Operation Sea Breeze or How to get a recharge in 24 hours

4 hours behind schedule! Our family is back in form, finally!! About time too! Breakfast at good old SLV (Raagi Gudda division) and we were off in three cars to Chilly Chennai.


The usual story of the tortoise and the hare, I tore off at breakneck speed, well ahead of the other two cars. A slight loss of concentration on my cousin’s and my part saw us take a miniscule detour into Krishnagiri. Well, it’s not really a detour. Apparently, a left turn is needed at the Krishnagiri junction under the flyover. We went over and into the bustling city center of Krishnagiri. A sudden realization dawned on the wife, a mute spectator until then and all hell broke loose. We were allegedly on the road to Salem and while this could have been brought to our attention BEFORE the damned turn in the highway, it was done when we were well past the town.


Anyway, no harm no foul and we sped back the ‘n’ km and regained our driving directions. Time loss numbers were being thrown around ranging from 15 minutes to 14 hours but for the record, we lost about 30 minutes though this will remain a bone of contention and fodder for healthy debate in the family for years to come.


Tamil Nadu road authorities or whoever posts the speed warning signs have an amazing sense of humor. ‘If you are married, divorce speed’ read one informative board. ‘Drive, don’t fly’ another helpful message proclaimed, to reduce our lead footedness (is that a word??). 'Know Safety, Know Injury, No safety, Know Injury' was yet one more example of a witty and diabolical play with words.


Our next pit-stop was the happening urban sprawl of Ranipet. While former residents claim that this is a township, it is no such thing. First of all, it’s about 73 degrees (C) in the shade and the place has a desperately desolate look about it. We were hard pressed to find a shop to buy water and short eats. However, our family stares challenge in the eyes and we did find a shack where we gobbled up cookies, chips and ice cream. As is normal for us, we created quite a ruckus and I’m sure the ‘township’ folk were glad to see us go.


Okay, I need to step back a bit here and talk about Operation Sea Breeze. The main reason for the third car on the trip was that 3 young men in our family were on a match-making mission for one of the young men and another cousin of mine (who had already arrived in Chennai). Actually, not the main reason; the only reason. The entire 5-6 hours of the journey witnessed frenetic planning and strategizing. This included mass SMS communications between cars. Planning continued at Chennai in my in-law’s home as we moved into attack/execution mode. Code words like ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Milk Shake’ and ‘Coffee’ were being bandied around in such a flurry that none of us actually remembered the decoded meanings.


Ah, and one more thing. We were all going to Chennai for my cousin’s wedding. And the fact that I’m remembering this nugget of information so late in the game shows clearly what our priorities were for the trip.


The wedding reception was the first event for us. Two of my nephews (early teens), not fully trained in the art of espionage and subterfuge, made a blatant display of looking for my cousin (the girl who was the latter half of the match-making mission whom we shall call ‘X’ from now on). And, even when I brought her to sit with us, the two apprentices plonked themselves right behind us intently watching every move. All that was missing was popcorn in their hands. We really need to do a better job in our training department.


After some confusion about a beach trip that night and a little bit of tension in the fold, we canned the plans and got back home for Sunday was going to be a long day. My elder cousin who does a great imitation of an earth mover with a missing exhaust pipe ensured we didn’t get too much sleep and we were all up and about by 5 a.m.


We actually got to see the entire wedding which was a great accomplishment. My cousin X also happened to be apple of another distant cousin’s eye and this brought her huge discomfort and unease. She really did not want the overt attention that was being lavished on her. Wheels within wheels, I tell you!!


Once breakfast was disposed off, we split up into two distinct groups. Aunties and other big girls went to the temple, the boys and X headed off towards the beach. Here I need to explain the sea breeze concept in Chennai.


Everywhere in the world, a lilting wind washes over from the water to the coast making it very pleasant for those dwelling near the sea. However, in Chennai, there is no breeze. Period! Locals claim that at 3 p.m. the fabled sea breeze begins to cool the land. While completely a figment of imagination, this belief is shared by all who belong. If you have never been to Chennai before and plan on making a visit there, make sure to bring up this topic. From the auto driver to the people you are visiting will give you a treatise about ‘sea breeze’ which cools Chennai incredibly warranting woolens and fur clothing apparel.


We picked up another cousin of mine from his house (to give us directions) and we spent a good portion of our time waiting outside his home and sitting in our cars with the AC running full throttle. We were also invited by an unknown person to come into my cousin’s house and his incessant requests could only be thwarted by my apprentice nephew who yelled ‘We have to go out of town’ and disappeared into the car, leaving the rest of us bemused and a little stunned by the turn of events.


Anyway, we were in Marina Beach, one of the more filthy coastal areas of Chennai at around 9 a.m. Brave as Chennai people are, they are not fool hardy and other than us, there was no one else near the water. We did make a fashion statement though, dressed in dhoti kurtha, pyjama kurtha, saree to name a few relevant beach-wear. The pyjamas that I was wearing is tight at the ankles requiring me to painstakingly wear the pyjamas like a woman’s stocking. Suffice it is to say that my pyjamas soon became flippers and was not very comfortable after that, especially when a big wave deposited some sand particles where the sun don’t shine. And, no, there was absolutely no sea breeze beyond the first 5 feet of the sea.


An interesting aspect of our beach visit was when I got my apprentice nephew to pick up a spring roll shaped piece of human crap that was traipsing merrily in the sand. I’m not too sure on the epoch when it had been deposited but I must say it was still shiny and looked fairly recent.


Once we were done with Marina beach, the cousin we picked up took us on a wild goose chase around the city of Chennai. We probably went over one particular bridge 7 times without knowing why. Post-mortem analysis showed that the hunt for a Badam milk joint was on. At one point, after clocking about 300 km in the city, the lead car pulled over next to a small Lassi stall. We all breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed our aching muscles. It was not to be! He just wanted to pick up a bottle of water! What’s with this state and water!!


More driving and we got to Grand Sweets & Snacks, the mother of all snack shops this side of the Vindhyas. The layout is very similar to a doctor’s office, with waiting areas and neatly arranged chairs. Once in a while, a complimentary snack would appear from the main door and a mad rush ensued to get a handful of whatever goody was being given away.


There was also the curious incident where my cousin spat out some Fanta on her Sari and my nephew turned an uncapped Fanta bottle to the side pouring more Fanta on my cousin’s sari. I cannot explain more here as I don’t know any more than what I’ve just narrated.


We got out of Grand Sweets & Snacks and then drove around aimlessly (with terrible coordination among the three cars) for another 282 km in Chennai and got to Sree Sweets or something. This was the magical oasis of Badam milk. Here we had 13 different types of chaats and one glass of Badam milk. Mind you, everyone wanted nothing more than Badam milk during entry.


Well now you know what’s next. Yes, you’re right. More driving! More passing the same places for the 17th time and again back to Grand Sweets & Snacks to pick up our sweets & snacks.


Our order was a wee bit over the top. My nephew brought out a small coffin sized carton which he could barely lift. The establishment was so pleased with us that they even gave us a free music CD.


Another highlight of our trip was my nephew’s constant urge to recharge his phone. From the moment he arrived in Chennai until about late afternoon the next day, his life’s ambition was to get his phone recharged. I’m sure there was some girl involved or else there is no way one youth could be so obsessed about recharging his phone.


All done with our shopping, eating, beaching and driving, we got home tired but not hungry. A few pleasant arguments about our departure time and then we were again off to Bangalore and this time we did not miss the turn at Krishnagiri, all thanks to my sharp eyesight, cat-like reflexes and uncanny driving abilities. Another successful and exciting trip in the books! Next trip – Kanchenjunga! NOT!!


Acknowledgments: A special thanks to Vasu, Eashwar and Abhiram for helping me recollect the signs of our times along the Bangalore - Chennai highway and also for filling in the juicy tit-bits in the story. Couldn't have done it without you guys!!

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