showed us houses in Chennai and highlighted their vicinity to temples as a major attraction, in contrast to, metro station and malls, used as selling points for Gurgaon houses. It was surprising for us to learn that none of the houses had a servant quarter and there were stand-alone wash basins in the middle of every dining room. We therefore, had to adjust our terms of reference and put on a different lens to decide on a house.
Finally, we ended up finding a comfortable place near our extended family and the beach- a combination that cannot be rivalled by Gurgaon (since it is landlocked and people need to take a beach vacation to be close to the sea).
In recent years, the concept of house maids/full time nannies had picked up in Gurgaon. Most of my peer group had at least one of the two. When we moved to Chennai, many people were surprised to know that we have full time help. Though it seems like a luxury to them, for us it is just a way of life now. Surprisingly, finding people to do odd jobs in Chennai is also difficult and expensive given the short supply. It is believed that since the literacy rate is high here, no one wants to do menial chores.
People in the north believe that South Indian cuisine’s I-D comprises only of idli and dosa. I was still exposed to more variety by virtue of marriage. However, after the move, my eyes opened to an extensive range of different dishes- many of which I enjoy both eating and making now.
My son enjoys his rajma-chawal, chole bhature yet craves for paniyarams at times. He cuts up his idlis meticulously with a knife and picks up each piece with a fork rather than going the South Indian way of eating with hands. While we are used to Delhi winters and the lavish spread of delicacies specific to the cold weather (makki Ki roti and sarson ka saag, stuffed parathas) and desserts (gajar ka halwa, gulab jamuns etc), we have now blended in. In contrast to our evening outings of ice-cream at India Gate and chaat in South Delhi, we now go out for string potatoes at Besant Nagar beach and filter coffee at Sarvana Bhavan.
Chennai definitely is a Senior Citizen city with large parts of its population in the older age bracket, settled after retirement. This could probably be because most of the children go out of the city to either study or work. Also, the elderly seem to be living independently managing their households efficiently whereas in the north it is more common to have big joint families with 3 generations living under the same roof.
Gurgaon was a melting pot with young working population from all over India and other countries. This difference strikes me when I see Chennai almost shut down by 11 pm, with only a handful of pubs and a sparse night life. Many a times when we go to a restaurant at night for dinner we are one of the last few customers, given the culture of eating and sleeping early in Chennai.
In Gurgaon, parties start only an hour after the given time. There is a lavish spread of snacks and many people drinking. Meals are served only after a couple of hours, followed by dessert and tea. In Chennai, people arrive at the given time, and some even before time. There are rarely any snacks and everyone jumps straight into the meal. Once everyone has eaten the party is over, usually taking half the time of North Indian parties.
In fact, when we received our first party invitation in Chennai, we reached an hour late only to find that people were almost done eating and ready to leave the party. Wedding parties are a bigger contrast in north vs. south with – Bollywood songs played by DJ vs. classical Carnatic background music; lavish buffet spread vs. seated setting; many people dressed up as if they are the bride or the groom as compared to simpler clothes and jewellery down south. In my own big fat Punjabi wedding, we got into an unexpected situation when the groom’s side arrived 15 minutes before the scheduled time and only a handful of men from our family, who were looking at last minute venue arrangements, were there to receive them.
There is inherent beauty in these differences and these define our country’s strength. A move to a new city and exposure to another culture can be very enriching if one keeps an open mind. I am glad my son (and us) got this opportunity to experience and assimilate the best from different worlds.
I would love to hear if you have had similar or different experiences.
Image source: Flickr and By Vengatraman (harish-made) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, for representational purposes only.
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