“How did you end up here?”
That’s usually one of the first questions people in Chennai ask me when they learn I was born and raised in Canada and am choosing to live in Chennai. I don’t mean the colleagues that I work with who obviously know how my career led me here. Or the close friends I’ve gained over the few years I’ve been this dual-time zone writer and film rep, because they also know my story well.
But I can understand the confusion I hear in the voices of everyone from the industry professionals and celebrities I meet, to friends of friends, to the beautician who strikes up a conversation while I get my eyebrows done. Most youth in India are interested in moving to Canada or the US, themselves, and doing so is no easy feat; so naturally, they find it a bit confusing that I am choosing, of my own accord, to do the opposite.
I’m in Chennai for a couple of reasons. First off, as most people who have read my writing or seen my work with TIFF and Indian films know, cinema has always been my passion. So – passion got me here. One of the main reasons I’m here is for career growth and to gain hands on experience in the industry I’ve advocated for from afar for a while now.
I’m here to learn how award-winning filmmakers, whom I’m so grateful to call my close friends, take a story from the pages of a script to projection on a screen. And it helps that it’s not only India’s cinema I fell in love with while growing up in Canada, but the culture as a whole.
Another reason this time in Chennai is a (long-hoped-for) dream come true is that it means I get to live in the land where some of my favorite arts were born. Growing up my family did not have the means to send me for additional training in Carnatic music and Bharathanatyam, during my summer holidays, like many of my peers.
Although I’m proud to say not receiving such additional instruction did not hold me back from graduating from both disciplines, I must admit that a keenness to continue learning also got me here. As I continue training in music and dance, now that I have the ability to do so myself, I feel blessed to be learning the divine arts in the land in which they were derived.
Of course, all of this hasn’t come to life without a few obstacles being faced. At the end of the day, despite being a modern thamizhachi, life is not exactly like a Bollywood movie. Like many other Tamil girls my age, I was raised by parents who are liberal but not so liberal that backpacking by myself through Europe, or even 1 city, like in Queen, during university or after graduating was an option.
So, being the late bloomer I am, after gaining enough experience and age to prove to them I can handle myself across the world for a while – my fervent desire for adventure got me here. This Chennai Chapter of mine is like my version of “Eat, Pray, Love”…except that it’s more like “Dance, work, explore (& click Instagram pictures)”.
For all these reasons and more I didn’t just ‘end up here’ by chance or mistake. I chose this adventure that holds many valuable experiences for me, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. To me it’s a brand new adventurous beginning. It’s what I believe is an exciting start.
And as I discover South India this summer I hope that you’ll enjoy reading about my adventures on TamilCulture.com. This “Chennai Chapter” series will discuss some highlights from my everyday life over there, as well as the exceptions to the everyday that I’m lucky enough to receive via my role in the glamorous Indian film industry.
I also plan to discuss some pertinent topics related to being a North American raised South Asian youth and how things are perceived by our peers on the other side of the world, such as cultural appropriation, dark is beautiful campaigns, and the pursuit of unconventional career paths. I hope you’ll tune in and join these discussions I most often have with myself.
In the meantime, I thought I’d let you in on a few interesting observations from my short time staying in Chennai so far. As I tell most people who ask ‘how are you adjusting to life there?’ – for the most part I am welcomed in Chennai with open arms. My Tamil-with-a-Canadian-accent, openness to new experiences and ability to adapt to a much more spontaneous work lifestyle there is appreciated greatly.
I don’t think I’ve experienced any type of culture shock, maybe just some shivers here and there….
- Cabs are actually less expensive than autos, most of the time (for those of us who have a permanently tourist-face)
- Chennai movie theatres put Canadian ones to shame (I’m no longer phased to see people clicking their next profile pics in the cinema’s opulent washrooms during intermission)
- Atheism seems to be on the rise amongst South Indian youth
- I know it’s tough to believe but I think Super Singer is a bigger deal in the GTA
- Cost of living is fairly similar to Toronto when converted (TBD in detail)
- No clubs/lounges in Chennai are allowed to play Tamil music! So my urge to bust a move to ‘Selfie Pulla’ on a night out with the crew remain unrealized
- Nutella is, unfortunately, the same price.