3500 rpm

The road’s empty. My bike’s speedometer is stuck at 50 kmph, and the engine is ticking over, ever so smoothly at 3500 rpms. There’s a big fat smile, chartering its way across my face. I am not sure why, but I guess it is the fact that I am doing something I like, driving, in a place I like, Chennai.

A friend once told me that cities are best by night. He meant it in a different sense, I know. But I do think he is right. Now, especially. The lights all have come on, in Madras, yellow and blue and white and red – distorting familiar landmarks and shapes, making them look larger than life.

About 40 minutes ago, I was slaving at a audio-recording studio, lending my voice for a project my friend was doing. The stale, closeted air of the studio and the years of buried dust got to me, and that’s when I decided I would cut and run the minute I could.

About 30 minutes ago, I finally put down my headphones, said thanks to the Sound Engineer and bid my friend goodbye. The time was approaching the witching hour. My home and a bed called out to me. But I turned the otherway. About 25 minutes ago, I was at the starting-point of Chennai’s famed East Coast Road.

About…hang on a moment – a bus careens dangerously close to me. I am right now on Kamarajar Salai, which is how the Promenade here is called. Chennai-Marina White lights, with a tinge of blue washes down from their pedestals, yellow lights from cars bathe me. I am headed north now. There, you see that? That’s the place Kannagi has claimed just yesterday. Directly opposite the road from Triplicane…warning passersby to stay off.

I stop, smile at her, and she smiles back at me. For we know, the two of us, she isn’t really the icon she was supposed to be. She’s just a woman who wanted her husband all to herself. I bid her goodbye, and set out. Not very long now, to the end of the promenade and the resting places of dead leaders – MGR and Anna – and the fantastically grotesque looking concrete monsters that guard their sandy graves.

Close by is another landmark, a trifle ignored. — from Velachery Balu(?)

The Triumph of Labour, designed to look like the Flag of Iwo Jima sculpture. Dust and smoke and salt-spray have settled on this little masterpiece. But I have no time to reflect on the relevance of this now…for up ahead comes the best part of this road – the Napier Bridge…With semi-circular cantilevers and two lanes flying over the turbid waters of the Koovam, the Napier bridge is a landmark in Chennai. Used and abused in all kinds of media, this bridge too doesn’t hold my interest, and my bike’s for long.

Kamaraj Salai is at its end – up ahead is the War Memorial – trying vainly to remind citizens of the people lost to the two wars. I too ignore this memorial and head up Muthuswamy bridge and the Zero point of Madras and head out to EVR Periyar Salai. More popularly, Poonamalle High road. I take in the Gothic/Indo Saracenic beauty of the Southern Railway headoffice, the Victorian simple-ness of the Chennai Central station and the Victoria Public hall. I swing a hard right, and double back, up Muthuswamy bridge, and into Mount Road.

Familiar territory this, for both myself and the readers of this blog – Here stands Governor Thomas Munro, atop his horse, poised for flight. Munro

A different kind of light now,
Gold and Yellow and Red and Blue – Neon and backlit signs and floodlights and more Neon…sell me coffee, jewellery, sex, news, fashion, more coffee. Buildings in Gothic and Indo-Saracenic mourn the night away, in the dark, save a few advertising-billboards. Mount Road stretches south, beyond commerce, beyond IT, beyond the reach of the city. I take a small break. My speedometer immediately falls from the high of 50 to the low of 10.

I speed up again. So does my smile. Spencer’s Plaza flashes past me, behind me. 15 minutes ago, I was at the southern-edge of the city. 15 minutes hence, I will be there again, albeit about 10 kilometres inland. Mount Road whizzes by in the night. Anna Flyover It’s a matter of seconds – the Flyover goes under, its height not registering even a tiny bump on my radar. My home is about 5 kilometres from here, the shortest distance. But who needs short when one has the whole night to explore a silent city?

South, and west I go. Beyond Nandanam, beyond Saidapet and the Marmalong bridge. I pause a second to look at Coja Petrus Ascano’s inscription at the Saidapet bridge. Another dead and dying historical treasure.
South and west, up the bridge over the railway lines and into Kathipara Junction. Here used to be one of the better maintained traffic-islands – with Nehru standing proud and clean – inviting foreign and domestic tourists from the airport just ahead. Now, both Nehru and the roundabout are gone, leaving way to a four-leaf flyover rising up.

Here I swing right, and west. Into the fourth of my major roads for the night. Inner Ring road, also known as the 100 feet road. My destination is a little more than 9 kilometres from here…due west. I go past office building in various stages of construction. Buildings that didn’t exist yesterday. Buildings that seek to accommodate the sudden increase in employees, and employers. Not far now. Ashok Nagar is a second in the passing, as is Vadapalani. Here comes the famed Arcot Road junction. I need to turn left now, and home. My journey is at an end. My night has adequately compensated for my day. It is true – a city looks and feels best by night.

A little summing up, for those short on temper and patience and time to read the whole thing.

My journey is circular, almost, and touches all the cardinal directions –

  • North on Kamarajar Salai,
  • West on a small stretch of EVR Periyar Salai
  • East on Muthuswami Bridge
  • South on Anna Salai
  • West on the Inner Ring road…

I cross the Koovam thrice, the Adyar four times. I had fun. You might, if you read the whole thing.

4 Comments so far

  1. david (unregistered) on June 8th, 2006 @ 9:12 am

    hey chandra! that was an great post! brought back a flood of memories from the days when i used to ride a bike around Madras. i know exactly what you’re talking about- i could feel the experience! once a biker, always a biker!

  2. Nandhu (unregistered) on June 8th, 2006 @ 11:01 am

    nice post chandra. u seemed very clued in to the city. i get lost in about 10 mins any which way in north madras. and i really cant tell south from north in chennai.

  3. SLN (unregistered) on June 10th, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

    That was a good ride and commentary.

    Wish there were some night-time photos too


  4. AnonGoat (unregistered) on June 24th, 2006 @ 7:06 am

    Good post. Brought back memories of my college days (a logn time back). By the way, when you turned onto Inner Ring Road at Kathipara, you didn’t turn west – you turned north, and your home was almost due north of that place. You were already going west when you entered Kathipara. Also, how did you cross the Adyar river four times? I could count only three – once when going north from Thiruvanmiyur to Foreshore Estate, once going southwest from Saidapet to Guindy, and once going north from Guindy Industrial Estate to Ashok Nagar. Did you include your original trip from Koyambedu area to Thiruvanmiyur area?

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