She whizzed over to my grandmother’s home, where I was sojourning for the summer, on her motorcycle.
I had been ready for an hour beforehand, so I sat and waited. Across from the television was a sectional sofa decked with intricate cushions overlooking a table. On the table was a medley of newspapers and magazines. As I waited, I delighted over the morning’s edition of the Dina Thanthi, a Tamil-language newspaper not available in North America.
At seven minutes past the hour, the sound of my cousin’s motorcycle greeted my ears. She entered my grandmother’s home, yanking off her helmet and dragging her left hand across her perspiring forehead. Just then, my aunt arrived and offered us both juice.
"Goyya, saathukudi, maathulai, maampazham. Enna kudikreenga?"
My cousin, still visibly enervated by the brutal Chennai heat wave, asked for guava juice and downed it in two gulps.
"Enakku saathukudi, chiththi."
Mosambi was one of my favorite fruits and I made sure to stock up on some when I arrived in Tamil Nadu. Apart from my time in Chennai, it was difficult to obtain. The ones in North American supermarkets, if they existed at all, were rocklike and tasteless – hardly the real thing.
After juice, we departed. This day, out of my approximately twenty-eight days in India, I had set aside solely for my cousins. Besides, I came with an unyielding mission in mind. I wanted, for myself, one of those iconic Codd-neck goli soda bottles — as much an emblem of Chennai as were filter coffee, autorickshaws, and the ever-beautiful Marina Beach.
I remember the words of some — words of fascination and genuine wonder.
Enna da nee, America vilirundhu vandhu, paneer soda, tea kadai, thattu kadai nu ippadi alpa aasai ellaam vaichirukkiye.
Which was true. One man’s trash, they say, is another man’s treasure, and Chennai street food never fails to impress.
The ride to my second cousin’s house was only four kilometers, but with the unsparing traffic — motorbikes, cars, lorries and cows — it took upwards of half an hour. Soon, my four cousins and I assembled, and we decided to take a short saunter around the neighborhood in search for shops that sold goli soda. Fifteen minutes or so and three shops later, we found a place that did.
"Naalu paneer soda’nga."
We drank. It was quite possibly one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. The setting sun, the goli soda, the incandescent streetlights, the cows, the people, the city.
Content, we began walking back. All of a sudden it started pouring heavily, in torrents, and we were instantly drenched as our clothing soaked in rainwater.
We took cover in a narrow, concrete passageway that opened directly from the street. We hid there, damp and umbrella-less, for several minutes until we unanimously decided that we couldn’t linger there much longer.
As the rest of us huddled, keeping ourselves and our cellphones dry, my second cousin ran back to her home, hopped on her motorscooter, and came back with an umbrella. The rest of us tried summoning an autorickshaw and were unsuccessful. We finally arrived home on three scooters. By this time, the water had stagnated and was up to our thighs. Airtel’s signal began deteriorating.
"Indhaa thundu, pidi. Thottiko."
I caught the fuzzy, off-white towel and dried my waterlogged hair. We all sat and spoke for a bit. My second cousin then prepared for us a phenomenal meal of fried rice and pachchadi. She’s quite a talented cook, actually.
I realized then that cooks in Tamil Nadu aren’t given the respect they deserve. Chennai wouldn’t be Chennai without bhaai kadai biryani, tea kadai biscuits, and Triplicane Ratna Cafe idly-sambar — this is a fact.
One of my cousins turned towards me.
"Aduththadhu enna da? Padam paakka pogalaamaa?"
"Adhukku enna? Kandippaa pogalaame."
He booked a movie on his phone, as we finished the last of our dinner. It was at the Palazzo Theatre, in the Vijaya Forum Mall in Vadapalani.
And so we hopped on our motorbikes again. The rain had ceased by then, although there was significant flooding near roads in Virugambakkam. On one outlet road, a moustached onlooker in an indigo shirt motioned frantically to us.
"Vandi pogaadhu! Inimel vandi pogaadhu!"
The water level was now high enough to impact motorbike engines. Heeding the man’s words, many had turned back. At this moment, I saw a small sliver, perhaps one or two percent, of the Chennai floods that shook the city a few years back.
At the end of the day, we made it to the movie, drenched but jovial nonetheless. The experience was indicative of the pricelessness of certain facets of life.
My kind, adventurous cousins.
The unparalleled beauty of Chennai.
That feeling of riding your motorbike at night.
That Madras mazhai.
Oh, and the goli soda. Arumaiyin uchcham.
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