Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wandering Around In Madras Central

Sundays are a pain for me.

Work keeps me busy all day long, in the evenings I take long walks in the lush green Anna Nagar, have endless cups of coffee, visit a cyber cafe to write something, visit a new restaurant, try out a new cuisine. But Sunday hangs heavy on my hands rather like a wet carpet that I can't figure out what to do with.

Last Sunday was different. I didn't want to spend half of it in bookstores or poring over used books on pavements, or go to a 'Sale' and one of the many exhibition halls here. If I have read six books in two months, I still have eight unread ones. Old habits die hard, I was to discover soon. They just fade away, to hide at the street corner with a sand filled sock in hand.

At first I finished my customary walk around Thiru Vee Ka Poonga, I love this name as much as I love Charlie Kattampally's God-given handle. I was late, and sweated profusely what with one short spell of rains having made Chennai soggy and litres of water I keep drinking finally doing its thing. After my fourth cup of coffee I got so tired and sick of walking and imbibing the strong brew, I decided to go to Broadway. Why Broadway, you may ask, very legit query. Because, from Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, belching coffee I walk towards the famous cemetery in Kilpauk area, right next door. What I see on turning my head is something like five to six buses per minute, all going to Broadway.

With Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady's ditties ricocheting in my fatigued mind, for the long walks in the sun can take their toll indeed... I passed the Redeemers' Church where a morning service had just ended. All the redeemed souls nearly crushed me to bits, or pushed me into the middle of the road where the Bus route no:7F to Broadway would have unwittingly crushed me like a cockroach. Saving my soul and body both, I hurried on to the next bus stop. None of the drivers liked my red beard nor my attitude much. Even the buses which were half empty did not veer towards me, poor ole me sweating like a pig under the shed and looking piteously at them. No effect.

With a reluctance as heavy as a set of ball and chain, I dragged myself from shade to shade, and thank be to God, there are many tall well-spread trees everywhere on that route, till the next stop. One bus had to stop for some people were desperate to get off. I sneaked in and paid a royal sum of Rs3.50/- for the whole journey. Paying such a paltry amount would necessitate your removal from the bus, in Pune where the local transport seems ten times more expensive to me.

Before hitting Broadway with its total lack of theatres or theatrics, I got off at Madras Central, as Chennai's main railway station used to be called before the nationalistic fervour got the better of local politicos. Felt a little sentimental, a tad nostalgic at the huge railways station where thirty years ago I used to arrive so often, stay at a hotel close by, and take a train to Thiruvottiyur, for work at an old engineering company that's defunct now, I heard. It's changed a lot, become much bigger and better managed, but the character has been protected very well.

Went around walking, bought a ballpen, had coffee and emerged out towards what used to be Moore's Market, my old haunt for used books. Thousands of books I had purchased on my numerous trips -during my early career I used to miss a meal to be able to buy a book, a record... since the travel allowance used to be a pittance. Or walk for kilometres to save the bus fare. Saw that the old booksellers have been thrown out and they hog the pavements. One of the largest collection I saw inside a sort of gateway connecting the huge compound of Madras Central to the road that leads to the market.

Spent nearly an hour and chose five books, all very interesting, in good condition. At twenty rupees a book, it seemed a bargain. Been reading some, am very smitten by Gustave Flaubert's book of three tales. Those who do not believe in translation, should read this book and see how competent the English translation is.

Went for a longer walk, and the sun shone fiercely, making me scared of catching a sunstroke. So stopped for a cold drink. One particular beggar had been chasing me for a half a kilometre, which tried my patience. I had run out of change. So I kept saying No No No... endless number of times. He wouldn't stop his litany with 'khana' and 'chai' two words I could understand. Finally I turned, yelled " A hundred times No!" and taken aback, he shuffled away.

Wound up my walk and returned the same way. Tried 'meals' at a Khwaja Hotel, close to the Masjid, which I had noticed when the bus arrived via Vepery. The surprise was a piece of chicken in rice plate as this meal would be called in Bombay or Pune. Lovely food it was. On may way out I saw the same 'khana' and 'chai' asking beggar hogging the entrance with another equally dessicated female counterpart. He smiled expansively and softened by food, I gave him a coin of good value.

Nothing notable happened on my way back, having taken a bus to Broadway, which is total washout as a locality. That being a bus terminus, I waited for fifteen minutes to get roasted medium-rare before the driver climbed in ponderously and took us back via the same route.


At 8:08 AM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

So Broadway is the name of a little neighborhood?

As for the Flaubert -- a quick search discovers the Penguin classic, translated by a certain Robert Baldick. No doubt that's the one . . .

The tale of bus fare reminds how my father said his mother (in the Depression era) would walk across town to avoid paying "a nickel" ($0.05) for the bus. A similar sum to the Chennai fare (but in those days, a nickel was worth a lot more than now).

At 9:13 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

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