Having been brought up in a joint family with four generations, I spent a lot of my childhood listening to stories of the 'good old days'; it was boring then, but priceless now in hindsight.
My great grandmother — Babushka we used to call her aka Pattu Balagopal was a resident of Mylapore since her birth in 1909. She would talk about the days where RK Salai was just filled with coconut trees. The days where there were no compound walls between houses, just some loose barbed wire. How she had to walk/run from house to house to give them news about childbirth or if someone passed away.
Her husband was a very well-known tennis player TB Balagopal and so we had many stories of the Madras tennis landscape in the 30s and 40s. She talked about how she went to Venice with just a passport — at that time, they didn't have visas.
For a long time, I could never associate these memories with Madras. But this lockdown, when time stood still, I could close my eyes for a few minutes and go back in time.
Shreya's great grandparents: TB Balagopal and Pattu Balagopal
If there's one thing that people overlook when talking about Madras, it's diversity. As someone who works in the arts, I was exposed to and practiced Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam respectively. As I grew older and started working in the arts, I met and made wonderful friends in a wide variety of art forms: Gana, Kattaikoothu, Villu Paattu, the Tamil indie music scene, contemporary art, shadow puppetry... I could go on and on.
The arts, culture and food in abundance around the city aren't only from Tamil people: Being a port city, this has become home to generations of people from other parts of the country and world, bringing their flavour to this melting pot.
At the end of the day, the truth is, that was also Madras, this is also Madras — a city that lets everyone evolve and adapt at their own pace in their own time. That is the true spirit of this city, it allows you to be who you want to be.