How to cross Nageswaran Road in T Nagar, Chennai

by prash on 08 Dec 2006

I am just back from a 3-week whirlwind vacation to India and now I just need a couple of more weeks to get over it. Most of the time was spent in my native city of Chennai and I learnt quite a few useful things this time. However, it was the inevitable trip to Kumaran Silks in Pondy Bazaar, T Nagar, Chennai that taught me the most useful lesson of my life and it’s only fair I share it with the loyal audience of my blog.

It deals with something you thought you learnt when you were 5: how to cross the street. Now if you are starting to get that familiar smug look on your face (you know what I mean) and chanting right-left-right-cross, then read on. You might be surprised.

On an average day there are about 14.2 million people shopping on Nageswaran Road in T Nagar. Now that statistic alone would not be surprising until you realise that Chennai’s population is only about 7 million. If the tourism and advertising industry ever got to hear about the massive influx of shoppers to this little area, all hell could break loose – oh wait, too late – that has already happened.

nageswaran road, t nagar, chennaiBut first, a little history of Nageswaran Road. This little road borders Panagal Park and is home to such stores as Kumaran Silks, Nalli Silks and T.B.Jewellery. There’s two way traffic on this road (I mean pedestrians walk in both directions on the road) and vehicles weave around what little space is left. All this chaos leads to the quintessential question: how does one cross this road? There are two ways to do this and I will be kind enough to number them so you won’t miss them:

1. Look right, look left, look right again and then cross the road when there is no oncoming vehicle in either direction. That is indeed sage advice and probably made sense in the “days of yore”. Today, too, you can certainly try this method but after 3 days of swiveling your head and looking in both directions only to still find yourself on the same side of the road, you will realise that a new tactic is in order. Which brings me to the next interesting characteristic of Nageswaran Road: Have you ever wondered why all the big stores are on the same side of the road?

It all started when Nalli built its first store here circa 1560 A.D. (shortly after Akbar The Great ascended the throne in Delhi). By that time the population here was already in the millions and parking spots for horse-drawn buggies were fast becoming a rarity. Legend has it that many smaller stores set up shop on the opposite side of the road as Nalli (today that would be considered sheer idiocy). These smaller store-owners quickly realised the obvious: most people came to T Nagar to shop at Nalli and once they got off on that side of the road, that was that. After several unsuccessful attempts to cross the road, most people resigned themselves to shopping some more at – you guessed it – Nalli!

This prompted an increasing number of larger stores to setup shop on the same side as Nalli while those on the opposite side simply closed shop. Today this “loser” side of the road has as its residents only the descendants of the original store-owners who since gave up on crossing the road and spend most of their time gazing wistfully across the road at the various jewellery and silk saree stores. Once a month some aboriginal lunatic on this side who just can’t take it anymore will make a mad rush across the road only to be smashed under the wheels of the new breed of “black-smoke-emitting-people-carrying-green-boxes” – which we simply know of as “Managara Perundhu Buses”.

Of course things are not so great on the Nalli side either. It simply consists of two kinds of people: those inside the stores and those outside trying to get in. After a while both sides get tired of what they are doing and swap places. A very small percentage of this population has finally perfected the art of crossing this road and one of them was kind enough to explain the procedure to me and I shall number this method 2:

2. Close your eyes and slowly start crossing: You might think this is a recipe for disaster but if you follow exactly this procedure you will reach the other side safe and sound. No one knows how it works but the typical modus operandi is as follows:

Close your eyes and pray to your favorite Gods that you will break a hundred coconuts in their temple if you make it across (most people don’t pray this hard even before their management CAT exams or before taking an international flight). Next step: slowly start walking across the road.

This apparent act of suicide will be met with a plethora of violent reactions from the vehicle-drivers but each is a sign of recognition of your presence so you should be happy. First is the set of loud honks followed quickly by the choicest words in the Madras-Tamil langauge. If you hear “Saavugraakki” (Death-wisher?) and “Ootla soltiya”? (Written the suicide note yet?) then consider yourself successful.

You might also feel loud gushes of wind as autos and call-taxis whiz by, but if you are scared you are grossly underestimating the driving prowess of the average Madras driver. Also, if you are carrying bags of purchases, now would be a good time to either put them on your head or simply swallow them to reduce chanes of injury. The good news is that before long you will find yourself on the other side.

Of course, the aboriginals on the other side will then proceed to systematically rob you of everything you own and you can begin this whole road-crossing operation once again.

[tags]t nagar, panagal park, chennai, madras[/tags]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Perarasu November 16, 2007 at 21:18

I thought the city of Madras itself was established in the 1600s. How was that the stores at TNagar were established even prior to the city itself. The population of the city around 1560 was in millions is unbelievable.

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