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ISL Tour Diary: Chennai, the land of many hues

A traditional yet dynamic and intellectual, Chennai is timeless. Chennaites flock to classical music concerts as well as rock fests with equal gusto.

Subhasish Dutta | News18 Sports

Updated:October 24, 2014, 9:35 AM IST
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ISL Tour Diary: Chennai, the land of many hues
A traditional yet dynamic and intellectual, Chennai is timeless. Chennaites flock to classical music concerts as well as rock fests with equal gusto.

"Vanakkam, Sir! Your driver Balu is at your service!" These were the first words I heard upon my arrival in Chennai from Delhi. Draped in a white half-sleeve shirt and cream-colour dhoti or veshti - as it is known here, a man in his late 50s holding my name plate was there to welcome me at the airport. While I was dazed, rather sleep-deprived after the early morning flight, it took me a few moments before I got acclimatised and realised that I was in Chennai - the gateway to Southern India.

A traditional yet dynamic and intellectual city, Chennai is timeless. People with teeka smeared on their foreheads go to work in some of the best IT companies. They are equally passionate about a cup of filter coffee as about Kollywood and cricket. A cup of coffee, if not perfectly made, can spark a battle here as can a debate on who's the best among Rajinikanth or Kamal Hasan. Chennaites flock to classical music concerts as well as rock fests with equal gusto.

My latest and only the second visit to the city in five years came as an official one. I was here to cover the Indian Super League match between home team Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC.

Covering the beautiful game in Chennai was a whole new experience for me. I was a bit cynical over the city's craze for football, which - unlike Kolkata, Goa, Kerala or North East, - was not a given.

But this visit changed my perception. Over the last decade or so, the craze for football has boomed in Chennai, predominantly known for its cricket craze. I could see small groups of people in different parts of the city playing football.

We have seen how IPL matches here draw a large number of audience but watching a sizeable audience turn up at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for a football match was something I didn't expect.

The game, dubbed as the Southern derby, was graced with the presence of two of India's biggest cinema personalities, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth, who is no less than a God here. The list did not end there. Cricket legend and co-owner of the Kerala Blasters FC, Sachin Tendulkar, was also present, much to the excitement of the crowd. The match too ended in the favour of the home team Chennayin FC, which won 2-1.

Quickly after filing the match report and attending the post-match conference, I asked the driver to take me to a nearby place to eat. And before I could say anything else, he parked the car outside Buhari Hotel, located right in front of the Chennai Egmore station and said: "It's the best hotel here for non-veg food."

I quickly occupied one of the tables and asked the waiter to bring anything that was their speciality. He promptly replied: "Every dish here is special one." After insisting again, he asked to try 'Buhari Special Parotta' and 'Chicken Chettinadu'. I had no idea how would it be but still nodded. The order was on my table in 10 minutes and I can give you in writing that it was one of the best chicken dishes I have had in my life. Totally lip smacking! The dish was made with a blend of traditional southern spices with some touch of north and garnished with curry leaves - a customary in South Indian dishes.

The food made me inquire more about the restaurant and I found out that Buhari was perhaps among the oldest restaurants in the city and is famous for its biryani and chicken starters. The place is definitely on my list of must-visit places in Chennai and would recommend it to anybody who plans to visit the city.

Though only for a day, the visit to Chennai was an enriching one and broke quite a few preconceived notions I had about the city - with football at the core.

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