Chennai Entry 14: Follow The Lettuce-Strewn Road

Another cloudless, warm day here in Chennai – the rainy season seems to have forgotten itself. I am, however, dressed in tights, a skirt and a long-sleeved blouse, as the air conditioning in the office is as frosty as ever. I bowed to the inevitable yesterday, and switched the air conditioning in my hotel room back on. Without it, I discovered, everything starts to smell of damp in the humidity. If I didn’t smell faintly of Indian sewage before, I’m pretty sure I do now. I attempted to fill up a hot water bottle before bed last night, but since there’s no kettle in my room, I had to use water from the tap. It was more of a lukewarm water bottle, and made no difference whatsoever.

This typesetter seem determined to show us a good time. Yesterday we went for lunch at a nearby hotel called The Beverley, which was a savoury-smelling buffet with curries, rice and deep-fried cauliflower (I’m discovering that the south of India has a deep and heartfelt relationship with the cauliflower). Then after work, Suriya (our account manager) took us to T. Nagar and its vegetable market. T. Nagar is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of people crossing the road at once. It’s a long, shop-lined, neon-lit street filled with people jostling for space on the uneven pavement. Narrow side streets stretch left and right, with yet more shops. You don’t know whether to watch your feet so you don’t trip over or stand in anything unpleasant, look straight ahead to avoid walking into fellow-shoppers, or gaze around at the colourful wares on display. This uncertainty provokes very slow walking and a sore neck. There are travelling salesmen (or women, or children) with trays of whistles, creepy bath toys and brightly coloured twine in bundles, all keen to share the wonders of their product with passers-by, despite the fact that I couldn’t imagine what any of it would be used for. The noise is deafening.

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The vegetable market was fantastic – about as typically Indian as you could wish. Wrinkled old women sit on the ground under hissing gas lamps surrounded by piles of onion, beans, spices and the ever-present cauliflower, all stacked neatly on leaves. I saw just about every vegetable I could think of and quite a few I’d never seen before. The floor is covered in vegetable mulch about four or five inches deep – I bet it’s a Mecca for rats. People on motorbikes, incredibly, still attempt to drive through the muddle, so every now and again you have to jump to the side, wobbling perilously into someone’s heap of plantain. Oh, and there were also a couple of very well-fed cows wandering aimlessly through the crowd. I bet they couldn’t believe their luck. It’s like discovering a street paved with chocolate bars.

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I am now falling victim to the perverse streak in my appetite that puts me off anything I eat too regularly. Having spent my entire childhood eating cornflakes for breakfast, I couldn’t touch them until about a year ago. I have only recently rediscovered the delights of the Pot Noodle, having sworn off them completely after my first year of university. And now, dang it, as much as I love curry in all its manifestations, I only have to look at the stuff to feel a faint but ever-strengthening revulsion. Twice a day for nearly three weeks is enough. Give me some mashed potato, for pity’s sake.

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