Monday, August 1, 2011

Chennai Diary III

Day 6 saw a lazy Saturday. The WHOLE day stretched in front of me with an option to do whatever I want to…this prospect was too tempting to not exploit. Express Avenue at Royapettah was what I had narrowed down my choice to. Before starting I had searched the internet for some info on Chennai bus routes and was absolutely stunned at the wealth of information  I found.


The frequency of the buses is amazing. There seems to be one every minute. To find the bus that you need, just type the source and destination and an amazing number of options throw up!
The Google map has the option of showing both the car and bus routes. When you click on the bus routes, a tiny figure of a person shows where you need to walk to catch the bus. Or how many meters you need to walk to your destination after getting down from the bus. The bus conductors have started conversing in Hindi, even if broken. They may/may not come up to you for tickets. The money gets passed from hand to hand till it reaches the conductor and the ticket gets passed back in a similar way. The Hyderabadis can bring their 5 rupee notes and 50p. coins...all are accepted here. Bus tickets are sold for odd amounts like Rs.4.50 and the the change of fifty paise religiously returned!
Despite being loaded with all the bus numbers, I still asked around to confirm whether I was headed the right direction. And guess what?! The one to guide me was not a Tamilian / Indian but a British lady! She advised me on how much to pay the auto driver after I get down from the bus to head to Express Avenue.


Hmm. I heard that this is the biggest mall in Chennai. I chose to visit a mall because I was told that the mall was different as it also housed some authentic Tamil stuff. Towards that end, I was disappointed as it had all the stores that any other mall has. Yet, there are no regrets at having visited this mall. The sheer size of the mall stuns you. There are three floors of clothes, accessories, cosmetics, shoes etc., plus the basement with the Big Bazaar that I didn’t have the time to visit. I felt that each floor had a circumference of 2 kilometers. It took me about 5 hours to only window shop through each of them.
I briefly spent some time at the Life Style and saw the hip crowd there. What is amazing to find is that there were the traditional sari-clad, jasmine wearing women and also the t-shirt-jeans kind too. So, though I wasn’t really dressed well that day, I didn’t feel out of place. The younger lot seemed to be modernly attired, the older ones more traditional. However modernly dressed, none of the women wore any cleavage–revealing clothes. I’d find more such girls amongst the hip crowds in Hyderabad.
What happens to husbands here is the same as happens to them in every mall in any city. The poor guy acts as a hanger for all the clothes his wife has selected and keeps passing them one by one to her in the trial room as she keeps stepping out and asking for his opinion (but then goes on to buy what she thinks is the right one).
When I reached EA, I headed straight for the multiplex and bought a movie ticket. This done, I started looking around the fourth floor which contained all the food joints. You are issued a food card after you pay whatever amount you decide to. And then you use it like an ATM card to keep paying for your food. If any amount is left at the end of the day, you are refunded.
I first decided to make a round of the entire floor to check out what was on offer. Almost every kind of food in its about 20+ outlets found menus from Italian to South Indian, Arabic, Malaysian, Chaats, KFC and many more. After having completed the tour of the place, I opted for Kobe


Kobe, I had read even before going to Express Avenue, was a place of Sizzlers. As I wanted to try something different, I opted for it. Kobe is a separate restaurant and doesn’t accept the food card issued by EA.
When seated, I saw that about 70% of the items on menu were non-vegetarian ones. Undaunted by the limited choice or the price, I stuck to my choice. The menu mainly consisted of sizzlers, pizzas, and mock tails. I selected one vegetable sizzler. It was priced 290 and I wondered whether one snack is worth 290/-. After a wait of less than 10 minutes, the waiter rushed towards me with a sizzling, steaming oval shaped plate which was about 12 inches long. Looking at the quantity, I was petrified. I just can’t eat all that stuff, I thought. I wasn’t sure of where to start…whether I’d get a plate to serve myself smaller portions of that gigantic offer or directly dig into it? I realized that the plate was quite shallow and placed on a half inch thick, burnt wooden base. The dish was made up of a portion of rice surrounded by shredded and par-boiled vegetables like cabbage, peas, carrots, French fries, baby corn and a flat potato cutlet. Over all this was poured Schezwan sauce. Between pepper/garlic/Schezwan sauces, I opted for Schezwan sauce though I was warned it would be spicy. What I realized by now was that this sizzler is not a snack but the main course itself. The dish was kept piping hot throughout the meal though the sizzling subsided after a while. It had a tangy taste to it, not very spicy with a delectable mix of rice, sauces and vegetables. I enjoyed every bite of this awesome dish which nearly burnt my tongue. This dish is a must-try.

                                Image from Kobe website


Getting a ticket for a Saturday movie is unthinkable in Hyderabad. Yet here, I was pleasantly surprised to find a seat for the evening show. Well, I read reviews in favor of and against the movie. I trust Rajeev Masand’s reviews. A 3 ½ /5 from him means that the movie is a sure-watch. There also are reviews which speak to the contrary belittling it as a Karan Joharesque movie with its unrealistic, feel-good, made-for-the-NRI-crowd kind of movie.I went with an open mind to watch this movie. Story apart, the script and execution was slick. Not a moment of boredom as you are taken through a journey of three 30-something bachelors reviving their younger days and finding a new meaning to life at the end of this one all-boys trip to Spain. You will not be disappointed when you watch this. But beware, Katrina Kaif and her non-acting still jar!


A few of my observations on my first outing in Chennai. Many women adorn their hair with jasmine garlands. This is a disappearing feature back in Hyderabad…unless women go for a wedding or some such traditional occasion. Most of them have good hair though. I also see many dark complexioned people around. In some imperceptible ways, I sense a respect for women a man won’t sit beside a woman in the bus, even if the seat is vacant. I also find fewer lungis and more trousers this time. The roads are almost empty by 11 pm. In fact, when I was going back from EA, I found I was the lone woman on the bus home. A bit scary! What I don’t find is the fidayeen-kind of the ubiquitous women found everywhere in India these days, their heads all wrapped up and only the slits for the eyes showing. When I tried wrapping my head here, I realized why they don’t do that. I nearly suffocated in the sweat inside my scarf! I found one or two on the streets, though I am sure they too will give up soon.
I didn’t find any of those wide, pleasure-to-drive roads like we have in some posh locales in Hyderabad. Yet, the roads here have far fewer potholes than what we find back home. Many of the main roads too aren’t really wide.
There are almost no paan shops… as a result, also no red marks on the roads unlike in Hyderabad where we literally have painted the town red.
It is sweaty and clammy even in July whereas back in Hyderabad, this season sees you shiver with cold, especially after heavy showers. Here, shower or no, you always sweat and one can’t imagine life without an air-conditioner.
More posts to come when I explore Chennai more.