It’s a lovely evening and you want to put on your smartest clothes and step out. But you don’t want to spend three hours in a cinema theatre. You don’t want to go to a restaurant either — you’ve been eating out too often of late. You don’t want to go shopping because you already have too many of the things you’d want to buy — or maybe you don’t have the cash.
How about going to the Marina? Well, would you really want to do that? For one, it’s a long walk in the dirty sand (which means you can’t wear your best shoes/sandals); two, you have to navigate your way through countless amorous couples and unruly groups of people who’ve never seen the sea before. No matter how much you love the sea, Marina is not the place where you make a fashion statement.
Almost every city worth its salt in the world has spots where the young and fashionable — even the old who are young at heart and just as fashionable — hang out in the evenings. New York has Times Square, London has Piccadilly Circus, Mumbai has Bandra Bandstand and Marine Drive, Delhi has Connaught Place and various open-air malls, Kolkata has Park Street and City Centre, Bangalore has Brigade Road, and so on.
Chennai has no such place. There is no place at all where you can wander aimlessly, intoxicated by the evening air, noticing people and being noticed, that too without spending a penny. Once upon a time, until about half a century ago, Mount Road must have been one such place.
It can still become one such place — a fashionable hangout — provided my fantasy comes true. The fantasy is simple: once Metro Rail finishes all the digging and tunnelling on Mount Road (because of which much of the road today has become one-way), traffic should be barred between Spencer Plaza junction and Wallajah Road junction.
This short stretch, joining the oldest mall of the city and the offices of the oldest existing English newspaper in the city (The Hindu, that is), should be completely free of vehicular movement, allowing Chennaiites to not only eat, drink and make merry on the road but also familiarise themselves with the numerous heritage buildings and other landmarks that dot the stretch. History, fun, fashion — what a deadly combo!
Just imagine: the stretch being flanked by eateries and pubs that spread out their tables on the pavement. Then there would be shops that sell branded stuff, shops that sell their Chinese imitations, and shops that sell local handicraft. In case you want to watch a movie, you can always hop over to Express Avenue or Sathyam or the good, old Shanthi theatre. In case you want to buy books, there is always Higginbothams, apart from the pavement stalls where, if you are lucky, you can buy diamonds for the price of coal.
Don’t want to spend money? No problem. Just take a stroll on the stretch. You can window-shop, smell the food, watch other people savouring their drinks, learn a few lessons in history and feel good that you are a citizen of Chennai. If you feel hungry and want to linger on, grab a table by the pavement and order a plate of vadas.
And while you savour the vadas and coffee, several metres under you, a chunk of Chennai’s population would be travelling in Metro Rail. What a sandwich of the past, present and future — life can’t get any better for Chennai if my fantasy comes true.