6.15 a.m., on Friday, the T. Nagar bus depot junction was calm. A few empty buses leave the depot, one after the other. The stretch from this end of Usman Road, to the point where the flyover to Mahalingapuram begins, is empty. It resembles a dream.
“This is the only time this area is so quiet. Wait for a few hours and see,” says S. Vijayakumar, busy making tea for his customers, some looking quite sleepy, with toothbrushes in their mouths. The sense of leisure that prevailed is so uncharacteristic of the locality.
P. Usha, a conservancy worker of Neel Metal Fanalca, is sweeping the opposite side of his shop on Nageswara Rao Road (near Panagal Park). “My colleagues cleared the garbage on this road last evening only. But look at it now,” she said, battling a reluctant white plastic bag caught below a lamp post. Her duty at this spot is for two hours beginning 6 a.m. “The plastic and paper waste here is a lot more compared to other areas.”
7.30 a.m.: An employee of Nic Nac Fast Foods nearby is dusting his table and arranging bottles of juice near his counter. “Business is very good these days. With such crowds, it can’t be otherwise, right?” From his nearly-eight years’ observation of the stretch every day, he says it is after 9 a.m. that the locality starts wearing its trademark chaotic look. He is right. Around 9 a.m., a number of vehicles from Doraisamy Subway proceed towards T. Nagar. “Today is a holiday. Otherwise, you will see a lot more vehicles,” he clarifies.
In a matter of half-an-hour, families teamed around different sari and apparel stores, transforming the area that till a while ago seemed quiet, into a noisy, aggressive, chaotic space that it has come to be known as.
It is precisely the fear of this crowd that prompted a family to start early. R.K. Ramadoss and his family, residing in Guindy, left home at 8 a.m. “We knew it will get crowded. Now we are done,” he says, with evident relief, as he is waiting for his car parked elsewhere.
The MTC has 74 routes, 359 services and 4,380 trips everyday from the T.Nagar bus depot. An additional eight routes, 23 services and 124 trips have been introduced for the festival season.
Where to park?
Lack of parking space is a major hassle. Many park along G.N. Chetty Road, near the T.Nagar post office and in lanes off Venkatnarayana Road, and then walk to the stores. They probably decided right, for hundreds of cars and two-wheelers are stuck around Panagal Park, in a massive jam, almost always through the day.
The crowd continues to swell. Around noon, there are at least over 2,500 persons inside a popular store. “We must have had about 6,000 since morning,” says the manager.
Shoppers wait in long queues to get into the store. Inside the store, the employees are busy regulating the crowd, shouting: “Move fast,” “Saris in the first floor,” and “Don’t use this staircase to go down.”
Safety, a concern
Some shoppers were too occupied in elbowing to make way that they did not seem to hear. There are fire exits, but too crowded as hundreds descend these staircases, using it at the exit route. Huge boxes and cartons are stacked along the sides. “Usually this exit is clear. It is like this only today,” the manager justifies.
If it is crowded and problematic, why then do shoppers come here? R. Sounderarajan, the security personnel at a neighboring sari store, explains: “From vegetables and talcum powder, to saris, dresses and jewellery, you get everything here. People will naturally come.” “It is cheap and best,” says S. Vijayalakshmi, from Koyambedu, waiting outside another popular store at 2.15 p.m. With her seven-month-old baby sleeping on her shoulders, she says, “I went in at 10 a.m. and finally we managed to get something for all of us.”
According to store owners, many of their customers come from Puducherry, other States and even abroad. The sale per day could go up to Rs.1.5 crore for some of the bigger cloth stores.
The locality is a lot dirtier and even more crowded by 6 p.m. Plastic bags, mango pieces, tender coconut shells, paper cups, dry flowers, bus tickets and cigarette butts are strewn around. Ms. Usha’s (conservancy staff) job the next morning has only got more difficult.
Around 8 p.m., families begin their retreat and the traffic situation, seems slightly better. But the buzz is there till around 9.30 p.m. At 10 p.m., shops are still open, but with lesser people inside and more breathing space. It is 10.30 p.m. and the tea stall at the junction has few people, looking very fatigued. “We had good business today,” smiles the youngster at the tea counter. Asked what according to him would solve the chaos, a store owner remarked: “Where, in T.Nagar? There is just no hope!”