The Egmore Museum had a bunch of unexpected visitors on Thursday. Around closing time, men in fuchsia pink turbans and women with huge crimson bindis on their foreheads, each wearing a bright-coloured saree, were still looking at ageing statues and engravings from another era, even as other visitors to the museum watched them from the corners of their eyes.
Not oblivious to the unwanted attention, the group quickly walked, one behind another, past the door frame metal detector of the Archaeology Gallery. A few curious ones looked back when the ‘door' kept beeping.
Outside the museum, there were hordes of them, some squatting in groups under a tree and others hurriedly getting into a white mini van. I quickly walked to a bunch of unassuming women sitting the farthest from the vans. In the 10 minutes it took to ask where they were from, in Hindi, two more vans were filled up.
A woman wearing an emerald green saree, the only one among her peers to understand Hindi, told me they were a group of 160 people that hailed from Beed in Maharashtra.
They had arrived in “Madhras” in the morning and were leaving for Rameshwaram in the evening. “Pura gaon” (entire village), she said, had come for a ‘yatra', before they too were quickly packed into the van.
An elderly man, curious about my dialogue with the women, approached me next. When I said I worked for a newspaper, he stared blankly at me, until a young boy came to my rescue and asked, in broken Hindi, if I was a “reporter”, pointing to the notepad in my hand. Jaikender Khakri smiled and seemed to loosen up a bit.
We saw the “samudra” in the morning, he said, shaping waves with his hands, before the young boy, Narayan Shinde, butted in to ask if I knew where the IPL matches were being played. He seemed disbelieving when I said Chepauk was the venue for the T-20 matches.
“Are you sure it is not Nehru Stadium?” another youngster said. “They play cricket, with bat and ball… IPL,” he repeated to make sure I got it right. When I assured them the Chennai Super Kings played at Chepauk, the boys jumped in glee. “We will definitely pass by the stadium on our way out of the city in the evening,” Narayan said triumphantly. Chennai city is the “besht”, he said while his pal signed off with a “Jai Maharashtra”.
When I asked if I could take a picture with them, the elderly man pointed to his bare, wrinkled wrist, and signalled, ‘no time'. It was time for the last van to leave.