#23 memories of madrasapattinam

Madrasapattinam…I reached here as a confused teenager, uprooted from her safe homeland and replanted into a nun-run all girls college! I cried throughout the Orientation program because I was lonely and apprehensive about what waited in there for me in the next three years. But it turned out to be the BEST three years of my life and I so long to go back to my favourite city. 

 There are so many things I miss now that I am not there…For starters, here is a list of some places in Madras to where I so long to go back to…

 

  •  Prince Arcade

    Image via Google Images

    The shopping cum Office complex on the way to college. Be it just to while away time when we got bored in hostel, or to savour the yummy North Indian delights from Shirdi, or to have a small chit-chat with that special someone, or to run to ‘Naveen Xerox’ for last-minute photocopies – Prince Arcade was the nearest hotspot! So many evenings were spent sitting on the parapet, looking on to the road and waiting, so many cups of hot tea drunk after long and lovely afternoon walks, so many games of dumb charades played on absolutely jobless evenings, so many surprises, so many fights…This was always the meeting place after all our “group outings” (every time we convinced Aunty that we were going together, and split up as soon as we were out of sight). I passed it almost every day and it still remains the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Madras.
  • Poes Garden

    Image via Google Images

    Just past the college, was this street lined with big green trees on either side. I remember those many romantic evening walks, the footpaths we sat on when we were tired walking, the small chai-kadai always brimming with smoking men, the security guards earnestly standing with their loaded guns outside ‘Amma’s’ house…the street was an absolute delight for us! 
  • Gandhi Beach

    Image via Google Images

    One of the places I have visited the most number of times in Madras. Sometimes early in the morning after taking ‘ten rupee’ tickets from Inox to catch the morning breeze, or mostly in the evening to just sit and look at the waves and twice at night to walk on the sands lit by moonlight. The ever rambling vendors selling ‘mallipoo’ and ‘sundal’ started recognizing us and left us alone as we became routine visitors.
  • Nibbles – The small joint opposite college selling absolutely delicious home-made sweets and snacks and nice cold iced tea. Chocolate truffles, the then famous ‘Chocolate muffin‘ (an ancestor of the now famous Chocolate Lava Cake), the iced-tea, the doting uncle who looked like ‘Abdul Kalam’, samosas, wraps…memories of this small room with bright orange walls goes on…
  • Movie Theatres – I have never ever watched as many movies in theatres as I have done in Madras! The real fun of watching and enjoying a movie was when watched with a bunch of friends, sitting in the first row, chins up, straining to keep track of the actors moving from side to side…
    • Satyam & Inox

      Image via Google Images

      These were the ‘posh’ multiplexes which were just a walk away from hostel. We frequented them because of their ‘economy’ tickets. Standing in long queues for tickets at odd times of the day were never a problem for us, and we were even witnesses to ‘lathi-charges’ during such visits for ‘super star’ movies. One of the many times I was thankful to be born a woman ;P, as ladies had the first preference here at the ticket counter.
    • The next group of theatres– Ega & Sangam

      Image via Google Images

      The comparatively economical and moderately cozy alternative to the 10 rupee multiplex tickets. Mostly Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam movies were played at these theatre complexes and tickets were priced at a maximum of Rs. 75. Sangam was worth the money but Ega (our last resort for Hindi movies) was far from clean…I remember staining my nice yellow kurta here as I sat on pan… 😦 But I simply adored and miss the creamy cheesy corn sandwiches sold in front of Ega!
  • Restaurants – The monotonous and tasteless menu at ‘Neelkesh’ led us to explore some tasty alternatives in the form of hot and spicy Biriyani from ‘Gem’, Kerala meals from ‘Kumarakom’, a much cheaper but yet so much more tastier version of Kerala Meals from ‘Pamba’, hot American Chopsuey from ‘Noodle House’, the unlimited lunch buffet topped with the absolutely delicious ‘Tirunelveli Halwa’ at ‘Raj Bhavan’, the North Indian all-veg buffet at ‘Punjabi Dhaba’, some exotic Chinese from ‘Cascade’ and Italian from ‘Casapicola’, the tasty Arabian Shawai from ‘Sea Shells’, the saucy spicy chicken breasts from ‘Galloping Gooseberries’, the Kerala rice and Alleppey fish curry from ‘Ente Keralam’, our occasional binge at the ‘Mainland China’, the affordable Chilly Chicken at ‘Mandarin’, colourful and sophisticated Indian from ‘Copper Chimney’, the superbly delectable Tuna Sandwich from ‘Eatalica’, the Butter Chicken set from ‘Crescent’, the filling egg roll from ‘Bay Leaf’, the quick Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken from ‘Vivs”, the unmatched king of Biriyanis – ‘Talapakkatu’…I am out of adjectives!! This list has seriously got me thinking of writing another post about the restaurants in Madras!
  • St. Teresa’s Church et al

    Image via Sudhamshu's Flickr Stream

    Madras is home to many beautiful churches out of which the one I have visited the most (almost on all Sundays during my first semester) is St. Teresa’s Church. Although this non-religious routine was dropped after that, on some breezy evenings we went to another beautiful church right opposite college. This is till date the most beautiful and most inviting church I have been to, with its floor lined with red carpets and beautiful sculptures of saints standing magnificently on the sides. What made this church complete was the dark and haunting cemetery in its backyard, in the middle of which stood a picture perfect small abandoned house. Other churches worth mentioning are Santhome Church and Vellankanni Church at Besant Nagar.
  • Cotton Street (Pantheon Road)

    Image via Google Images

    The hub of affordable and beautiful cotton cloth, from where my first lessons in bargaining were learnt. Whenever I see astounding numbers on the price tag of some dress I really want to buy, I think of all the fights I have had with the poor shopkeepers of Cotton Street…

The list goes on…To be continued soon…:)

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#22 Short Story: The House On Badusha Street

She looked down through the window and watched the landscape becoming smaller as they moved up. A funny feeling had started at the pit of her stomach, she felt like she was weightlessly hanging in mid air. Her head started aching and she felt nauseated. She leaned back and tried to concentrate on her breathing to distract herself. Her husband, sat beside her reading the newspaper, oblivious of all her worries.

She was never too fond of flying, but with their luggage, her husband chose not to take the train. He was worried about his paintings, which was why he carried three of his personal favourites along. The rest were to be brought in by some packers and movers. They were shifting base yet again. But this time she did not complain.

Her artist husband had been busy travelling around the country attending exhibitions and meeting deadlines till now. He had finally decided that it was time that they ‘settled’ down. In less than a week, he was opening his own gallery and donning the Editor’s hat in one of the leading art journals in the country. It was a great achievement for him and she was proud of him.

This was a big opportunity for them; the perks that came with the job were tempting. But what attracted her most was that they were going to move to her favourite city. The city that saw her grow out of the cocoon of adolescence and unfurl her wings to a new world of womanhood. She had only spent three years of her life there, but she felt a strange sort of connection to the place. It had always been a loyal comrade in all her adventures and expeditions.

Twenty years had gone by since the day she bid goodbye to this city and took the train home. Life went on after that as she studied further, got married and now ‘settled’ down. Would the city still be the same? She wondered. With the beautiful beach, the small chai kadais, the crowded roads….the house on Badusha Street…! The house on Badusha Street…would it still be standing?

*****

She pulled her hair back into a loose pony tail. Carefully, she pulled out a few strands from here and there to make it look a little messy. She didn’t want him to think that she had spent a lot of time dressing up. She wore her lenses, darkened her eyes with kohl and dabbed on her colorless lip gloss. After ruffling through the clothes in her suitcase, she wore a top with a sufficiently wide and low neckline. As a finishing stroke, she sprayed some perfume on her neck and wrists.

It was a busy summer evening. She stepped out into the crowded road and jumped into the first auto she saw.
“Badusha Street”, she said quite confidently, although this was the first time she was going there.

While in the auto, she couldn’t stop thinking. She had what they called butterflies in her stomach, which she felt were flying to find their way up and escape out of her mouth. Would she end up doing something she would regret? She could hear her heart beating above all the din around. Did she really want to do this? She looked at her reflection in the auto’s rear view mirror. Yes! The earrings! She knew she had forgotten something!

The auto driver interrupted her thoughts and asked for directions. She repeated ‘his’ exact words, “Left from the main road. Fourth street on the right. Third house on the right in that street.”

She opened the gates to the white house and walked straight to the backyard like he had asked her to. To her left, a shabby room stood alone, beneath the old and dilapidated staircase. There he was, sitting on one of the concrete steps that led to the room. He was wearing a scruffy old t-shirt and white jersey shorts that she absolutely adored at first sight. He was looking down at his phone and pressing some buttons. She knew he had seen her, but he pretended not to have. She walked up to him and stood in front of him. He continued to look down, ignoring her. She slightly nudged at his knee with her shin and he looked up. He gave her one of his cute naughty smiles and winked at her. How she loved the way he smiled! It made her heart skip a beat! He stood up and they entered the room.

It was a small room with boring beige coloured walls. She could smell his sweat on the dirty clothes that hung from the hooks on the wall. His shoes were left beneath them carelessly and a crumbled rug lay at the door to the bathroom. A few plastic chairs lay here and there. She sat on one of them on which he had put his wet green towel to dry. She nervously looked around the room. A small mirror hung from a nail on the window, which remained closed. His clothes spilled out from an open suitcase and very few books were kept in the shelf on the wall. The only piece of furniture apart from the chairs was a table on which his computer was kept. He sat on the mattress spread on the floor and smiled at her.

She pressed her back on to the damp towel and felt her clothes getting wet. Both of them knew that there was nothing ‘else’ to be done in the room. Still some excitement and a lot of nervousness hung in the air. They made some small talk. He smiled while he talked and once or twice gazed longingly at her lips. They sat in evidently awkward positions and shuffled uncomfortably now and then. When finally, in conversation, he managed to keep his hands on her thigh, there was a knock on the door.

Startled, he took away his hand and she froze in her chair. She turned red with fear as hot blood filled her cheeks. He tightly pressed her hand in his, as if to assure her that there was nothing to worry. When he opened the door, three of his friends popped into the room. On seeing her in the room, they looked at each other uneasily. They sat and talked in an effort to fill in the fits of awkward silence. After they had managed to successfully handle the situation being amply polite, they stood up to leave.

He locked the door and turned to her with a sheepish smile. She breathed a sigh of relief and smiled nervously at him. He walked to her, cupped her face in his palms and slowly brought his lips to hers. His breath was warm and smelled of cigarettes. He sucked her upper lip slowly and his tongue gently caressed hers. She strained to balance herself on her toes as the tingling between her legs was almost about to explode. He pulled away and looked at her; she was too shy and kissed him hurriedly so as to hide it. They were soon on the mattress; he was on all fours leaning in to kiss her, careful not to touch her anywhere else. The rosary he wore around his neck brushed playfully at her bare skin as he moved. He gently pushed away the long strands of her loosely tied hair that fell to her face. She pulled him closer and closed her eyes.

*****

She opened her eyes as the wheel touched the runway with a thud. The turbulence was giving her a headache. She nudged her husband who was now snoring with all his might.
There was a whole jing-bang waiting to welcome the new Editor at the airport. They were ushered into a car and taken to their new fully furnished apartment. It was in a posh area, a street lined on either sides with big trees and bigger names.

She walked around the whole house examining every nook and corner. It was neither too big nor too small, a nice cozy three bedroom apartment. She went to the balcony and looked out. On the street, a couple was walking their dog and a few children were playing. Her husband hugged her from behind. She turned to face him, “Yes Mr. Editor?”

“Liked it?” he asked

“Hmmm…” she smiled.

“That’s it?”

“Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm….”

“Oh…why such a long hmmm? Want to go for a drive?”

“Now? I’m too tired…!”

“Come on…! Just a small one.” He pulled her playfully and she agreed.

They went around their new street and he turned to the main road. The city had changed beyond recognition, just like her, she thought. Their drive turned out to be rather unpleasant because of the traffic. She was tired after the flight and her head was aching now. They stopped at yet another traffic island; she leaned back and closed her eyes.

“Heeeylllo”, she woke up with a start. She didn’t remember when but she had dozed off in the car. She sat up to look where they had stopped. Their car was parked under a tree. Her husband was standing outside by her window. He opened the car’s door for her and she stepped out.

The white house on Badusha Street…there it was! The only difference being it wasn’t white anymore; it was painted brick red now. She looked around, the street looked completely different. This was the only building she could remember from twenty years.

“Arpan…” he said “How’s the name?”

She gave him a puzzled look. Arpan?

“My gallery, you fool! This is where I’m setting up my gallery!” he gave her one of his cute naughty smiles. The one that made her heart skip a beat! Something which hadn’t changed in twenty years! It had the same effect, even with his sagging beer belly and french beard! How she loved the way he smiled!

“But…how…you never …how did you…you bought…?” she couldn’t find the right words. She was more confused now.

“Shut up…” he smiled and gave her the key. She opened the gates and they went to the backyard. They opened the room and entered it. The room was completely empty. No mattress, no chairs, no clothes. It no longer smelled of his sweat, it reeked of antiseptic lotion.

The only thing that remained the same was the walls – the boring beige walls. He came close to her and whispered in her ears, “…so where were we?” and kissed her slowly on her lips. She leaned back and touched the wall – the silent surviving witness to all their escapades.