lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Madras, nalla Madras

The flight was delayed, they hadn't fed us, and the baggage took ages to retrieve, but we weren't frazzled as you might think all these annoyances would've had us be. We were in Madras. There was some confusion as we checked in, but we were cheerful as we ordered a late lunch of dosas from room service. We were in Madras.

The drive from the airport was a pointer. I hadn't been to Madras since late 2003, and the traffic seemed to have grown worse. The city seemed to have spread, too. The newer buildings that have come up made Madras a strange place. But there was an instant connection that we all felt. This was hometown. Wherever we lived, this was where we really belonged. We were back home. We were in Madras.

There was a lot we were going to do. Combining sibling bonding with retail therapy, visiting our alma maters and fulfilling some promises at 'our' temple, family stuff needing loose ends tied up, visiting old friends and haunts… we all had plans.

Agastiyar Koil is the only temple that is real to me, whatever great and famous temples I might have visited. The little nandi into whose ear I used to whisper wishes that would come true, the ritual of snapping fingers at the shrine of Chitragupta so he could record the visit, the one hundred and eight perambulations that we used to offer (and still did in my sister's case), those cool stone shrines and the familiar idols- that temple's where faith and ritual begin and end for me, nowhere else.

The first thing we did was to indulge in some recuperative therapies. Spas, malls and shopping. Then we dealt with the family stuff. We ate huge meals. We watched old Tamil films on the telly, reciting the dialogues word for word with the characters of a movie that we saw perhaps three decades ago.

Sprawled on beds and complaining about the standard of coffee, we planned our days' outings. Eating huge buffet breakfasts and lunches, we moaned that the city is unrecognisable. But we each found our old haunts without any trouble, so was the city so changed, after all?

Spanking new buildings, malls and all, Pondy Bazaar was still Pondy Bazaar. Higginbothams was the same, so was Poompuhar. Even the newly uncovered pieces of the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram seemed familiar, as was the revamped Temple Bay resort where we used to go regularly. They still served heavenly lunches and the sea still seemed most glorious there.

If the nandis on the outer walls seemed more eroded than memory served, if the crowds seemed to violate what we felt was our private shrine to youthful memories, we overlooked it and enjoyed ourselves, all the same.

Children's Garden School, Queen Mary's College, The Presidency College- memory lanes were trod and new paths were taken. Everything is different, we sighed; it's all still the same, we gloried.

Waking up in the early hours, peering out of the window and seeing a maid sweep a courtyard and decorate it with kolam; saying Edward Elliott's Road and sparking a conversation with the auto rickshaw driver; dodging overloaded buses and swanky cars as we crossed Thyagaraya Road; every thing was poignant, it was all reconnecting with our youth.

In the few days that we spent frenetically soaking up the air of Madras to last us till the next time we could visit, there was something else I was doing. Meeting old friends and revisiting old favourite places was one thing, I was also meeting friends I knew well, just hadn't met face to face yet.

The bloggers of Madras welcomed me back home warmly. The articulate and the bright, the suave and the flamboyant, the scathing and the subtle, the reserved and the friendly, Madras has a lot of intelligent young bloggers that I read regularly. Chenthil writes lovely book reviews, Anantha is a source of film news and more, and I absolutely had to shake Chandru of the word games by the hand for this post of his.

I missed my template guru, Praveen, by a few days, and Prabhu couldn't make it, but the Woodlands Drive-In dosa date with Anantha, Chandru and Chenthil was a lovely interlude in my Madras trip. Conversation flowed freely as I demolished a dosa and they educated Missus Em. Coffee, chole batura and convivial atmosphere, the Drive-In was exactly as I remembered it. Now I have more fond memories of it.

Whether defending myself from the charge of being elitist or playing politically incorrect but fun games making flagrantly arbitrary judgements about passersby, meeting Nilu was entertaining.

I enjoyed meeting my knight in shining armour, Raj, who treated me to early supper and the best rasam I had in ages that I hadn't made myself. We talked like old friends taking up from where they left off and in a way that was true, as even emails are conversations. But I really loved meeting the youngest blogger that I know, who is certainly the most angelic. Regretfully, I met Ram for only a short while, as our schedules couldn't match.

With more baggage than we set out with, we packed and paid our bills and drove back to the airport. We were dispersing, and I for one was glad for the slow roads and the traffic jams Sai Baba caused. It gave me more time to breathe the air of Madras. We were still in Madras.

As we said our good-byes and went to our respective check-in counters, I couldn't help singing to myself that old song, Madras, nalla Madras. Like Chandru said, 'twas fun.



Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Here endeth the travelogue, by the way.

8:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. You were in my city and I didn't know. If only is the refrain of regret. Maybe I should tell you my name.

Secret admirer

10:20 pm  
Blogger Chenthil said...

Thanks Missus Em, for the kind words. And yes, the travelogue was worth my pestering for it.

11:14 pm  
Blogger Ravages said...

Thank ye, Missus Em, for the mentions. I shall repeat - the night, 'twas fun.

11:24 pm  
Anonymous Tcha said...

aNTi was in Chennai ?

Arre, missed.

Of course, you ran away from the COMMITTED time and place.

AND Madras is not all nalla. I mean, SOME of us might be melanin rich, but you can't tar a city that way!

11:41 pm  
Blogger Nilu said...

Smoking is politically incorrect.

8:33 am  
Anonymous Ash said...

It is circumambulations, Lali. You are slipping, lady.

2:12 pm  
Anonymous F e r r a r i said...

Very nice. Sorry could not meet you :( But as promised, I will surely meet you when am in Calcutta :)

BTW, Happy Anniversary :)

4:25 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Anon- Yeah, maybe you should.

Chenthil- Thank you.

Chandru- Vunce more, mit feelink. 'Twas fun!

Tcha- Back atya. So you are melanin rich? For the last time, I did not run away.

Nilu- Peccavi. But smoking is a matter of personal choice, surely?

Ash- Mea culpa. Stop nitpicking, will you?

Prabhu- Thank you. There is always another time, right? :)

6:05 pm  
Anonymous Tivi said...

Fun trip & Madras visit -specifically Auto driver Sekar & his honesty -actually restored my faith that it is'nalla'. No fleecing us -even when dropping this NRI to the airport. Thanks for revisiting the new memories.

7:50 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Tivi- Hey, I could have written reams about the stench of the fishing boats, the drive down Marina, the Mahabalipuram crowds, and the band playing requests. Sis, there was so much I left out.

10:08 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

good old Madras! glad it more than lived up to all your expectations.

11:23 pm  
Blogger anantha said...

why are my comments not appearing?

12:23 pm  
Blogger anantha said...

Anyways, I thought I already commented this morning. Mebbe i am hallucinating!

Missus Em, yes, the interlude was indeed lovely.

tcha: Who are you? If you are a hot single gal, you know where to get in touch with me. However if you are not of the type described above, please excuse. I am not batting for the other team.

12:28 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Dipali- Good old Madras, indeed. We had a lovely time.

Anantha- What were you smoking, then? :-)A couple of other readers mentioned that their comments are not showing up, too. I blame it on the Blogger Beta. Or is it the verification that's playing up? I wish I knew.

And the Tcha person is an anonymous, intermittent reader who said he'll buy me beer in Vizag. The trip to Rajahmundry put paid to that and he's claiming I ran away. Bah!

1:54 pm  
Blogger Kavita said...

i sent a comment yesterday but it didnot come up. nice post. hereafter will it be madras-when we say 'home' or will it be hydrrabad since mum is there? i am confused and sad!- kavita

7:27 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Seems Auntie Lali had fun. So who is this Tcha person, Lali? You really ran away? I will buy you beer too, now that I know the way to your heart is through free beer. I just have to know the whole story, it promises to be interesting.

10:13 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Kavita- Hi, and thanks. Home will always be Madras, at least for me. End of a chapter, really. But still.

Rajesh- Auntie Lali had fun, yes. And you are on. I bet you can't make out fact from fiction if I tell you the story, though. :-)

12:20 pm  

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