If somebody bottled the energy on the streets of Parry’s Corner, and sold it, we’d all be on a perpetual high. It’s that colourful, bustling and full of energy. Each street here has its own character. Every time I come back, I see something different.
It’s part of my creative process to wander about the streets of Chennai, with a camera in hand, and click pictures of whatever catches my fancy. One such neighbourhood that I keep going back to is Parry’s, and still, I have just seen a quarter of it, if that. From markets of spices, and household goods, to hardware shops and places where they make hoardings... But if you ask me the street name I wouldn’t know — I come in search for one thing, find another, keep walking.
Several projects came out of my interactions with the streets. In one I drew details of the streets, such as a stack of tyres in the corner, or a cracked pavement: things that are so ubiquitous that you don’t notice them but are what create that landscape.
I also record the ambient noise of the markets. I listen to it later, and may use it as background for films I make. Or it could be just to recapture the experience and see if it tells me something different without the associated images.
For a long time, I would just click pictures of letterings and words: found on hoardings, products, papers lying on the ground, cars, on the back of people’s clothes, anywhere.
Last year, for my solo show, I used these words to recreate a poem by AK Ramanujan, called A River . It’s about a flood in Madurai but it had immense resonance with what we were going through. I thought how do I acquire this poem for Chennai? I walked around town again, this time looking specifically for words in this poem that I had not yet captured, filling in the blanks. I recreated the Madurai poem from the streets of Chennai.
- What is the place you associate with love?
- Marina Beach with my daughter. Ever since she was three, we’d go there, buy the pottukadalai, go on the rides, put our toes in the water, build things in the sand which only by the greatest stretch of imagination you could call sandcastles...
- Museum Theatre as well, because I associate theatre with love. I love the building, I could just sit on its steps and spin my own tales.
- What is the place that always cheers you up?
- Sitting with a tub of popcorn in Sathyam Cinemas
- What’s your favourite place for a beverage?
- Lime soda with mint leaves in the lush gardens of Amethyst. It’s like an oasis in a hot city. I usually sit down there and scribble notes, after a long day that’s been creatively fulfilling but emotionally draining.
But generally, when I step out at Parry’s, I don’t have an agenda in mind. I let the streets speak to me. I click pictures of people, but always ask permission before I do. Most people are friendly, and they want to be recorded. They often ask, “e nnudaya picture edukkuringala ?” even if there’s not much hope of them seeing the pictures later.
With some people, I have a broad discussion on art itself. It’s a very grounding exercise to know what the perception out there is, I appreciate those interactions, but I also like just being alone, with my thoughts and let the street impact me.
( As told to Sweta Akundi )
A column on spaces in and around Chennai that creative minds draw inspiration from