Madras summers are one of a kind. As my uncle constantly says, the graph-diference between post-bath, pre-bath and never-bathed-in-my-life converges to a single line in Madras. Because there is really no difference, three minutes after the bath you are sweating worse than the pre-bath stage. The humidity is so unbearable that it sometimes clouds your thinking. Which is why strangers find this city a tough nut to crack. The welcome into the city is so sweaty and unsettling that in 2-3 hours you are almost playing catch-up. You are trying hard to collect your thoughts, moping sweat off your forehead, first with the Hand kherchief and then preferably with a super-sopper. It is the folks who fight it out for the first few days (well.. okay sometimes maybe weeks) who actually live to enjoy the pleasure that the city offers. Which is why one day that happened two or three weeks before stands out. It was such an atypical summer day for Madras. Windy, no-sweat, pleasant days during the summer is such a rare phenomenon that it stopped happening since "Kodai Mazhai" bombed at the box office. The movie and the concept failed to find place in this part of the world. Well! we received a phone call from people in other parts of Chennai and we thought they were kidding, so we carefully switched off the AC's and peered out of the window. And to our surprise, it was true. It was whooshy and windy and surprise! surprise! - not sweaty. That was the day my wife decided that the time was ripe to raid Pothys. That famous cloth shop in the juction of Panagal Park/Usman Road/Doraisami Road.
The wind had a howl'sh note to it and was blowing the dry leaves from the ground like a mighty vaccum cleaner. I love riding a two-wheeler during such days. You know cyclists, bikists and all the other folks are trying to cover their eyes with one hand ( to protect from the dust) and then drive with the other hand. There is that smell in the air ( Mann Vasanai) that makes you feel it is almost ( almost) going to rain. There is a sudden activity among people in the road. As if they had been part of an ant colony that has suddenly been unsettled. Maybe its just me,but hey..I always feel people are doing things faster during a windy day than any other day. The auto's seem to cut the corners more sharply, the cyclists find gaps that are just angstorm units wide. There is general laughter in the air. It is pleasant. The weather that had seemed like hell yesterday is suddenly enchanting, even romantic. It almost as if everything is forgiven and yesterady's heat has been forgotten. It seems that even the person, hanging out of the PTC bus, one who is the last among the 15 people who have a foot on the last step of the PTC bus, is also having fun. Probably only 2-3 square cm's of the person is actually inside (or touching) the fast moving PTC bus. But the sudden coolness and the wind blowing around makes him feel as if this near-death commutting is a walk in the park. There is a spring to almost everything that people do.
I love being in Usman Road. The whole scene -- Usman Road, Ranganathan Street till T.Nagar Bus stand excites me. Usman Road is in someways the heart beat of Chennai. My friends tell me that it is among the top 5 places in Asia where the most money is transacted per day/Per square foot. Seeing Usman road, I am surprised why it isn't among the top 5 in the world. The Southern Side of Panagal Park/Usman Road/Durai Sami road Junction has so many businessmen per square inch that if you dropped a 1 lac bundle on the road, people may not have time to pick it up. Well mainly because they are looking to loot the money that is on the person that they arent really focussing on the road. I detest Pothys. These evil, powerful and rich people are almost representative of the Sith or the dark side. In my opinion, if you serve free food ( not crappy food but good food) in a Hall, you may not get as many people in the hall as much as you would get in Pothys or G.R Thanga Maligai ( It is a Gold Shop). The thronging crowd of people who are desparate to spend so much money never ceases to surprise me. People stand in lines for hours to throw away money in exchange for cloth or even worse metal.
This makes me laugh when they show India as a poor suffering country in the Discovery channel. When I am walking around in T.Nagar with a pepper smeared unripe ( Unripe with a captial U N R I P E ) Mango or guava in hand and doing my window shopping, I look at people standing in a queue outside Thanga Maligai, demanding to be let in. Once inside, there is a huge clamor to gain the attention of the sales person. You would be forgiven if you thought he was the Chief Minister or somebody who was giving out money for free. It does appear that way. But he is selling gold. Yes! GOLD! Those expensive pieces of metal blocks, that are malleable, ductile etc. These are the metal blocks that can be moulded into different shapes and sizes that fit punchered holes in the human body. Looking at gold ornaments, I always think, "isn'this the metal that is used fix/punchure the holes that human beings put on their body" . Women self-inflict injuries on themselves -- in their ears and noses in order to make it a Jewel-Stand. Sometimes men do it too. I have a ring and I always thought of it as a useless tool. Somehow hanging Metal Au (where Au = Aurum) in holes drilled into my body never appealed to me. The guard ( who also moonlights as a traffic cop) outside the Jewel shop, would ask me if I wanted to stand in the queue. He, sometimes, would advise me that if I wanted to get inside in the next one hour, I should stand in the queue now. I'd just say "No thank you! I just wanted to buy fried ground nut thats sold outside for a buck". I have thought Dubai airports displayed people's shameful lust for jewellery but Dubai is a road-side tea-stand compared to Usman Road.
Trying to find a parking space at 1:00 PM in the afternoon near Pothys was so unimaginably difficult. I parked right at the end of Pinjala Subramaniam street and Venkat Narayana road and walked back to Pothys mustering just about as much grumpiness as I could. This did not deter my wife though. She ran like a bee among flowers inside Pothys causing as much damage as she could. Even the drama show inside Pothys did not stop her. I stood there aghast. There is some theme that this shop doing now. There are a group of 50-60 actors inside Pothys and the whole shop has been decorated to make it appear as if its some medeival kingdom. According to my wife, not knowing about this concept when it was advertised on TV for so many days makes me an outcast. Maybe I dont watch enough of those crappy Mega Serials (it seems that the pathetic cry-athon Metti Oli is finally going to die..at least I know so much) to catch the advts and find out what is going in town. But I was rudely surprised by what I saw. There is a throne at the end of the hall as soon as you enter Pothys. A king and a queen sit there. The King has a crown and there are two maids on either side of the crown with those huge feather fans, which they are waving at the bloody king's face in an AC hall. Feather fans in an AC hall!!!! C'mon ON!!! I am not sure what kingdom this king represents but there are a group of ministers sitting on chairs in front of the throne. Some drinking stuff is being served to everybody there by servant-like-people. They are seriously discussing something. I couldn't hear much of the dialogs. But I desparately wanted to be an "ayal naatu thoothuvar" (foriegn ambassador) and disrupt the proceedings. Maybe I could have told them that the enemy wanted to invade the kingdom. If that didn't cause any impact then maybe I could have said that the Income Tax officials wanted to raid the place. That might have set this sorry little kingdom on fire. My wife tells me that this is a new theme by Pothys as part of its new marketing initiatives. They are going retro. The filthy stinking rich bullies. So they have built a kingdom thing inside with kings and queens. It is supposed to be entertaintment for the customers. I was not impressed. People being treated like puppets is worse than that Laugh-dude in VGP Golden beach.
So I decided to enjoy the rare windy day in T.Nagar. Did I say it before ? I love being in this part of town. On a windy day such as the topic under discussion, the veshtis (dhothis) and sarees, worn by people, are flying uncontrollably. Its a struggle to pluck from a cotton candy and deliver it to the mouth. I saw one kid struggling to do just that and his mom tried to help him. Time wears by and she grows impatient of feeding it to him one strand at a time. So she plucks the whole darn candy and tears it into two. Stuffs some in the kids mouth and the rest in her mouth, picks him up and walks away fast. The shopkeepers who have illegally setup their mobile shops on the road are covering up their shops fast.The wind is disturbing the fake toys and the instantly breakable 10 paisa bangles. It is funny to watch people start their scooters when the wind is trying to part them of their dhotis. They have a bent head and an embarassed laugh as if they are actors on stage and suddenly they can't remember their lines. And there is some urgency to their actions as well. Why hurry when its windy and move like a tortoise when the heat is burning? I wonder. The lady who is also holding on to her fluttering saree is urging her husband to start the vehicle soon. I guess they are thinking if they dont get the vehicle moving in the next few milli-seconds -- all the 500000 people in Usman road will stop and watch them.
The landscape of this place has changed so much. Yet the emotions remain the same. Ofcourse there is a jarring note here and there in the melody of Madras. I used to go for my high-school tuition classes to Guntur Subbiah School, Venkat Narayana road from Doraisamy road. Cycling (Hercules RockShox.. eh :-) ) through Usman road -> Pinjala Subramaniam street and Venkatnarayana road was so pleasant then. I didn't even know/care if it was Summer or winter and never felt the heat. Seeing the New RMKV, the New Nalli and this giant beast called Pothys in Usman road, I reminded that times are changing. In those days cycling on Venkat Narayana road used to remind me of the Nizhalgal-hero waltzing around in the same road for the song "ithu oru Pon Malai Pozhuthu". Now the road reminds me of the software invasion, when I see a big Virtusa building raised up there. It has been a long time since I walked around in these parts of the city. I used to do it so frequently years before. Then, the summer heat did not deter me from just walkng around and enjoying the simplicity, the hustle bustle, of this place. Now that I am here after a big gap, I want to walk around these streets even more often. I just hope more windy days will come and cause people to enjoy Madras. The real romance of Madras hides behind the kherchiefs and sweatly towels. There is a pearl inside the ugly oyster known only to -- and cherished only by -- the people who actually look for it.