You first feel the effects of Chennai’s pollution on your teeth. There’s a chalkyness that settles on the enamel. By the third day here, I found myself obsessively running my tongue over the front of my teeth and gums, hoping to wipe off this persistent taste and feeling of increasing brittleness. One of my colleagues admitted when he first visited the city, he would get up multiple times every night and brushing his teeth, but that one soon grows used to it.

And yes, after being here three weeks, I can say it no longer bothers me, in the same way I no longer need to put a kerchief to my nose and mouth as I walk along the Cooum River (officially a ‘dead’ body of water) to get my groceries.

Chennai, the capital Tamil Nadu and forth largest city in India has some of the worst air pollution in the world. Carbon monoxide levels are double the permitted maximum and the amount of suspended particle matters is over seven times WHO (World Health Organization) limits. You cannot help notice the way people cough here, or the color of their spit (which is not just due to chewing Betel nut).

Historically a textile town, Chennai is now the automotive capital of India, and trying hard to become the center of IT development. None of these industries are sympathetic to the physical environment, and its effects permeate not only  the five senses, but also the socio-economic structure of the city.

I’m currently working with local urban planning students, city governments, and NGO’s on two different planning project–one in Chennai and the other in the costal city of Mahabilipuram. Chennai is a dynamic city. Like all cities that are approached with foreign eyes, there are complexities that seem fleetingly simple, as well as simple exchanges that suddenly appear profound. For the next three months, I will be writing about these encounters as well as  infrastructure (or lack of), public signage, culture, and the state of my teeth.

One Response to “Chennai/Madras”
  1. This post couldnt be more precise

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