MAC and Marina

On the week of its ‘birthday’, it is tempting to wonder how Chennai would have looked like 376 years ago. Well, obviously, it must have been rough, dusty and unpaved. Now, thanks to centuries of concerted development, the picture is totally other way round: It is unpaved, dusty and rough.

As they say, the more things change, the more they repeat that silly old proverb about it. Anyway, this week on the occasion of Madras Day, this column takes up two of the popular attractions of the city and pens some idiosyncratic and irresponsible thoughts on them.

M A Chidambaram Stadium: Ahead of all Test matches, all roads lead to M A Chidambaram stadium. Mostly because every other street in that neighbourhood is usually dug up for one reason or the other. Recently it has been for the Metro Rail construction, which going by the looks of it began sometime around when Bill Lawry’s team toured here last.

This hoary cricket ground has been in the history books for many memorable records, the most notable one being the Test match between India and Australia in September 1986 when the two teams played out — this is still a Test match record — under one million per cent humidity. The players sweated so much during the match that, were it an ODI, the Duckworth-Lewis Rule would have kicked in automatically declaring, even more automatically, South Africa as the loser.

In recent times, the stadium has been redesigned with several of the stands getting a makeover in the form of they being practically converted into airconditioned rooms, providing the spectators the experience of watching the match at home on TV.

After the redesign, three stands (out of the many) in the stadium have been declared illegal and kept out of bounds.

Now the affairs of the TNCA are fully tied to the Chennai Corporation, so much so don’t be surprised if it (TNCA) is asked to appoint as match referee the Chennai Corporation Commissioner. (You know what, the TNCA will accept it and the BCCI and the ICC won’t mind it too). Which also means don’t at all be surprised if the Corporation goes ahead —– it has done weirder things before —- and gets a retrospective stay on the catch Wasim Akram took off Saqlain Mustaq to dismiss a certain Sachin Tendulkar in a Test match here in 1999.

Marina: This is the world’s longest beach. No, wait. Looks like it may be the world’s second longest beach. Again, stop. Now what? The second longest part also looks doubtful. Heck. How about: Marina is one of the longest beaches in the world. Sounds okay, but… Well then, this should work: Marina is one of the world’s longest beaches which is also an open lavatory. And nobody cares a …that may be an inappropriate usage here.

Another thing about the Marina is that it’s endowed with natural beauty, which the State governments have enhanced by carefully converting a stretch of it into eco-friendly cemetery. Seriously, the idea of turning an attractive seafront into a site for morbid memorials is like renting out Taj Mahal to Sulab Sauchalya. But here not only have we done that but also have enthusiastic tourists coming here and forgetting the sea but taking pictures in front of the memorial.

Anyway, it is still a cherished tradition in many families of Chennai to happily set out in cars and two-wheelers to Marina on a holiday and — this is where the real tradition comes in — turn right back at Radhakrishnan Salai junction itself seeing the sea of vehicles ahead. One of these days, Marina may have to seriously think of putting up a ‘Housefull’ board on certain Sundays.

But if you get past the crowds, Marina is an unimaginable theatre, a kaleidoscope of Kollywood, as it were: oily effervescence of the Bhajji and chaat stalls, the insistent clamour of sundal sellers, the high-pitched whoops of ‘catch it’ and staccato claps of tennis-ball cricket players, the snap of air gun amplified by the concomitant burst of balloon or muffled by the padded backboard, the lustful whispers of young couples and stoical silence of elder pairs — one, empty conversation, and another, emptied of conversations — the giggling boisterousness of gangs of friends, the lonely gaze of forlorn flower vendor, an audible call of happy greeting here, a silent prayer of quiet desperation there, the incongruous thrum of horse hooves pounding on the sugary sand, frolicking youths drenched by the untiring waves, tired men wet with illicit desire, young children curious with fear and fun, the air moist with myriad emotions and the scene crackling with a cornucopia of events. All in front of a sea that is both a beginning and an end.

And in its unceasing churn, even a humour column can end on a sombre note.