"Is Chennai near Madras?" is a question we often hear. They are, in fact, one and the same and the two names have happily existed side-by-side for years. Nowadays officialdom prefers the old vernacular name of Chennai, from Chennaipattinam, said to be named after Chennaiappa Naicker, the local chieftain from whom the British acquired the town in 1639, though you'll find Madras has stuck internationally.
From a small fishing village, Chennai has grown to be India's fourth largest metropolis with a population pegged at 7.2 million in 2007, and is known for its classical dance and music heritage, sensuous silk saris, fragrant jasmine flowers and the enduring aroma of its filter kapi (percolated coffee). It's certainly a busy place, but one that is surprisingly green too.
Chennai lies at the heart of the Hindu south, but is also an important centre for Christianity. The basilica of San Thome is one of only three in the world built over the tomb of an apostle.
Whilst the performing arts are cherished and nurtured in this city, Chennai-ites (a tongue-twister locals cope with admirably) equally enjoy a meal at one of the many pizza outlets and a night out at the cinema.
Chennai is a hot and humid city. The maximum temperatures of 38-42° C (100-108° F) hit the city in May and June ahead of the spectacular and very welcome monsoon season which lasts from September to December. The lows of 18-20° C (65-68° F) come in January and February and these are perfect times for exploring the ancient monuments and hill stations in the sunny southern plateau of India.
Guesstimates are all we ever hear for the number of expatriates living in the city, ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 (Indians invented the zero after all, so we use it liberally!). As if it didn't already have enough names, Chennai is also popularly known as the Detroit of South Asia: it is a major manufacturing hub for automobiles and related suppliers, and the outsourcing industry, telecommunications, IT and leatherware companies have all flocked to the city in recent years. A number of expat support organisations flourish in the city, including the Overseas Womens' Group and the International Womens' Association for expatriate spouses, and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce linking US and Indian business communities.
Consequently, there are several options for schools for expat kids. Chennai has an excellent American International School providing education from pre-school through to Grade 12 and which follows the US curriculum and the International Baccalaureate programme. This is the school of choice for most expatriates. Other schools of repute are the German School, APL Global, the British School and the French Gateway School, and they offer an alternative to parents who may not have support with school fees. As for healthcare, the Apollo Hospitals Group started in Chennai, and has several centres of excellence and clinics in the city. MIOT Hospitals, a multi-speciality healthcare group, also have a significant presence here. Vanakkam!
Welcome to Chennai!