Chennai is a behemoth of hidden treasures. Hidden admist its myraid network of roads,streets and canals lies a story waiting to be told. After days of circumventing these places for want of time, I decided to go ahead and see what lay in store and what unfolded before me were tales of common men and women , of lives interwoven to create a culture so unique and so distinct.
My first stop on this journey is a small suburb popularly called as TRIPLICANE.
"Tiru-alli-keni" ( Temple surrounded by a pond filled with alli- a kind of tulip ) is a crowded suburb sandwiched between 2 giants Mylapore and Broadway(TOWN as we call it) . Dominated by the brahminical community , it provided a steady stream of clerical workforce to the East India Company and later to the govt offices that sprung along the shores of the Marina.
The workforce attracted the young bachelors towards chennai and so sprung the mansion concept of housing which exists even today.
"The first right from the temple , down the alley, and left - you will find Manohar mansion. Raja accompany madam to mano ."
It was definitely a little more dicey to find the mansion than what Thatha sitting on the thinnai thought .
"This is mano." -Raja
"This ??? A Mansion ??? "
A two storeyed pale yellow building with the left structure crumbling stood in front of me. A soggy wooden ladder was placed to climb on to the first floor. I for once hesitated on if it could carry the burden of .... kg woman all the way up, but what the heck anything for getting in there.
A hall with 5 rooms on either side and a common breathing space in the middle. Looked more like a hostel but with families. None of the rooms had bathrooms or toilets. There were common ones at the end of the mansion which had to be used in turns.
The 5 rooms were occupied by 14 people. Clothes hung everywhere. It was 4:00 pm , the rooms were not all occupied, excepting those who worked in night shifts. I didnt see a kitchen anywhere.
Raja understood from my gaze and informed "Saapadu from Kasi Vinayagam for this mansion".
Kasi Vinayagam mess, another trademark of Appumulli street in Triplicane. Mess are again run by brahminical communities with an entrepreniual touch. These days though, there are Chettinad , Kerela and even a Chinese mess. Breakfast, Lunch , dinner all for 50bucks a day . Dinner alone costs Rs. 20.Boss, it really pays to be in a mess.
For the bachelors ( they are of two kinds married and unmarried) Mansions are a cost effective place. A room costs 500 bucks a month on sharing basis. With dinner served for 25 days it worked out to just about Rs.1000. Thats leaves a lot for sending home.
Manikantan walked in from office.He was an office staff with one of the facility services. Stuffing and franking mail was his key performance area at work. He shared his spartan room with 4 others he met here. He started talking about life in a mansion but slowly ...
It is tough -Queues for bio breaks,Mosquitoes,Water problems, Privacy issues ,Social Stigma. But it has its share of fun also. We have screening of movies in the common room , on a dhoti tied across. We have an implicit bond amongst us. No good mornings, or good nights but when we feel desolate and miss home, we all understand.
"Mani Mani ," a voice yells from below. That is Selva. He was mani's room mate untill 3 months ago .He moved in to a proper house in Aynavaram. But on friday evenings he is here to play gully cricket and go for dinner to Kasi's .
Selva walks in.
"Polama da, Bat kondu va?" ( Shall we go, bring the bat along)
As the duo walk out of the mansion onto the streets, they carried something with them. A hope for a better pitch ahead and a part of Tiru - alli- keni.
Abrrrrrrrrrr The Auto moves along....