I’m a hopeless bibliophile. And this love for all things written means that I, more often than not, have already read about how all the magical experiences of life feel, far before I have actually felt them. The worst part of having read so much is that real-life experiences hardly ever live up to the romance etched in your mind by an author. No Heathcliff is going to fall in love with me; I am not likely to meet any Brobdignarians and I’m certainly not going to go to have an owl as a pet. But being a relentless optimist, I never stop trying. So when the plan to flee the heat of Delhi by escaping to the warmth of the south was floated in the house, I jumped with glee. I was convinced this was going to be the adventure of my life. I was going to meet exciting people, charter my course through unknown terrains, discover unknown facets of life and maybe do a thing or two to get the Nobel Prize.
Undeterred by my father’s pragmatism however, I started bubbling with anticipation when we started the trip. Our timing was not the greatest. One should try to visit Tamil Nadu after the heat spell is over. Although it has just two weathers, hot and very hot, hot is definitely the more comfortable one. As anyone visiting Chennai would tell you, the Marina Beach is the ultimate tourist destination there. The second longest beach in the world, Marina certainly is HUGE. The beach has all the usual, clichéd beach entertainments; shooting balloons, pegging a prize etc. The unusual aspect that differentiated it from other beaches was the sight of boys selling coffee!! Or to give it its Tamil name, kaafi. There is another, lesser-known (to the outsiders, that is) beach in Chennai, the Elliot beach, located near the Anna University campus. A smaller beach, but much less crowded and thus, much cleaner. The waves are the same, and so is the water, but a less populous surrounding leave a far greater scope for imagination to work itself and memories to form. The water seemed far more powerful to me here, the foam much more white, and the graffiti on the walls opposite the beach were a thrilling vision.
Our trip to Chennai also included a visit to the market of T. Nagar (T for Thygaraja) and the Pondi Bazaar. These markets are like any other in any other populous city, except that the lanes here are fragrant with the smell of the mogra from the gajras that women sell. The utensil shops are well clad with stainless steel on every millimeter of the roof, floor and walls, that the light reflections are capable of sending eyes into a tizzy. For dining out, one will be surprised to know that there are hardly any places that serve “dinner” in Chennai. People have a hearty lunch there and then snacks or “tiffin” in the evenings.
The next day, we left for Kancheepuram, or to give it its ancient name, Kanjivaram. The two-hour drive was an experience in itself, considering the beautiful scenery. But there is one more thing to be noticed. The walls of Tamil Nadu are full of posters. While the Tamil text was balderdash to me, the pictures weren’t. M.Karunanidhi adorned most every poster (and there were loads of them). He was accompanied here and there with daughter Kanimozhi and son Stalin, although a preference for the latter was obvious. Kancheepuram is a quaint, relaxed little town with a zillion temples, Kancheepuram is picturesque; to say the least. We visited a mere two of them, thanks to the insane heat. The first temple to visit there is the main attraction of the city. The Kamakshi is a magnificent piece of architecture. With four intricately carved minor temples at the four corners and the main shrine at the centre, the sight of it is a treat. There’s also a shrine in the temple’s complex with a gold roof. Going inside the shrine, you are allowed to conduct a puja with your family alone, with the head priest explaining all the processes as you go along. As we completed the circumambulation, we saw a Banyan tree that was obviously extremely important there. It had small little wooden crates with models of little Krishna in them tied on to its branches. A place to pray for a child, we guessed. Then we went to the second temple, Perumal Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This temple, largely under construction was a “profitable” one, according to our enlightened guide. He said so because this temple has a portion dedicated to the “golden lizard” and the “silver lizard”. As the sign informed us, by stroking the (huge) golden lizard and the (little) silver lizard, we could rid ourselves of the bad karma of all the sins we had ever committed, by shelling out a mere two rupees!