Monday, July 11, 2005

An evening in Chennai

It was an overcast and breezy noon. I was in Chennai. Rain droplets smattered my face even as I tried to reassure myself that this was indeed reality. The Chennai Sun had decided to take a break, and I was there to reap the fruits of the newfound clemency.

Walking along MGR Salai, I noticed nothing much had been disturbed since the time I had been here last- two years ago. Hotel Palm Grove stood staidly against the azure sky. The rickshaw queue at the corner seemed to have been transfixed since then.

The American Embassy hid behind the Mount Road flyovers apparently enjoying its well-deserved weekend break after the grind of meeting a thousand visa-seekers.

"How do I get to Marina Beach?" I asked the young man walking just ahead.

He mumbled some directions so inaudibly; I almost thought he was miming. Then he must have decided it was better to lead me since he was heading that way anyway. We took the subway crossing.

"What do you do?” I offered.
"I study BCA", came the measured reply.
"I work at Bangalore."

He was very silent. Maybe Bangalore didn’t interest him. Chennai was feeling so fine anyway. He led me to the bus stop and walked away.

The Chennai bus is a phenomenon. Midsize, oddly coloured (and some uncoloured) 6 wheelers hurtling down narrow by lanes with unimaginable agility. A slight shade apart from the usually soporific rides in Bangalore buses. Jumping into the front door I asked the man on the foot board in my best Tamil.

"Conductor enge?"

He gave me a perplexed look. I was in a fix. Had I said something wrong? Maybe it was my peculiar accent? Something told me I had just made a consummate fool of myself. I squeezed my way to the rear end of the bus to find the conductor comfortable in his pre-assigned chair next to the rear door. Deja vu all over again. I had known this from the last visit to Chennai.

"Marina Beach?" I cautiously asked.
He nodded. Thrilled, I continued.

I was pleased. All those elementary Tamil lessons had paid off. I sat down with a smug look wondering how far 3 rupees could take me.

Contrary to what most people had warned me, Chennai was maintaining a cool composure today. Despite this, I seemed to stick out sorely as the only perspiring face around. I took a secret glance in all directions. Not a single one of those blissful faces had even a trickle of perspiration. Even the lady returning home - apparently from a shopping spree; evident from a handful of coloured plastic bags - seemed as fresh as I was earlier that day when had I walked out of the air conditioned Chennai airport.
About half an hour and many colourful market streets later, the bus stalled. I had arrived at Marina.

Marina always evoked a sense of awe in me. All the 3 times I had been there before, it had always known how to silence me with its gentle gurgle, much like a gurgling baby would magically silence its spectators.

The beach portrayed a gamut of creatures in different stages of life. Toddlers were clutching wet sand and smacking it on each other. Some older kids were chasing each other on the hillock. A pre-teen trying to fly a kite without a tail, a few silent couples here and there trying to steal a private moment amidst the sunbathing crowd, a nomad eking out a living by entertaining people with her painted monkey.

The crows were aplenty, all contending to snap up even the smallest bits of roasted corn-on-the-cob. The sea gushed onto the waiting sands, as though trying to cleanse the beach from the fallout of a burgeoning human civilisation. An hour later, contented from this experience, I decided to return.

I stopped the hefty policeman on Beach Road, and asked him the way to Nungambukam. He pointed to the bus stop at the far end of the road, and nudged me toward the subway entrance at this end.

I observed that this was the fourth subway I had seen since morning. Every big roundabout seemed to have one. Surprisingly, no hawkers, no beggars inside. They were built to be subways, and that's just what they were.

In keeping with the trend of the day, the journey back to Mount Road was also eventful. The journey cost only 2 rupees. And I had thought 3 rupees were fantastic. All the buses seemed to be consistently quaint, multicoloured, agile and pocket friendly.

I was so lost in the thoughts of myriad flyovers, subways and buses that I had forgotten to ask the conductor about my stop. Suddenly the conductor walked up to me.

"You should have gotten off 3 stops ago. Why are you still here? Get down here."

Great. Now I was lost in the great city of sand and silicon. A passerby made a long face when I said Nungambukam. He told me to retrace my path for at least 3 kilometers.
I decided it was time to hitch a hike at last. I didn’t have a towel on my shoulder, but that didn’t worry me much. I flagged down a passing biker. When he said he knew the place, I hopped on. I learnt that he was a corporate working in Chennai, and that he had visited Bangalore a few times. The recent drizzles in Chennai it seems were feeling lovely.

Getting off near the Embassy, I trudged back to my hotel room, mulling over all that had happened in less than 3 hours. Chennai had taken me out for a lovely evening, and the pleasure was all mine.

1 comment:

Lazy Lavender said...

It was the recent rain.

All my memories of Chennai are sultry sweaty noisy and dusty. But fun, being in the crowded streets with a bunch of friends doing nothing.

You seem to have covered a lot in 3 hours. Or is it just the style of writing? ;)