Two weeks of hiatus is enough motivation to pack the bag again. Frequent coffee, sleepless nights and junk food in preparation for the semester exams can suck life out of our soul. Not that exams were any good, but the fact that I sat in the examination hall for three hours is something I should say with pride. As the semester draws to its final days and as I mentally prepare for Thirontharam life for the months to come, I am wandering as much as I can. In that case, when Google mentions that famous colonial Black Town, you don’t deny it.
One of the pros of travelling alone is that you have way too much time for yourself. Your thoughts are subjected to something similar to a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. You think about all the stupid stuff that you have been doing in your life making awkward smiles to yourself. But it comes with a statutory warning: This might weird out your co-passengers and neighbors.
Once at Central, I caught an auto to the Armenian Church. The street leading to the church was lined with flower shops and candle sellers, a beautiful fragrance emanating from them. I have been to this place two months back. Unlike the first time, this was heavily crowded today. There was a snake-like queue of women and men trying to enter the shrine. That meant a no. I lighted a candle and thanked you don’t know who for the intense fuck up called The Fourth Semester. And carried on happily through the streets.
Now I am in Black Town, alternatively the George Town. This sprawling urban marketplace developed outside the Fort St George in the eighteenth century to cater to the White Town within the fort. There is nothing you cannot buy here: clothes, fruits, books, footwear, plants, flowers, religious texts, perfumes, amlas, ornaments and almost everything that is a part of the Tamil life. There are streets solely dedicated to wedding cards, paper cups, footwear and even Ayurveda stalls.
On the main street was a crowded coffee shop. A group of tired men swarmed around the coffee guy. A coffee and a couple of cutlets were to make my day. With my food, I sat in front of a huge sign ‘please avoid food wastage’. The coffee was the best, but cutlets were mediocre. I struggled through one and the second one seemed like a Herculean task. Not able to waste it nor torment myself by eating it, I dissected it, studied its anatomy and left the place.
Later in search of some cool air, I walked into an air conditioned wedding card shop. This shop is a huge place, there are thousand designs of wedding cards sectioned into Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Hindu cards had Ganpati and Muslim cards had some Arab writing. In places like this, you should put your brains into use.
“Do you have any cards for inter-religious weddings? I wanted one with the image of Jesus and an Arab quote.”
“No ma’am”, the salesman said.
“I thought so.”
The Khadi ayurveda stall was unique one. It had cupboards filled with footwear, snacks and bottles of medicines. And the jewellery shop nearby had heavy necklaces and bangles that could pull you down to the ground. Newton’s law. But it seemed impossible to enter the disposable cutlery shop, as strings of paper cups hung all around its entrance.
As the sun set, the roads grew more crowded. Men in formal clothes hurried across to get home. Women bought flowers and kept it on their pleated hair. Policemen tried to control the heavy traffic that flooded the thoroughfare. Fruit sellers yelled ‘Nooru roopa, nooru roopa’ as they sat beside the huge piles of mangoes and apples. Temple bells sounded loudly through the smoke infested air.
This is the street life in Chennai.
George Town is a shopping area. It is a perfect place if you have a leaning towards collecting curious stuff. At the end of the day, I had some candles, rose flowers, a bundle of envelopes to write to random people, a blank wedding invitation card, an ink pen, a vintage postcard, some earrings and plastic wraps. But the most exciting part of this street walk was that, after a long long wait, I had my mangoes. It comes with the feeling of extreme satisfaction: I tasted the summer.
THE CURTAIN CALL
After four months of pointless wandering, I have almost reached the climax. It is time to express gratitude to a lot of things: Like the Armenian Church, the Bay of Bengal and Chennai MRTS. And definitely, the humans. People who play metal songs from their Bluetooth speaker inside a temple compound. People who can manage to fit ‘of course’ and ‘that’s not how it is supposed to work’ in a single sentence. People who take the ‘I quit smoking’ resolution five times a week. People with European and Australian origins, who can manage to climb 1600 rock cut steps in a single go. And the confused, jobless, clueless and bored people of East corner wing in Tunga.