Long before the rooster, Triplicane is up, with prayers, kolam-drawers and people listening to the music of long ago. ANUSHA PARTHASARATHY captures the mood
In the wee hours of the morning, before motorcycles line the red-and-white walls of the temple and cars squeeze through its narrow roads, Triplicane looks like a sepia-tinted photograph, with its row houses and tree-lined mada streets.
It is nearly five and the temple's gopuram stands out from a distance, its emblem an incandescent white and red. Women in expertly draped saris walk briskly in pink flip-flops, wearing fresh marigolds, while others circumnavigate the temple, flowers in hand, some of which have been picked from trees along the way. At the entrance, shops that sell pooja paraphernalia are just beginning to open.
Loud recorded prayers engulf the surrounding streets in harmony with distant prayer calls from a neighbourhood mosque. Slowly, hands together in prayer, people begin to come out of their homes, heading straight to the temple doors, waiting for them to open.
Opposite the temple, Sri Krishna Bhavan is open for business, its brightly lit interiors already beginning to house hungry customers. Car Street is still sleepy but for the sound of raspy sweeping. Palm brooms are busy at work, and after their work is done, buckets of water are poured on these pathways and women busy themselves with rice flour, drawing practised patterns on the wet floor.
Tea stalls are open and music from the 1970s booms out of small radios, as customers bob their heads and reminisce about the old days, sipping hot tea. Some cows are curled up in the middle of the street while others feast on leftovers. An old Triplicane home called ‘Sarathy Nilayam' that has now become ‘Sree Vijaya Nursery and Primary School' has its doors open, beyond which lie a long corridor of rooms.
Most of the houses and shops surrounding the temple have etched its symbols on their facades. A left turn from Car Street and Singnachari Street comes into view. Kandasashti Kavasam emanates from one of the surrounding houses. The Triplicane Fund Kalyana Mandapam and Charities is bustling with food being carried in and out in large sacks and people shouting out instructions. Finally, around 5.30 a.m., the gurgled call of a rooster signals the coming of dawn.
The smaller markets behind the temple open with fresh stocks of vegetables being lifted out of carriers. The flower sellers are setting up shop, stringing fresh jasmine and roses into garlands.
Outside the provision stores, milk packets in plastic trays are stacked on top of each other, sometimes as tall as five feet. Turmeric-stained cloth bags are filled. Prices are haggled over.
Triplicane High Road is already busy, and as the first rays of light descend from the sky, traffic begins to thicken. Ratna Café has its regulars buried deep in newspapers while bachelors fill up the other tables. Hot discussions take place over vadai, idli and pongal swimming in pools of sambar poured from stainless steel mugs. The familiar aroma of filter coffee follows us everywhere. Zambazar with its ash-marked blue doors opens with clusters of bananas dotting the pavements and dark aubergines tumbling out of upturned bags.
At 6 a.m., three men, two playing the tavil and nadaswaram and one with a covered brass pot on his head, wake up the neighbourhood with their daily rounds around the temple. “It is only after the pot has gone for its rounds that the temple is opened,” says one of the shopkeepers outside.
The doors are opened and people rush in. “The viswaroopam pooja is over. You can all go in,” someone shouts from inside, while a staff member at the entrance nods and says, “This has been Triplicane's wakeup call every day over many years.”
Sure enough, the nadaswaram plays its last note, lights begin to flicker in nearby homes, and the revving of engines shatters the stillness of time.