Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Of Vultures and Sugar Apples in Chennai

Chennai's Marina Beach

I was dreading my arrival in Chennai by bus. I wasn't familiar with the station. Last year, I arrived into this major Tamil city via Egmore train station. And after 7 1/2 hours of drowsiness and sleep, I finally reached the New Bus Terminal. Like vultures on an unassuming prey, they fought over me though I was already following an autorickshaw driver. Even when I was being issued a prepaid taxi ticket, they were still shouting at each other. It was unnerving! Chennai has undoubtedly some of the most charmless sites I have known (for trying to be politically correct by not using the word "ugly"). Their single claim to fame is their 13 kilometer of uninterrupted beach called Marina Beach. I was there during a cyclone last year. Such was my luck.


Here is the gravelly rub: taxi drivers and autorickshaw drivers shamelessly ask for a stupendous 250-350 rupees even for short distance destinations so much so that if you have 4 locations on your itinerary for the day, you'd have to spend 1,000 rupees ONLY for those 4 destinations. Thank heavens the sights in this godforsaken city are nil to non-existent! Even the concierge at my Pandiyan Hotel advised against my visiting Valluvar Kotam - the museum house of their esteemed poet Thiruvalluvar! Where does this place Chennai into a foreign tourist's priority? Nowhere! For a city with bottom-scraping tourist sites, travel situations are so GOD-AWFUL; heaven bless their tourism planners and their PUV drivers.


SO --- here I was, finishing my 4th Sugar Apple (atis) which I bought for 50 rupees a kilogram. This was food since 7AM. I positioned myself at a bench right in front of the Chennai Egmore Station. There was frenetic movement of people, in varying states of stress and paranoia. I do not envy them, but It was cathartic to observe them from my seat, chewing on a sweet atis. These people could have been me! But not right now!

I loved looking at this station. The dramatic lights that bathe the Mughal-styled architecture remind one of old glories and time otherwise forgotten. Colonialism and history have their rewards!


I am grateful to see the area of Egmore this time. Last year, I was stuck in my room waiting for the cyclone to blow over. All I saw was the tempestuous Marina Beach - and the sludgey pool of dung and refuse that spilled over the streets of Triplicane. That was how I left India last year. Hope it gets better this December.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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