Parakkum Rayil by Aparna Padmanabhan

30 Apr

Aparna Padmanabhan

Aparna Padmanabhan is a self-taught artist working out of Chennai. She is currently working with acrylics on board, delving into the customary subjects, techniques and metaphors of traditional Indian Art, especially the Kerala Murals and Newari Tangkas. She has her own studio, “Mallika”, in Chennai, where she employs ten girls who make quilts, candles, and other accessories for sale. Aparna is also a freelance copywriter & editor for the Times Group and other leading advertising agencies, and an interior and architectural designer. In her spare time, she teaches design and art.

Few people know it, but Chennai is up there with the rest of them. I am talking about the Mass Rapid Transit System [at least, that’s what I think MRTS stands for].

First announced very, very, many years ago, the MRTS has been a long while in the making. It was initially just an occasional update in the newspapers, like most other civic projects. I had been wowed by San Fransisco’s BART over two decades ago, and wondered how this would match up.

My recent study of architecture prompted me to take a more than casual interest in the nitty gritty. I learnt that the route would follow the coast in the city, along the historical but defunct Buckingham Canal. It made good sense to me that this once bustling waterway should once again be the setting for mass transportation.

The deep foundations in the canal, the massive pillars, and the gigantic beams all found their critics who seemed justified when a beam came crashing down, killing an innocent victim. Nevertheless, the project continued and the first trains started running along a short stretch between Chennai Beach and Thirumayilai.

The MRTS remained just a curiosity to me, however, until I moved to a place right beside the tracks. When I first checked the place out, I did not for a minute consider that its proximity to the tracks might be a nuisance. It was not until friends asked me about it that I noticed the sound of trains whizzing by, but at decibels that were not intrusive.

The real benefits began kicking in a few months later. My son had enrolled in a college beyond Pallikaranai, and the MRTS which had recently been extended to Thiruvanmiyur was a boon in his commute. My youngest, who had followed the inception of the “flying trains” as avidly as I had, soon adopted it as a special outing. But the infrequent timings and total absence of services on Sundays and holidays meant that it was still a novelty rather than an amenity.

And then the trains started running up to Velacherry, operational on both tracks, all days of the week, once every quarter of an hour. The MRTS had arrived. I decided to try it out one cool November day for one of my frequent forays to the lanes of Georgetown. I was enthralled.

There is something wonderful about zooming along over the city, at a height above most buildings, but low enough not to miss the details. Passing the crowded old areas of Mandevelli and Mylapore, I caught sight of the distinctive towers of Kapaleswarar temple and the Ramakrishna Mutt, and a colorful gopuram that I never knew existed above the Sai Baba temple.

The Lighthouse and brand new heights of the Chennai City Center were sentinels to the stretch that hovered over the Beach. Parthasarathy temple to the left, Chepauk and Presidency College to the right. The most amazing canopy of green sprinkled with brilliant tropical blooms on either side framing the charming old brick buildings of the Madras University. The freshly renovated Senate House and the hoary old premises of “The Hindu” zoomed by before the train began its slow descent to ground level as the clock of the Central Station came to view.

I reached my destination at Chennai Fort in a sublime mood, and happily sauntered off for my round of shopping without having to worry about parking the car. Since that exhilarating beginning, I have become a regular on the train, enjoying the bustle of the city from far above.

A definite must-do for any Chennai resident. And you may be in for a pleasant surprise. The last few weeks have seen the launch of candy colored trains on the MRTS fuchsia pink, fanta orange, lemon yellow… take your pick and sit back in delight.

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