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Chennai to the ECR

Words + Photography by Rikesh Chauhan, using Canon's 6D + Sony Alpha's A7iii.

I never particularly enjoyed visiting India during my childhood and formative years. The earlier trips felt a little alien. Having only ever known life in England, India was a culture shock and then some. As I grew older, the disillusionment of identity was thrown into the mix. Speak to a lot of second generation immigrants in the UK, and this will likely resonate with them, too. As I slowly grew into adulthood, the world suddenly became not-so-nice a place. Racism was (and had always been) quite a constant, but the older I became, the more obvious it was. Sometimes it would be aggressive and unprovoked, and other situations would be subtly peppered with micro-aggressions, stereotypes and so on. It resulted in me feeling like I’d never truly be accepted in the country I was born in, and yet, to be treated and observed as a foreigner whenever I went to India. It always resulted in me feeling a bit lost.

My family are from the south of Gujarat, a state located in the North West of India. It’s home to India’s largest coastline, and figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nirendra Modi — take that however you wish. Specifically, we lived in the ghaam where the roads weren’t really roads, the heat would be sweltering (there’s no A/C or wifi), and there was really not much to do bar visit the local, very unclean, beach. My wife, on the other hand, would visit India pretty much every summer as far back as they can remember, splitting their time between Chennai and Bangalore, located in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, respectively. There’s the notion that things are always a bit slower, a bit more chilled, the further South you go, but I assumed that sentiment only really applied to the USA. Southern hospitality and all that jazz. Turns out, India sings to the same tune. I first visited Chennai in 2019, and it completely changed my perspective. This was a proper city. Fast-paced, forward-thinking, and incredibly vibrant. The food, the bar scene (something Gujarat doesn’t have given it’s a dry state, still, prohibition never really worked in the US…) rival any of the cities I’ve visited prior.



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