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Madras, more than the other metros, is India in microcosm. A metropolis that presents a mad mix of the traditional and the modern. A metrop where you could find the latest in computer hardware being transported on a bullock cart. A metrop where the temple, the cultural centre and the disco exist side by side. A metrop where temples exist not only for silent Gods of stone but for celluloid heroes and heroines as well.,

Madras is, in a sense, a confused city. - in that it seeks to retain its grip on the traditional even as it reaches out to grasp at the ultra-modern. And in this very dichotomy lies its main attraction - for you never know what fresh paradox awaits you a street corner away. And it is in this sense that Madras typifies- perhaps even symbolises - the India of today.

Born: Two thousand years ago as a fishing village. Later it became one of the earliest outposts of British colonialism with Fort St George, as its hub. However, Mylapore, Pallavaram and Triplicane date from the 1st century AD, and were part of the Pallava kingdom.

The British arrived in 1639, with Francis Day and Andrew Cogan of the East India Company negotiating for a strip of land beside the Cooum river to set up a trading outpost. A year later, on April 23, a settlement of thatched huts was up, under the name of Fort St George - so named in honour of the saint whose day it was. The honour of being the first Europeans in Madras however goes to the Portuguese, who had by then set up a colony in the area that now goes by the name San Thome.

Fort St George was known as madraspatnam, or 'white town', by the locals. Chennapatnam, aka 'black town', was just a wee bit north and the two developed side by side, gradually merging into Madras as we know it. Governor Yale, founder of the eponymous university in America, leased further chunks of real estate from Aurangzeb, who had by then annexed the kingdoms around Madras. By the 1750s, Madras had developed into a full-fledged city.

Today, it is a full-fledged metropolis, and the capital city of the state of Tamil Nadu.

Population: Five million and counting.

Language: Tamil, in the main. English. Malayalam, at a pinch. Some Kannada in Udipi restaurants and such-like pockets. Perched at the north-eastern tip of the state and hardly 30 km from the Andhra Pradesh border, 20 per cent of the population of Madras are Telugu speakers, many whom are now naturalised Tamils.

Climate: Hot, hotter, hellish (mid-February to August). Followed by wet, wetter, Noah's Ark time (October to November). Pleasantly cool in December to January.

Best time to visit: Anytime really, provided you are prepared for the weather of the time.

Dress sense: In the main, the lightest clothes you can find. Cottons, for choice, pastel colours unless you are into being deep fried. Open toed sandals, rather than closed shoes. And plenty of hand-towels and/or tissues for those much-needed mopping operations. Madras is one city where you get away with not wearing a suit or tie for a business meeting.

Be wary of: Pickpockets in buses, trains and shopping centres. Extortionate autorickshaw drivers all over the place. Importunate beggars. Con artists. You name it, Madras has it - but which metro this size doesn't?

Inputs from Ganesh Nadar and Shobha Warrier in Madras

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