Continued from ‘Postcard from Chennai – 2’, here’s my final post on my Chennai solo vacation…
Day 3 was expected to be a relatively busy day.
I had planned to visit Ratna Cafe, Triplicane, for breakfast. In the afternoon, I was meeting some school classmates at Ashok Nagar, and in the evening, I was going with my relatively new friends, Somwyanarayanan (Sowmya) & Dinesh – friends acquired via social media – on a visit to some street food joints.
As I was preparing to leave for breakfast, I got a call from Sowmya. When he learned that I was heading to Ratna Cafe, he decided to join me for breakfast. He lived close by.
Ratna Cafe – raising the (Sam)bar for others
Ratna Cafe was established in 1948 by Trilok Nath Gupta.
Apart from other things, Ratna Cafe is known for its Idli-Sambar and particularly for the way they serve Sambar to the guests. Their generosity while serving Sambar is to be seen to be believed.
Somwya met me at the entrance of Ratna Cafe. We went in and ordered a plate of Idli-Vada each.
A plate of Idli-Vada and a bowl of Coconut Chutney were placed in front of me. Honestly, the Coconut Chutney turned out to be inconsequential.
Being Ratna Cafe, the Sambar had to make a grand entry. The waiter fetched a saucepan of piping hot Sambar and gently poured the Sambar over my Idli & Vada. He ensured he covered the entire territory.
As I tackled the plate of Idli-Vada, I found the Idlis to be super-soft and the Vada just perfect. The shallot Sambar was that textbook version of the Tamil Nadu variety. Ah!
The hawk-eyed waiter watched us intently from a distance. Just as the level of Sambar in my plate receded a bit, he returned with the saucepan and poured the Sambar again with generosity. He repeated the process again after some time. By now he had turned altruistic. Breakfast at Ratna Cafe had tipped the equation. We were actually having Sambar, incidentally accompanied by some Idlis & Vada.
I imagined that my North Indian friends who would die for their ‘Samburr’ would rather stay in this eatery forever. Ratna Cafe was serving Sambar with a vengeance. Ah! Then it struck me. After all, the founder was a North Indian.
We also ordered coffee. It was authentic filter coffee served in an authentic way…in a stainless steel ‘glass and davaraa’.
As we staggered out of Ratna Cafe, Sowmya requested me to visit his home office. I gladly agreed.
Rendezvous with friends
Sowmya is a multifaceted individual. His business card refers to him as a Content Strategist and Social Media Optimizer. We came into contact via social media.
We arrived at Sowmya’s 60-year-old home in Triplicane, built by his grandfather. We reached just in time to meet his wife – she was leaving for work.
I love old buildings such as Sowmya’s house. With a high ceiling held up by wooden rafters and red-oxide flooring, these homes are naturally cool. This technology suited the Indian weather but somewhere along the way, in the name of fashion, we lost our way and chose concrete. Now we cool our concrete homes with ACs.
Sowmya’s ground floor housed his office while they lived upstairs. His office room was chock-a-block with trophies earned via his BNI (Business Network International) association. He was a star and in the habit of regularly smashing records. We had a great conversation.
Later, I took an Uber and returned to the hotel.
My school classmate, Venkatnarayan, came to the hotel for our rendezvous with our classmates in the afternoon.
Although I was meeting Venkat face-to-face after 45 years, thanks to our classmates’ WhatsApp group, it didn’t seem so. Venkat had retired from The Hindu – he had been into sports journalism.
We had a light lunch in the hotel room. I was reeling under the effect of having visited Ratna Cafe and both of us knew that in a couple of hours when we meet our other classmates, it would mean eating time…again.
We went to Ashok Nagar in Venkat’s car. Our two other classmates, Malathi and Devika were already there. I met Devika at a couple of weddings including our son’s while I was meeting Malathi after 45 years.
It is such a pleasure to meet school classmates after almost half a century. As we are of the same age, we are in a similar station in Life. Many of our opportunities and challenges are similar. The conversations are so relatable. We spent a good couple of hours together and exchanged notes.
Venkat dropped me back at the hotel and invited me to his home for lunch the next day. He so generously offered to drop me at the railway station after lunch at his home the next day.
I came back to the hotel room and rested.
Treat on the street – street food!
Towards the evening, Sowmya came to my hotel room, and together we left for Mylapore to taste the fare at a couple of small eateries that Sowmya had identified in advance.
We headed to Nilachhoru where we met our other friend, Dinesh. I was meeting Dinesh for the first time.
Dinesh is a seasoned professional with an incredible range of work experience. He is generous with his sharing and a great conversationalist.
At Nilachhoru, we had a Dosa with a Podi (powder) smeared on the inside of the Dosa. What interested me was the composition of the Podi. It was dried and roasted Drumstick leaves in powdered form. Incredibly tasty!
After Nilachhoru, we headed to Charvan Thattu Idly. While Sowmya and Dinesh placed their orders, I was too full. I settled for a bowl of Tender Coconut Pudding.
We bid goodbye to Sowmya.
Dinesh and I continued to have a great conversation in his car. There was so much to share. On the way back to the hotel, we went to Suswaad Sweets and Savouries to buy some stuff requested from home.
Day 4 was a winding-down day. I was to check out of the hotel at noon, have lunch at Venkat’s home, and head to the railway station to catch the Lalbagh Express back to Bangalore.
My ex-colleague, Murali, from our American Express (AMEX) days, was meeting me in the morning. He would not be able to join me for breakfast but we could have coffee together.
For breakfast, I headed to the in-house Krishna Restaurant at the New Woodlands hotel. It was just a few hours before checking out and I was getting into their in-house restaurant for the first time.
The Krishna Restaurant was dark and crowded. The furniture was jaded. Polished teakwood decor dominated the interiors – another feature of a vintage hotel.
I ordered their Onion Utthappam. A middle-aged waiter delivered the Utthappam with 3 different Chutneys to my table. I had already packed my stuff for checking out and had all the time in the world to savor the hugely tasty Utthappam. I didn’t order coffee. I planned to have coffee with Murali.
Murali met me at the hotel and we proceeded to Krishna Restaurant for coffee. We had a fairly long conversation about our AMEX days and our current life. It was great to catch up.
Venkat picked me up in the forenoon and we headed to his home. His home was another vintage property – over 80 years old. As we settled down in his Living Room, I spotted the high ceiling held up by wooden rafters. The red-oxide flooring had beautiful tile work at the center. I recalled my elder sister, Bina’s home – built by the British – in the mining town of Kolar Gold Fields, Karnataka.
Venkat’s wife, Lopa, served us tasty ghar-ka-khaana. The portions were big and I was served repeatedly. I ended up overeating.
Venkat & I had a great conversation spanning decades touching our work and personal lives. Being a journalist, he helped me understand Tamil Nadu politics with his incisive analyses.
After resting for a while, Venkat dropped me at the railway station.
I took the Lalbagh Express and returned to Bangalore.
The vacation had formally ended.
In these 3.5 days in Chennai, whether it was meeting with my clients or my dear friends, visiting places, savoring food, or spending time with myself in contemplation or in writing, I had extracted every ounce of juice that the city had to offer.
As per my definition of a vacation, it is not the number of days or where you go that matters. What really matters is how you are able to savor every single moment that is available to you. By this definition, a vacation can happen anywhere and at anytime.
One of my Life mantras is summed up in my Quote #52 which says:
‘In Life, look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. There will be a lot to look forward to every day.’
If you agree with my definition of a vacation, heading for it is pretty easy. So when are you packing your travel bags?