Sunday evening walks
For the past few weeks, a friend and I have been trying to get some over due exercise in the weekend by taking a long walk. We lead such sedentary lives what with most of our time spent in front of the computer that we try to squeeze in some exercise on the weekends. So, on Sundays, we meet at a pre-decided place that is close to both our houses in Adyar. Our usual place to meet is the ICICI ATM, which also doubles up as a landmark. From there we proceed to take the long Besant Avenue road to Besant Nagar.
The Besant Avenue road is wide road with sidewalks where a pedestrian can actually walk. In Chennai, walking means walking on the road. The sidewalks are mostly empty or filled with sand from construction sites or something unmentionable. And the city corporation in its enthusiasm to widen the roads have made the sidewalks so tiny that sometimes there is nothing left of it apart from a painted black and white ridge.
As soon as we pass the red-saree clad Konica cutout lady saying namaste, the bus stand comes into view. Not many know but there is a royal palace tucked away right behind it. The black board hanging on the open gate tells us that it’s Ramaniyam, the Travancore Royal Palace. I know because I have lived here forever that it belongs to the descendents of the Raja Ravi Varma dynasty. In fact, the bharatanatyam dancer great great grand daughter-in-law Gopika Varma runs a boutique from one of its out houses.
As soon as we cross that there is John Abraham looking at us from a billboard of Visioncare, the eye clinic. Past the eye clinic, there is another landmark the Adyar Post office. It’s just another building and would have been missed had it not been for the board announcing its presence.
We keep to the left of the road to see the traffic coming towards us. There’s a toy exhibition with no toys, some beautifully lavish houses, a Montessori school, the Royal Enfield outlet, an alternative school KFI, and a ghost-ridden lane that leads to the Animal Hospital.
The short cut lane that cuts in between the Theosophical Soceity and the Animal hospital on one side and the school KFI on the other. Overhanging branches of tall trees line the sky making it a pleasant walking experience. Solid grey walls on the right and a metal fence lined with creepers on the left frame the street.
I call it the ghost-ridden road. Yes, there is a story behind it. Long before when the tar road was not laid yet, it was a muddy lane which people took to avoid the longer more scenic route. There were no lights here. So walking after dark was a risky proposition. There are no escapes. If you are stranded here with undesirable elements, you have to run the entire length of the street to escape from them. My mom had once seen a dead body hanging from a tree there. Suicide, she said. And loads of people have reported to have seen ghosts there as well. In fact, our whole family avoids the shortcut street. Who knows if the shortcut to Besant Nagar might turn out to be a shortcut to somewhere else? This bit of information sends shivers down my friend’s back.
A couple of youth on zooming bikes yell out to us. I really don’t know why but it seems that two girls walking on a deserted lane attract such behaviour. Anyway, soon we are out of that lane and the strong stench of the free-for-all public loo almost makes me reel. We hurry towards the main road talking about life, how to make it big, guys, marriages, close friends, and boyfriends. It is also our weekly catch-up session. We take a right turn and are face to face with Chennai’s favourite juice shop Fruitshop on Greams Road. From there onto the beach is but a stone’s throw away.
The Elliot’s Beach, also known as the Besant Nagar beach is a hub of activity. It’s a Sunday after all. Guys on bikes zoom up and down the beach. At one time walking was an exercise here. Now, it’s become a fashion phenomenon. The beach has changed from a family place to a crowded hangout for teenagers. We walk length of the beach road and go back to our respective homes.