On the peacock trail from Mayilapuram to Mylapore

I gaped at the Roman merchant as he passed me by in a parrot green silk toga with a  golden border. And then gaped some more as two more Roman merchants, in bright blue silk togas with flowery motifs, strolled past me in the marketplace. Romans in Mylapore? And that too in colourful silk togas?

“Sudha…Hey, Sudha? Are you listening? Where have you gone off?” a voice broke into my rambling, and rather colourful, imagination.

“Sorry, Akila,” I replied a little bit sheepishly. “Your mention of Mylapore’s Roman connection triggered off some time travel. The idea of Romans in colourful silk togas was too delicious to resist.”

It is a quarter to eight in the morning and I am standing outside the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai. I am there to explore and experience the many layers of Mylapore through the Peacock Trail, a walk conducted by Storytrails, an organisation that promises to give “a glimpse into the local way of life, using… stories as the medium”.

Akila is my storyteller and guide for this trail, and her narration of Mylapore’s rich past is so vivid and detailed that my journey of exploration through this ancient place is an unforgettable experience. And one that I hope you will also be able to undertake with me as I relive that experience through this post. :-)

The main gopuram of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, can be seen rising up in the background

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A visit to Dakshinachitra

A welcoming Kolam and flowers greets visitors

The glass of chilled mosambi juice was a life-saver. The blinding white heat and the humid haze that had assaulted my senses from the time I had landed in Chennai dissipated a wee bit.

I became aware of the quiet and calm of Dakshinachitra, “a living museum of art, architecture, crafts, and performing arts of South India”.

Located on the East Coast Road in Muthukadu, Dakshinachitra is about 21 km south of Chennai. The sprawling, 10-acre complex houses carefully recreated heritage structures, traditions and culture from the four southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is also a hub for performing arts, a retreat for artists, a learning centre for students, an exhibition space, a place to visit for the culturally inclined tourist… And a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time, particularly to see the heritage structures.

So when the opportunity to visit Chennai came up about 10 days back, I planned my itinerary in such a way that I would go straight to Dakshinachitra from the airport itself. So far so good. What I had not accounted for, or rather ignored what everyone told me, was the severity of the infamous Chennai heat. I mean, how much more different could Chennai humidity be from Mumbai’s? By the time I reached Dakshinachitra, I was almost dehydrated and was having fond thoughts about Mumbai weather !

A shady courtyard at Dakshinachitra

Though the mosambi juice and lots of water revived me enough to brave the heat and take a walk through the heritage houses, the relentless heat made it difficult for me to really enjoy my visit there. I did manage to walk through the entire section of heritage structures, but my mind and camera did not register or record everything I saw.

But do allow me to share with you what the mind and the camera recorded. :-)

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A morning at Marina Beach

The Guest Post Series onMy Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. Though the guest posts are not always by fellow bloggers, the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by a fellow blogger, Puru of Shadows Galore, who writes about his travels, photographs, memories and more. I eagerly wait for Puru’s travel posts as he is always visiting and writing about places that I have wanted to visit. My favourites are his posts on Sri Lanka and Angkor Wat. His series on Learning Photography is simple, easy and with instructions that actually work. In this post, Puru presents a photo essay on a morning spent at the Marina Beach in Chennai.

My last few days in Chennai saw me exploring the city and going to places where I had always thought of going but never actually did. So today I went to Marina Beach, the third longest beach in the world and the largest in Asia. Of all the beaches in Chennai, it happens to be the most dynamic and hence the most well known.

So early at 4:30 AM, I woke up and started for the beach with my camera. It was quite dark yet and the horizon had just started turning a few shades lighter. As the sun rose, I took a lot of photographs and I am sharing some of them here for you:

A crow signals the day break

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The nosy co-passenger

It was going to be a long journey to Mumbai, I told myself, as I surveyed my co-passengers in the train compartment. A family of four, comprising an elderly woman, a young man, a young woman, and a toddler (along with 4 large suitcases and 5 bags), were struggling to adjust their luggage under the seats and themselves on the seats. The elderly woman was the boss. No argument there. She decided how and where the luggage was to be placed, the seating and sleeping arrangements for her family, etc. She bullied the man (her son), was quite nasty to the woman (her daughter-in-law), and kept calling the child (her granddaughter) an idiot. She picked a fight with the coolie and shouted him down with the choicest abuse and sheer volume. She had a “Lalita Pawar” (for information on who she was, click here) kind of look about her with a screechy voice to match, and it didn’t take me long to name her that.

Yes, it was going to be a long journey to Mumbai in a Sleeper Class coach of the Mumbai-bound Madras Express. It was the year 1997 and a beautiful November morning in Chennai and a perfect day for travel. But somehow with the arrival of my Lalita Pawar,  the day just didn’t seem so beautiful any more.

Once settled, Lalita Pawar turned her attention to her co-passengers. And that was my cue to hastily bury my nose in a book. It was a look that I had seen many-a-times during my travels. It was a look that promised to dig out personal information from a co- passenger, particularly a young woman travelling alone. In fact, I could almost see Lalita Pawar rubbing her hands with gleeful anticipation when she saw me. Though I could feel her eyes boring into me, I did not look up from my book.

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A sepia-toned history of my family

Sometime back, I came across a fantastic blog titled The Indian Memory Project and instantly fell in love with the blog’s aim—to “trace the history of India, its people, professions, development, traditions, cultures, settlements and cities through pictures found in personal family albums and archives”. So, recently, when I came across some old family photographs, I thought, why not create my own family’s memory project and share them with you on this blog. So read on…

But first a little geographical background of my family to set the context—we are originally from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. My father’s side of the family is from Tharuvai, and my mother’s side of the family is from Narasinganallur—both villages in Tirunelveli district.

This family memory project begins with the story of my great-grandfather (my father’s paternal grandfather), T. Ganapati Sastri (1860–1926), a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Ganapati Sastri had very humble beginnings in Tharuvai—a place he left for Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in his 16th year for economic reasons.

Trivandrum, c. 1915: My great-grandfather, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. T. Ganapati Sastri

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