India is truly an incredible nation that brings together varied cultures as one, whilst allowing each one of them to retain their individuality. COVID-19 has taken the entire world by storm. Lockdown as an experience never really crossed our minds before this. For someone like me, who takes over 50 trips a year, this current situation is nothing less than a nightmare. The only saving grace is that it has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my family. What I have missed most is travelling to my favourite city, Chennai, which I would frequently visit between my domestic and international trips throughout the year.
The world views Chennai as an iconic city, without which the great Indian saga of diversity and grandeur would not be complete. But, for me, it is my second home. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would be there right now spending the summer in our family home where I have spent all my summer holidays as a child. Standing tall on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, it is also a hotspot for large-scale economic and educational activities. According to global market research company Euromonitor International on ‘Top 100 City Destination Rankings’, Chennai happens to be the 36th most-visited place across the globe.
For me, the significance of this city goes beyond the confines of mere numbers, rankings, and figures; rather, it is an immense reservoir of emotions. Chennai reminds me of the golden days of my childhood where a schoolboy would eagerly wait for the commencement of summer vacation so he could visit the city filled with joy. Its warm and vibrant atmosphere parallels my bond with my nanaji (maternal grandfather) and spiritual guru.
Chennai and my life have been inseparable. The city has added different shades to my life. I met my wife here. It is the home of my maternal grandparents, who resided there most of their lifetime. During my summer vacations here, my grandfather passed on some important learnings of Sufism to me. We also celebrated the pious occasion of Varsi wherein individuals pay homage to the guru who provides them with guidance. The Varsi of the saint Shahenshah Baba Nebhraj Sahib, who inspired and influenced my grandfather, was hosted during my visits. The five days of celebration, which was attended by his children and grandchildren reverberated with happiness, enthusiasm, faith, and undeterred belief. I grew so fond of the celebration that even after my grandfather left us about six years ago, I have made it a point to visit Chennai every month and spend time at the place he resided.
Additionally, we have a temple which was built by my nanaji in the early 1970s. Over the years we have nurtured it, and today it’s a magnanimous 4,500 sq ft space. Inside its robust structure are pictures and idols of almost every god worshipped in our diverse mythology. Nanaji respected cultures and traditions across the nation; hence apart from regular prayer we even conduct regional festivities through the year. The temple is named Sufi Dar, a religious home to every visitor, irrespective of their faith. The highlight of my visit there is the abhishekam and aarti of Shahenshah Baba, which happens every Saturday. It is an ethereal experience and I hope to pass on this emotion to my son one day.
Travel adds purpose and meaning to one’s life. It provides a person with the opportunity to find perspective and look at things differently. For me, any place that resonates being close to the Almighty is my go-to destination. Whether it is the heavenly Golden Temple in Amritsar, the breathtaking Ajmer Dargah, or my very own Sufi Dar in Chennai, it imbues my journey with purpose.
Although the lockdown has put a halt on our travel plans, with the resumption of travel, the first place I plan to visit is most definitely Chennai. Sometimes, I still tend to go on travel portals to check for tickets; that is how eager I am to go there. It is a big deal for someone who visits the city 15 times a year and has not been able to travel there in these past months.