Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Marina memory to celebrate Madras day

My childhood summers were always   with my cousins at Madras. And during those vacation times, apart from the simple family times we spent at home, outings meant going to  relatives house, hotels, temples , bazaar streets, parks and the beach. While  most of the outings would be in my Thatha’s sturdy Amby MSR 2277 which carried 2 elders and 8 children( some times our maids nieces too would accompany making it 10 and my elder mama would tease us as “Mazhalai pattalam”  ( childrens army) , the beach  outing alone would be by walks  & cycle rickshaw  since thatha never accompanied us.

While each simple chore and incident of those stolen days of my childhood is worth recording, right now I will make this a beach  post as today August 22 is a special day.

Beach as I said was one of our regular play outs. Although beach was walkable from our grand parents home, the planning would take more than a week because our elders who accompanied  us like mami, chitti, amma or perimma   at home were busy in the evening. They had to cook meals, go to temple especially if it was Friday it would be the special archanai at kapali koil, attendng to unexpected guests( guests were regular and generally most of them came unannounced). So, till the beach outing came around, we had to be content with catching the beams of the lighthouse which fell on our terrace at night and enjoying the cool sea breeze all through the day on the terrace even on hot summer noons.

Finally, when the time came for the beach outing, we would be suitably dressed in frocks so that we don’t carry beach sand home and merrily prance on the serpentine kutcheri road and reach the Santhome beach sometimes stopping to  gaze at some of  the shops enroute.

   Santhome beach was generally an unmaintained beach where the fishing community lived  while Marina a few kms away was the fun spot.   So we would walk on the sand, our legs would’nt carry fast on the sand    but we would try to run and catch one another and walk a while till our feet came in touch with the surfing ocean of Marina. The next half hour or more would be fun and frolic in the salty air  with the ocean tides… building castles  in sand with tunnels,, ducking  our feet from the crawling crabs, sitting on the waves and drenching ourselves , burying our legs with each approaching wave, collecting shells, splashing a hand full of water on our cousins, spitting the salty beach water if ever it got into our mouth,  running away and into the wavy beach , looking out for the beams from the light house. ….all these till it almost got dark and the final warning came from our elders who till then were calling out our names like in attendance register inbetween  their family talks.

Amidst, all this  we would notice the “Sundal boy’ – a little boy  in a worn out dress and a metal tin carrying ‘Sundal” and calling out “ Manga Battani sundal”.  This is one of the signature street eats of Chennai beach . Despite our many requests , our elders never got this for whatever reason and I have never tasted this during my childhood days. 

On our way back home, we would be treated to a Choco-bar or a softy ice cream at the corner shop of Kutcheri road across the Santhome beach and then with darkness around, we would hire a cycle rickshaw , huddle  into two rickshaw and reach home carrying the beach sand in our wet dress. The whole pathway from the front door to the backyard would be scattered with beach sand  that fell of the dress and we had to wait turns to get into the wash room and freshen up.

Such simple moments that were part of my glorious  childhood that I have spent at Madras are the reasons I love Madras. Rest of the reaons like “hot weather”, “ sweat”, “ conservative city” etc pales in front of my childhood memories. Thank you Madras for giving me such fanciful moments. These will not be forgotten for they are stored in the crevices of my heart and in such blog posts for eternity. All I need  is some solitude and a trigger like your birthday to bring out such posts.  

In the past many years, I have made many short visits to madras but I could never prioritize a beach outing there.  Last year, on our way back from Singapore trip, my teens insisted we must visit the Chennai beach and so with just 12 hours at disposal to exit Chennai, we took off some time in the early morning to visit the Marina. It was a different experience this time, I never felt like stepping into the bay, I was sulky about getting wet and the sand sticking to the wet dress. I just sat on the shores and watched the bobbing ships, the waves surf up and down. I was more into observing the joggers the  kids playing around, the early morning tea shops and hotels on wheels.  I was also on the  look out  for the “Sundal boy” and  realized It was too early for “sundal” since they do brisk business only in the evening.

The elusive ‘Sundal’ which by the way is a medley stir fried boiled lentils, grated coconut, carrot , finely chopped mangoes sold in paper cones.  . Years later , I did eat this just once and that 6 sense taste still lingers now ofcourse, I make them at home….but I still want to experience that Sundal popping them slowly ,gazing at the azure waters , sitting on the beach of Chennai under the evening sky.. This is on my “to do” list on a visit to Madras.

And as i mentioned before today's beach post is special because only the first city of modern India can boast of the second longest beach - The Marina (after Miami) and somwhere down there on the shores and waves, it  holds the foot prints of my childhood.

Happy 376 birthday to you Madras - my birth town and the city that gave loads of lovely memories. 

                            On my "to do" list to eat beach sundal in a paper cone sitting on the Madras shores.


  1. Hey Ashaji,

    As always, I love reading your posts. This one too took me back to my childhood holidays, usually spent in beaches, except that it wasnt in India.

    Madras is a city that has fascinated me because I have heard so many interesting stories about it. But I have never had the opportunity to visit it. I truly plan to and will visit this Beach that you have written about. What I enjoy most about your post is your description of what is and what was, for example about the little boy who is carrying a metal tin carrying ‘Sundal” and calling out “ Manga Battani sundal”. How you looked forward to the choco icecream afterwards....I truly loved reading your post.

    Happy 376 birthday to you Madras - though I have never been there to see you but some day I plan to visit.

    1. Thank you Sapna....yes do visit has some lovely places, but due to globalization like all metro cities this city too has changed. Development has robbed some of its essence but it still has managed to retain some of its character.

  2. Those were the days. But Marina beach has changed a lot now. That old charm is not there. Just FYI. I studied for my Bachelor's degree at the Presidency College.

    1. Oh! So you are Presidency alumni....nice to know SG and Thank you

  3. I remember I had gone to the beach in 1983 i was a school kid then.. after that i went in 2000 and it has all changed and now 2015 i bet it has changed a LOT more ..


    1. True Bikram it must have changed although i hav'nt visited this recently...visited two years back that too on a morning when there was less crowd.