Chennai. Madras. The town where cine-stars become bigger than their on-screens personas, the town where the sound of the Suprabhatham can be heard early in the morning, the town where the voices of the colonial past can still be heard, the town where the literati are exalted, the town where politics is a dinner table discussion, the town where cricket is a religion as much as the cinema stars are demigods; the town, where I live.
I hail from humble beginnings. I was born in the suburb of the town, a locality that was populated by the employees of a central government factory that is based there. Blue collar, hard working men who saved for an evening out, who came from villages far away, whereMadras was El-Dorado.
It is from this neighbourhood that I start my journey every day, I cut through the heart of Chennai and through the divides of the city, I go through places of extreme poverty and through places of opulence, I go through places where the garbage from the city threatens to break the walls that contain it and through avenues that shield the common man from the stare of the equatorial sun, I go through schools and colleges and hospitals and temples, I have seen the worst of the city and the best.
I start from Perambur. This place has changed, I think to myself every day as I move out, it used to be such a quiet little place and now it is changing faster than my driver shifts my gears. I pass through Perambur, through buildings that have been here ever since the Integral Coach factory has been, this is where North Madras ends. From here the city starts to become cosmopolitan in its character and the essence of the city starts to ooze out. From Perambur I turn into Cook’s road, the roads here are small and I have to make room and hope that I do not crash into anyone. There are buildings that have been built into the road here, the canals run open and the streets are littered with garbage. Space is packed here, humans are stacked on top of each other like cards. This is the part of the city that aspires to greatness, the part that wants to see success in the triumphs of their children, this is the part of the city that often gets sidelined. I make my stops and pick up kids, kids always seem to like me, though I am always scared that they will fall down. I hear my keepers telling them to get into the carriage, but they often don’t listen. They bring happiness every time they step in, some even have names for me.
From Cook’s road I cross the Otteri Nullah to reach Otteri without much hassle. This small waterway is the major outlet for rainwater in North Chennai. I remember going through this route after the monsoon and seeing the water touching the underpass of the bridge and threatening to spill over into the roads. The waterway is often clogged by plastic refuse that people throw in without any thought.
The road from Otteri is called the Brick Kiln road, that the locals have taken to call the Brickiln road. If I thought the roads prior to this were cramped and small then I had another thing coming, I often meet my cousins and friends on this route and we will have to maneuver real hard to pass each other. The roads here really do make me wish for a vacation. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had someone bump into me or dent me because there wasn’t enough space for them to do otherwise.
I follow Millers road into Purusaivalkam and this place is always crowded, no matter the time of the day.
This place is the shopping hub for North Madras, a delight for anyone who loves a good bargain, a place where you treat your taste buds, a place which occupies the first position in my nightmares list. Purusaivalkam is like a well-oiled machine, when everything is working perfectly then it is a joy to ride through here, to soak in the sights and sounds and smells and see the potpourri of different cultures, but when it is the evening rush hour this place is like a tableau of hell. Bumper to bumper traffic, grown men acting like children, more cars and bikes denting me or scrapping me, it is the worst place to be when things aren’t going smooth.
I flow through the roads, the giant neon signs on either side of the road vying to catch the eyes of the people in me, the great big windows that display items of luxury that can be had with a few monthly instalments. The road then meanders through residential zones and comes out to the EVR high road where I stop to let in passengers from the KMC, the best healthcare facility in Chennai.
From KMC I go through an underpass, the Egmore Railway station on my right. The second passenger rail terminal in Chennai, this station serves the interior of Tamil Nadu and has a few out of state trains as well. It sure can get busy here during the rush hour. I get onto the Spur tank road with the Coovum river on my left. This small stretch of road is the best stretch for me. This is where I really let go and reach speeds I cannot achieve elsewhere in the city, I follow the Coovum, which is often in really bad state due to mismanagement and human asininity.
From the Spur tank road I cross the Nungambakkam bridge and move into college road, this where I deposit most of the college goers who study at either WCC or Ethiraj, two of Chennai’s premiere institutes. Students from MOP Vaishnav get down further ahead on this stretch of road which flows to Gemini flyover and moves through the cities. The most happening spots for young-uns, this is the place where everyone wants to come to during the evening. The place is littered with eateries and there is the behemoth – the Taj Coramandel. Like a little paradise removed from the happenings of the city where people can come to relax and let their hair down after a hard days’ work. It is from this place that the roads start to see vehicles that have been manufactured abroad, most of us don’t really like these snobby little brats who think they own the streets because they can out pace us, we have been here long before they have, we have grown with these streets and seen the city grow.
From Gemini, more so from the college road, the new Chennai begins. There are more apartments. There is a vibrancy is the air, a sense of urgency. The side shops sell the latest from around the world and most of them are custom show rooms. Often when I return back, I will pick up young lovers from the Semmozhi Poonga, a botanical garden in the middle of the city, I have seen people go there in the middle of the summer heat to get away from the heat away and to sit amidst the trees and soak in their love.
Most often I have to wait before the Cathedral road junction for party dignitaries from the AIADMK waiting to go into the road that leads to Veda Nilayam, which is the states’ power center. I often glance at the turn from the corner of my eye and watch the cars who come out of the street and wonder how different their life is to mine, they are always carrying members of the state polity, they are there in the road where it happens.
After the junction I climb the Cathedral road flyover which is my mind the heart of city. Wherever you want to go to, you can reach from this point, and this is where the Music Academy is located. If anyone were to ask me what the soul of the city is my answer would be music and there is no other place where the voices of the virtuosos are heard better than the Music Academy. I follow Cathedral road into Dr. Radhakrihnan Salai, both of which are highly coveted pin codes.
I can hear the sounds of Bhajans and the smell of camphor hits my engines, I must be nearing the temple town of Mylapore. I pass underneath the towering pillars of the MRTS and pass the Tirumaili station, one of the three forms of rail transport in Chennai, the MRTS is a system of elevated train tracks that follow the Buckingham Canal and connect the major population centers. It used to be that the service was the least used of all the transportation services, but now that the line have been extended till Velachery there has been an increase in the patronage.
After the station comes the town that was a town before Madras became the town. It is said that the place was a natural habitat for peacocks and hence the name Mylapore, “Miyl” being the name for peacocks in Tamil. Mylapore is to Chennai as Time Square is to New York and Trafalgar Square to London. This is the locality that made the city. As I pull into the Mylapore bus stand, the sun glimmers off of the water of the Temple tank as it has every time I have driven through here. This is a constant reminder of what this town was.The buildings here are older than the city and the roads narrower than the ones in North Madras, I have to pass through what are essential residential areas to get to the next stop – Mandaveli.
I often see funeral processions as I wind my way though the city and I see festival processions, sometimes I see both in opposite lanes. When the light turns green I am snapped from thoughts and I have speed up to the next stop taking care not hit into the motorist in front of me who veers in and out like Grand Prix driver I have heard about. Why these humans try to drive recklessly is beyond me. I have seen my reflections a few times and I am larger and stronger than everything else on the street. I lament at the stupidity of the humans who try to have a contest between their friends and me.
The speed I travel at after Mandaveli is like those small animals that have a bulbous growth on their back, they often try to crawl inside me after a rain. I usually have people who hose them out or throw them away. It is funny to see the big, black flying monsters try to eat those things, some of them are clever, they poke a hole in the ball and pull the creature out. I have no idea why they were created that way, what purpose do they serve, I wonder. All this slow driving really makes my engine rev-up.
I get to let myself lose after Mandaveli when we approach the Thiru Vi Ka bridge. This long single stretch of roads is where I can get rid of the cramp from being made to crawl about. The scenery that I get to see as I cross is something that makes me think that I am a blessed machine. I often see the twinkling lights of the ships across at sea and the sand bar that separates the Bay of Bengal from the river. I see the city light across the Adyar reflected in its murky, muddy waters and I see the people who call the city home in their homes as they too share the scenes with me. When I cross the River I step into new Chennai.
This is the Chennai that has only started to grow in the last few years, this is the Chennai where the new blood comes to the city, this is the Chennai where the majority of the people who take my help come to, this is the Chennai that gets featured in all the magazines outside the state – I heard this from a friend who frequently goes to a place called Bangalore, she tells me that the traffic there is horrendous and that sometimes she falls asleep as she going home. I can only imagine the horror that she goes through. The mechanic knows the troubles that I go through every day in the traffic that Chennai presents me with.
After the Adyar river I usually either go into Besant Nagar, with its avenues filled trees and people who are usually happier than the people I see in Perambur. The streets are neat and there is a sense of calm and relaxed atmosphere here, as if the city is far removed and is a day’s journey away. I really love it when the guys change my board to indicate that I am going to Besant Nagar. The Besant Nagar boards are pretty fun as well, don’t tell the Thiruvanmiyur guys I said that, they are a grumpy lot as is.
If I am heading to Thiruvanmiyur then my speeds drops back to the crawl again and I have to take any space I get to move ahead, most of the people in this route only look at me and my boards and express disappointment, I think I understand the resentment that the boards have for the people after Adyar. After the Adyar bus depot the guys usually will try to get me home as soon as possible and since the majority of the patrons with me would be going to the end of the line, it works out really well.
I only have one movie theatre in my trip and that is the S2 Thiyagaraja screen. It is mostly jam packed during the evening and makes my speed even slower. I especially hate it when movies of big stars come out. There will festival like celebrations outside the theatre. Once a fire cracker had exploded nervously close to my tanks, I have never been as scared as I was that day. There are people who climb large non-moving pictures of other people to pour white water over the picture. I could never understand the reasoning behind this. Some of my friends at the yard told me that they do this to make sure they have a good harvest, I don’t really think that is the reason though. They are really strange, these humans.
I often reach my yard empty or with a few people riding till the end of the line, they then get down and change to the other friends who run along what the humans call the East Coast Road. I have been told that it is a beautiful road to drive on, maybe one day even I will get to ride there. Once I am at the yard, the guys will put me in a bay and give me a break, they will usually take a break as well and get something in their engines as well. If I have had any unfortunate incidents along the way then I am usually towed to a garage where more humans work on me and make me better. Clever things these humans are. If only they could learn to take care of themselves as well.
Oh, here they come, the first patrons to go back. I wonder what I will see this time around.
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