“What is happening to Chennai da,” a friend from another city asked me over phone last Monday night. It was essentially a rhetorical question, no doubt triggered by the series of unfortunate happenings that the city has been witness to recently. In December 2015, it was the floods, due to which people were able to put paper boats in running rain water outside their bedroom windows. And those people were 4th Floor residents. And then there was the 2 months of vexatious political campaign ahead of State Assembly elections that somehow seemed to run for 35 months, and soon after J Jayalalithaa became the Chief Minister again, her hospitalisation happened and Chennai officially became the Rumour Capital of the World (“A friend whose father knows someone who has once seen a doctor who used to work in Apollo Hospitals confirms that the hospital has been given UNESCO Heritage Building status by NASA, whose scientists are arriving today to treat the Chief Minister”). Then struck the Vardah storm, under whose impact strong stationary items, including udders of standing cows, got yanked off and tossed around in air. And last week, there was this protest on the Marina that culminated in a violent showdown between youths and police with the two sides accusing the other of instigating trouble, as buildings were torched, vehicles damaged and bullets fired, while the rest of the city was caught in a monstrous traffic gridlock and vehicles stayed put as if they were part of some bizarre Fevicol ad campaign.
Considering these events, the friend’s query was understandable, except for the fact that he lives in Bengaluru. I mean the same Bengaluru, where people fall in love, get married, develop extramarital affairs, all when trapped at the Silk Board junction traffic on a single day. If ever powerful aliens drop on the earth in a bid to capture it, we should somehow manoeuvre them to the Silk Board junction traffic. Then we are safe. The aliens can never figure out how to get out. But for some reason if that strategy fails, Bengaluru has one sure-fire backup weapon: the sambar they usually serve in their restaurants. No alien would want to capture a world that has a place for such an abomination. Bengaluru sambar is the Donald Trump of food world. Already I am planning to spread a news that there are people who serve this sambar to bulls so that PETA and AWBI will have a genuine case that absolutely reasonable people can support. All told, the only thing that is of note in Bengaluru’s CV is: Rajnikanth was once a bus conductor there.
Okay, that was just a friendly trash-talk on our dear neighbours in Karnataka. Bengaluru, we actually love you, we used to love coming to Bengaluru. We would come again once you bring your airport to a place that is in the same time zone as yours.
Anyway, getting back to Chennai, whenever friends and acquaintances put down the city and its weather (“your summer stretches from April I to March 31”), my general riposte is: “But we have the Marina”. The world’s first/second/22/7th longest beach, depending upon which dubious report you rely on, is undoubtedly the city’s pride. It is a huge tradition, especially on weekends, for many of us to head to the beach and join the rest of the city in finding a half-decent parking spot somewhere in the vicinity. It is usually found in the nearby pincode area.
The beach in itself may be a huge attraction, but the local governmental authorities have thoughtfully added to its beauty by making it — why not? — a cemetery of sorts. Three former Chief Ministers are buried on the sands of Marina. If Eiffel Tower were in Chennai, local authorities would have put up a tomb for a local leader on top of it (“Imposing structure. It is very tall. You get a wonderful view of the city. Just the right place for the tomb of the dead Chief Minister. We will get more visitors”.)
The thing is we may abuse the Marina, we may hide its beauty with hideous constructions, we may use it as an open-air lavatory, we may carry out all manner of stupid and silly things on it, but it has been tremendously forgiving of us and always welcomed us with open arms. Till last week, that is.
For, thanks to the protest and the subsequent pitched battle between the police and the youths, the beachfront was totally out of bounds for the rest of the city. The turn of events was saddening. Chennai felt a little dead as Marina came close to being dead.
But if ever Marina dies, we would still need Marina. Because we Chennaiites know no better place for putting up, ahem, a memorial.