Just heard the news that Grand Sweets @Adyar is closed in Chennai. This might be a temporary break or permanent, but it nudged me to sit and write, for I felt melancholic.
If you are from the southern part of Chennai or any part of Chennai for that matter, it is very difficult not to know Grand Sweets (GS), the sweet & savoury shop that sells fresh-made hot spicy snacks under a large banyan tree. As a matter of fact it is a house with tons of space and large trees. Converting it into a sweet shop is a great idea; I’m not sure if it’s radical, but definitely a sweet idea!
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, take a trip to Grand Sweets and you will be jolted from the hangover of your lazy slumber; a riot of kanchivarams, diamond ear rocks and analysis of the latest Nithyasree concert will hit you, along with the strong waft of ghee-roasted cumin seeds sitting smugly on crispy, delicious murukku. But what hits you stronger is the group of women ordering karuveppala podi (or mor molaga vaththal or wheat halwa or a variant thereof), all having one thing in common – their love for America or loved ones in America.
“We are asking our daughter to move from Dallas to New York because the job market there is much better.”
“I was chatting with my grandson yesterday and he says it’s snowing heavily in New Jersey. Hope it doesn’t get as bad as last year’s!”
“The East Coast is so populated & polluted now with all the traffic. My son just wants to cycle to work”
In all probabilities, these maamis have not stepped beyond the limits of Tamil Nadu, haven’t seen the inside of a plane except on TV, or at the most, have visited their son/daughter/grandson in the US for 15 days and done a bit of shopping at Kmart and transported their wares gleefully back to Nanganallur/Adyar/Mylapore. However, each of these women feels an intimate connection with a country that is over 13000 km away. They live, breathe the holiday plans, traffic in US cities, mugging on the roads, glittering shops, weather in the yonder and who is going to the US and when, so they can pack off few packets of Sambar podi to their daughters/sons.
As I pop in mouth-watering kuzhi paniyarams, shamelessly eavesdrop on their conversation. As a matter of fact, I do not have to try hard. They are at their full throat and are willing to include me in the circle – all I have got to do is nod my head in agreement and raise the brows with surprise and throw in a smile in appreciation of their loved ones! Well, just as I am greedily polishing off, adai-aviyal the free chakkara pongal arrives, ghee dripping, in donnais, and it is bliss in its evilest form, for when you are gobbling it, you will forget that it’s going to settle down in all the wrong places, and above all, a few such journeys to GS will make you look like cabbages protruding out of a gunny bag!
Looking beyond the compelling pull of food, I realize that a mosaic of the varied humanity of Chennai is always present there. Right from yuppie couples shopping at the nth hour just before their flight that night, working wives who want to stock up on pulikaaichal for the month, uncles ordering kilos and kilos of snacks for their nieces’ engagement and uncles’ wives who are cribbing about the cost of sweets increasing so much in the last 30 years since their wedding, old ladies who have come with the hope of grabbing a scoop of free pongal, urged by a lingering desire to taste the food they had cooked years ago for a son who has long forgotten the existence of the being that was once his mother, to smiling old men who have come to pick up 250 grams of mixture for their favourite grandsons.
This small piece of land in a corner of the city, under the shade of trees, is a microcosm of Chennai, a representation of the larger life that hustles and bustles around you every day.