Thursday, May 21, 2009

T.Nagar Times

In the months of May and June, Chennai is like a boiling pot. The sun is merciless in the way it disperses heat and everyone dives for cover, and at times with the help of watermelon, sugar cane juice, umbrellas the people thrive, but these only provide momentary relief, because it's like a constant frying pan, and a little cold juice is not often enough to beat the summer.

On these painfully warm days, when you start sweating as soon as you finish bathing, the evening air again brings some relief with some salty breeze from the Bay of Bengal, but again it's not entirely cool, so we the people have just got to live with it.

But man's needs are never few and some recreation is always on the cards, so what does a traditional, conservative city like Chennai do, many might wonder. Do we go to the sprawling Marina beach or the colourfully crowded Elliots beach. Do we go around the temples of Mylapore, churches of Santhome, the China Bazaars.. Well! we do all that, but mainly we shop.! And if there's something to buy, then there's only one place to do it. T.Nagar!

So that's where I was headed along with my mother, a veteran shopper on a surprisingly cloudy Saturday evening in the month of May. I wanted to buy a small gift for a friend's wedding, so we decided that we had to go to T.Nagar. There were no second thoughts. As we walked from the bus stand through Usman Road, the place seemed pretty much less crowded than usual. It was around 4:30 in the evening, so many had already made their purchases and left. Amidst the strange sweet smell of all the fruits and flowers that lined the sidewalk, we just kept walking gingerly, the vehicles often swerving alarmingly close.

And then there were the handbags, the purses, clips, rubber bands, of all possible colours, and then the inner wear shops and belts and toys and sweets, and again more sugar cane juice being constantly extracted. The houseflies swarming in for a lick, they just never stopped hovering. "There, come!", said my mother suddenly and I understood that we had to turn left.

And what a left that was.! It was like a huge river that was pouring into the sea suddenly. There were so many people around me so quickly, but for the huge river, the journey was not essentially easy. Because from the sea, seemed to rise huge waves of people again trying to come out and blocking your way. And there I was in the middle of it all, The left turn to Ranganathan Street was never really going to be easy. And then suddenly I realized that I was alone. I searched for my mother, and lo and behold, she had already tamed the current, as she evaded the watch sellers and lottery ticket sellers, the puddles on the road and the other shoppers and just kept zooming ahead. I struggled as she goaded me to come quickly, so sure footed with every next step.

Our aim was to reach Saravana Stores, the panacea for all shopaholics, because you just get almost everything under the hot chennai sun. As the cold sprayed air swept my face at it's entrance, I realized, I was still just flowing from this river of humanity into a huge pool by the side.

Once inside, we walked to the nearest sales boy and he directed us to the section, where I started by looking at small silver lamps, and quickly selected one. "That's it?", my mother asked. She was not satisfied. I realized i had made my decision too quickly and she was uncomfortable with that, and I watched on as she pointed out to another one and another one. Finally out of three we narrowed down to two and then the cheaper one. At last a purchase was made. She seemed more satisfied now. We wanted to get the item wrapped in gift paper, but no one seemed to be eager to help us there. After some amount of threatening and inquiry, I lost hope, not my mother and at long last we got a supervisor to get the job done. I somehow get easily irritated when the sales people don't really attend to our needs well. They do so, when they've no business though, or if the prices are really high. Opportunists.!, I thought. But when you come to think of it all of us are opportunists, we all have our own reasons for which we do things. We lead our own small lives in our own small worlds, and yet we are ever so unknowingly part of this larger world, when we come across people of all worlds and collide and share ideas in an human confluence. While these thoughts pervaded my mind, my mother nudged me ahead.

"What next ?", she asked. Before I could reply, she replied "You drink some juice.! Mine without sugar".
We were about to go into the vegetable market near the Mambalam railway station at the end of Ranganathan Street. So there we sat and drank chikkoo shake and Moosambi juice respectively and then headed to the market, bought a few drumsticks, which went along with the more costlier goods from Saravana Stores, some more spring onions, beetroot, plantain etc. Two of the women vendors selling tomatoes were talking. "Who won the elections ?", one queried. "Yaar jeyicha namakku enna" ( How does that affect us), she replied, turning and smiling at me. I guess she was right. Because how does it really make any difference in their lives. No one really campaigns on ranganthan street. Here all were either customers or shopkeepers, all were equal and yet all had their own needs and reasons.

As we walked to the bus stand, I remembered all the times when we've come to T.Nagar as a family, ate at Geethanjali Restaurant, playing with my sister, and my mother endlessly looking at new things, and my father getting impatient and angry. Those were the times, even today it is always T.Nagar times, times when we come out of our own worlds and then become a part of a larger world. I knew that my mother was happy with the day. She has never needed more. Her dreams and aspirations have always been those few moments of togetherness and spending. As we neared the bus stand, she ran like a child, towards our bus to Madipakkam to grab a seat. I knew I was happy at heart, so I guess we're not all opportunists. We do feel happy for ourselves, our families and our world at times and at other moments, we have our own needs and our own lives. It's just that at times, we are less subtle about it.

As the bus neared home, she pointed to me a newly opened shop and told me, "You know what ?. We could have bought our things from here too". "Then why did you take me all the way to T.Nagar", I prepared to ask, but then I just smiled.

I guess, I already knew the reason why.