Chennai chutzpah: When the city labels migrants as ‘traitors’

The criticism against migrants leaving Chennai city seems unjustified as experts believe most of the city's population comprises settlers from outside and it is outsiders who built the city | Image - Eunice Dhivya

When Mohan (name changed) first came to Chennai five years ago, the city seemed cold and confusing. It took him months until he actually felt at home here. Soon everything that used to unsettle him about Chennai in the beginning – the maze of flyovers, the endless stream of cars, the crowded streets and the constant noise – became a part of his daily life, something that he looked forward to every morning. It wasn’t long before he started calling Chennai his home. Every trip to his native village in Coimbatore made him long to get back to his life in Chennai.

“Chennai felt like home. Even the noise and the fast pace started to feel soothing in a way,” Mohan says, recalling his daily life in the ‘big city’ until Covid-19 changed everything. As the novel coronavirus tightened its grip and a lockdown ensued, Mohan and many like him were forced to go back to their native villages. “There was no guarantee when things would get back to normal, there still isn’t. In such a scenario the only logical thing to do seemed like going back to my family and being with them,” he adds.

Things took a sharp turn when after the months-long lockdown Mohan was told by his employer that he will have to take a deep pay cut and, if he wants, he can work from his village.

“I decided to vacate my rented place and go back to Coimbatore and work from there. It didn’t make sense to waste money on rent when I was working from home,” says Mohan, who works as a mid-level executive with an IT company.

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