Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chennai - My list of 5 places that define the city (Part I)

I spent the last few weeks telling some (interested) outsiders a few things about Chennai and some of us Chennaites got into a discussion about the city. That's how I came up with my list of 5 places that give Chennai its unique flavour...

Marina Beach

I haven't traveled far and wide. I haven't seen all the beaches touted to be scenic and fabulous. It doesn't matter because, for me  Marina would always be the best beach in the whole world! I can never forget the scene of the vast stretch of soft white sand unfolding to meet the sky at the horizon,  revealing a thin strip of shimmering ocean as you walk towards it before engulfing you into its thunderous roar. As kids we looked forward to picnics at Marina - my mom would pack home made snacks in steel dabbas and ban us from 'unhygienic food' from the vendors, much to our disappointment. We would look at her imploringly as the vendors approached with Thenga maanga pattani sundal (a snack made from channa garnished with coconut and raw mango pieces), Murukku, Kuchi ice, paal ice, cup ice (types of ice candies and ice creams), Molaga Bajji, Kadalai (peanut), Matka Kulfi, Sherbet, Inji marappa (sweetened ginger) Panju mittai in bright pink colour (cotton candy), Maanga pattai with red chilli powder (Raw mango slices)...drrooooolllll.......

Well, 'drool' was all we could do since mom was extremely wary of outside food. We were at best allowed to have the raw mango slices and peanuts! But that didn't steal all the fun because this place had so much more to offer.  Those days, you can't be at Marina and not go for kudirai sawari (horse ride - it was mostly a pony), koda ratnam (mini manual version of giant wheel)  baloon shooting, buying 'gas' baloons and collecting sea shells (which I do till date) .  We never had enough of chasing the waves and getting wet. Every time we would make elaborate preparations to not get wet but would fail miserably within 10 minutes of hitting the waves. Thanks to the sea breeze, we were dry by the time we got back home but always carried a bag of sand bulging through our pockets and between the seams of our clothers.

After a spell of pollution, I'm glad that it is being cleaned and efforts have been taken to maintain it this way.

T Nagar (+ Pondy Bazaar and a bit of West Mambalam) 

No matter how much I crib about the traffic, narrow bylanes, crowded streets and shops and lack of the more modern hangouts, this place still exudes a lot of charm to lure anyone.
The 'Platform shops' with their collection of baubles, junk jewelry, 'uma gold' or covering jewels, cheap toys made in China, figurines, plastic flowers in gaudy colours, kitchenware, flashy wall hangings and confetti, clothes, furnishing, footwear, handbags, tailors who deliver salwar suits in an hour...not to mention the inflatable baby pools, chairs etc hung on the trees and all the soft toys carefully arranged on cars parked just name it!

This place once hosted some of the high end department stores - Dawn Stores and Bombay Store. People ordered high quality cashews and grocery from Dawn stores, especially for weddings  and Bombay store was known for stocking the authentic 'North Indian' spices, masala and even atta. To this date, my MIL picks up red chilli powder, mustard powder and other assortments for the pickle only from this place!

There are still some niche outfits (albeit old) that have managed to keep their quality and reputation intact. They know their customers and sometimes even their entire family. Take Thaayar Dairy, Venkateswara Boli Store, Sarada Stores - my mom still goes all the way to Thaayar / Sarada stores to pick up butter for ghee. We don't tolerate even mild variations in the flavour - yeah, spoilt we are! And then there's Giri Trading Co, Murali Musicals, Ambika Appalam Depot, Ratna Stores, Geetha Cafe (dilapidated now but was once the only decent restaurant there)... and then there are some nameless vendors who specialised in Kumbakonam Vettalai (Betel leaf from Kumbakonam - supposed to be the best) , Maahali Kezhangu (a native root that is pickled), varieties of Aval, pori (Poha and puffed rice), homam & pooja items ( you just have to tell them the name of the homam and they'll give you all the items you need with instructions like, 'don't keep the varatti inside the house'  etc), vattals and vadaams... phew!

Oh, and London Stores, Maya Plaza and Singapore shopping mall... I still like the crisp smart cotton frocks from London Stores! can I not mention Naidu Hall, where the then hep maamis would go to buy 'baady' (lingerie)  -  :D sorry, but the T Nagar picture would not be complete without mentioning this!

Ok, since Marina Beach and T Nagar have taken up so much space, the rest would follow in the next post.

Meanwhile, Chennai folks, please do your own list of 5 places...


Jayashree said...

Waiting to see what the other three places are.....absolutely agree with Marina and Pondy bazaar figuring in the top 5. And guess what??? I still head out to T.nagar to get fresh filter coffee.

Hip Grandma said...

You should get in toucj=h with my sister who lives in Madippakkam. She is a chennai loyalist and my brothers who live in Mumbai love to pull her legs.

Aryan said...

I can very well relate to T nagar...My sister is in chennai now..she says all these stuffs....

Lavanya Sriram said...

Spot on on Marina being the first. Marina is absolutely our best asset any day, any time. :) Love being there and the mulagai bajji.. aaahhh...i am drooling literally :)

Sri said...

Hi..first time here..

Had to comment seeing a post on the 2 years that i have lived here,my list of top 5 places would be:
1. Marina Beach
2. Sathyam Cinemas
3. Besant Nagar beach
4. City Center
5. Spencer

I guess i will rule out T Nagar and Pondy Bazar as my office is at Pondy Bazar and i visit it daily..

Uma said...

Jayashree - oh yes, I completely forgot the Leo and Narasus cofee outlets in T Nagar! Thanks for reminding me :)

Uma said...

Hip Grandma - Welcome here! Oh my legs get pulled quite often as well :)

Aryan - If you live in Chennai, it is difficult to avoid T Nagar

Lavanya - I agree... join the club :)

Sri - Welcome here! Sathyam and the malls are an integral part of today's Chennai..

the blogger formerly known as sansmerci said...

chennai fanatic? me too! written lots on chennai in my blog.. welcome to read

do u write on u shud be! i review chennai places there n receive movie tickets for my work :)

Uma said...

Sansmerci - Yup, a Chennai fanatic :). I don't write anywhere else... will check out your stuff on burrp - for Chennai, if not for the movie tickets :)