Bumming About Besant Nagar…

Posted on July 2, 2010


Most people have images in their minds…of the different ideals…from may be the house they want to live in to the kind of job that they would like to do and to the kind of money that they would like to be paid. And most people think that these will buy them happiness.

When I moved to Besant Nagar last month, I was upbeat. I was going to have the time of my life. A lovely apartment, with the sea but 2mins away. With small little restaurants along the beach, innumerable vendors selling ice-cream and peanuts and just people milling all along the promenade – Besant Nagar promised me all the quaintness that my heart desired. But soon, loneliness begin to catch up with me. It was then that I began going out for daily ambling strolls around the beach and Besant Nagar.

I step out of my air-conditioned home every evening around 6PM, wearing my tracks, a t-shirt and walking shoes. I have my smart phone miraculously transform into an mp3 player, earphones on and I begin my daily bumming. I walk along the promenade, watch people just staring at the sea, or groups of boisterous boys playing football in the sand. Old people walking at a snail’s pace, but having a serene look on their faces, masking the cynicism and late life stresses that they might be going through…I think it’s the soothing smell of the salty water.

The cafes are always milling with the cool and the uncool. Everywhere I look, I see young and old couples gazing into each other’s eyes or holding hands or simply walking in sync, smiling, because they just can’t seem to stop. By the sea, that’s where love is anonymous enough to feel safe. I hear loud laughter, cool ringtones, and I smell coffee, cremosas and cigarettes. I walk by rows and rows of two wheelers, from the functional to the very fancy, we get it all here, by the sea.

I cross the poshest houses. There’s a house bang opposite the sea. It is a biggish house, white, got tall gates, a couple of floors…I wondered what kind of people lived there. And then one day, I got a glimpse. On the group floor, there’s a mesh door; it was open. I saw a dining table. An old man, a middle aged man and a young boy – all three of them wearing their sleeveless ‘banyans’ – were sitting around the table being served hot rice and I got a whiff of fish! I smiled. I didn’t know their names, but it was enough to get a peek into their lives. They’re now my neighbours.

Walking past Murugan Idli has never been dull! There’s always people there. A waiting for at least 20 mins at the oddest hour and at least 60 during peak time, this place is a leveler. I have seen people get out of posh cars and families of six coming on a single two wheeler waiting in line, just to devour the delicious, delectable delicacies. I haven’t eaten there. It’s intentional. To me, this place is sheer magic. Don’t want to be disappointed.

But my favourite…my very favourite are the women who sell the ‘gajras’ made of  white and orange jasmine. You’ll see them all around Besant Nagar, in pairs. And each pair not more than 200 metres away from each other. The pairs would themselves be of different varieties. Some join their tables, some sit a few feet apart. They chat, constantly! But don’t get me wrong…their work gets done too, so their hands work and their tongues wag! And as I cross them each evening, each one of them pauses. They now know me. But still they won’t make the first move. And the moment I smile, they flash their white smiles and crooked grins at me. I never stop. But I can feel their eyes on me till I fade into the twilight. Their teeth…well, I use the best toothpaste (hey, the TV commercials said so!) and brush twice a day…but my teeth are still yellow. These women, THEY should be in the ads.  I always want to stop and chat with them. I like to believe that it’s the language barrier, but in reality, I am just shy.

My absolute weakness are the countless vendors selling stone jewellery! Would you just look at the colours and desgins? Wow! I now have matching earrings for even my night clothes. They’re adorable. They’re so in vogue. I’ve seem them in boutiques, branded and labelled with an unbelievable price tag, but here at Besant Nagar, they’re affordable, attractive and unmissable! You can’t just walk past without stopping by and taking a look. Also, the women who sell these, are somewhat of a wonder too! They’re unlike the jasmine ladies…these are more poker-faced. Sad even. But when I walk by, they all smile. At first, they’d ramble their terse Tamil (that’s what it sounded like to me), terrifying me instead of making me stop, but now, they know, I am the wacko who walks past unfailingly 4-5 times a week around 6.30 in the evenings, so they simply smile. What I like best is I watch them from a distance, looking bored, and my prize is to see their expression change as they see me briskly walking by.

I love the Nilgiri’s Supermarket in Besant Nagar. Yes, their fruits are expensive. But I buy them from there. You see, I don’t know how to tell a bad fruit from a good one or a ripe one from a rotten one. At Nilgiri’s, I buy whatever I want. I pay Rs. 10 extra, but I’ve never had to crinkle my eyebrows in despair when a fruit turns out to be unacceptable and uneatable. And the salesgirls, they’re a force to reckon with. This is the only place in India (that I have come across) where the salespeople actually know what they’re talking about. They know exactly where each product is and how much it costs!  To me, it’s a pleasure. They don’t speak English, but don’t talk back to me in Tamil either, which works for me, actually endears them to me. Good training of ground staff is hard to come by!

The overpriced Auroville store, just off Beach Road, it’s a pleasure to go window shopping there. Though I did end up spending a fortune on aroma oils and a diffuser, which now I use every night. And what do you know, it works! I have never in my life slept at 11.30PM. Nor have I woken up feeling like the world is beautiful and how I’d like to embrace the day.

Last, but not the least, “Fruit Shop on Greams Road”, it’s a chain. I don’t exactly know where the Gream’s Road in Chennai is…but to me, it’s in Besant Nagar, on Besant Avenue! They have a lot of jazz on their menu, but their watermelon juice, without sugar, and containing pieces of the actual fruit, can turn my mood around in seconds.

And then, I turn back on to 5th Avenue, the road where I live, and the only patch in Besant Nagar I truly dread. It’s infested with dogs and cats. Don’t get me wrong, some of the best houses and apartments are on this road, but still the sheer number of street dogs frightens me. They’ve never even looked at me, but as they snarl and chase each other, I start praying that I get home safe, without getting bitten. But I guess, I am not scared enough to stop my bumming or change my route.

That’s the 2km stretch all around Besant Nagar…my daily walk…the only thing that keeps me sane…my only escape from a dull and lonely life. And it’s no surprise, is it, that this helped me end my blogger’s block? So money didn’t buy me happiness. Yes, I pay shit loads of rent and I still wish I had some friends. But money did buy me solace. Considering the circumstances, I think I can settle for that.

P.S. Sorry for not being able to add pictures; my camera died. But I promise to put up a slide show of my daily walk as soon as I can con someone into buying me a super duper digital SLR! Love.

Posted in: home, life, memoirs