One of the highlights of the locality where I used to live in Chennai is a small lake. It is about 20 acres in size and is currently home to a few pelicans and some waterbirds.
This isn’t a likely sight in Chennai as most of its waterbodies have disappeared due to illegal encroachments and lack of care. When I mentioned the birds to my dad, he said this was nothing and there were far more pelicans and other birds just a month ago. Most of them had migrated back to where they came from and would again come back the next year.
However, what I loved more than the beautiful lake, is the sidewalk. The sidewalk is about a kilometer long and in the evenings, particularly weekends becomes such a lively place, so full of life and activity and commerce. It became one of my favorite places on earth. During my walks in the evening, the sidewalk became a surreal and magical place – everything I saw and heard invoked some random old memory or something I had read. So one day, I decided to note down the things I saw and overheard. I should warn you that these are indeed ‘ordinary’ things and there is really nothing special about them. However, if you are returning to India after being elsewhere for sometime, I’m sure you will appreciate the beauty in these ordinary things.
- A grandfather in a lightning white shirt and dhoti running behind his granddaughter. The granddaughter was wearing a white frock with little red flowers and had a small mole on her right cheek. Her head was recently shaven and had small pointy hair. She was all laughter and looked so happy.
- A group of teenage boys sitting on the sidewalk facing the road and playing video games on their mobile phones. They were playing different games on their phones.
- A brown cow was sitting on the sidewalk, blocking the entire sidewalk. It kept chewing, not giving a damn about people who walked around it.
- Ambi-mamas walking briskly wearing what seems to be their unofficial uniform – classic polo t-shirts covering their big tummy and ‘Trax’ shorts.
- A couple sitting on a bench, facing the road with a newborn in the mom’s hands. The newborn was wrapped in a white and pink childwear to protect against the wind. It seemed asleep.
- Groups of old people occupying multiple benches along the sidewalk. Their costumes came in two flavors – white half-shirt and dark pants with monkey caps protecting their ears or white shirt and dhoti with forehead full of veebhuti and kungumam. They mostly talked about
– demonetization and the wreck it is causing in their lives.
– conspiracy theories about Jayalalitha’s death and Sasikala
– how India is going to shit
- A soup stall selling mushroom and other types of soups.
- A middle-aged lady manning a makeshift Tupperware stall.
- A stall selling vaazhaipoo vadai, bajji, bonda, filter coffee and sukku-malli coffee. The stall was manned by a man who was in his thirties and a girl who probably was ten or twelve. The man appeared to be the girl’s father. The vaazhaipoo vadai is a huge hit among the people who hang out at the sidewalk as well as my folks. The vaazhaipoo vadai usually sells out around 7 pm in the evening. We usually buy from the stall at least once a week. The one time I bought from the stall, the girl seemed very uninterested in being there, but the guy forced her to pack the snacks for the customers.
- Multiple groups of teenage girls taking group selfies with the lake as the background.
- A group of teenage boys talking about how fast they can ride their bikes.
- Middle-aged women walking and talking about what they cooked and how their day went.
- Street dogs sleeping peacefully amidst people walking. There was one dog which was sleeping on the bench next to an old woman. It looked like the woman probably lived nearby and the dog was hers.
- Many people wearing t-shirts, short and running shoes were jogging slowly on the road and were sweating profusely.
- A playful street dog begging the people sitting on the sidewalk for food. The dog was probably once in a house because it had a belt around its neck. Unfortunately, the belt was now too tight and was now constricting its neck. I wanted to remove the belt but I was afraid to do so.
- A middle-aged woman sitting on a bench talking on her phone, doing what women of her age do best – match-making
- Grandmothers walking with their grandsons.
- A working man who looked like a construction worker was staring blankly into center of the lake. He was sitting on the bank of the lake on the mud floor. Perhaps, he was listening to the devotional song playing in a temple on the other side of the lake.
- People returning from a nearby temple.
- A couple, probably in their thirties jogging and walking awkwardly. The husband in a t-shirt and shorts was jogging while the wife in a chudidhar with her dupatta around her waist was walking. A while later, towards the end of the road where it bends, the wife joined the husband in jogging.
- An old man in a mustard-color shirt and brown pants sitting on the bench was listening to song on his phone loudly.
- A group of teenage boys talking about thala and his forthcoming movie.
- A group of old men staring curiously at newly-built party hall.
- Half-filled dumpsters with trash and plastic bags strewn on the sidewalk – probably strewn by the street dogs ravaging for food in the dumpsters
- A couple of college-aged boys walking with their eyes glued to their phones. These days, the unofficial uniform for guys is : dark, plaid shirt and dark, skinny tight pants and two-or-three week old beard and mustache.
- Young couple with heavy backpacks on their back, huddled close to each other whispering.