In Pictures: Chennai Diaries with Yogin Devan

I blossomed one fresh, spring morning in the dewy foothills of the Nilgiri range. My cousins came from the vales and dales of Ooty and Kodaikanal.

I did not know them – we met for the first time at Chennai Central Railway Station, excited as we knew not where we were headed. But before we could exchange stories, we were parted. My fate is now in the hands of a flower garland maker in Mylapore.

I long to be offered to the main presiding deity at the nearby towering Shiva temple. Thence my bad karma will be absolved. Or will I bedeck the neck of a bride and bless her marriage with my sweet fragrance? This too will be nice. Or perhaps I may be used to feed the ego of some thick-necked corrupt politician making false promises to the poor and powerless at a public rally. I hope not.

It will also be a worthy life if I am invited to celebrate the mellifluous voice of a carnatic singer before a packed auditorium?

My one dread is gracing the neck of a lifeless form or being strewn as petals along choked Chennai streets as the funeral procession winds its way to the accompaniment of swaying dancers, drum beats and firecrackers to the cremation grounds. I stand between happy and sad. I can only wait.

Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore

Good old brasso will take forever to do the job at Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. The Gods must be pleased with the mechanical polishing.


Madame Tussauds or Madras Tulasi

Doppelgangers of three famous personalities from South India were on display in the foyer at Kamaraj Auditorium during the annual Chennai music/dance season.

Late carnatic supremo M Balamuralikrishna was in true form fiddling with his with his fat, showy rings.

Former late president Abdul Kalam with long, grey hair in a centre part was smiling so benevolently.

You could not mistake MG Ramachandran (MGR), the popular actor and politician who served as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, with his trademark dark sunglasses and handkerchief in hands.


Tis the Chennai Music Season!

December 21: I decided to make an early start today to soak up some spiritual singing. Thanks to empty Chennai roads at this hour and a deft Uber driver, I made it from my hotel to Narada Gana Sabha in Alwarpet by 6.45am – a 15-minute ride that can take at least 45 minutes in heavy exhaust smoke and hooting-filled traffic.

I joined a group of mostly old women who had also come to listen to Nama Sankeerthanam – the musical, vibrant repetition of deities’ names. And wasn’t I surprised to see seated on stage the brilliant yet humble and friendly violinist Durai Srinivasan A great start to a new day.

This afternoon JA Jayanth is the principal artiste on the flute at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan mini hall in Mylapore. He is accompanied by B Ananthakrishnan on violin, Vijay Natesan on mridangam and G Chandrasekara Sharma on ghatam.

No need to remind yourself that this is a flute concert because the wind instrument pre-dominates, with the other instruments only providing gentle, measured support. Unlike so many among our Durban crop (yes, you know who you are) where each artiste on stage wants his microphone turned to max.

That’s when instead of a delightful main dish accompanied by subtle side dishes, you end up with biryani at best or khichri at worst. A structured concert will give each participant a turn to shine. 

Hardly an empty seat in the house for an evening carnatic katcheri.

But then that’s expected when the star singer is Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramaniam. Even 92-year old Padma Shri Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy, popularly known as Mrs YGP and a benefactor to education, was in the auditorium named after her in T-Nagar, Chennai.

A mind-blowing concert!

Rajesh Vaidhya in concert

Attended a veenai concert by undoubtedly one of the most intriguing and technically beguiling artists on this ancient South Indian stringed instrument, Rajesh Vaidhya.

If your ears are tuned to listening to traditional veenai playing by the likes of Emani Sankara Sastry, Veenai Dhanammal, Chitti Babu and E Gayathri, then Rajesh will not be your cup of tea.

Apart from his blistering speed, Rajesh’s performance is distinguished by his use of electric and amplified strings. He is a maverick, flamboyant, loves swinging his long hair from side to side, and distractingly interfering with his collar. His pieces make you feel or frown.

Each year I promise to boycott his concerts but get hijacked by daughter Saranya who is a great fan of his explosive style.  The curtain raiser for Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru at Kamaraj Arangam was award-winning Indian classical and playback singer Mahathi and a choir of adults and children.

The piano maestro Anil Srinivasan gave the concert a fusion tone and Ragavan Sai was a star on mrdangam.

Moods of Mylapore

In the shadows of the temple; garlands for the Gods; byways and bazaars; fresh veggies; radiant kolams; green peppercorn; ginger and lime; green chillies for safe travels and jasmine in the hair.

And when the spiritual feasting is over, it is time to feed the flesh…with Nando’s peri-peri chicken.

Foods of Chennai

Lunch at Krishna Restaurant at New Woodlands in Mylapore, Chennai, and lots of rice, refills of curries, gulab jamun and ice cream…all for only R40.

Dosa is a must try

Dosas – together with idlis (steamed savoury rice cakes) and pongal (cooked rice and yellow moong lentils) – are part of the staple breakfast diet in South India.

Dosas are like starved pancakes and are usually made from rice and urad dhal. This crepe-like food of India is wafer-thin and crispy, with a taste similar to sourdough bread. They are relatively easy to make.

I snapped away this morning as Green Park hotel chef Subramoniar Pandiar prepared a masala dosa (filled with mild potato curry). Served with sambar (a lentil-based stew-like curry), chutneys (coconut, tomato and peanut) and sweet/steaming Madras coffee, it’s the ideal way to start your day.

Along Chennai’s Marina Beach, one of the world’s longest beaches at 13km, is a seafood eatery which at lunchtime today had all the mouth-watering aromas to make me curse my vegetarian state.

My Chennai brother Kamleshwaran Mudliar took me for a “look, see and smell” to Sundari Akka Kadai (translated from Tamil, it means the shop that belongs to elder sister Sundari) which is so famous for seafood that it’s even on Google Maps.

Fifty-something Sundari opened her colourful kiosk a decade ago on a part of the beach where fishermen return with their small frail boats laden with the catch of the day.

Judging by the long queues that had formed for the various types of fish curry, fired fish and prawns, this is indeed a favourite spot for those who love seafood.

So desperate were the patrons that they hardly took notice as I clicked away as Akka and her team of helpers stirred pots of spicy fish and crab curry and kadais (woks) of plump, juicy prawns.

For R40, you can get a home-style dish comprising rice, crab, fish and prawns served on a banana leaf over a steel plate. You can stand, sit on plastic stools or get comfortable on the sand as you feast on the best seafood dishes in Chennai. 

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