Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All Hail Chennai

Wow! The tickets were finally booked and this time it was not to Kerala (my native-place) first. Phew! This would be an adventure of sorts. So my blackmailing had worked. Or so I can say. Did you ask me the trick? Well, I just told that if we were going to board the same train to see the same coconut trees then I would rather bear the Mumbai heat (it's another story that I love to enjoy the sight of the coconut trees and the gold mannequins- the latter was a bit over-the-top but nevertheless almost true!).Take a look at the 'mangalsutras' of Keralite women and you would know what I mean when I say GOLD. So I was busy asking anyone and everyone who had been to Chennai about the weather, places to visit, specialties and the like. The one common thing that I got to hear was - "Are you crazy? Why would any sane person go to Chennai in May, out of all months?"

I said, "The tickets have already been booked and we have no intention of cancelling it. Moreover I am going to see the place for the first time."

In my heart I winced a little more. Would it really be so bad? I better be prepared. 
Sunglasses- checked. 
Cotton,comfortable clothes- checked. 

Did I forget something? I counted and recounted and then gave up. I am ready to face you dear heat-blasting Chennai and then tada!!! The moment I alighted from the train, I couldn't stop myself from comparing it to Howrah Junction (Kolkata). Chennai Central- the next thing I remember was the feeling of watching some movie. In front of me were people- so many of them. It was all in sepia mode or was I over-exaggerating? The memory of it bears a pale yellow tinge.Was it because of the excessive use of turmeric?It truly lends an old-world charm to the native ladies- their faces with a golden glow and their silver anklets glittering against the pale yellow ankles, jingling as they walked towards their different destinations.

Only then did the climate strike me.I thought it was temporary. Little did I know that it was bound to last till I left this place.The love and laughter of my relatives, the little banters of being with cousins after ages- it warmed me up just like the weather. So many people in a single house today is like a flashback into the joint families that our ancestors had, once upon a time. Truth be told, it's so much of fun, at least temporarily. The battles that are said to follow- well let's keep it for some other day !

Museums, beaches, old buildings, streets, the Saravana Bhavans charmed me. It had the charms of Mumbai- the traffic on roads, under-construction Metro, local trains, the malls (albeit lesser than in Mumbai), the beaches. But then it wasn't Mumbai. Don't ask a Mumbaikar the exact reason for that ! ;)

Marina 'Blue' Beach

In one of the bylanes of T.Nagar ( a la-Crawford market of Mumbai), I happened to fulfil one of my dreams- to meet an author. Bhargavi Balachandran, Author of The Crossover Year and Seven Across , a woman of grace and subtlety. I walked as if in a daze, absorbing the sounds, textures, lights, colours and the very life of those narrow streets. In those few hours I learned that humans are more or less alike. They may seem to be different by way of their dressing styles, their lifestyles- the very way they look at life, but then it all boils down to just one thing- 'delectable beings'. 

A trip to Kancheepuram followed soon after. Call it the drastic changes in weather or a tough woman's coat being removed for sometime, sickness followed. What was planned as a temple tour and scouting for those colourful Kancheepuram Sarees felt like a tour of Thar desert en route to our destination and ended up like a drive through the roads of Cherapunjee on our way back. I couldn't believe my eyes when vendors' items just flew away with the wind and rains that lashed down like powerful piercing sheets all of a sudden. The picture of children playing in that rain would truly be memorable ( infact that was the last picture I dared to capture at Kancheepuram because I feared that my camera too would just fly away with the wind!).

Many people have told me many a times that it is a bad place to stay. Maybe if I would have stayed there for a longer time I would have reconsidered as well but then the city welcomed us with open arms ( perspiring badly they were, but still!). It brought me closer to a part of India that I had only heard about. Some of the good points you get to enjoy when in Chennai, according to me, are as follows- 

    Rajiv Gandhi Memorial, Sriperumbudur
  • This place is known as the "Detroit of India" for its automobile industry ( reminds me of Tata Magic, *sigh* the good times!) 
  • You get to see the site where the seventh Prime Minister of India, Shri. Rajiv Gandhi breathed his last en-route Kancheepuram at Sriperumbudur.
  • The idli-vada-sambhar is accompanied by three different kinds of chutney! That's reason enough to lick fingers ( a la Boman Irani style like in the Kurkure ad! - *Gross* yes but you get the point. It's *finger licking good* - Thanks KFC for the tagline!)
  • For lovers of jewellery, be ready to be spoilt for choice in the narrow lanes of T.Nagar that open up to amazing designs which are nothing less than a feast for the eyes. 
  • The share-rickshaws or Magic vans as they are popularly called, are easy on the pocket as well as a breeding ground for the latest gossip at times or simply places from where one can enjoy the peace of a long journey through the lanes of Chennai.
  • I couldn't stop my relatives from praising the VGP Golden Beach which I couldn't visit due to time constraints. Considering their choice, I would surely suggest that place as worth stopping by!
  • Utensils - never before in my life have I seen myself getting attracted to stainless steel vessels and artifacts. The variety was mind-blowing. I stood transfixed, the shiny surface filling me with a sense of joy ( you should be there to know what I mean).
  • Oh yes, the huge lifelike dinosaur at Egmore Museum is not just a model. Enter the room and for a moment you get to experience the terror they would have been, once upon a time.
  • When in Rome be a Roman oops when in Chennai be a Chennaikar! Dress up and walk without a care in the world. Adorn gajras (flowers tied together by a thin string) and no one would give you a second look like in other metropolitan cities nowadays. If you are bold enough then nobody can stop you from flaunting a golden glow without any facials (turmeric to the rescue!).
  • You will be able to identify Jayalalitha and her party's symbol even with poor eyesight. 
  • Packaged drinking water at ten rupees, idli at one rupee are just few of the products that sell under the Amma brand.
  • The city stands testimony to a great love story that might have been blown away by the winds of time but it still beats in the hearts of some die-hard fans of stories that refuse to tarnish with time in-spite of the circumstances.  
The city that embraced us with open arms bid us a teary farewell in the form of a heavy downpour.

Nestled within a corner of the heart
Cherished will these moments remain, 
never shall they depart...

- Divya Nambiar

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