The 12 km Burst

When I landed on the shores of Chennai much like the British and the Portuguese, I too felt an all -conquering need to make this place mine. After all this was going to be home for some time to come…These thoughts found their genesis to an extent with a 12 km dash I made on the ever so popular and road much travelled, the East Coast Road, lovingly and conveniently known as ECR.

The journey doesn’t begin on a stretch of road extending from Thriruvanmiyur but begins on a little lane in Perungudi. This is a story of small yet important patches of my life here and how it all nicely led up to this day.

My first morning in Chennai was characterised not by jitters for my first job, but greater fear of getting to work in a city where not knowing the language can lead to instant alienation. After hitching a 60 buck ride for a kilometre long stretch, I instantly knew life was going to be a bitch. An ability to bargain, crassness coupled with rudeness and stoic apathy are a deadly triumvirate and a much needed one to tackle the Chennai rickshaw driver. But I was to learn that gradually, until then, my knight in shining armour (the black and yellow kind) was here. The shared auto. A concept both unique and extremely gratifying, a big auto stuffed with people to the brim, who share the cost of the ride. Simple and effective and in one simple discovery I had managed to get rid of the scourge of the Chennai rickshaw driver.

Thiruvanmiyur is for all practical purposes on the periphery of Chennai, right at the edge of civilization. It’s at that precise distance where friends begin to make excuses about not coming over to your place. You start throwing beaches and proximity to Mahabalipuram to them as bait. but all in vain. This reduces you to a very obvious reality. YOU HAVE TO GO WHERE YOUR FRIENDS ARE AND THEY LIVE EQUALLY FAR!! So I began my first tryst with the city buses. With strange numbers like 21Hct, PP19X and the ilk, it felt like I had just walked into some secret military testing base. The buses honking, the crowds of people and a 29C nearly driving over me brought me back to reality. 29C is a bus route which spans Thiruvanmiyur to Perambur. It’s also the one bus that connects all the bus stops of the major all girl colleges(Stellas, MOP and WCC,.. beat that) which should be a great opportunity for most men to exercise their charm and chivalry but is mostly an exhibition of just how terribly stupid and cheap we can get. A story for another day and a more serious occasion. For me, this route proved to be a lifesaver, connecting me with all the places I needed to ever go to. The frequency is simply brilliant and with Volvos doing the route too, I couldn’t have asked for more. From Alwarpet to Egmore to Ispahani to walking distance from Sathyam to yummy eating joints in Nungambakkam. Ganesha, had found his mouse.

Long journeys, the summer and a lack of novelty set in. Public transport was still convenient, cheap and a boon to my wallet but was soon becoming an arduous routine which my mind could not take anymore. The roads of Chennai are wide and inviting, beckoning me to unleash myself on them. On my own terms. I needed a 2 wheeler to really enjoy this city, a city I have been itching to discover. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and ride to a quaint Armenian church in Parrys when my mind demands. I wanted to ride to Sathyam at 10 in hope of getting tickets for the night show, only to be turned down and enjoy the ride back. I wanted to get out of work and head to that lovely fish stall for a plate of 40 buck prawns on Bessie. Ride to Saint Thomas Mount and watch planes take off and disappear into the Chennai sky, fly like the wind on Radhakrishna Salai over the flyover and admire Music Academy on an evening when it’s lit in all its glory. Midnight coffees at the Hyatt, cheap beer from a Tasmac, stay at Kottivakam beach till the cops chase me away, ride to Amethyst (best coffee shop in town..Period) and read a book sipping a bitter Frappe. Endless thoughts, spiralling in my head for months now. Bus windows, front seats of share auto, non existent meters of rickshaws were all the motivation I needed.

Back on that lovely ECR stretch on a Tuesday evening after filling fuel in my new second hand Activa. I stood and saw the road open up in front of me. It’s like all of Chennai was offering itself to me, saying ‘Son, go, you deserve this. Let rip and she will hold you good. Let this remind you of all the good days and the not so good ones spent on my roads. Let this be the day you break free and finally unleash yourself on this imperfect but addictive city’.

The rest is a whirl of speed (not too much Mom, so cool it) and joy. A 12 km burst on ECR that shall be forever etched in my memory of one of the better, make it best, day of my life on Chennai roads.   

A Wedding List

Two of my very good friends decided to get married on the same day. That’s two weddings and not one. With it came a huge logistic dilemma of running across Chennai for the various ceremonies and now as a bona fide Chennaite, I along with a friend was expected to manage this coordination for all the friends coming from out of town. Not that that amounted to excruciating schedules and timelines being drawn up but sure allowed me the special benefit of showing off a city I have come to truly love. But above all I got to experience one of the Tamilian Brahmin (better known as Tam Bram) communities greatest show, the wedding. Yes, I must agree that I had my reservations of the fact that there will be no alcohol or meat. I mean aren’t everyone in the hall allowed the luxury of forgetting the fate that awaits them or has already befallen them. Ask me and that’s the reason alcohol should be allowed in a wedding. But then these are just things I say to fit into the mould of a twenty four year old guy who is tuned to believe that marriage is the end of the road. My views are very different, my views are for another day.
Both my friends are girls and were getting married to guys who besides being simply amazing were also the loves of their respective lives. Our entire friends circle had been preparing for these wedding for sometime now and all of us were united in our pure joy for this great occasion. A Tam Brahm wedding is truly a very emotional experience. As I had friends explain every nuance of every ceremony, I couldn’t help but begin to observe the various characters in a wedding and their reactions to the proceedings, it sure does make for some timeless entertainment. Here we go:

The Wedding Romantic
These people charge themselves on wedding adrenaline and go all energizer bunny on us all lackluster spectators. They enthrall us with stories of how their wedding will be, how the flower decorations will be different, how the hall will have so many more people, how their partner will wear exactly what they have in mind. All in all how they have the entire two days playing like a stuck tape recorder in their head. Even though my first reaction is to ridicule them, I sit back and think that your wedding day, truly is your most special day, so what’s the harm having it planned perfectly. So just as I begin empathizing, one of them begin with how they have had their wedding planned from the age of 8. Alarm Bells!!!

The Dark Wedding Humor Comedian
The usual quips of this wedding spectator will revolve around ‘gallows’, ‘undertakers’, ‘doomsday’, ‘Mayan calendar’ jokes and a few ‘end of days’ jokes thrown in too. They always make for the best humor at a wedding until you have one of those aunties who may as well have gift wrapped her ears and given it to you, turn and glare at you like you are vermin. Yes, well these are the guys and girls who just have to get these jokes out of their system. The Wedding Romantic will look at them with disdain and will instantly become the butt of all the jokes. So you keep laughing at these jokes and then look a little harder at the’ life of every party’/’depressed alcoholic’ in the making and wonder if they even know what they are talking about and tend to pity them a little. That stops the moment you go on stage and they go upto the groom or bride and point out how the garland around their neck can also become a noose and they do an undertaker impression. Rolling on the Mandapam Laughing (ROML)!!

The Back to the Mandapam Spectator
Well this one is a character. Affable, intelligent and with an acute case of ADD. At a wedding, they will have their backs to all that’s happening to the couple that’s going to pay for their lunch and will have a comment for all else in the wedding. They will check out all the hot singles in the room, pass adequate ratings and predictions on how their lives will turn out. They will also look at the oldies in the room and imagine the conversations they are having which will mostly range from match making to ‘so when are you due’ questions, utterly reducing the oldies  to a collective incapable of any other intelligent interactions. They will start finding faults and often times hilarious things with the stuff the camera guy is capturing. On the whole they are the ones least bothered about the occasion and most indulgent in creating their own. Hats off to them for being so completely aloof and so unbelievably entertaining.
 Disclaimer: Don’t be around them if you have family at the wedding. Trust me!!

The ‘Coming soon to a wedding hall near you’ Groom/Bride
These are the ones who know their chance is coming up. They are universally the butt of jokes for everything. They watch the proceedings silently, like they are memorizing the order of things. Tam Bram weddings have the unique ability of starting everything before the sun is up, therefore the early morning jokes laced with the subsequent lack of a late night after that get thrown around mercilessly. They quietly take the jokes with ominous warnings of ‘it will happen to you soon too’. They are intercepted by relatives and people they have never met with questions of a wide ranging quality. Following are the questions with answers I would love someone to give:

‘So when is the big day?’ – You talking about the day I lost my virginity? I was 16 and it was sometime in June, it was raining that day and..

 ‘You must be so excited, no? – I don’t know about myself, but you sure seem to be excited. Now that’s all matters.

Do you have butterflies in your stomach? – Oops how did you get to know of my carnivore oddities. So the other day I saw this blue winged one on my window and I got my fork out..

You know, just leave these guys alone. They really have their own issues to deal with. But don’t miss a couple of jokes on them. Priceless reactions in return.

Amused. Bemused. Stuffed
This category is where I usually find myself. Wedding food is always exceptional. Linked to the thought that the more stuffed you are at a wedding, the happier the marriage, families leave no stone or gulab jamun unturned in their quest to stuff your guts out. I always choose shamelessness over dignity at such occasions and pig out like its 2012 ( Oh wait, it is) You will have a very unsavory label attached to you, but savory reminds me of all the sweets available. Even though Tam Brahm weddings are veg buffets, they are veg buffets eaten by the Gods. Every dish has a touch from heaven and for a guy who is known to have eaten his first masala dosa at the age of 2, this was just an out of body experience – quite literally. After all the hogging at constant intervals I tend to remain generally bemused with the occasion and amused with all the characters described above. I’m the silent spectator at these weddings except for when I’m chomping all that food down. I am the one who mixes a bit of all the above because I myself am quite undecided on who of the above I am. I am the one who is the butt of the jokes and I am the one cracking them (music builds up superhero movie style). I am.. Wedding Man.. Well couldn’t resist that one but at a wedding where every one is a character straight out of all those wedding movies you have grown up on, you best belong to this one. It’s where all the fun is!!

I’m sure you can add many more to the above not-at-all exhaustive list. So do let me know and do enthrall us. Till then I just want to wish the best to my two good friends whose marriages I had the fortune of attending and also to a very special friend in Mangalore who got married the same day too. You were always in my thoughts and I’m sure that all the three couples are going to be immensely happy and blessed. But for the rest of us.. On your marks.. Get set.. Go/No!!