A journey to the edge of Chennai. And back.

This is a long overdue post. My friend S took me with her to Tiruvottiyur, to visit the Royal Enfield factory nearly a year back. And while I was excited even by the thought of Bullets being made, there was much more to this trip that made it a truly unusual experience.

To start with, the day greeted Chennai with a really heavy downpour. First my area received it and I was feeling down in the dumps. When I called my friend, it had just started raining in her area; but fortunately it stopped soon. I took my bike and made it over to her place. Coincidentally, both of us were wearing purple t-shirts. Looking back, I think the purple matched beautifully with the violet skies and verdant green leaves shimmering with raindrops. Post-rain surroundings were pleasant. We boarded a bus and began the day.

We took two buses, the second of which revealed North Chennai in its yucky yet intriguing rainy day avatar (I think there was frequent light rain). We went through some places I’d only heard about (Kasimedu – one of the scariest localities in Chennai, as hyped by movies and media – a fishing village where perhaps rowdies may harm you with knives used to cut sharks). We also passed the harbor (awesome!!) and even Tollgate (was surprised to know Tiruvottiyur is SOOOO far).

Finally we reached TIruvottiyur Main Road (which was a lake, since the median was way too high, long and super sturdy) and got off at the main bus stop. S’s friend had come to pick us up in his comforting car. We found that Royal Enfield was right on this road. We spotted it and did a U-Turn.

Then came the first adventure of the day. We had to enter through a lane that was not really a lane. It had little lakes (huuggge puddles) which were extremely muddy and slushy, so muddy that it must’ve been a major endeavor for S’s friend to navigate them (and an adventure for me – I love these things, like not knowing when you’ll get stuck where, and how long it’ll take to get out. Sorry, S’s friend!)

Royal Enfield was of course fascinating. The bikes are completely hand assembled and designs on tanks are painted by hand. We watched every step of the manufacturing process and it was very interesting. We even watched them test the speed of the bikes. I also imagined owning a bright yellow Bullet but didn’t dare open my mouth.

Then we headed to the Tiruvottiyur seafront. It felt like the edge of the world, because the road just curved out (couldn’t see where it was headed) along an expansive seascape. While S & her friend took a walk along a long rocky pier, I stayed on the shore, capturing crows from a short distance. They made a beautiful picture, set against the azure duo of the sky and sea.

After that we went to S's home, through that road, the WagonR feeling like a Hot Wheels car, sandwiched between numerous container trucks in lanes on either side (as in the only two legal lanes). We had lunch at S's friend's house. As I discovered, there was much more fun waiting for us. The power was out and we had lunch by candlelight, but that was a lovely experience. The house was huge and airy and it created a beautiful atmosphere for a candlelit lunch.

S’s friend had a 6 month baby and it was so wonderful to spend time with him. I was lucky enough to have him on my lap for a few minutes when I sat and stared out at nothing. It is amazingly peaceful to hold a baby on your lap, even when both of you are quiet; that it was on a rainy day, on a balcony, made it all the more beautiful. We conversed in unspoken words and enjoyed blissful contentment, that can only be shared with a baby.

There was much more fun waiting for me. S's friend had 2 dogs – a chocolate Doberman and an Australian mastiff breed (they weren’t friendly though – at least you can’t expect that from a Doberman). Downstairs there were more delights – a turkey and a parakeet (make one of them plural). I clicked pictures of all the pets. And had a fabulous time.

Then we had to head back to the bus stand; but the adventure wasn’t over yet. We went through a completely flooded street (was an interesting experience). We reached the bus stand, got into the bus and waited for it to leave. Then I spotted a calf that was waiting outside the bus. I went and petted the cute creature (for the first time in my life – I can’t believe that).

We went back to the noisy part of Chennai (passing the lovely harbor) and reached Teynampet (where we parted) pretty much early – by 6. We were back to everyday life. The awesomely unusual day came to an end as S & I said our byes; but it is a day I won’t forget in a long time, which is why I managed to recollect everything nearly one year later (writing this blog post has made me really happy – and ready to explore another unique destination in Namma Chennai!).

South Indian Heaven at Saravana Bhavan

On Saturday, I had a late lunch after a tiring morning, at good old Saravana Bhavan in T.Nagar. Long back, on a temple trip, I had Tamil Nadu meals on a proper, huge banana leaf at Saravana Bhavan, Kancheepuram. That was a fantastic meal – a delicious break in a strenuous journey.

Coming back to Saturday – the meal was on a steel plate layered with banana leaf (makes the meal less messy) and came with little cups of the most familiar delicacies. I arranged the sambar, rasam, potato fry, paruppu thovaiyal, kootu, vathal kuzhambu, beetroot payasam ;-) (more like syrup), pickle, curd and buttermilk around my plate. The appalam proudly wore a cloak of oil, yet managed to look innocent.    

The sambar had a big drumstick piece and radish slices occupying most of the cup, so I decided to start with the rasam. It was simply delicious, with a tinge of sweetness. The spicy potato fry, laced with garlic complemented it perfectly. My father later told me that it was pineapple rasam. From that moment I became a fan.

I was so hungry that I tried out everything that looked interesting – I had kootu and thuvaiyal saadham. The thuvaiyal was tasty but not really ideal for saadham. My Mom said the pickle was very good, but by then I had become full. I plopped the curd onto my plate and ate it plain. It was yummy. I followed it up with the buttermilk.

The vathal kuzhambu and sambar were left over. I wished I’d tried vathal kuzhambu instead of thuvaiyal; but next time I will definitely try it :-).

As a conclusion, when you want a good old South Indian meal that is sure to make you go “Besh Besh” from the bottom of your heart, head to Saravana Bhavan. Skip your fork routine once in a while and enjoy the flavours & satisfaction that only a South Indian-style meal can offer.

An Adventure in Ambattur

I had to attend the wedding reception of one of my best friends, in Ambattur, on a Sunday evening. The place is pretty far away, but my friend suggested that I go to Tambaram and take the Chennai Bypass, which is an excellent road, yet has other drawbacks, as I found out. My father said it would still be a really long route. So we went via Kathipara and Porur, joining Chennai Bypass after Porur.

Then the adventure began. Country music playing on the stereo, we zoomed down the elevated Chennai Bypass. At one point there was a board indicating that Ambattur was straight ahead, but no, we didn’t find it. A short distance later, there was a lane to the left, with no indication of any place on the direction board. It was better to overshoot a place than head into nowhere, so we soared past it.

A brightly lit Toyota signboard flashed passed and several factories followed. We shot over a busy road as well, and then our doubts were confirmed. We had crossed Ambattur and a signboard said – Puzhal, 5 km. We couldn’t even get off the elevated road and it was quite some time before we even found a U-Turn. So we turned back, looking for the nearest left. There was a faint signboard (not easily visible in the dark) that said something. We were going so fast that we zoomed a little past that, so we reversed, noticed it was indeed Ambattur, and took the right, which was a two-lane road. After going straight down, we found a left and asked for directions. The guy asked us to take a right in the opposite side. We found ourselves in a long corridor barely enough to fit a truck, with huge fat pillars on one side. It was exciting though, like entering a long dark cave. However, if we hadn’t reversed, it would’ve taken us to the Toyota factory. We weren’t planning to buy one of those cars.

There was another left turn, but a gaping hole flanked by bumpy two-wheeler unfriendly paths (and deadly for cars) welcomed us. Then someone asked us to take a “Power Lane” that was close to that. We took it, hoping to find Market Road soon.

Two large cows silently said “Welcome to Ambattur” by blocking our car. They were pretty cute though, and I pulled out my camera phone to capture them, but my Dad asked me to resist the urge, and honked the horn. They gave way and we went ahead, only to discover a unique path / subway / whatever it was – which was just enough for one car the size of ours. Two guys who were walking down it flattened themselves against the wall.

We asked more people for directions and finally found Market Road, which was near the Old Terminus. Finally there were some signs of city life. I spotted Sri Srinivasa, who had daringly advertised their sweets on a black background, in Metroplus. This place had big signboards announcing “Cakes”, “Softy Ice Creams” and other varieties, but I wasn’t sure I’d go for them.

We passed some textile, jewellery and electronics shops – it was fun to observe signs of life after exploring the middle of nowhere. After that it was easy to locate the wedding hall. We found that we were one of the early guests. So I was able to talk more to my friend and introduce myself to his wife properly, meet his relatives, to whom I was a familiar name. People were staring at me, a Mami smiled at me sweetly – the tall young girl in the silk sari, the only tall girl in fact, so I enjoyed the bit of attention I got. I hogged food, gave my byes and wishes to my dear friend and his wife & left.

The route home was decent – via Porur, Koyambedu, Vadapalani and Guindy. In fact, the traffic was lesser than usual, overall, because it was a Sunday evening. And the trip was quite exciting – imagine going for a reception and getting the road trip you had always yearned for, with beautiful country music and Western classical playing in the background! I am the kind of person who enjoys this stuff (also because I am not driving). I like crazy situations where I don’t know where exactly the car is going (like in an earlier trip to Royal Enfield in Tiruvottiyur, on a rainy and messy day). I long for more of these, but I guess their beauty lies in the fact that they are rare.

Thank you, dear friend N, for having your reception so far away, inviting me, making me enjoy the adventure and write this post J
All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.

- poet Kabir (quote from Eat Pray Love)

A blast of Mexican Mariachi Masala

I know this is a super late review of a much loved movie; but I managed to lay my hands on Desperado only recently (after watching a part of the grainy Youtube version and a part of it late at night on Pix, on a weekday). I felt that Desperado deserved an umpteenth review from a Banderas fan (after The Mask of Zorro).

Everything is fascinating about Desperado – beginning with Antonio Banderas and his eyes, of course. And the title song is fantastic – which has already been lifted by a Tamil composer, and in other languages as well, I hear.

Then the action begins. Banderas stuffs the insides of his guitar with a powerful guns and bullets & goes on shootout fests in a quest to find Buccho, who killed his lover. It is a treat to watch him enter two bars and perform his murderous Mariachi act. Pools of blood are almost casually mopped off the floors.

Banderas encounters Carolina (Salma Hayek) who saves his life. And later her bookstore burns down & it is Banderas’ turn to take care of her. I don’t have to describe how beautiful Hayek is – from her smile to the curls to the voluptuous, sexy figure.

More guns come out, more bullets fly, even throw-knives and a bulletproof limousine in which the villain’s guys drive around - reminds me of dadas in Tamil movies. The villain too, shoots whoever he pleases to.

The climax truly befits this masala mix. Mariachi calls two of his friends and asks him to bring their guitar cases. And when the villain’s henchmen come, declares war – “Lets play!” And it’s like a pucca Tamil masala movie, with the guys shooting mini-missiles (are they?) through holes at the both ends of the guitar cases. And it’s all bam, bam, bam, bam… true blue Mexican Masala.

Now I know why men watch so much action, though I prefer the Banderas kind. And yes, Banderas is like my local cine thalaivars. Yet, several degrees hotter than them. Love you, Mirchi Mariachi!

Friendship Day with my best friends – N & Choco lava cake ;-)

This year, Friendship Day was filled with my favorite things. I met my friend N, who gave me his wedding invitation. We met up at Coffee Day Lounge, on Khader Nawaz Khan Road, which, I am sure, if I visit a couple more times, will become my favorite place. The two of us indulged in an activity we love – eating chocolate cake ;-). Well, these lovely creations deserve not just appreciation, but devotion, which is what we chocoholics are there for.

Last Sunday, at the exact same time, I was there at CCD lounge, eating the same choco lava cake with vanilla ice cream on top (it was so delicious that it inspired me to write a blog post on the choco-vanilla romance). This time, I chose Arctic Sun – a black coffee-vanilla ice cream blend. The waiter poured black coffee from a miniature jug, and left some on the table. The vanilla ice cream laced with espresso tasted unique, but when I put in the straw, a way-too-strong taste of choco syrup and black coffee hit me and there was little of it – it seemed to disappear before I sipped it. My Arctic Sun sank pitifully, in a dark sea.

Meanwhile the choco lava cake that my friend ordered arrived, and he simply loved it. I decided to order one too, as a consolation. I began eating only after taking a few pictures of it, and it thanked me by turning out to be absolutely divine. My friend liked the cake so much that he went in for a second one (can forgive him because he claimed that he ate chocolate last only on July 3rd). Also it costs around 240 bucks at Sandy’s (where they put the ice cream on the side instead of the top), so I guess he derived great satisfaction from ordering 2 here (about Rs. 100 at CCD Lounge and totally worth it). I supported his decision wholeheartedly.

We walked out into a pleasant evening with happy smiles on our faces. It’s sad that I won’t be able to meet him again for the next 2 months perhaps, but I was very happy that we got to meet on Friendship Day. I wished him all the best for his life ahead and we said our goodbyes.

Then I went home. It was a pleasant ride, with relatively less traffic. It got a bit cloudy but light rain came down only after I reached home.

All in all, a lovely Friendship Day with a combo of all things that make me happy. Now I am gonna end it beautifully by watching Desperado (which is not friendship-themed, but still, has Antonio Banderas & Salma Hayek). Ciao!
The Bridges of Madison County has inspired me to identify and experience precious moments that'll stay close to my heart, for a lifetime... to not later regret that I missed certain things. Because I have only one life. :-)

What is the opposite of "appointment"?

Dis-appointment (with the exception of dentist visits)

The Story of Sinnocence

Plain Vanilla had a long and innocent history. She was a sweet soul who rested on the waffle cones of pigtailed little girls and was the occasional treat of plump chiffon clad aunties. She seemed plain, but rocked at tea parties, for she often was the indulgence of the majority of the genteel ladies and men.

Then, one day, she was plopped rudely by an apron clad man into a box. Next to her, she noticed an array of flavours, most of which were new entries. The man scooped her up and smashed her together with many other ice cream scoops. A greedy yuppy grabbed the bowl, then mixed spoonfuls of Plain Vanilla in medley of sauces and swallowed her in hurried & disrespectful manner.

The next day, she noticed all the other ice creams trying to jump up and peep out, craning their necks. There was a brown bottle being carried out from the pantry. The cook brought out a freshly baked brownie, held the bottle over it and gave a squeeze. Out came a delicious looking brown liquid that ran in swirls over the brownie. All the ice creams were gazing at the handsome liquid, but as he popped out, his locked eyes with Plain Vanilla and held her stare. “Hey Snow White…” he said in an incredibly smooth voice. Vanilla blushed and almost turned as pink as strawberry ice cream, but she was also a tad angry. How dare he hit on her this way! “Sorry, I never expected to see someone as gorgeous as you here. And I had to compliment you! I’m chocolate, by the way. See you around!” he said and winked, as the brownie was carried away.

Plain Vanilla had never encountered someone who behaved like that with her. Even if his voice was smooth, almost sugary for a guy, he did have a wicked side; but she wasn’t going to flirt with him. She wanted to stay a good girl.

That evening someone ordered a vanilla sundae. Plain Vanilla was wondering who was going to be with her, when she was scooped up suddenly and plopped in a bowl. She looked up to see the chocolate sauce smiling down happily and the next moment, he splashed onto her, snaking out his arms like rivulets. She protested loudly and he apologized, saying that he couldn’t get up, for that was how a sundae was. He was careful, yet, she saw that he was simply mesmerized by her. The cashew nuts sprinkled on them saw that he liked her and were passing glances and whispering to each other.

Vanilla was attracted to the dark and handsome chocolate sauce, yet kept her distance when he tried to flirt with her from afar. However, she could see that his interest in him was not because just her beauty. He also told her she was incredibly sweet and innocent & was very friendly, blending well with every other flavor. She gradually came to like him, but still wasn’t sure that he was the one. But chocolate brought about a transformation in Plain Vanilla and she didn’t feel so plain anymore.

One day, the chef made a choco lava cake and placed it next to vanilla on a plate. She had expected the chocolate to be there and kept looking around for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then the diner sliced the chocolate cake and there he was, dribbling out tantalizingly, winking at her playfully. She couldn’t help smiling and joined him on the spoon. They fell into an easy conversation, his interest in her flowing in sweet, flirtatious, yet affectionate words.

Vanilla felt a need to be closer to chocolate, yet didn’t get an opportunity. But he was her destiny and her wish was waiting to be fulfilled. The cook came up with a sinful recipe that he was sure would be loved by all. Vanilla watched as he prepared a thin walled chocolate cake with an open top. He then placed it in a dish and poured her darling chocolate all over it. Then chef scooped her up and plopped her right on chocolate.

Her sweetheart gazed up at her with undisguised passion on his face. He engulfed her in an embrace. She gazed back at him, her eyes glowing, and slowly melted into him, reveling in a puddle of beautiful love. Then she knew that he was absolutely perfect for her. And was born a sweet, sinful romance that is simply unequalled. One that will last in the world of desserts forever and ever.    

I thank Coffee Day, Sandy's and every other dessert destination that inspired this story.