Chennai Chronicles: A Throwback

“Carpe Diem!” is the first phrase I can think of to sum up my experience in Chennai. Chennai has taught me quite a few things during my short stay here, the first one being self-sufficient and independent. I never realized until now that staying at home makes people complete brats – we take so many things for granted (support of family members being the very first one on the list), and realize the value of the things only when we are subjected to constraints. One such luxury was the washing machine (Never in my life did I think I would be thankful for this gem of a life-saver!). Another luxury that I have always enjoyed, but whose worth I realized once I shifted to Chennai is Ghar-ka-khana (home-cooked food). Trying different restaurants and eating out has been fun and an adventure in itself, but ultimately I feel a sense of peace only after having the curd-rice that Mom makes at home. Speaking of home, one of the other luxuries that I miss is coming home to a perfectly made bed.

I have learnt to value kindness and simplicity. People were really hospitable – although not very chatty, they went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. The flatmates at the PG were pretty approachable and there for me when I needed their help. In general, people followed a pretty simple lifestyle. That being said, they also did know how to have fun.

Speaking of the PG, I have come to enjoy the lamest of moments – getting stranded outside the flat in the unbearable Chennai heat due to random power-cuts at night (it’s happened a couple of times) and making plans for the weekend to never really see it through, the unusually pleasant weather and the occasional rainfall, and finally celebrating on getting an Ola cab or a rickshaw during the peak hours! In addition to that, I particularly cherish the spontaneous plans we made – like deciding to visit Marina Beach on a whim at 10pm, or choosing to eat at a restaurant purely based on its ratings on Zomato. The one moment that I have really thoroughly savoured is trying to zero down on who the mysterious kleptomaniac at the PG was – she would steal the stuff from the fridge (and speaking of stealing, I also loved seeing my roomie laugh on being labelled as a curd-thief by another flatmate…I mean, of all the things she could be accused of doing, she was accused of stealing a packet of curd. I don’t think it could get any lamer than that – she even dreamt about it once)!

Chennai has made me a little bit more spontaneous – the best one yet was renting a car and taking a road trip to Mahabalipuram with my cousin bro. Going for movies in the spur of the moment with my flatmates (Kabali, Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Mohenjo Daro, Rustom, Mechanic: Resurrection, and Don’t Breathe), going for impromptu dinners and for desserts at 10.30pm and visiting the Marina Beach on a whim have been some of the memories that I really cherish. Of all the memories, the one I enjoyed the most was planning a dinner with my cousin out of the blue on a boring Saturday evening, going to Murugan Idli Shop at Besant Nagar Beach, and sitting in front of the waves treating ourselves to a very delicious ice cream from the Ibaco outlet nearby.

Another gift that I actually learnt to value was my own company. Visiting places alone and enjoying a few moments of solitude is something that makes me happy sometimes. Kannada Film Festival, a couple of movies and impromptu walks to Sandy’s for the “Tiny” craving. I relished planning trips to Bengaluru and enjoying the long weekend there, attending my cousin Nandan’s wedding in my hometown after a 15-hourlong bus journey (and forgetting my suitcase while boarding the return bus!).

Like Mumbai, Chennai has taught me to enjoy the little pleasures of life – be it just a long walk back to my PG or the morning cuppa joe, being pranked by friends, laughing long and hard for a lame joke, or bringing a smile to someone’s face. That being said, I also learnt to laugh at myself and to not take anything to heart. Life is better when we cherish these small simple moments – the more we complicate it, the lesser we seem to enjoy. Most importantly, I have learnt that no matter what happens, life goes on.

 

My experience at Chennai does hold a special spot in my heart– apart from getting some amazing industry exposure and learning from the best, it’s also the biggest collection of first-times for me. In essence, it has been like a graduation ceremony that lasted 20 weeks. It taught me to take risks one step at a time, and go beyond my comfort zone pushing myself just a little bit more. I guess there is a Tamil phrase that aptly summarises my Chennai journey – “Kalavum Katru Mara” – which I interpret as “Learn everything….but whatever you choose, choose wisely.” There is always something to be learnt…something more to be experienced…some more people to meet…and finally, some more memories to be painted on the canvas of our life. All we need is to go out there and seize every opportunity we get.

 

 

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Chennai Chronicles: The Wedding

Day 0

I couldn’t be more excited to attend my eldest cousin brother Nandan’s wedding. The wedding was something I had been eagerly waiting for – meeting my relatives has always something I look forward to. And the best part – the wedding is another occasion to get all dolled up and have fun.

My 15-hour journey to my hometown began from Koyambedu bus station. After worrying about missing out on my bus and going crazy hurrying, I finally was relieved to reach the bus station before time. The next mini-adventure was to find out where exactly the KSRTC bus would arrive (Koyambedu is a HUGE place, something like Majestic bus station in Bengaluru). The bus was luckily not crowded and I got a couple of seats to myself. The scenery on the way was beautiful – a perfect evening over the lush green fields.

The evening sky was just heavenly, with the moon being the showstopper, painting everything with its soothing soft light. We saw Kannada movie Gajakesari to kill time on the bus (the music was pretty catchy, although I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie), and I spent the remainder of the evening chatting with my friends and cousins.

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I was ecstatic to find out that PV Sindhu had made it to the Singles Finals of Women’s Badminton at 2016 Rio Olympics. I was too excited for the weekend – I had to literally force myself to sleep so that I had enough energy for the power packed day ahead.

Day 1

I was received by my mom with the biggest grin at the bus stop. We travelled back home in the same rickshaw she came in, and were greeted by my maternal grandma as we entered. The fun began as the cousins awoke one by one. It really felt great meeting them all after a year, and the festivity of the occasion only added to the fun. My cousin Nitya (Nandan’s sis) had spent a better part of the week putting together a dance performance for the occasion along with my younger cousin brother Tanay, and they had done a pretty good job at that. I helped out in mixing the song track for the performance – a mix of Disco Deewane (Student of the Year movie) and Dil Dhadakne Do (title track of the movie by the same name). Tailoring the song according to the dance took some time, but the track came out decently (especially considering the little time we had). After a little bit of last-moment-shopping, we assisted with the preparations for the wedding.

After a lot of debating and designing, we came up with the posters for marking the cars ferrying us back and forth to the wedding venue. We did a fairly decent job – the posters were liked by everyone (Nandan even put it as his WhatsApp profile pic!). A few other cousins (Aditya, Samarth and Likhita) joined us in the evening. The mehendi artist did a wonderful job painting the hands of the ladies in the house, and I was more than excited getting my hands covered in henna after a very long time.

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The presence of Nitya and Nandan’s cousins – Sreelekha and Bhagya added a lot to the fun element. By night, the house was completely transformed – strings of lights adorned the front façade, while the colourful rangoli at the entrance welcomed the guests. It sure did feel magical!

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The highlight of the evening was seeing PV Sindhu clench the silver medal at 2016 Rio Olympics. We awaited with bated breath her match against Carolina Marin of Spain. Every point Sindhu scored against Marin was celebrated with cheers loud enough to be heard half a kilometre away! Although we were disheartened that she didn’t get the gold, the fact that she clinched a silver only fuelled the festive mood (gave us one more reason to celebrate!).

The six of us – Nitya, Likhita, Aditya, Tanay, Samarth and I decided to stay over at our uncle and aunt’s place for the night. Nitya and Tanay managed to rope in the remaining four of us to dance after the Varapooja ceremony. What intended to be an hour of chitchat at most, turned out to be hours of practicing for the dance. We invited our cousin Vikku and his wife Jaahnavi to help us out. It was pretty much a laugh riot – everyone seemed to forget their own moves but remember others’! Tanay and Nitya would begin with Disco Deewane, and would be joined by the others for Dil Dhadakne Do.

We ended up adding a stanza of the “Huttidare Kannada Nadalli Huttabeku” song from Beladingala movie to the end of our track, to which the guy gang would be dancing. We finally slept at 4am after playing a bunch of card games for almost an hour.

Day 2

Setting an alarm for 7am and snoozing it till 7.30, I woke up. Nitya woke up half an hour later. After a quick bath we went back home to attend the day replete with functions. The morning was pretty bright and nice, and the house looked much more splendid than the night before.

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Dad joined us there and I couldn’t be more delighted to see him. In addition to the pujas and the photo sessions, we spent our time playing with the youngest members of the family – my young cousin Advik, and my niece Sai Keerthana.

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It barely took us any time to bond and have fun, and it was really heartening to see the kids run around with all their infectious energy, excitement and enthusiasm.

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The actual fun began late in the afternoon. Well, as my sister-in-law and her side of the family is not from Karnataka, everything had to be translated to Hindi. This is where Aditya came to the rescue! Dressed to the nines and catching up with cousins and relatives over refreshments and snacks was fun. The craziest part of the evening was the dance we had prepared. Although I had carried the pen drive having the song with me, I had anticipated (and even kinda hoped) that our dance would be cancelled. Needless to say, my hopes were dashed as my cousin plugged the drive into the sound system. Fortunately for us, everything went pretty smoothly…well, until the last part of Dil Dhadakne Do song, where all the six of us somehow managed to forget our steps at the same time! Needless to say, all the elders were smiling and pretty happy with the fact that we actually managed to put up something decent in such a short time. Nandan, on the other hand, found it pretty hard to stop laughing. I guess we should try our hand at stand-up comedy next time.

We all went back home to change clothes for the reception. Dressed in our best and with widest grins on our faces, we went to the venue again. The best part of the evening certainly was spending time with the cousins – cracking jokes, chatting and capturing the memory with photographs and selfies. We shamelessly got an insane number of photos clicked with Nandan and athige (sis-in-law) Sayali. It was one of the most special moments that I treasure the most. I loved spending time with my maternal grandma – she introduced me to one of her old friends. Her smile really brightened my day up.

Although we had dinner pretty late we enjoyed every bit of it. I just loved the curd-rice and ended up enjoying multiple servings. I enjoyed the desserts the most, especially the mango and butterscotch ice-creams and the rabdi. Being tired and sleepy I barely took any time to fall asleep once I got home.

Day 3

I woke up with contrasting emotions in the morning – delight on seeing my brother’s wedding and the numerous ceremonies attached to it, and for getting an occasion to get all dolled up again; and sadness as I would have to leave in the afternoon, and because three days had just zoomed by without me really realizing. Keerthana, chirpy and jumpy as ever, managed to cheer me up with her million-watt-smile. It was interesting to see her bond with me in such a short time. It really felt great when she insisted to sit on my lap during the short journey to the wedding venue.

Having a hurried breakfast with the cousins and relatives (we reached kinda late and the ceremonies were about to begin) we rushed back to the hall. I relished the masala dosas and the vada. I really missed my sister – the fun would have elevated to another level had she been able to attend. The “funnest” part of the day was witnessing different ceremonies such as Kashi Yatra, naming ceremony of the kids, and Nitya got the opportunity to name the future-children of Nandan and athige.

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After a hurried lunch my parents and I left for home to pick up my belongings for my return journey. I really didn’t want to leave, and my cousins had been teasing me about missing out on the trip to Jog Falls (it had been on my wish list on a while)…not that they actually went there. Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten to take my cell phone along, and was unsure about the timings of the bus to Chennai. I had assumed it to be 2.30pm, but it actually had been 2.15pm. The starting point of the journey wasn’t my hometown, and hence the caretaker of the bus ended up calling me every 20 seconds inquiring where exactly I was and how long it would take me to reach the stop, and each call turned out to be angrier than the previous. We luckily managed to reach the bus stop before the bus left.

It was only after settling down in my seat and reaching the next town that I realized I had forgotten to take my suitcase along. That was the most bizarre thing I could imagine – spending a good 20 minutes packing my suitcase and then forgetting to carry it along! As my parents would be leaving for Mumbai late in the evening, I requested them to take it with them. I chose to rest a little and catch up on some much needed sleep I ultimately ended up sleeping for the next 13 hours straight, only to be woken up by the conductor at Koyambedu at 5am. The wedding had been memorable in every way.

Chennai Chronicles: The Long Weekend

11th August 2016, 10am: 1500+ tickets available from Chennai to Bengaluru on KSRTC site for 12th August night. My procrastinating mind chooses to wait until the evening to book the tickets for the long weekend (yup…bad decision).

11th August 2016, 4pm: 20 tickets available on KSRTC site, none of them matching the timing that suit me. It was only then that I realised that approximately one and a half thousand people beat me to booking a ticket in quite a short span of time. I dejectedly booked the tickets for the SRS Travels bus leaving on early on the morning of August 13th, wondering about the major part of the day that would be wasted travelling. To cheer myself up, I chose to watch the latest Hrithik Roshan starrer Mohenjo Daro with a flatmate the night before the departure (another bad decision…the movie turned out to be a colossal disappointment).

 

13th August 2016:

Jumping out of the bed like a ninja on realizing that I overslept, I hurried to reach the Koyambedu bus stop in time. I turned out to be pretty lucky though, as I somehow managed to reach an entire hour before the departure. For a really badly planned trip, the day went pretty well – the lady sitting next to me was pretty good company and I honestly didn’t realize how the time passed. A few hours later I was greeted by the pleasantly cloudy and drizzly Bengaluru weather and my cousin who picked me up from Madiwala on his bike. After relishing the Dahi wada and puran poli, we treated ourselves to shopping at Commercial Street, followed by Chaat at Anand’s.

 

14th August 2016:

The second day was even more memorable than the first, as I got to enjoy an ice-cream at Creamstone Ice-creams after hogging on warm spicy momos with my brother. Seeing the ice-cream being prepared and served was an experience in itself – the ice-cream and the “toppings” were smashed together on an icy table and served in a bowl made of crunchy waffle. The Fresh-Fruit-and-Nuts ice-cream is definitely worth a shot, and tasted much better than I expected it to.

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The remainder of the day was spent listening to old Hindi songs, chatting, and reading the eighth instalment of the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Although reading a play after so many years was a refreshing experience, I was slightly disappointed with the story.

 

15th August 2016:

My last day in Bengaluru was the best of all. It began with a bang – an impromptu plan to visit Nandhi Hills (Nandhibetta as they call it) at 4 in the morning! A 70km drive to watch the hills was one of the things I least imagined. Draped in warm clothing, my uncle, aunt, brother and I set out to see the sun rise over the misty hills. Expecting a deserted road, we were taken aback by the sheer number of people on bikes who set out to the hills at the same time as us. The business of the tea vendors was in full swing – the bikers would stop at a tea stall whenever it became too cold to ride.

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We were greeted by freezing fresh air and the hills in a shroud of mist as we took the turn from the main road, not to mention acres of lush greenery. Nature was definitely at its best at 5.30am.

6Assuming that we would get to enjoy the sunrise from the top, we made our way to the entrance gate, tailing about thirty other cars. Too bad, we learnt that the place would be open to visitors only at 6am. After a decent amount of waiting our car moved past the gate, only to be reduced to a snail’s pace a couple of kilometres later. We ultimately ended up locking the car up and walking.

It was interesting to see many people choose something similar. We walked back to the car after half an hour of drenching ourselves in nature’s beauty and bounty and enjoying the misty coolness of the morning breeze. We made our way back to the city after a hurried breakfast at a restaurant at the base of the hill. We were welcomed by another huge set of people waiting for the gate to be opened again at the base – apparently the number of vehicles that visited the place as it opened was so huge that they had to close the gate until a considerable number of people came back down! By the time we reached back home, it was approximately 9.30am.

Spending a good chunk of the day catching up on some well-needed sleep, we watched movies such as Rangitaranga and Thithi. The evening was pretty much fun – I had been looking forward to the one thing I absolutely love Bengaluru for – Death By Chocolate (DBC) at Cornerhouse Ice-cream. Although it is the most tempting, fattening and indulgent thing possible, I love every bite of it – and my brother spares no occasion to spoil me. After another delicious plate of warm and mildly spicy momos we went back home to pack up. I really didn’t feel like leaving Bengaluru – it is practically my home, and I am surely in love with it.

The journey back to Chennai was a funny memory in itself. I had booked a semi-sleeper seat in the Airavat bus leaving at 11pm. My brother and aunt came to see me off. Fortunately we managed to reach Shanthinagar bus stop (the starting point of the journey) sufficiently before the departure time. There was one guy though, who didn’t know where exactly the bus was going to be, and thus called up the caretaker of the bus asking him for directions to the bus, and also to wait a little. Shanthinagar bus stop is a big place, and can get a little confusing at times (we ourselves took about 10 minutes to find the place!). Interestingly the frequency of his calls increased as the departure time neared. 4 calls in 7 minutes was enough to have the caretaker super-annoyed and everyone else in splits! The funniest part of the incident was when the passenger finally made it to the stop. Every person standing on the sidewalk but him knew his bus, and pointed it out together. Even the caretaker laughed out loud this time.

Getting a seat behind the driver was the highlight of my night-travel adventure. Although he had pulled the divider down so as to help us avoid the light glares, stray beams of light occasionally hit my eyes. I would often catch glimpses of the road ahead from the side. To my tired eyes everything appeared to be moving at an inhuman speed – almost as if the driver was playing a game of NFS. I don’t know when exactly I fell asleep, although I do know that falling asleep was a task in itself. The journey ended a few hours later as the bus pulled up to the stop at the Koyambedu Bus Terminal at Chennai, and I prepared myself for another adventure soon.

Chennai Chronicles: Film Fest

A disappointed teenager-me swore to never watch any Kannada movie (Yup… I am a Kannadiga) after Mungarumale. Being utterly used to happy endings in almost all Hindi movies, witnessing Murphy’s Law play out in a movie was something I was difficult to digest– the part that hit me the worst was the demise of a cute little rabbit called Devdas (The fact that he named his rabbit Devdas was itself a dead giveaway of its fate…why did he name it Devdas anyway!).

Fast forward approximately a decade, to Chennai. Upon the suggestion of my mentor at office, I chose to give this movie called Thithi a shot. Well, it was definitely a welcome break from the usual storylines that we otherwise see – love stories, drama or action. It is a light-hearted story that captures the differences in the way three generations of a family react to the death of a 101 year old patriarch. I love the way they acted – It was really hard to believe that it had been shot with non-professional actors! Bottom-line: It actually made me a teeny bit hungry for Kannada movies.

Turns out, I was in luck. The Kannada Chalanachitra Academy hosted a 4-day Kannada Film Festival at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture from 28th to 31st July. After missing out on Rangitaranga on Saturday morning due to oversleeping, I decided to attend the second movie of the day – Ishtakaamya. Based on a novel of the same name by Dodderi Venkatagiri Rao, the story is essentially a love triangle between the three lead characters – Aakarsh, Aditi and Acchari; who fall in and out of love with each other. Although the story was slightly cliché, the songs were really good. I especially enjoyed the song Nee Nanagoskara (and listened to it approximately 4 dozen times the next day!). After treating myself to a pastry at Hot Breads, I ended the evening with a walk at the nearby Semmozhi Poonga park.

 

The movies I watched on Sunday were much better than I had anticipated. The first movie that I saw “U-Turn”. I had been suggested that movie by a senior at office, but never thought I would get the chance to actually see it. It’s a fictional thriller about the mysterious deaths of those people who took a U-turn at Double Road flyover in Bengaluru after illegally moving the divider blocks (Although people breaking the traffic laws at Double Road flyover is not exactly fiction). I loved the way the reality was blended with fiction and made to look as genuine as possible. It was the best thriller I had seen in a while – the actors have done a fantastic job. The movie surely had me at the edge of my seat throughout, and I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

The next movie I saw was “1st Rank Raju,” which speaks about people missing out on the “fun” part of their lives while focussing too much on academics. It takes a dig at the parents who value a good rank at school more than the overall personality development of their child. I loved the story – the transformation part of a bookworm to a normal fun-loving youth (although I felt that it was a bit overdone towards the end). The movie succeeded in sending me to a trip down the memory lane to my school days. And all of a sudden I was back in 11th grade English lecture on “On Education” – a speech by Albert Einstein, where he mentions that a student should leave the school as a harmonious personality, rather than a specialist.

 

I was looking forward to the last movie on the list – Mr. and Mrs. Ramachari, but unfortunately it wasn’t screened. Kannada movies in the past year packed some decent punch. I am eagerly waiting to catching up on the movies that I missed out at the fest.

Chennai Chronicles: The Craze

Although people visiting Chennai usually complain about its uneventfulness, I have found it to be quite the opposite. I guess me being here at this time of the year is nothing more than luck. During my short stay here I have witnessed a few things that I would have otherwise missed, an example being seeing the Tamil Nadu elections and witnessing Jayalalithaa get bank to power. However, I also got a chance to witness something that I would have otherwise dismissed as a joke – the Rajinikanth frenzy.

By pure luck the Rajinikanth starrer movie Kabali happened to release bang in the middle of my tenure, and I got the opportunity to witness something that I had only heard of so far – the love and craze that people here have for the star. I guess I have never before heard of 40 cinemas in the city being renovated just to be the perfect venue to host the movie of a superstar! And never before had it occurred in my wildest dreams that a couple of start-ups in Bengaluru and Chennai would declare the Friday an off for the employees just so that they could watch a movie. The icing on the cake was getting to know that people waited outside the cinema the entire night so that they didn’t miss out on the 4am show. People were even willing to pay 10 times the value of the ticket just to have a look at the star! However, this was just the beginning…

 

I was rather disheartened by the fact that almost none of the cinemas hosted any other movies (The geeky part of me was really looking forward to Star Trek Beyond). The ones which did host the movie were either too far or the show time was rather inconvenient. When I did try to book a couple of seats for Kabali, the seats were either unavailable or too close to the screen, for every single cinema house I checked. Irrespective of the day and the location, BookMyShow showed house-full shows for two consecutive weeks. Such is the frenzy! Well, just on a whim, my roommate and I spontaneously decided to stop by AGS Cinemas on our way back from the office to check if any seats were available. We both pretty much prepared to return empty handed, but somehow ended up with the best seats in the house – the balcony seats. Our luck must have been REALLY good, as we somehow managed the last 2 balcony seats even though we waltzed to the ticket counter a little before the 7.15pm show. All put together it cost my roomie and me only ₹240. The part that really made us grin like kids was that we got the bragging rights – for a show at the same time our senior booked in advance and paid more than double of what we did!

We finally understood how big a sensation Thalaivar is in South India. The energy was of the crowd was just crazily infectious. We reached the auditorium moments before the show began, and wondered by the resonating cheers if we had missed the beginning. The whole auditorium came alive when the superstar first appeared on screen!

I was slightly disheartened as there were no subtitles – my roomie was sweet enough to translate the important bits to me, while I tried to use my Sherlockian skills to deduce whatever I could from the body language of the actors. The fact that I don’t really know Tamil helped me in observing the things that I otherwise may not have – the differences in the dressing sense of the bad guys and the good guys, how differently they style their beards, and finally the way they carry themselves (the main inference I drew was that the good guys look way more sophisticated than the villains). I loved the fight sequences were shot – even Newton wouldn’t cease to be surprised this time! Although the storyline wasn’t really impressive, Rajinikanth’s acting was mesmerising. Memories of watching Padayappa and Chandramukhi at my bestie’s house during my pre-teens flooded my mind. My roomie and I spent the remainder of our perfectly spontaneous evening at the nearby Domino’s outlet, drooling over the spiciest pizzas they have.

Chennai Chronicles: A Perfect Sunday

3rd July 2016

I had been meaning to visit Marina Beach ever since I landed in Chennai, but procrastination got the better of me. Finally, at the end of half my time here, I finally seized the opportunity. Three of my flatmates and I made an impromptu plan at 10pm on a boring Friday evening to just go and enjoy the beach. Although there wasn’t much to be seen (we couldn’t even see the sea!) we ended up falling in love with the beach and the breeze, so much that we decided to visit it again.

Following the advice my mentor gave us in the first week here, my roomie and I decided to visit Marina Beach early in the morning. Considering that the sun rises in Chennai pretty early (around 5.45am give or take) we decided to wake up by 5am and change into tracksuits. With groggy eyes, we booked an Uber at 5.30am. Our drowsiness made us get off at MGR Memorial, and we walked to the beach from there half-annoyed at our lack of direction.

The coarse golden sand lined with a thousand footprints and the occasional crabs that danced on the shore, the cool and refreshing salty breeze, the blue sky patched with clouds and the infinite blue sea made the experience unreal (It even got me thinking if this was what heaven would feel like!). And a long philosophical walk with my roomie was just the icing this cake needed. We sat down on the sand, admiring the marvel of nature and taking in every bit of beauty that the city had to offer. Kudos to the Tamil Nadu State Government for doing a fantabulous job of maintaining the really long beach – the old buildings and the beautifully maintained road give the place a charm of its own. At half-past-seven we hailed a cab back home and did what every student would usually do after accomplishing a target– sleep soundly for the next few hours, and wake up as fresh as a daisy – with absolutely no clue about what to do for the remainder of the day.

After a lazy lunch of rice and paneer butter masala, I retired to my room to binge watch half-a-season of White Collar. And before I could realize how time had slipped by it was half-past-six! My roomie, wanting to attend the evening mass at St. Theresa’s Church, signalled me to rush. Getting dressed the fastest we could, we booked an Ola Auto. The church looks just splendid in the evening – just picture perfect. The evening mass was an experience in itself – I am at a loss for words for the beauty of the experience.

Labelling the day as a cheat-day (yup…cheating the usual diet), we began our walk the special place that would really delight our taste buds – Tuscana Pizzeria at Wallace Gardens, Nungambakkam. We had narrowed down on this after reading the reviews on Zomato. The place brought a big smile to my face as we stepped in – the aroma of the wood-fired oven filled the restaurant and fuelled my hunger further. Choosing the pizza was the toughest part now – everything appeared delicious and our hunger was growing (no thanks to the aroma of the oven). After a bit of debating, we zeroed down on one. We waited for the pizza, talking about almost everything under the sun (I do remember discussing at depth about how selfie trend is ruining people). We savoured every bit of the pizza – it was just delicious, and it had been REALLY long since I had eaten something made in a wood-fired oven. We chose to end the meal with a chocolate cake at Sandy’s Chocolate Laboratory close by. I highly recommend the Tiny Chocolate Cake for those who like not-so-tiny cakes (Don’t go by the name…the cake is MASSIVE). We took roughly an hour to finish one together.

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We decided to watch Saala Khadoos to end the perfect weekend. It turns out that my roomie and I have a lot more in common than I previously thought – we both are fans of Madhavan (which is not exactly surprising, as most South Indians are…but still!).

Chennai Chronicles: Mahabalipuram

18th June 2016

I had been planning to explore places in and around Chennai as soon as my internship got confirmed (which happened to be in Feb). Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) and Pondicherry had been on the top of the list for a while. I decided to end my 8-weekend long procrastination and finally came up with an impromptu plan with my cousin Rahul.

The weather in Chennai had been pretty windy and cloudy for a couple of days, and this inspired me and my brother enough to take a chance and chalk out a Saturday for a Mahabalipuram trip (or “Mahabs” as he calls it). After much of googling the places worth visiting we came up with a short list. Rahul had already been there a couple of times before, and had a fair idea about the places worth seeing. After weighing the pros and cons of different modes of transport we could avail from Chennai to Mahabalipuram, we zeroed down on renting a car from Zoomcars. We booked a car assumed that 10 hours (10am to 8pm) would be more than sufficient to roam around and get back within time. Well, as I don’t have my license in Chennai, Rahul decided to drive.

We begin our journey to Mahabs from the Zoomcars carpark in Kodambakkam, in a bright orange Ford Figo, and soon realized that 10am was kinda past the ideal time to begin the journey. We got stuck at Nungambakkam High Road signal for a REALLY long time – roughly twenty five minutes and spent the time listening to music. The wait was so long that even the super-long playlist in Rahul’s iPod finished playing! After what seemed like the better part of an hour we hit the East Coast Road (ECR). After another bunch of waiting at the signals, we finally passed the toll-booth, after which the drive was a lot smoother.

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The route was pretty scenic – a beautiful shoreline running parallel to the road. After a nice comfortable drive, we reached Mahabalipuram at about 12.30pm. The first place we chose to visit was the Pancharatha – or the 5 chariots.

The place was really nice, and the weather was decent. Although hot and windy, it wasn’t sunny. The Pancharathas are monolithic temples resembling wooden chariots (rath). They were built in the time of Pallava King Narasimhavarman-I. It was pretty intriguing to note that the temples have been carved out of a huge rock. In addition to that, there were huge sculptures of animals as well.

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The carvings were really beautiful – one of the best pieces of architecture that South India has to offer. I was slightly disappointed to read that the Pancharatha had nothing to do with the Mahabharata – I was under the impression that the place had some link to the Pandavas.

Rahul and I went to the next place on the list – Krishna’s Butterball. Well, this was one of the reasons that got me interested in Mahabalipuram in the first place. The attraction is essentially a huge monolith (weighing about 250 tons) defying the laws of physics. It is a huge boulder sitting on a narrow rocky base. The attraction gets its name from Lord Krishna’s insatiable appetite for butter.

The astonishing part about it is that it is said to have been there since about 1300 years – myth has it that Pallava king Narasimhavarman tried to have the rock moved from its position, but the rock wouldn’t budge. A relatively recent unsuccessful attempt to move the rock was made in 1908 by the then Governor of Madras – Arthur Lawley.

We chose to visit the Lighthouse Museum next. We walked a bit from the Butterball. The lighthouse museum was a nice place – apart from the usual models of boats and ships, the place housed the items which were actually in use. I found the petroleum vapour burner system the most interesting – basic science concepts were used to ensure visibility of the lighthouse from 30 nautical miles! We also saw some of the tools used by the sailors. After this, we proceeded to the lighthouse itself.

Ascending the spiral staircase we reached the reached the top of the lighthouse and walked through the tiny door leading to the deck. The view was memorable – we could see the entire town from the lighthouse – the shore and the endless bright blue sea on one side, and miles of land on the other. We stayed at the deck for about ten minutes admiring the beauty before walking back through the door and down the spiral staircase. En route to the butterball, we treated ourselves to a few slices of raw mangoes, followed soon after by ice cold water. We were intrigued to find quite a few other Zoomcars in the area –

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The last place we visited in Mahabalipuram was the Shore Temple. Well, the temple is said to have been built in in the 8th century during the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II. Constructed with blocks of granite, the temple overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple looked great against the backdrop of the clear blue sea. We treated ourselves to a packed of orange juice before stopping for lunch at a restaurant called Border Parotta.

Left with about 5 hours on our hands until the vehicle was to be returned, we wondered what all we could do. We narrowed it down to 2 options – Crocodile Bank and DakshinaChitra. As we weren’t sure how long the Crocodile Bank would stay open, we chose to visit DakshinaChitra instead. Dakshinachitra is a museum capturing, showcasing and celebrating the essence of the South Indian culture over the ages.

The houses constructed in DakshinaChitra have been purchased (they had been given for demolition by the original owners), taken down, transported and reconstructed. There are houses from the four South Indian states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, in addition to other attractions. We spent a couple of hours looking at different houses and admiring our ancestors for the amount of thought they put into designing homes. We left for Chennai at about 6pm.

The drive back to Chennai was pretty eventful – we decided to listen to Atif Aslam. After overdosing on “Aadat” (I guess listening to 4 different versions of the song was really a bit too much for us) we switched back to the rock music we were listening to earlier in the day. I was surprised to find that in spite of really slow moving traffic and really long wait at the signals, we somehow managed to reach the car drop point almost half an hour before the scheduled time! Dropping the car off, we walked a little before bidding each other bye.

If you are planning to visit Mahabalipuram in the near future, here are a few pointers that might help–

  • The afternoons at Mahabalipuram can be too hot. Check the weather conditions before you plan. Sunscreen highly advisable.
  • In Rahul’s words, “The place is best for a school trip or for history buffs.” There are a few places to visit and one can visit all the tourist spots in less than 3 hours on a moderately crowded day. I don’t have much of an idea about trekking though.
  • Carry enough water – 1.5 litres per person should ideally suffice.
  • If you do plan to visit the place just to see the attractions, don’t miss out on the lighthouse and the lighthouse museum. It was the highlight of the day for me.
  • They have one ticket for all the archaeological monuments at Mahabalipuram. However, the lighthouse and the museum are not included in this and tickets for them need to be paid for separately.
  • If you don’t have your own vehicle it might be advisable to rent one. It is more convenient than the buses. Zoomcars offers fairly good deals on cars and is easy on the pocket. The deal we got was ₹1000 for 10 hours and 100km and ₹12 per additional km. The entire trip cost us ₹2200 (including the food, travel and attractions)