T. Nagar night organised as part of Chennai Sangamam reverberated with rustic flavour
Wednesday evening, Venkatnarayana Road, T. Nagar. The street is abuzz with activity: village artistes performing here, there and everywhere, with people crowding around; stalls dishing out a variety of native cuisines doing roaring business; the crowd milling about, taking in the sounds and colours of T. Nagar night.
‘Urban-style cool' read the legend on the red T-shirt worn by a man in track pants, with a red cap with a little fan on top. That about summed up the spirit of the festival, Chennai's version of the White Nights festival of northern European cities, celebrating the midnight sun of the summer solstice, a carnival of the streets.
Aaron Welch, from Denver, Colorado, a lanky American, accompanied by his petite Indian wife, Karishma, was savouring the Chettinad food on offer. “There's no food quite like Indian food,” he says. He is no stranger to India, but both Aaron and Karishma seemed taken in by the festive occasion. “I am from Pune, so I'm used to Sankranti, but Pongal is something else,” Karishma concedes, as she takes in the scene at Natesan Park.
On stage, colourfully dressed characters are enacting a drama. There are dozens of policemen on duty, who are also enjoying the event. I wonder what exactly is going on; head constable Elumalai of the T. Nagar police puts me right. “This is a form of theru koothu (street theatre),” he informs me. “The troupe is enacting a chapter from the epic Mahabharata,” he adds, helpfully.
All around the park, people are enjoying themselves, eating, drinking, getting their palms read (for free), or having their hands coloured and painted (free again). There's kili josiam (parrot astrology), mehendi artistes, and vendors hawking balloons and other knick-knacks.
Across the road, at the playground, there's more activity. A group of artistes from Madurai district are taking a well-deserved break. Ilayaraja is keen to talk: his Paraiattam troupe is sitting beside its drums, and he says the 10-man group from Vadipatti village is having a good time.
Meanwhile, a group of Badaga dancers from Ooty in the Nilgiris has just finished its act. Lingaraj and Anand Kumar are flushed from their performance. They are having the time of their lives, they tell me. They're pleased as Punch when I tell them I grew up in Coonoor. They've been accommodated at the MLAs hostel, and have been performing in various parks round the city.
Fr. Jegath Gaspar Raj of Tamil Maiyam, one of key organisers of Chennai Sangamam, points out that the extravaganza owes a lot to the active involvement and support of the Panagal Park and South Usman traders. The traders' association voluntarily came forward to make all the arrangements, which gives it the community participation that is key to the success of the festival.
The crowd is loving it all; a group of young girls joins in the revelry, matching a group of male dancers step for step, vigorously mimicking their actions. Even the police seem relaxed: there are two Deputy Commissioners of Police in attendance, and one of them, Paneerselvam, DCP Traffic (South) thinks the crowd should be well over 10,000. Any problems, I ask, and he shrugs his shoulders and says, “No, none whatsoever. Everyone is having a good time.”
That is certainly true: T. Nagar night is a night of fun and revelry and festive cheer for everyone: performers, visitors, the policemen and women on duty, even the itinerant reporters such as me.