One day in Madras

“A North Indian family that I know is coming to Chennai tomorrow. Their train is coming in at ten in the morning and they have until about 8 in the night. They want to see Chennai. Suggest some places, no?”
It is always a welcome distraction — questions like this from a colleague — on a Thursday afternoon when, as most Thursdays go, the morning has been less than, er, good. More onThursdays at a later point in time perhaps. Back to the now. The Thursday afternoon, I mean.

“Dai! That’s hardly 10 hours! What do they expect to see?”
“Can you tell me or should I ask someone else?”

The old pride was wounded. A consummate Chennaivasi (for all you millenials out there; Madrasi for all of you, Anna Nagar and north), is a creature of supreme pride in the city of Chennai (formerly, and probably still should be, known as Madras). He/ she is also a creature of an thin film of sweat on the person at all times but let’s not get into the metaphysical definition here.
Being one of the aforementioned species of Madrasis, I was half tempted to say, ”Take them to Sowcarpet; it’ll be like they never left home. Ha!” However, the threat of “asking someone else” loomed large and, hey, one must be of service when one can, what? Thus began the plan of a day in Madras.

“They come in at 10 AM. Right. So, breakfast then. Ratna Cafe. Perfect. Central Station to Triplicane (Thiruvallikeni, if you are so inclined) is not that far. Plus, there is sambhar in jugs. That is what they are known for” (Notice the ‘h’)
“Wait, what?! Sambhar in jugs, ah?” (Again, notice the ‘h’; we are hip like that.)
“Yes.” (Mild pride.)
“So, will they give only the sambhar or will it come with idli or dosai as well?” (Sly.)
“Well, generally, they charge for the idlis but if your salary is delayed, you could possibly go just for the sambhar.” (Ha!)

“Anyway, Ratna Cafe. Breakfast. Set. Next, Parthasarathy temple. Right next to Ratna Cafe only. Not too far. Coming all the way here. Might as well get some prasadam, I mean, punyam. But prasadam is quite good. So, would not necessarily not go for that. If you know what I mean”
I was met with a not-too-amused look. Ha! These non-Madras types. Don’t get the humour only.
“Anyway, the temple closes by noon, I think, so, they should be just in time.”
“OK. Then?!”

“Then, Marina beach. Noon sun. Good sunbathing. No, wait.”  (snigger)
“More seriously, Tere mere beach mein…” (more snigger)
“Dai nonsense!”
 “Alright alright. No beach. Too hot. No lighthouse also. That also too hot. Best. Santhome Basilica. It is old. It is historic. Most importantly, it will also be cool. “
“Right. Seems fair.”
“So, by the time they are done with this, time for lunch. Let’s see. Madras. Lunch. Definitely elai-saapaadu. Santhome, no? So, nearby… Yes. Cathedral Road. So, Saravana Bhavan or Woodlands. Although Woodlands, strictly, is Udupi but still it is a cult of Madras so, I guess that is acceptable. However, be warned. These are both light ah fraud elai-saapaadu. Because, well, technically, you do eat on an elai (banana leaf) but that is placed inside a steel plate. But then again, speaking most technically, it is indeed an elai so, we’re good there.”
“Are you done?”
“Not really; I do have strong feelings about leaves on steel plates masquerading as the real thing but I am guessing, from the look on your face, that you are not really interested in my opinion. So, final decision: Saravana Bhavan. Lunch. Full meals.” (Satisfied look on face; not unlike the look one has after demolishing a full meal)

“OK. So, it will become 2 by the time they have eaten. Let me get this straight. They have been in Chennai for a whole 4 hours and what they have done is this — drink sambhar, eat prasadam, eat lunch, and in between these meals, visited a temple that may or may not be open, and an age old basilica to keep cool.”

Uncalled for. Pride hurt. Yet, one must soldier on. Time to step it up a gear.

“Fine. Be that way. I will continue. Afternoon. Too hot to do anything outdoor. Semmozhi poonga perhaps. If any outdoor place is mildly tolerable, it should be this but then again, no outdoor. Ah! Best. Sathyam theatre. Middle of the week. Afternoon show. Ten rupee ticket also should be available. Tamil movie.”
“Alright. No movie then. Egmore Museum?”
Quizzical look.
“Birla Planetarium?”
Menacing look.
“Cafe Coffee Day?”
Murderous look.
“What? Did you know that there is a Cafe Coffee Day in Prague’s oldest station? No? Don’t care. Alright. Let me think, then. Fort St. George. History of Madras and all that. Done.”
“That is probably the first decent suggestion I have heard from you all day.”
“That’s probably because you are not listening properly. All my suggestions are excellent. Ha! Besides, what I actually wanted to suggest was that Agarwal chaat place in Parry’s but, er, thought better of it and stopped a couple of kilometres short of it.”

“Anyway, that should take take care of the afternoon. They should be done by 4:30 or so. Even if they are not, well, they’ll probably shut the museum and they’ll have to be done, anyway.” (Snigger)
Clearly, slapstick comedy is not appreciated. Sigh.
“OK then. They still have about two and a half hours. What next?”
“Marina beach. Bajji! Always. No, wait. On the way, evening coffee needs to be put. Since they are in the vicinity, they might as well go to Ratna Cafe. And while they’re at it, slyly put a couple of idlis as well, what? No? Idli only once a day? Have it your way. Only coffee. Then beach. Then bajji. I would still have had the idli but, well, suit yourself.”

I could see that there was much grimacing. Finally words emanated.

“Right. Marina beach. They will do the gun shooting and the sundry. And yes. Don’t remind me. THEY WILL EAT BAJJI. Then what?”
“Well, it will probably be time for them to traverse the city and go to Egmore station. They might just have time to slip in a dinner at Mathsya.”
“Right. Because they will be famished, no?”
“Well, I am not so sure of that but they need one for the road, no? Or, in this case, one for the tracks.” (Snigger)

“Of course, they will. Well, thank you so much for all that. I shall keep that in mind.”
“No, you need do no such thing. Here, this is for you.”

Unbeknownst to him, when he was grimacing and sighing and doing all of that, I had put the entire itinerary neatly on a piece of paper. I handed this to him with a flourish.
It was still Thursday afternoon but at least I had that good-samaritan-glow on me — the one that comes when one does a good turn for a fellow human.

It was Thursday evening. I was still pretty pleased as punch. After all, it is not everyday that one does not necessarily get to plan a family’s day-long itinerary, carefully craft it on a piece of paper and hand it over in the knowledge that the aforesaid artefact would be duly handed over to the tourists. I found a piece of paper that looked strikingly similar to the artefact in question. It was crumpled and on the floor. Men of weaker constitutions might well have despaired. I simply took one look at it, and headed off to Ratna Cafe. The evening sambhar actually is better than the morning sambhar is my theory, and the proof of the sambhar, as they say, is in the jugging. Or is that chugging?