What happens if you are in Chennai and have just enough time to do one thing, what do you do?
The answer is shopping!
Well…err…no, it is not true if because you ask me, I would have a very tough time between sleeping and eating. Why waste all the energy on shopping? But since my wife and her sister were in town, we had no choice but to opt for shopping instead. It was time for the ladies.
Despite planning to leave to T.Nagar (the heart of saree shopping) early in the morning, we ended leaving the apartment late in the afternoon – at the start of the peak hours (it was a working day and we preparing to go when office workers would be returning home). Timing was certainly not good but we were in India and seem to be affected by Indian time as well.
To make things slightly more “complicated”, my brother-in-law decided to dress up in more western style – short pants, bright socks and sports shoe. Looking at him at the apartment entrance reminded me of a joke by good buddy, Alex – the joke of the Chinaman going to Indian banana leaf restaurant and price of all dishes goes up with immediate effect (the joke came after we realised the price goes up at our favourite banana leaf restaurant when our Chinese friends join in. The joke stuck with us whenever we go to any banana leaf restaurant).
(The clue that tells the locals that we are foreigners here, making us an easy target for hiked up fares and price)
The auto price to travel from the apartment to T.Nagar was about Rs80 but the auto driver seeing my brother-in-law dressing up quoted Rs200! And there were 5 of us meaning we needed to take 2 autos – easy Rs400 burn. When we tried to argue with the auto driver, the normal excuse given was traffic jam and that some roads are now made into one way street (meaning they need to take a longer route) but all that was just a sorry excuse to squeeze money from us. We tried several other autos but the price was still high.
We then managed to stop one auto driver who wiling to take all 5 of us in one auto (he said if you guys can squeeze in, he has no problem) and he quote Rs150. It was a done deal since even with Rs80; it would have cost us Rs160 for 2 autos. We somehow managed to squeeze in which instantly became roadside entertainment to the locals – 4 grown-ups and 1 excited kid trying to squeeze into the small passenger compartment. We were holding to our dear life as the auto driver started to take several short cuts to beat the peak hours and reach T.Nagar in 20 minutes time.
T.Nagar was something like our Bukit Bintang or the Petaling Street. It was one of the MAIN shopping areas in Chennai and virtually surrounded by saree and jewellery shops. Our target was the saree shops and there is plenty of good names around – Sri Kumaran, Potties, Nallis, Saravana Stores, etc (a branch can be found in Little India, Klang or Penang, Malaysia).
(One of the many saree shops in the area – after the time passes, the crowd just get bigger and bigger)
Shopping for sarees was not exactly our cup of tea for the guys – so me and the big boss decided to sit down near one of the “more deserted” counters and see the busy shoppers doing their shopping. It was not Deepavali but it was still hell at the saree shops – the crowd at the entrance hardly moved and too hands was scrambling for the one piece of good saree on the table. The staff behind counters looked like some forced labourer from some Nazi concentration camp – extremely tired but can do nothing. I have seen them taking down several rolls of sarees but the potential customer takes one look and decides to try at another place and the staff have to tidy up the place again within seconds before attending to another customer. There was no time to stop and look patiently at the sarees – the crowd keep pushing you to the side. Thankfully the places where we went for shopping, there was space for us to stand aside and choose the better selection (too many to choose from).
(Inside Chennai’s Pottis – the crowd is less at places where sarees are sold at high price)
Me and my son just stood aside and watched the crowd and there was an interesting mix of it. There were people from the work, stopping by to buy clothes for work and family, people from outstation coming in with a large crowd just to buy clothes for some important function, tourists trying their hands on the local fashion and of course, Malaysians digging in for good, cheap stuff.
When we are inside the shops, we hardly kept watch of the time and the sound that was emanating from our empty stomachs. Only once we had decided to call it a day, we had realised that it was dark on the outside (but there was no let down in the number of the crowd shopping) and we were very hungry. It was time to look for a good, clean restaurant (or here in Chennai, they call it hotels) to have our late night dinner. My brother-in-law, who took charge as the “team leader”, asked around and many fingers pointed to a dark, deserted looking alley.
I did not like the looks of it but we decided to walk towards the alley, hoping for the best. We walked a couple of pace when we noticed a nice restaurant. The locals know the best. We walked in – the interior was dim but the service was top-class. The food was reasonably priced but perhaps due to the dimness of the interior lights, level cleanliness looked questionable.
To be continued in Part 5…