There’s no way you can cover an entire city in one day. But if you’re going to zip in and out of here, there are some places that must figure on your itinerary for that true Chennai experience. Here are our recommendations.
The city’s oldest cinema houses
The love for film in Chennai goes back to its iconic and resplendent cinema houses. They might be worse for wear now, but were once the talk of the town.
A Sachin memory
If you grew up in India in the 90s, it would be impossible that you had a favorite over Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. If you did, you were unpatriotic. You simply could not ignore the little man when you were among friends. You would be ostracised. I never worried about that. Every one of us in the colony, in our short pants and soiled wristbands, would pretend to be just one person while we batted, bowled or fielded - Sachin Tendulkar.
It was a hot January afternoon when I first happened to see Tendulkar move in life. I had seen him before, on television sets. Appearing and disappearing as the signal of the antenna failed. Seeing him live, was a different experience. It was a big occassion. My cousin had somehow got tickets to the first India Pakistan Test match in the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai. It was the first time Pakistan had played India since Kargil. We were in search of revenge. There we were, sitting somewhere beyong square leg, watching the match unfold in front of us.
The first three days were forgettable. I did not remember much of the third day because I was dehydrated and fainted midway. My cousin never forgave me. I missed Shahid Afridi smashing Srinath and Prasad all over the park for his 150. We returned on the fourth day to realise that Pakistan were in a strong position. By the end of the day, they had put up 271 for the target. We were not worried. We had something they never will - Sachin.
The fifth day began as a tragedy. Sadagoppan Rameshfailed miserably. Rahul Dravid, then not the giant as he is now, crashed out. Laxman waned after the first few minutes. Then came the master. His typical gait down to the pitch. The cautious marking of the stance. Hope was restored. The start was slow, but it kept going. Even as Azhar and Jadeja fell, he kept calm. Soon, it was the hundred up. The two hundred followed. India were gaining.
Pakistan was our arch enemy. We did not care how good Wasim was, or how brilliant Saqlain's off spinners were. They were the enemy. We could not lose. In our home, in front of our people. Sachin was the only hope we had, and some hope it was.
Then the stupidest thing happened. Nayan Mongia, who had batted out of his skin so far, stepped out to hit Saqlain's turner. It was a sharp off spinner, it dipped, turned left and found Moin Khan's gloves. That was the end of our middle order. We cursed. We railed. We could do nothing but sympathise with Sachin at the other end. 'Give us a bat. Give us a bat' we cried.
All the while, he batted. Through pain, through falling wickets, through Saqlain's spin and Wasim's pace. He battled. It was 30 runs to win. We were home. We were almost home.
Suddenly, the knife twisted. Slowly, like an assasin's best poison. Sachin stepped out to a Saqlain dolly, to hit him against the spin. His agonised back gave way. The bat did not come down in time. The shot was mistimed and the ball flew slant in the air, its pace taken off. Wasim Akram took the gift dropped from the sky. I could hear Waqar swear through the silence in the stadium. Soon, Kumble fell, followed by Joshi. The wickets were falling at a greater speed than the target.
It was Srinath next. We sat down and watched it through our losses. He drove a boundary. A slight resuscitant to our ICU admitted heart. It was just 12 runs to win. If only they could hang on... if not a win, just a draw... Then, Saqlain threw a wrong one at him. Srinath defended, with an India gate between his legs. The ball passed through and, ever so slightly, hit the bails. It was all over. We were shocked. Shocked into silence.
There are times in life when sights inspire you. They stay with you till the end of days. Like Henry Vth would say 'Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot; but he will remember with advantages'. You remember these things when you are 12 years old. You remember watching the stadium applaud through your tear filled eyes. You remember your cousin telling you why. You remember the stubborn intensity of a man, battling through pain, just to not lose only to end up losing. Sometimes, like Peter Roebuck said, its a privilege, simply to be there.
A friend, in the middle of an argument about films, pointed out that all the differences between films from the north and the south could be simplified in one simple characteristic - Moustaches. He kept insisting how the thick growth of hair on the upper lip still rules supreme in the Kodambakkam film circle. I would have put this down to a misconceived South Indian stereotype, if I had not learned about Triplicane.
A half a kilometre from the origin point of Fort St George is the ancient township of Tiruvallikeni, or as the English called it, Triplicane. Tracing its roots to the 8th century, the place is older than the bigger metropolis of Chennai that has eclipsed it. The small lanes turn left and right, surrounded by typical agraharam houses with courtyards built within. The only time I had visited Triplicane before was to witness a Ranji trophy match at the Chepauk stadium. But I digress, I write to speak of divine moustaches.
The Parthasarathy temple is one of the oldest temples in the metropolis. Constructed by a king of the Pallava dynasty, it stands beside a small lotus pond (Alli Keni) that gives the town its dravidian name, Tiruvallikeni. The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Krishna as Parthasarathy (Arjuna’s charioteer - Partha being Arjuna, and Sarathy meaning charioteer). The idol is like many others of Krishna, black, shiny and decked in gold. Except for one tiny difference - It sports a moustache.
I have always wondered why Rama and Krishna were shown clean shaven in most portraits. A simple explanation would be to show eternal youth. But Krishna was not young during the Mahabharata. By speculation, he was close to 60. The apt age for someone imparting a sermon to a younger warrior. But to imagine a kshatriya king of 60, without a moustache, would be, to those ancient hindus, a blasphemy.That raises the question, why are portraits across the country filled with a blue, whisker devoid young man preaching The Bhagvad Gita to Arjuna, who incidentally sports glorious moustaches?
The moustaches are not the only surprise at the Parthasarathy temple. The temple also houses Krishna’s family. The temple has Balarama, Krishna’s brother standing at his right, along with Satyaki, his friend. Following these, come the surprise additions; Pradyumna, Krishna’s son, and Aniruddha, Krishna’s grandson find a place in the sanctum sanctorum. Usually, Krishna temples house the lord with his main consorts. The presence of these warriors at his side imparts this temple a certain martial regality. A closer look shows that the idol is marked by wounds on the face. This is to depict the injuries suffered in the war of Kurukshetra. The temple is constructed in typical Dravidian fashion and also houses Lord Narasimha, Lord Ranganatha, and Hanuman, among other deities. The pond is well maintained and a beautiful sight as well.
Krishna has always been a more frivolous god. He has been portrayed as a playboy, a romantic hero with more girlfriends than is humanly possible. This is not a temple for that god. This was a temple for the martial Lord Krishna, Regent of Dwaraka and mastermind of Kurukshetra.The Parthasarathy temple is symbolic of everything macho in south India. Naturally, it comes accompanied by the mandatory moustache.
Although Chennai, or Madras as it was called then, is my native town; there has been a necessary separation between us. I spent most of my conscious life in the labyrinthine streets of Mumbai. Having loved one city from my heart, I never could find space for another. Yet, I share something of an umbilical connection with Chennai. It was this connection that drew me to it.
I grew up listening to stories. Being the kid that was left out of teams, I spent more time living out memories than creating my own. That walk down NSC Bose road was my way of filling in the pieces of the puzzle. I could now see the Chenna Kesava Perumal temple that my mom raved about. I could see its gopuram look out to the city, as it had done for centuries. I walked past the clamor of the vegetable market that is ‘Kothaval Chavadi’. The times may have changed, but the argument of the quality of the tomato for the rasam has remained constant. Then, there is the Saravana Bhavan. An unchanging mark of quality in an everchanging world. Even as the rest of the city moves on from doting on Rajnikanth to Dhanush, the idlis and pongals from Saravana Bhavan continue to vanish with the same speed.
There are other landmarks that jut out of the road, at places. The red sandstone structure of the Madras High Court, The Bharat Insurance Building, The Southern Railway Headquarters have an imposing presence. If they could speak, what would they say. Would they speak of tales of a city that grew from nothing? Unsurprisingly, they held their silence and left me with unanswered questions.
I continued down the road and marked out locations from the stories of my childhood. Pachaiyappa’s college where my mother studied, the Parry’s Corner where she would take a bus to work etc. Every building seemed to stir up an old memory that I never knew existed. Suddenly, the stories I had heard had form. They had structures to add to the veracity. I somehow had stumbled upon my mother’s city. And I liked it. As I relived those memories, I was creating new ones. Memories of a city that was a part of my stories.
The crowds kept milling round. As the evening drew near, they flocked to the Broadway bus stand to make their way home. Offices were shutting down, leaving me alone with others bitten by the same wanderlust as me. I decided to head home after a dinner at Saravana Bhavan.
You cannot discover a city in a day. But you can find reasons to love it. I had finally found what drew me to this city - The stories!
the kollywood walk
6 stops, Easy
Chennai knows its cinema. It houses the second largest film industry in the country. From the charismatic MGR to the one and only Rajinikanth, it is home to stars that command the love of millions.
Guide: The cityrsquo;s oldest cinema houses
The love for film in Chennai goes back to its iconic and resplendent cinema houses. They might be wo...
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