Monday, November 23, 2009

The Road to Mahabalipuram

“Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram as it is now known, is 54 kilometres away from Chennai, capital city of Tamil Nadu. It was known since antiquity as a prosperous port town. Mahabalipuram became Mamallapuram during the reign of Narasimha Varman I.”

Interesting information, perhaps, but this becomes completely irrelevant during the 50-odd kilometre trip from Chennai. Once out of the city, the seemingly never-ending stretch of open road flanking the Bay of Bengal that is the East Coast Road leaves you powerless to think of anything but the sea shimmering in the distance to your left.

The sea is, by no stretch of the imagination, an unbroken line. It plays hide and seek between sections of trees, shimmering pinks, oranges and gold bouncing off the cerulean waters, depending on the time of day. Sometimes, when making this trip by bike, I feel I could be in a two-wheeler commercial!

Then my reverie is broken, if not by one of the many little fishing hamlets that dot the ECR, then by monstrous signs for beach front property with terribly clichéd names. Sometimes it is one of the many restaurants and recreational facilities that give Chennai-ites the chance to escape the city, without really travelling too far. But most of these are usually on the wrong side of the road, the right, for me to care too much about them obstructing my view of the sea.

Still, the wind shrieking its way through my earrings and my hair that inexplicably finds its way into my mouth, are not enough to detract my thoughts of what lies ahead. I can almost see the lighthouse towering up against a cloud-mottled sky, the indigenous tribals hawking their beaded artefacts, coconut sellers, and the grass thriving beneath the numerous vestiges of the temple town Mamallapuram once was.

Along the way, I note what have become my own personal landmarks — positively ugly houses.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no critic of architecture, but some of those edifices (it may not be the right word, but it’s first that comes to mind) make me wonder what developers were thinking when they made them. And as if rocket-shaped homes (an entire gated community of them, I kid you not!) weren’t bad enough, a number are painted to reflect what I can only guess is the colourful personalities of their owners. Purple and orange, lime green and cobalt blue, lemon and hot pink: some homes even sport multiple such combinations. There are however some tastefully done structures that help server the same purpose — they remind me that I only have 45 minutes, or half an hour, or 20 minutes, to get to where I’m going.

About 15 minutes away, is the Crocodile Park, reputed to be India’s largest. For a nominal entry fee, this is your chance to get up close and personal with Gharials, American Crocodiles, African ones and even the one in Jaws III. While barricades and glass generally keep you out of the shady green swampy enclosures, and thus off the crocs’ lunch menu, there is a subterranean exhibit of a gharial in its own habitat. All that separates the two of you is a glass wall. That’s adventurous enough for me, honestly, even though he’s seemed asleep most times I’ve been there — asleep or gambolling with the few turtles and fish that share his space. Ok, I may have exaggerated a little on the gambolling bit, but he hasn’t eaten any of them, from what the Croc Park staff tells me.

For those who discover (or rekindle) a love for these deceptively agile reptiles, but prefer something softer (or less likely to chew off your hand) to take home, there’s the gift shop, with all things croc-related: mini-sculptures, t-shirts, soft toys, keychains, and even books. While Steve Irwin-wannabes are still not allowed into the enclosures, you CAN get pictures taken with a croc skull. Yea, like THAT’s adventurous.

The crocodile bank is also a good place to stop to cool off a bit and maybe get a bite to eat — especially if, like me, you prefer street food. However, in these parts, even street food is actual food: slices of raw mango or cucumber with a dash of salt, or the magical tender coconut that can slake your thirst and sate your hunger for less than 15 bucks!

Back on the road, it’s easy to get antsy. You know Mahabalipuram, or Mahabs, as some folks call it, is just around the figurative corner, but the road just seems to go on forever. The secret at this point is to forget that you’re trying to get anywhere at all. Once in that zone, it’s easy to sit back and get back to enjoying the road, count the tender coconut shacks along the way (After more than a dozen attempts, I still don’t have a definitive count), stop to admire the yellow, pink and white wildflowers that carpet the sides of the road, or simply take a walk in one of the many tree groves that beg to be picnicked in.

When I come up on the Tiger caves, I know I’m about 5 minutes away. IF, I choose not to take a detour to walk on the grass, examine the sculptures I’ve seen numerous times before, but still haven’t begun to understand, or find a gap in the barbed wire fencing to sneak into the practical wilderness of virgin beach, where the water is as blue as any tourism poster.

Most days, I come back scratched by wild thorny plants I haven’t formally been introduced to, with sand in my shoes, and dying to slurp on an ice candy, which I usually find waiting for me at the entrance, in the icebox of a vendor resting on his pedal-cart.

Ride five minutes more, and you reach a fork in the road — the choice to either get where you were planning to go, or to keep going along the breathtakingly scenic East Coast Road. So far, I’ve let familiarity overtake me as I continue on the left, heading towards Mahabalipuram.

Gradually, the road begins to feel narrower, more buildings appear, you notice a higher number of sculpture workshops than dotted the ECR before, and you realise you’re almost in the town famous for its Shore Temple. According to legends, the shore temple here is the last of seven — the others are believed to now be submerged under the Bay of Bengal. However, the ultimate indicator of having arrived in Mahabs, a little before reaching the official sign announcing the special municipality, is a garishly purple building — that could very well be a home — with bright orange trim.

Each time I visit Mahabalipuram, I wonder what the ancient denizens of Mamallapuram would have thought about today’s Mahabs, with its vivid colours, throngs of tourists, restaurants with names like the Bob Marly Café, Café Santana, Moonrakers, and Le Ritz, and an air of being something close to an open-air interactive sculpture museum. Every time, I also make a mental note to visit the purple house with the orange trim, and find out more about the colourful people who I assume live there. Every time, I head straight to the beach.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Here's something interesting I found at Ginger & Cardamom. 10 notes to my 15 year old self. Well, the original post says " 10 notes to yourself 10 years ago", but i'm going to cheat a bit, and include an extra year(ps.. extra year, extra note). Comes from just having had a birthday, i guess :) so here it is,

11 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me 11 Years Ago (in no particular order)

1. EVERYONE is as terrified of growing up as you are. Some just fake their way through easier than others. but it has to be done. so deal with it.

1. Shit Happens. Changing schools won't really help much, but punching morons (who think it's funny to fill your bicycle basket with squishy dead things) might.

1. Explore the city you live in. No matter how much you hate it now, you're going to miss it like crazy later.

1. Never date
someone on a dare, especially if the point is just to prove you aren't gay. But remember some relationships are meant to go bad. Just make sure you learn something from it.

1. You are never going to be as thin as you are now. Enjoy it.

1. Listen.

1. Don't beat yourself up for not really knowing what you want from life at this point. 10 years later, you still don't.

1. S
tay away from "medicinal herbs". Unless you really think climbing to the roof of a 10-storey building, and then remembering u have batophobia on the way down, is really what you want to do in life.

1. Write. Sing. Play. Live. As much as you can. Even if no one's watching.

1. Don't worry if no one else thinks you're cool. I do.

1. Don't make a promise you don't intend to keep, but always give yourself a little bit of maneuvering space, just in case.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Misheard lyrics... Or why u HAVE to love the internet

(just some of the gazillions available online)

If you think Benny Lava is funny (which it is...) go check out these songs... and they're in English.. supposedly, anyway

ok.. fine, these are accented (a word?) artists...

Now, who hasn't heard Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit?
Think I like this version better than the original :)

AND... for those unfortunate enough to not be familiar with this cult classic... here's what started it for me...

"My loony bun is fine, benny lava... "

How can u not love this?
I'm looking for love this time
Sounding hopeful but it's making me cry
Trying not to ask why
Cause love is a mystery
Mr. curiosity
Be Mr. please
Do come and find me

Jason Mraz... need i say more?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Happy 22nd

"Help me God! Please be nice...
A baby brother I do not want"
Prayed a little girl a long time ago...
Perhaps someone listened,
Yet, sometimes, I think, "Maybe not"
Babies are cute, and so was she
In a wrinkly, crinkly kind of way
Rotund she was, oh yes, no doubt
Though you can't see that today
Her cheeks were soft, her butt, softer
Diapers, still smelly, that I'll say
And then one day, there came a change
You know the kind, you know you do
(No, not the kind involing chai and kitlis)...
Indoor games gave way to drumsticks,
Coloured hair became the rage -- yellow, pink and even blue
K, ok... I know this is more than a little sappy,
Yet I'm hoping it'll make up for me not being there


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

She sat staring at the blank screen, trying to herd the scattered thoughts, willing them to form words, if not whole sentences. Then again, when did her mind ever obey her? Not anytime recently... She'd sworn on all things she considered holy (mostly chai-sutta and sleep) that she'd write more on the "trip". At least she'd travelled, even if wasn't as much as she'd liked, and had her memories -- some fond, others, not so much.

Still, she wanted to write, even opened word documents and good old paper notebooks to begin. But that was the problem. That's all it took to drive out any semblence of thoughts from her head. In fact, she sometimes thought she could see them -- tiny little things -- flying, no, struggling to find a path, through her unruly curls.

She sighed and gave up. It was happening again. This time, she also had company. He'd tried to sneak up on her, but she could feel his presence. Migraines were attention-seekers of the worst kind!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

More random thoughts from the road

The lights burn,
few and far apart,
Houses are built,
but a home needs a heart

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What is, what was...

Reaching out for memories,
I sink into my mind, but find only pain
Curtains part, inside my head
Happy times lie hidden deep
Among life’s ruins,
Ravaged by the recent past
Death comes, also to those who seek it
I’m sure I did not see it coming
Didn’t you know there were other answers?
Is life better where you are now? Simpler?
Or, could it be,
That you regret a move you can’t undo?
Lobsters, no crabs, we chased and quartered
Only when I wasn’t chaperoning the two of you
But, you can’t hold that against me
Occasionally, that’s what big sisters do

Monday, March 16, 2009

Explanations unnecessary

He walked off a cliff... Just like that... one step, from solid groud to thin air... makes you wonder why? Was life so bad? They say he was depressed -- out of work, and out of love -- I can't help asking, so what? Maybe I'm rude or just plain dumb... but I cannot understand why a 25-year-old would do something like that... I certainly wouldn't... at least i don't think so...
And it wasn't an act of momentary madness... It was too well planned... subtle clues left strewn around... that made sense only after it was too late... Still, I'll insist it was madness... a waste of a good thing... a demented good thing, but a good thing, nevertheless...
So, no matter how sad it makes me feel I cannot understand, or sympathise with, what he did... Still, It was his decision to make and his alone... Maybe it made sense to him... at least to him...

Ps. We're gonna miss you... for all your craziness...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

What's tea, without a किटली?
Staying away from home can give you a strange perspective on what you think is important. Before heading out, you may have felt you'd really truly miss your friends or your family. Funnily enough, three weeks on the road have showed me the one thing I'm truly missing, so far, is the kitli. not any one in particular, but the symbolic kitli — somewhere you can sit watching the world go by... Somewhere you're never alone for long, where friendships are often born, and where many others grow.. most of all, where you can hang out for as long as you want without paying more than you absolutely need to, for चाय-सुट्टा...
I've stopped in at Mumbai, Goa and Bangalore before hitting Chennai, but the kitli seems to be a geography-specific creature.
A little thought offers a possible explanation... No one has the time to leave their seats/offices to hang out at Mumbai... For Goa, how many people want to sit at a kitli when they are surrounded by a dozen beaches? and Bangalore... apart from being at the heart of the காபி culture, the city also has institutions such as Pecos, ensuring its beer culture as well... aah... need i say more?
So far, Chennai has the closest thing to a kitli culture. Except that for whatever reason — cultural, I'm presuming — people don't seem to like to sit on the roadside to enjoy that cuppa... of course, coffee is probably more common here, but I'm sure I'm not the only one calling for a "chaya" in the middle of the afternoon...
Just thought of another reason for the absence of a kitli culture in Chennai.. Space.. or the lack thereof, rather.
While back home, kitlis seem to spring up at any ol' corner, the truly popular ones stand by themselves... whether Rambhai at IIM, Pandeyji at the SAL kitli or Rajubhai and kaka-kaki around Iskcon circle, they have a ton of sitting-around space... (apart from having very distinct addresses) Chennai's tea stalls, or 'Nair-கடை', as many are called, seem to be set among a tight cluster of equally tiny shops... and funnily enough, quite often near a TASMAC shop...
Which brings me back to my Bangalore observation.. None of the places I've been to recently prohibits alcohol. Which is possibly one of the biggest reasons for the lack of a 'किटली culture'. Or maybe people there just have more interesting things to do with their lives...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's amazing how lost you can be, even when surrounded by people
It's also amazing that you can dislike your friends
What's most amazing, is how hard it is to be honest with yourself....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

yea yea.. i know.. this is probably racist or something equally offensive.. but it's still funny, ok?
if anyone has a tam version of this, PLEEEEEZ gimme...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My pirate name is:

Captain Bess Bonney

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from
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