Celebrating Chennai’s celebrations

For the Madras Week, Crank’s Corner has chosen to celebrate Chennai’s iconic celebrations, starting with:

Funerals at Saidapet

When you talk of fun, you have to talk of funerals. At Saidapet, to be specific.

A typical death ceremony in Saidapet sees more rambunctious enjoyment than you get to witness at an upper-crust wedding reception. A death procession at Saidapet, in terms of loud music and dance, is basically a full-hearted Punjabi celebration, minus the DJ, but perhaps with more liquor.

The moment someone, especially someone old, dies in Saidapet what they mostly do is clean the body, put it in a freezer box and lay it on the centre for others to pay their homage. By centre, we mean centre of the street not house. At Saidapet, for deaths, there is a Constitutional guarantee for shutting down the entire street for at least a day.

Also, a death procession 1) can blast crackers in front of hospitals and schools 2) can go in the opposite direction of the general traffic 3) can throw flowers in every random direction and fill the entire road with leafy leftovers. But no one will complain. Because there is no use. On the streets of Saidapet, the right of way is reserved for the dead.

Saidapet streets in that sense are pretty laidback. You can practically conduct any part of your daily living on the streets here: Bring up children, beat your spouse, rear cows, sleep, converse with your long-lost friend for hours together. The man honking for way has to wait.

But funeral marches in these parts can put to shame ticker-tape processions for champion football teams in Brazil. There is non-stop beating of the drums in catchy, rhythmic, infectious beats that would almost make the dead to get up and jig and jive. In contrast, Samba beats would seem to be soft like bells chiming at a Tibetan monastery.

If they can put so much life into a funeral procession at Saidapet, imagine how much energy and passion will they bring to something more cheery. It is a spirit that will push us to take a hard look at ourselves and make our lives look dreary and drab.

Auto stand Ayutha Puja

Ayutha Puja everywhere is a celebration at the fag end of the 9-day Navarathri festivities. At Chennai’s auto stands, Ayutha Puja is a celebration at, well, the fag end of any day when they are free after the actual Ayutha Puja day. There is no history of any auto stand ever celebrating Ayutha Puja on the actual Ayutha Puja day.

Also, it’s actually Ayutha Puja night.

The celebrations typically begin late in the evening with the invocation of the goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi through the traditional songs of — this is a land of culture, you see — Baasha.

Some auto stands are also wont to worship the said deities through the time-tested slogans of Communism. Eri malai eppadai porukkum is an eternal favourite of them. Don’t ask what relevance has Communism with Ayutha Puja. Because the honest answer would be Communism has no relevance ever with anything in this world.

But that is besides the point. But it is a great sight to see the autos, well washed and cleaned, adorned with flowers and all lined in a neat array. The auto meters are also applied santhanam, kunkumam and vibhuthi.

That is the only time you will see those auto meters being put to use for something.

FDFS @ Kasi

Kasi theatre, for those not clued into Chennai’s rites of passage, enjoys as much (if not more) cult status as the Sathyam complex among the discerning cine-goers in the city who like their popcorn to be totally salty.

Okay, that is just a good-natured ribbing of a cinema hall that is such an institution for watching new releases first-day-first-show, where day means dead of the night. Seriously, it is here that this writer watched a Rajinikanth’s starrer that kicked off at 1.30 a.m. Amidst boisterous, wildly celebrating fans whose idea of fun was to shout at the top of their voices every time Rajini opened his mouth, it was impossible to listen to any of the dialogues. Which was just as well, because the film was Lingaa.

On the first-day-first-show of any popular hero’s film, the management of the cinema hall generously and open-mindedly allows the fans to totally enjoy themselves outside the theatre. Inside the premises the fans can at best wolf-whistle and eat the undercooked samosa.

The fans generally clamber on to the several-feet high cut-out of the star and pour milk/beer/, burst crackers, raise slogans and in general celebrate by creating traffic snarls for several kilometres in the vicinity for several hours.

But in other theatres the film decides whether you had a good time or not, but at Kasi the film can be fully incidental to the fun.

That is why I can still recall watching Lingaa without wincing.

         

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