Postcard from Chennai – 2

October 21, 2022

Continued from ‘Postcard from Chennai – 1’…

‘Tere Mere Beach Me’ – so much to experience!

I have always loved being at the beach. Normally when we happen to stay with friends or relatives in Chennai, they don’t share my enthusiasm for a visit to the beach. This time around, as my maternal uncle would jocularly remark, I had no ‘asker’ or ‘teller’, meaning I neither had to seek anyone’s permission nor inform anyone of my visit to the beach.

I had wanted to spend some quiet time at the beach. It was evening and the sun was going down. Chennai is very pleasant during the evenings. From the hotel, the GPS showed a 34-minute walk to Marina Beach.

As I approached Marina Beach, I saw that the Metro Rail construction is on and large metal barricades were blocking the sweeping view of the beach. I found a zebra crossing at quite a distance and crossed over.

As soon as I stepped on the sand, I spotted a small section of a rainbow arc to my left. The rainbow’s beginning was not visible. It was just a small color strip that was pasted in the sky. The top part of the rainbow disappeared behind a large cloud.

Impossible is nothing!

As I walked towards the water, I spotted a young man practicing a simple form of tumbling. He was running on a short makeshift ‘track’ at the end of which there was a gunny sack full of sand ahead of a small pit of loose sand. His name was Harish Kumar, a local lad and gymnastics enthusiast. He told me that he comes to Marina Beach and practices every day. Though his movement was still clumsy, I loved his spirit of innovation and his optimism. Who knows what he would become? Even if he didn’t make it to be a competitive gymnast, I am sure his attitude to pursue something, and persevere at it without being shy would take him places in life. This was a life skill.


The Indian way of enjoying a public beach is quite different from that of Western countries. In India, a public beach is like a park where fully clothed families come and continue to stay fully clothed through the time spent at the beach. The most undressed people are the topless men and the boys clad in shorts. The women are always fully clothed.

A public beach in India is also an amusement and snack center. The Marina Beach area was like a town fair – so many things were happening at the same time.

Kids were cavorting in the water splashing about while a policeman with a walkie-talkie kept watching. A couple of policemen mounted on horses were leisurely chatting along as the horses walked gingerly on the edge of the water.

There was an enviable variety of eats. From groundnuts in various forms to freshly-cut raw mangoes smeared with spicy Masala to Chaats to Indo-Chinese food to fruit juices to tender coconuts, it was like an open food court. I didn’t have the courage to try anything there. I was traveling and solo traveling at that. Risky!

I sat down facing the water for a long time. Invariably, watching the unceasing waves gets me into a contemplative mood. I was lost in my own world.

Marina Beach – an ocean of entrepreneurs!

My meditative mood was gently interrupted by a young man with a stylish hairstyle. Trendily dressed in a patterned shirt and plain trousers, he was holding a bunch of glass bottles in his hands as a backpack hung from both his shoulders.

Rahul from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, sold these colorful bottles containing miniature plastic plants and some small multicolored Thermocol balls. A tiny string of delicate lights inside the bottle lit up as a tiny switch on the cork-type lid was flicked.

Rahul was in Chennai for the last 3 years making a living. In order to support him, I purchased a bottle. I also wished him well.

By the time I decided to walk back from the beach, a film of salt had formed on my glasses. I wasn’t carrying any water or the specs cleaning cloth and I couldn’t do much. It was getting dark and the cool and pleasant Chennai breeze was blowing. As I walked against the flow of traffic, the glow of headlights from the oncoming vehicles was further affecting my vision.

I cautiously walked back to the hotel and ordered food via Room Service.

It was a great Day 1.

I had walked quite a bit. I slept soundly.

Day 2

The first half of Day 2 was devoted to my work. I met with two separate prospective clients in the hotel room and they signed up for a work engagement with me. Now they were no longer prospective clients – they were my clients.

I stayed put in the hotel room and ordered a South Indian Thali for lunch via Room Service. A Thali is like the soul of India – so many different flavors and tastes in one place. Every single item in the Thali was really tasty.

I am a travel storyteller and therefore, I need to find time to write. I began recording my experiences in the comfort of my airconditioned hotel room.

In the evening, I headed to the Mylapore Market area for a leisurely stroll. The GPS showed a 26-minute walk.

Aha! Mylapore!

Mylapore is a cultural hub of Chennai. A sprawling market has come up around the vast Kapaleeshwarar Temple (shown in the main picture in this post) built in the 7th century CE. In India, we tend to normalize everything. Nothing astounds us. The fact that the temple has existed from time immemorial would make it ‘normal’ for most of us. It is business as usual. From a historical perspective, no big deal!

A tank brimming with clear water adjoining the temple with a granite-roofed structure (mandapam) in the middle of the tank assumes significance during some special rituals of the temple.

I have always loved to spend time at this temple and the adjoining areas. For one, it is always buzzing with activity. Second, for an observer and writer like me, it is a rich source of inspiration and material. And last but not least, it is a foodie’s paradise.

I stepped into the temple and spent time with the tens of devotees who had gathered there. After circumambulating the deity, I sat down to soak in the experience. The cool breeze was blowing and the devotees were engaged in a variety of activities. Some were chanting, reading from a book. Others had their eyes closed. Some were chatting in small groups. Kids were playing around. For many people in the area, a daily visit to this temple is a hard-coded routine. On the way out, I peeped through the metal grille at the water tank. The water was clear and I spotted a few ducks there.

Once in the market area, I did what I do best – observe. I walked at random looking at the bustling shops. It was the real India that we know of – so much to see and not one moment of boredom. Large wide-bodied Government buses managed to squeeze through the busy streets with every type of vehicle jostling for space and pedestrians crossing the roads everywhere. To me, this post-Covid scene represented the bouncing back of a resilient India.

I had some purchases to make based on requests from home. I went to the famous Ambika Appalam Depot next to the temple to buy a few packs of pappadoms. Then I walked around rather aimlessly. The purpose of a holiday is also to do stuff with no end objective. The aimless walk with nothing in particular to achieve was also equally welcome.

Hotel Saravana Bhavan

I passed by several eateries and settled for Hotel Saravana Bhavan.

Saravana Bhavan, founded by P. Rajagopal, was once an iconic restaurant with branches at home and abroad. At one time, a visit to Saravana Bhavan was a must. The food was of very high quality and it tasted heavenly. By Chennai standards – and by any Indian city’s standards – the prices were exorbitant.

However, things were not the same anymore. Many of the Chennaites who were once die-hard fans of Saravana Bhavan had discouraged me from trying it this time around.

‘Annachi’ – P. Rajagopal’s story was one of meteoric rise and dramatic downfall. Son of a farmer, he began his journey with a grocery store, and today, Annachi’s Saravana Bhavan is spread across 33 locations in India and 78 locations abroad (Wikipedia).

Annachi was sentenced to life imprisonment on murder charges. He died in July 2019.

Anyway, for old times’ sake, I had to visit Saravana Bhavan. I entered their Mylapore branch. Surprisingly, very few tables were taken.

I went through their menu and ordered their Ghee 14 Idli. I wanted to try something new and different.

When a plate of Ghee 14 Idli was placed before me, I knew why it was named thus. Like an oil spill, a glistening film of ghee (clarified butter) was floating on top. Many small Idlis were jostling for space in steaming hot Sambar with tomatoes and shallots in it. A small portion of Coconut Chutney was available on the side – barely noticeable. The portion of Coconut Chutney didn’t count. Honestly, it was photo-bombing the main hero of the dish – the plate of Sambar Idli.

I didn’t get a chance to count the number of Idlis. As per the menu, they should have been 14 in number. There are times in life when we need to trust the world. Especially when a plate of piping-hot Sambar Idli under a film of ghee is awaiting immediate attention.

The taste was just out of this world. The Idlis were bite-sized and the ghee added a certain heavenly touch to the dish. I took my time. I followed it up with a plate of Curd Vada. Delectable again!

Honestly, my experience of Saravana Bhavan was great this time too.

It was late evening and I chose not to have coffee. I wanted the taste of the Curd Vada to linger.

I stepped out of the Saravana Bhavan restaurant into the cool Chennai breeze, located an auto rickshaw, and went back to the hotel.

In the hotel room, I changed and began writing about my experience.

To be continued…

Read here about why I say Travel runs in my genes…

Read here about my tryst with family history in Florence, Italy…


Coming up next in the final Postcard from Chennai: Meeting with my school classmates – some after 45 long years, how Ratna Cafe has raised the (sam)bar for other eateries, meeting with my new friends acquired via social media, and ghar-ka-khaana…

This is the best season in India for travel. So, where are you going?

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