Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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

Mount Road

Those days whenever 'Madras' was introduced in movies, it would open with the inimitable LIC building which was a 16 storied pride and wonder.  Besides the LIC building that Mount Road boasts, it was also a glitzy place with all the cinema halls, buildings that had elevators, uppish restaurants with chandeliers,  dim lighting & table linen (Yamuna and Maurya were popular for family dining) and hi-end outlets that had decked up mannequins behind glass facades.  People came all the way to Poppat Jamal to pick up crockery. Poompuhar, VTI and a lot of other Art Emporiums dotted the road on both sides where most of the customers were foreigners and things were hence priced at 'Dollar Rates'.  Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan with its famous assortment  of Khadi fabric,  sandalwood and papier mache figurines, semi precious gems and jewelry,  to a lot of packaged foods from co operative society groups attracted its set of strong loyalists. I still go after the Khadi Golu bommais every year for Navratri as they have very well etched features as opposed to the flashy blob-like alternatives that seem to be more popular these days.

For the book lovers, there is Higginbothams, British Council Library, American Counsel and Library, Connemara library (attached to Egmore Museum)  and I gather that the more recent Devaneya Pavanar library also has a good collection. The Orient Longman building and The Hindu office received awed glances from passing admirers - not for the building but for intellectual capital inside it. Some other famous landmarks are -Parsan Manere, the flyover, YMCA, Thousand lights mosque, Church Park (Presentation Convent) - one of the stylish schools where girls spoke lilting English and wore skirts that hardly reached their knees (the maamis' eyes would open wide in disbelief and dismissal), Spencers (not a mall then)  - an international department store with hi end household appliances, the Addison building, Simpsons, Gymkhana, Island Grounds - how can one forget the exhibitions that we so looked forward to! I still remember screaming my guts out the first time on the Giant Wheel much to my parents' embarrassment and the king sized masala papad that I could hardly finish by myself!

Oh, and the Taj Connemara. A middle class family didn't dream of ever dining at a 5 star restaurant unless they were invited as guests to some function. Conjuring vivid images of a plush interior, so resplendent and opulent was my favourite diversion while passing by. I had always wanted to peek in to check what it was like. It reminds me of the book, 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn', where the protagonist Francie dreams of going on the new Brooklyn-NY bridge and finally when she does she is disappointed as it is not half as dramatic as what she had imagined it would be.  When I first walked into Taj few years later, I expected something dramatic to happen but as reality would have it, I had to console myself after some waiting and move on as it didn't match the hype that my fertile imagination had painted. I still fondly remember Bombay Halwa House with its mouthwatering, delicious food and the more recent Annalakshmi.  Much later when I was in college, a friend introduced me to a small Irani tea shop on GP road. I wondered how great can tea get, and found out  here. I was amazed to find impeccably dressed white collared execs standing and slurping tea at what seemed to be a dirty roadside tea shop!

Fab India - A friend and I paced up and down the store picking up furnishing material, busy discussing whether this would go with that, oh but I really like this rug... if I want this rug I'll have to change the rest of the decor ...oh I'm so confused ... and so on... The salesman who watched our predicament offered to help and we had to sheepishly confess that we were talking about our dream house and we have just taken up our first job a few months back! The salesman was sweet enough to laugh with us and quipped its always good to have a dream.

The picture wouldn't be complete without mentioning Richie Street - the Dark Alley for electronics, pirated CDs and so on. I knew guys who knew this place like the back of their hand. You have to have the knack of figuring out the quality of the products else you would be taken for a ride here. And last but not the least... the makeshift kiosks that sold second hand books...

This account is limited to my own experiences and knowledge... am sure there are many elements that I have missed out... do add on...
I didn't expect this to spill into part 3 - but well...
The other two places would be covered in part 3 - meanwhile...any guesses?

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...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Arivu Pasi (Thirst for Knowledge)

We were picking up groceries at the department store and Pattu was throwing things from her list into the cart. We reached this shelf that had a mindless assortment of toys and some books for kids. Pattu picked up a book after some serious consideration and insisted on buying it. In an attempt to dissuade her, I gave her an option of choosing between ice cream and the book (and thinking what a smart move I'd made). Well, I guess thought too soon....

She didn't even think twice before telling the lady behind the counter, 'Aunty please bill this book'.

And we got back home and had ice cream while reading the book (My First Dictionary).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiki Tiki Tembo

... is out latest addiction.

I stumbled on to this really humorous Chinese story at an old book store. This reveals through an amusing story why the Chinese have very short names.

Apparently this was not the tradition long ago in China. The first born sons always had  very long names and the rest had short names. Thus the first born son of this great family gets this name, Tiki Tiki Tembo no-sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, which means, 'The most wonderful thing on this whole wide world'. And his brother is called Chang.  
The story is about how the brothers play near the well despite their mother's warning and first Chang falls into the well and Tiki Tiki Tembo tells his mom and then finds an old man with a ladder and gets him to rescue his brother. They pump the water out of the boy and in no time he is fine as ever before. After some months of abandoning play near the well, it beckons them once again and this time Tiki Tiki Tembo falls into the well.
Now, Chang has to tell his mother and according to tradition, he should address his older brother respectfully by his full name! So goes Chang to his mother saying, 'Honourable Mother, Tiki Tiki Tembo no-sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo has fallen into the well'. His mother can't hear and he has to repeat it couple of times and he gasps and stutters somehow manages. The episode repeats with the old man with the ladder and by the time they get to Tiki Tiki Tembo no-sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, there's lot of water to pump out and he takes longer to recover.

So, now we know why the Chinese have short names :)

Pattu finds this really amusing and made me read this continuously for a good 45 mins and I am as out of breath as Chang in the story. So we've been going Tiki Tiki Tembo no-sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo - ing...all day long...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yippie..we made it!

... to the Pantomime! I was certain that the rain gods were following my blog when they predicted rains and storm, but thanks to our legendary Met Dept's history...
Wanted to go during the weekend but couldn't and finally made it on Monday. We had some nice company - 3 chirpy bubbly kids from the neighborhood. 

First thing - it is not aimed at kids Pattu's age (I thought it was..maybe I thought wrong). It is for 8 yrs +...atleast I think so, since the older kids who accompanied us understood the play. I wasn't sure (as usual) how Pattu would react and was prepared for the worst, but she did enjoy most of it except when it got a bit dialogue heavy. She especially loved 'hiss... boo...' ing and 'Oh No You're Not'ing (these are things they encourage the audience to say to certain characters and their questions - and the audience played along enthusiastically...including Pattu). Some of the characters that she really enjoyed and laughed at - the crows (they were so cute) and the Mafia Mamas and the fact that the neighbour's kid got scared of the Mafia Mamas when they walked over to the audience during a song.

I quite liked it though I wished some parts to move faster. Some of the characters were well etched and the actors were splendid while the others were so-so and could have been better. Overall it was a good experience (despite the fact that the A/C didn't work) and the kids loved it! Pattu still talks about the Crows and the Mafia Mamas!

.....thus Pattu watched her first Pantomime...

PS: And oh, all the kids got some goodies (lots of candies) from Santa during the break :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Goodies

Christmas coupled with half yearly holidays seems to have a lot in store for the kids and the parents.

The Little Theater's Pantomime at the Museum Theater, Egmore sounds like a must see. There is a 3 PM show as well on 11th, 12th and 13th - hoping to go (remembering the last time I proposed something like that and the rain gods disposed!). Well, one doesn't stop hoping.

There's Dakshinachitra Anniversary followed by their Margazhi Fest. There's Plan B - A new circus show at Sir Mutha Venkatasubbarao Hall on Dec 17th and 18th - would like to catch up on these as well (Err...I'm on the edge where Hope meets Greed). Not to mention the Landmark Sale...

Kaanchana Paati is organising a Workshop on Film Making for kids 8 yrs +. Wow!  idiscoveri  has story telling and art & craft sessions.... 

And then there's a lot more going on at the usual kids' haunts - Vanilla, Hansel & Gretel, Baby's Day Out, etc. Get. Set. Go.

Btw, Pattu would like to know if Santa Claus Ummachi will give her a gift if she is a good girl. 

Ban the Paparazzi

What do you do when strangers click snaps of your kids in public places? I've faced this quite a few times at shopping malls, beach, temples etc. Luckily Pattu is shy and refuses to pose. The other day, some college guys at the beach were trying to get Pattu to pose and I had to politely tell them that she is shy and they should leave her alone. No matter how decent looking they are, I feel very uneasy about it. Similar incident at the shopping mall - this time I realised only after the picture was clicked. They were a sweet looking young couple and I felt very awkward to say anything so just smiled and moved away.
I am also quite uneasy with the too friendly Annas at the department stores ... I've just started telling Pattu to be careful with strangers.

Btw, if you still haven't made your weekend plans, check out Lets Do Something.

They have some workshops planned for the moms and the kids have some incentive to be there as well. They are having a digital photography workshop, embroidery sessions and robotics workshops for older children coming up soon. Salsa will also be added soon along with the western dance that they already have.
Forum Art Gallery also has workshops for kids. They also have some Christmas fun coming up.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Thumb Cards

The Thumb Card for Paati (top - with some dry leaves and sand thrown in) and A Anna (Bottom - there are some little fingers too)

The Aanai Vilakku

Friday, December 04, 2009

Games, Thumbs, Eco Cards and a Runny Nose

We'd been to Lets do Something for a Traditional Indian Games workshop they had organised along with Kreeda. I wasn't too hopeful about Pattu's enthusiasm but then she did surprise me a bit by exploring all of the games there. However her attention span was way too short to complete the games that she started.

The Thumb paintings continue to excite Pattu and we made a Thumb card for (psst...secret). And while on secret, that's the latest with Pattu these days. She would take me aside and say, 'Amma, I'll tell you a secret' and whisper some gibberish into my ears and we both exchange meaningful glances.

And while on cards, we collected some dry leaves, flowers and sand and made a card for Paati who is away at Mumbai. Kaarthigai was a rushed affair as Paati wasn't here to help. I had to rush back from office to light the lamps - It was cut short by a drizzle. Pattu was excited to see the Aanai velakku (the traditional elephant lamp in brass that is passed on from generations - it is one of my favourites too). Apparently, many years back the children were given this to play with (they have wheels and can be dragged around). Depending on how wealthy the family is, the elephants are adorned with Gold, silver, precious and semi precious stone maalai! And the kids played dress up (there's a lady sitting on the elephant with a diya in her hand) with these. Imagine!

And after a lot of excitement over the 'Pitterpattering' of rain drops on the window pane, Pattu has a runny nose and fever. Planning an Indoor theme for this weekend.