Early this morning on Boat Club Road in Chennai, I had a dangerous head-on collision…with a walker. Luckily for him, there was no cop around or I’d have had him booked for rash and negligent walking.
I blame it all on The Madras Week held in August that encouraged a lot of us Chennaiites to join the Madras Heritage Walks conducted all over town— from the Fort St George walkabout where the Brits first empired us, to the Old Theatres of Madras tour, where Kollywood first mesmerised us.
Well, a consequence of this Walks exercise was: many citizens discovered that getting up early for a pre-breakfast perambulation is a fine way to gain knowledge, while losing weight— and that’s why there’s such a traffic jam of feet early in the morning these days.
My own motivations for walking began when I moved close to the most expensive real estate area in Chennai: Boat Club Road, with its lush, tree-lined avenues. I live on the road leading up to these hallowed grounds, in Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar Street (though no posh Boat Club type will ever call it that, preferring its old colonial name, Chamiers Road). So one fine morning, I decided to check out this walker’s paradise.
Oh wow. I was constantly slowing down to gaze at the mansions I was walking past…this is where the truly well-heeled of the city live. But the flat-sneakered feet of the hoi polloi were the ones happily walking in droves in this premium neighbourhood; lowering cholesterol counts or increasing their metabolic rates here—all for free. Alas for the Privileged of Boat Club Road! They now had to walk their daily mile on fancy tread-mills in their own private gyms installed within their mansions, “as the roads outside our house…oh god, they’re getting so crowded with all sorts of riff-raff walking about these days…”
Well I quickly became a regular riff or a raff myself, not so much for the walk itself, but for the talk. Ah the joys of eavesdropping! Quite like the running commentary of the Heritage Walks, I was getting a free audio guide to the houses of Chennai’s rich and powerful and famous. “The Brothers live here,” I learnt from a gossipy gent, who pointed to a massive fortress of a residence, to his visiting relatives. Lucky Brothers, he went on… they escaped the fate of their half-cousin, the poet-lady who languished in Tihar jail for months… It was easy guessing that he was referring to the 2G Spectrum-scandal-tainted brothers, and the nationally televised CBI raid on this very house a year ago.
With growing awe, I passed the splendid homes of head honchos of Chennai’s best-known industrial families. So this is where the scions of the Murugappa group return each evening. Chettinad pillared porches, old-world Tamil Nadu grandeur…as I could glimpse from the open gate. Further on I discovered the bungalow of TVS Motors’ 2- wheeler magnate—though I’m sure it’s a plush 4-wheeler that drives this CEO back home every day: could it be one of the Rolls Royces or Lamborighinis I sometimes see cruising about the locality? Or perhaps those wheels belong to another famous local entrepreneur living here: the CMD of MRF Tyres.
Walking on, I saw where the big drivers of our trucking industry live, the opulent Ashok Leyland villas. If you can judge a home by its wall, that is.
Well, the next big-wig dwelling I discovered was certainly built with India Cements…as I learnt that a certain nationally recognized, high profile Chennai personality retires (unhurt) here each night, after settling multi-crore business deals. The business of Cricket, of course…
But hey, what about the new Social Celebs, who have somehow managed to obtain an address here too amongst the old-wealth bungalows of Boat Club Road, in one of the few swish high-rises here? Well, that’s another storey…
Now all this has given me a great idea for moonlighting—or should that be sun rising… If anybody wants to go on a gossip-enhanced early morning Celebrity Street Tour while in Chennai, just walk along with me.