Death of a beast

Watching a living, breathing and growing organism die is both weird and learning experience. Especially an animal you are very familiar with and have come to love. Especially watching it die, day in and day out.

Arranged around the four sides of the squarish Panagal Park, and spilling over into one of the three roads that begin here, is Chennai’s famed retail zone. Pondy Bazaar, Ranganthan Street, Panagal Park and shopping are synonymous words. Used interchangeably and justifiably so. From glass bangles to gold, from leather wallets to jackets, from Bhel Puri to Chocolate Mousse, from kerchiefs to 9 yard saris, T Nagar is the to-go place for shopping in Chennai. This then, is the beast I refer to.

A living, breathing beast. Crowded, hectic, teeming with people, always active, growing in size and stature by day.

And dying by night.

Working for an advertising agency, I get to spend quite a few long nights in the office. My hours are nothing if not flexible, and this has afforded me a view of the city of Chennai not often seen. That of Panagal park/T.Nagar/Usman Road winding down for the day.

The death of this beast begins at 9. A slow process, is this business of winding down. Shoppers have to be sent their way, bills settled, accounts closed, merchandise counted, stock taken, employees checked, lights switched off, security alarms activated, guards briefed, shutters downed.

The first of the process is the most difficult. A 1000 shoppers (this is no exaggeration – there are easily a 1000 and more people at any given time) each demanding a different thing. To give all of them what they want takes time, patience and a hell of a lot of experience. But then, it has been done. 1000 become 200 become 5 become 1. The last of the shopper has been sent home, happy and exhausted, clutching the bounty.

When an animal dies, the light in its eyes go out. And that is what happens next – Neon signs and hall-lighting, direction markers and display lights, one by one, like an opera performance, they go out. Till at last, only the tiniest and feeblest of them stay on. To give the inmates an eerie glow. The finances for the day are tabulated, compared and analysed. Huge plastic bags dumped with all the loose coins, paper-notes rubber-banded and and bundled up in 100s. Employees go through a physical check to ensure none of them carry home a little “gift”, merchandise put back in shelves, stocks counted and stools, chairs, tables and drapes put in their place. After a day of hectic activity, the fans and airconditioners finally get some time to breathe, for themselves.

Slowly, the last man in the shop comes out. He is the owner/manager. With him is the night guard. The night guard pulls the shutter down and locks it. Once. Twice. And once more. The manager pulls on the three locks to ensure it is firmly in place and not a sham. The burglar alarms are activated. Our beast is now truly dead. Shrouded and placed on the coffin.

And the final rites, begin. The owner prays to the gods, for giving him a day of good business, and asks for many more such days. Camphor and incense are lit and offered to the dead shop. As a sign of respect. And off he goes, the owner. To his waiting car.

An unnatural peace settles around Panagal Park. The dogs too are quiet. The only sound is that of my motorcycle’s engine. Turning over ever so quietly. As I wait in the shadows, observing the scene. Now, my morbid obsession has been satisfied. The dead has already been forgotten. Only the living count. My bed and the home, waiting for my return. I kick the gear into place and ride away.

8 Comments so far

  1. Hyde (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

    I once rode down Usman Road (from the north side to the south side) at 5 in the morning. And I thought, Usman Road is darned wide!

  2. Lavanya (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 3:41 pm

    Really enjoyed this post. And can relate to it so well. BTW, Panagal Park seems to have been given quite a facelift. It is all bright and inviting from the outside.

  3. Ravages (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

    @Hyde: Yes, Usman road is pretty wide. OK, it isn’t the widest of roads, but it is fairly accomodating.

    @Lavanya: Yes, Panagal Park, together with 72 other parks and public gardens in Chennai have been spruced up, greened and bettered in the last year. 100 more will apparently join them, as well as new parks created.

    Things definitely look up for the Chennai crow. :)

  4. WA (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 8:30 pm

    Beautifully written Ravages, loved it.

  5. SamY (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

    its was really nice reading this post ;) … as direct as the beast

  6. Anu (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 1:06 am

    Well written!
    For a non-resident Madrasi, this makes interesting reading. Can’t wait to go shopping near Panagal park! :)

  7. sln (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 2:07 am


    A very interesting and different picture of T.Nagar. Having lived in that area and seen this I can very well imagine the picture you painted. I still think T.Nagar goes to sleep later and gets up earlier than any other place in Chennai, except Koyambedu in the morning


  8. ammani (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 3:45 am

    Wonderful! It’s true, how familiar places take on a different character at night. Quite eerie.

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