Wine and rabbit
Drinking and meat-eating — these are two things that I never associated with Tamilians before I came to Chennai. My perception was strengthened soon after my arrival when a friend put me up at a ‘mansion’ (a bachelor’s hostel), where a board read: “No liquor allowed.” And when I was looking at newspaper ads for a house, I found several that offered apartments on rent at reasonable rates, but “only for vegetarians.” But within months my opinion was turned upside down. Chettinad restaurants serve not only mutton and chicken but also — as I discovered to my horror — pigeon and rabbit meat. Perhaps nowhere else in the country the menu card includes rabbit and pigeon. Not to mention quail.
There is a dingy booze shop I go to with colleagues every Saturday in between editions. The liquor is sold from an old house, and the courtyard of that house serves as the bar. Smoke from the dozens of cigarettes and the bar kitchen burns your eyes, and the stench — of alcohol, of fried food, of poverty, of dirt — is often unbearable. It is a different matter that alcohol soon induces anaesthesia. Evn then, I always try to sit with my back towards a cage that is kept in the courtyard. It contains quails — tiny, brown birds looking puzzled. And it is the habit of one of my colleagues to order kada fry (quail fry). When the dish appears on the table, I try not to look at the cage.
As for the habit of drinking, Chennaiites perhaps drink more than anyone else: booze shops like this can be found every half-a-kilometre in the city. They are the first to open and the last to shut. And they are open even on Independence Day! — I just found that out. After sitting on the computer for most of the afternoon, I felt like having having a drink, but I wasn’t sure if the ‘wine shop’ would be open. So I sms-ed my grocer-friend whose shop in right opposite the liquor shop: “Is the wine shop open?” Within seconds came his reply, “Yes.”
So off I go to buy some whisky, and when I am back, I shall raise a toast to Chennai Metrobloggers.