If you live in Chennai, and are attending a party or social do in another city, one of the things you must avoid — no, don’t worry, not alcohol — is to tell (whoever you are talking to) that you are from Chennai because within moments the subject of weather will be broached and soon enough the entire hall will be echoing with sniggers more derisive than the ones Ishant Sharma gets these days.
As they say, Chennai has only three seasons, hot, hotter —- wait for the killer punch line — ‘hahahahahahaha’. No, seriously, most of those who try to tell this joke, don’t even wait to finish it as they go into a fit of thigh-slapping laughter thinking what they have come up with is monster wit when in reality they are the 24,80,36,759th person to repeat what had become a corny cliché even during Lord Cornwallis period.
But those trying to make fun of Chennai’s weather are preferable to those who seem to understand the city’s predicament, because they inevitably lapse into the line, ‘but you have the Marina and the evening sea breeze’. And that is the bigger problem.
Yes, we have the Marina. But it is not a beach; it’s a hoax.
People in other coastal cities, when they go to the beach, can swim, surf, sunbathe, snorkel, scuba-dive. Here in Chennai we cannot attempt any of them, except perhaps the sunbath thing. But who would want to do that in Chennai, where the heat radiation is so pronounced that it is technically possible to sunbathe indoors? Also, we in Dravida Chennai will never understand the logic of anyone, endowed with a possible central nervous system, ever wanting to get a tan. To us, it is a bit like a rich man willingly becoming a pauper. It is not only stupid but also — to use an eloquent phrase — VERY STUPID.
So what do we do on the Marina? With a bobbing, frothing and crumbling mosaic of water in front of us, the never-ceasing waves skittering towards us like cavorting squirrels but withdrawing at the last moment in a coquettish cabaret dancer’s tease, we stand there, taking in this surreal scene that simultaneously appeals to the child and the poet and the philosopher inside us, and with our mind ennobled and our senses enriched, we reach into the deep recesses of our understanding to tackle the one ontological question that lies at the core of our very existence at that moment, which is: ‘Will our footwear be safe where we left it?’
On the Marina, safety is the watchword for many of us. Especially that of our pants. One of the abiding sights on this beach is men, with their pants rolled up sumo wrestler-like almost right up to their thighs, which in other circumstances will look extremely kinky, but here in this convivial atmosphere of fun and frolic is merely dorky, trying their best to avoid water from splashing on to their pants. Why come all the way to the beach when you don’t want even your dress to get mildly wet? You could as well have stayed at your house and instead thrashed your legs inside a capacious sombu.
The point is a film like Jaws with Chennai’s beachfront as the backdrop can never be made because the shark, if it were to sink its considerable teeth on any of the humans, has to come all the way to the sandy shore, by which time it would be actually dead. But, even if the shark manages to nail a human in these parts, his/her first priority will be to save his/her pant and slippers.
Marina is generally deemed to be the: 1) the longest 2) the second longest 3) one of the longest beaches in the world. The answer, going by the unlimited information and knowledge that the internet offers, is all of the above. Indeed nobody knows what is its real status. First, second or the 133rd, Marina is actually no different from the video screensavers on our mobiles and laptops: You get to see some semblance of action. After some time you get bored and get back to your work.
Okay. But what of the city’s famed sea breeze? Chennai is usually a sweltering pot of heat and sweat all day, but by around 4 in the evening, which is generally the time around which the sea breeze sets in, the city, in a magical alchemy of nature, becomes sweltering pot of heat and sweat with sea breeze blowing. For the sea breeze to have a full impact on the city, it has to be either a cyclone or the city has to be no bigger than what it is on the atlas.
Anyway, in the last one week, the weather in Chennai is — wait for it —- extremely pleasant, making it seem almost like Bangalore minus its people. Talking of Bangalore, my parting advice is: If you are attending a party or social do, one of the things you must avoid — no, don’t worry, not alcohol — is to broach the subject of weather to a Bangalorean, because within moments he will be in full spate, and there is no way of shutting him up.