The charm of Chennai


Chennai, the southern capital city, has come of age. Once mocked as the place of ‘Madrasis’, ‘lungis’ and horrendous heat, today, it is perceived as a traditional, yet, an evolved city, which is also perhaps the safest for women. Liz Thottan, an avid traveller and surfer, sings paeans to her city.

India has the most misogynistic men in the world, thanks to the god like status given to a male child from the time of his birth. I am not saying this off the top of my head. But some facts that I got to learn while studying the psychology of men in India a few years back. The need was to deal with men within my own family, and to understand and be more compassionate to deal with the country I was born in. It’s not easy as a woman to live in India. We have to be cautious, aware and own a huge presence of mind at all times.

It is also a very conservative country. We are conditioned to think in ways that does not make sense to the rest of the world. The male is the dominant factor in every family. A female has to behave in certain ways that have been designed by not just the ancestral males, but also the ancestral females. Every voice of a female present and in the past has been and will be stubbed by the authoritative male of this society. It therefore is a very complex, demeaning and disrespectful country at large for a female to survive, flourish and bloom to her full potential.
Now you may pin point a finger at me and say I am generalising. Yes, I am talking about what at least 90% of the women born in India go through at some point in time in their lives. Nintey percent does give me the right to generalise I hope.

With this as a background of Indian society, imagine the financial revolution that we have been going through in the last 20 years. With social media, internet, fancy jobs and the poor or the lower middle class getting their hands on every luxury out there, young girls want to live the life of Carrie Bradshaw (of Sex and the city), mimicking the Western world now that they have access to their own money. This also gave women the confidence and the conviction that they can be better than men, and they can be leaders in their own world.

These days men want working women as their bride. Not because they have evolved to understand an independent woman, but because a working woman means he can be a couch potato and be treated as a god even in married life. Men by and large are becoming lazier with this trend. Just an observation.

With all these complex changes in the Indian society, there has been an increasing amount of molestations, rapes and killings. Nirbhaya case in Delhi a few years back became the face of this changing India. How safe is this country for women? Survey after survey conducted since then, tries to find which is the safest city for women to work in. Very often the one city that pops up on top of this list has been Chennai. I am not saying this because I live in Chennai. Let’s be practical here. Why is Chennai the safest city in the country? I used to run a paying guest accommodation for ladies in Chennai. And one of the reasons that women from the North decided to come to Chennai to work, in spite of its traditional, conservative lifestyle, was the safety factor.

Chennai, the safest?
What makes Chennai a safe city? From my analysis, it has got a lot to do with its culture. People by and large in Tamil Nadu are shy, humble and realistic. I find them a lot more docile, compassionate and helpful by nature. Their loving nature spills over to being respectful towards women. They are more appreciative of women than shun them. It is truly a non-aggressive State, and its capital all the more so. If we draw comparison to the two mass movements that were held within a matter of few days in the month of January, actions did speak louder than words. The New Year’s celebration in Bangalore and the Jallikattu revolution in Chennai. Need I say more?

I have been a resident of Chennai for 32 years. During my school years, I have had the usual casanovas following me, not to harass, but merely to talk to me. I was this new comer from Mumbai, and back in those days, a Mumbai girl was a dream girlfriend to have, I guess.

In my corporate life, all my work involved night shifts, right from my Taj Coromandel days, till my last job with Blue Dart Aviation. Long hours and late nights have been a part of my job. I cannot remember of one instance where I felt threatened or scared in a late night taxi drive or a bike ride in the middle of the night. More often, I have only felt protected than scared! Some of the drivers would make sure that I entered the house, before they would go away.

A spot survey about Chennai’s safety
As a part of this article, I did a general survey within my friends group to see what they had to say.

“Always felt safe in Chennai, I am by nature a cautious person and that only adds to my security. The night life does not spill into the streets and cops are here and there, and the people of Chennai make you feel comfortable all the time..”, says Bindu Sathianesan, a hardcore ‘Chennaiite’, who now resides in Dubai.

“Chennai is one of the cities, I felt safe in. Though people always complain about the weather and language, it is one of the few cities in this country that respects women and makes them feel safe. I remember I used to stay in a PG with only girls, and we used to go out all the time. There were hardly any instances where we were ogled at or teased. One of my girl friends and I used to go to late night shows on a bike, and get back to our PG at 1am or so. I never felt scared in this city. Though people are old fashioned, this culture has not given way to sleaze balls of the society (as in Delhi), where parents have to be worried about their girls coming home! I would love to go back to Chennai any day”! says Deepthi, who hails from Hyderabad, and now lives in Bangalore.

“As the mother of teenage girls, I have had no worries about raising them in Chennai. I always talk to them about harassment and provide orientation regarding why they need to watch out and where they must be cautious, and so on. Never letting anyone, be it a man or a woman, touch them, was the first lesson. We don’t live in fear and ofcourse we don’t venture out after 11 pm as well”, says Chitradeepa Anantharam, who works for The Hindu in Chennai.

Most of the women felt it is also necessary to dress appropriately depending on the surroundings. Now many of you will argue and ask,”Why do we have to change our style to please anyone?” Here is my take on it: We don’t have to change our style, but we need to change the mentality of Indian men. Till that is a 100% success, we always have to be on our guard. It’s not about the women, it’s about the men. Till they come of age,be logical, be sensible and be safe!

The role of the police
But besides all this, the absolutely efficient Chennai police force plays a major role in the safety of Chennai. They are everywhere, be it day time or night. And they are always on the vigil, and at the same time, extremely friendly and helpful. They do not cause fear among its citizens, rather, they come across as a friend in need. Therefore, it is very easy for women to approach them for help.

The cultural, traditional and intellectual background of the people of Chennai makes it a very convenient city to live in, for a woman. This, I, a proud Chennaiite, can completely vouch for.


Liz Thottan

In the writer’s words: “In our youth, many of us talk about quitting at 40 and living life on one’s own terms. Have you met any such person yet? Here I am. My life as a nomadic wanderer”.