What has Chennai got to offer me? That was the first question, which popped in my head as I left Hyderabad forever. Unbearable heat, dusty lanes, littered streets, noisy buses, haggling auto drivers was how I perceived Chennai to be. And I guess that’s the general opinion of many people, who have not lived or don’t stay in Chennai. To many people, the city means horrible weather, watery mess during rainy days, crazy traffic and long, backbreaking journeys. With so many negatives, it’s easy not to notice the positives of this wonderful city, which is also perhaps the most underrated city in India. Just like the people of the city, Chennai lacks pretence and stands out for its simplicity and unique cultural identity.
As much as techies would love this city for the plethora of jobs it provides, people who enjoy good music, food and culture in its purest form will rate Chennai very high. The city is a big no-no for snobs and fashion followers. However, the USP of Chennai is the vast, sandy beaches that provide its “makkal” with the much needed space, breeze, entertainment making up for all the negatives that are mentioned above. Among the beaches, the Elliot's beach in Besant Nagar, which is lovingly called “Bessy beach” by the yuppies in that area endears itself to most of the visitors. With a variety of restaurants and shops dotting it, the beach caters to the different needs of people. There are some exceptionally good eat outs for the foodie in you, well-laid pavements for strollers, umpteen “bajji’ stalls for bajji lovers, cozy corners for cupids, quiet spaces for star gazers, loners and contemplators, and fun zones for the youngsters.
Being a regular at the Bessy beach, I see people enjoying long walks late in the night without worrying about eve-teasing or chain snatching, thanks to the reasonable security cover. When hungry, they drop in at any of the eating joints and emerge back recharged only to slouch on the high-rise pavements and resume their conversations. Then, there are “Damaru” sellers, flower sellers, magazine sellers, peanut/sundal sellers and self-proclaimed future prophesiers adding to the hue. A particular Qwality walls icecream cart seller switches on the FM music station at full volume attracting music lovers like me, thereby also making some brisk sales. The beach on Saturdays and Sundays is crowded and noisy but on weekdays it is calm. One can unwind by taking in the vastness of the sea, eavesdropping on some rare intellectual discussions happening outside Barista coffee shop opposite the beach and just chilling out watching some teenagers practising guitar lessons with their friends.
A few months back there was beach volleyball played with participants from different parts of the world. The beach also hosts cultural programmes like folk dances regularly. Some time back before the ‘Krishna Janmaashtmi,’ there were bhajans sung by the ISCON group as they kept distributing pamphlets about the upcoming event and celebration in their temple.
Bessy beach has not only been a witness to love stories but also to sordid tales of separation. An acquaintance who was committed to his woman was shell-shocked when she broke up with him near the Karl Schmidt memorial on the beach. When asked if he has stopped going to the beach entirely, he answered that the beach was his only solace during those depressing days. Just like the waves on the Bessy beach her thoughts will keep coming and receding, he confessed. And just like the beach, he said he will evolve, move on and accept the changes in his life. Though I found his analogy insensible, I could sense how much the Bessy beach has inspired and influenced him giving the necessary strength to move on in his life.