Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Bit About Chennai

Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is the 4th largest city in India, with a population of around 6 million. Nicknamed “The Gateway to the South,” Chennai is the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Located on the Bay of Bengal, the sprawling city includes two major ports and the 2nd longest beach in the world.

Established by the British in the 1600’s, Chennai has recently undergone tremendous growth and change. Much of India’s automotive industry is in Chennai, including Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Ford, and BMW (hence the large number of Koreans at the school). It is also the country’s second largest exporter of information technology. Electronics companies such as Dell, Samsung, Nokia, Sony Ericsson now manufacture here. Pfizer, and Dow Chemical company also have their presence here. This influx of companies is a major reason for the school’s recent growth.

More interesting to me is the culture of the area, due largely to the variety of regional ethnic groups. Rich in arts and literature, Chennai is famous for its various cultural events, including a renowned 5-week long music festival in December. Its thriving movie industry, known as Kollywood, is internationally known. I look forward to seeing the classical dance form Bharatanatyam, as well as attend concerts incorporating traditional instruments such as the sitar and tabala. Shopping opportunities abound, from the few large shopping malls to the market stalls. Famous for its magnificent silk saris, Chennai also is a place to buy cast bronze, traditional jewelry, and stone sculptures.

Located on the thermal equator, Chennai is largely tropical throughout the year, with some cooling in the winter. Temperatures range from around 67° F (19°C) in January, all the way up to 104°F (40°C) in May/June. It gets most of its rain (annual = 51 inches, or 1,300 mm) from the monsoon winds, which occur from September to mid-December. I guess I will be packing away my wool Sirogojno sweaters and snow boots!

Tamil is the dominant language, but English is widely spoken as well (to varying degrees of “understandability”), particularly in the business sector. Most natives are Hindu, but there are also some that practice Islam and Christianity.

Education/Health Care
Chennai is home to an extensive array of schools and universities, a testament to its emphasis on education. Literacy rate is at 81%, well above the national average. With its renowned medical colleges, access to quality health care is easy – and at very affordable rates. Because it is tropical, precautions need to be taken against malaria, as well as water-borne diseases such as dysentery. My experience in Mali should prove useful here.

I’ve been told that the traffic in Chennai can best be described as “chaotic.” A mixture of busses, autos, motorbikes, and auto rickshaws all vie for dominance. Some teachers have a car and driver, a few brave folks drive themselves, and others take the auto rickshaws to school.

More to come…in August….
With New Teacher Orientation starting on July 31, look for postings of my new international journey of India to begin in August. I’m sure I’ll be taking lots of photos…

Image Sources:,,


Rachel Sarah said...

I lived in Chennai when I was "younger" for all of 1992-1993. I worked with a Christian group called Youth With A Mission, started off with a 6 month training and ended up falling in love with the people and staying for 2 years. You're in for an exciting adventure... truly, there is no place like India. I have put you on my favorites so I can keep track of your experiences come July. I'm glad I stumbled upon your site. :>)

Melissa Enderle said...

Dear Rachel Sarah,

Thank you for your encouraging words. When choosing which job to accept and along with it, the country, it can be a difficult choice and one which must be made rather quickly. Indeed, I am looking forward to the adventures and opportunities this new part of the world has to bring for me and am eager to share my observations with others.

Pat said...

Hi, Melissa! As promised, here I am happily following your adventures and learning a lot.

But is it Kollywood or Bollywood? I've heard the latter, but maybe Kollywood is a branch-off!

Melissa Enderle said...

Bollywood is headquartered in Mumbai (Bombay). Kollywood is in Chennai.
I also have so many things to learn. Both the religion and culture is so different from other places, so it will take some time to really "understand" India.