Maladies of Mahabalipuram
The Man from Madras Musings recently accompanied a group of foreigners on a tour of Mahabalipuram. It had been two years since MMM had visited the place and while there were many changes for the better, there is much that can be improved in what is arguably one of the biggest tourist attractions close to our city.
First the positives – the upkeep of the monuments has definitely improved and the approach to each of them is a lot better. Secondly, the ubiquitous children that begged have vanished and have been replaced by ubiquitous children that attempt to sell souvenirs. In a way it is good because beggary has gone but the sight of children having to earn a living through peddling wares is not something we can be proud of. Third, there are granite plaques with notes on each of the monuments and you are therefore not at the mercy of the guides who feed you all kinds of fancy stories. MMM moreover had the pleasure of going there with one of the most informative resources possible and so did not have to depend on the slabs or the guides.
Incidentally, those of you who hang on to MMM’s every word, would remember that one of MMM’s earliest tracts was on the quaint language used on the slab in front of the shore temple. The guides there speak in roughly the same way. And rough would be the operative word. MMM could not help overhearing an argument between two guides, say X & Y, the gist of which was that X had stolen the custom of Y. Each traded abuse in the choicest of Madras bhashai (strange that this was not legislated into Chennai chatter) and X in an inspired moment said that Y’s ancestry comprised ****s to which Y went a step further and attributed X’s origin to a @@@@. All this while our group was trying to listen to an almost lyrical account of how the caves were hewn out.
One of the most important requirements in any tourist spot is the “public convenience”. Unfortunately, those in charge of Mahabs as it is called, have taken the word public to be the more important one in that phrase. They expect visitors to make it convenient to defecate anywhere in public. The only toilets that MMM could see were secure behind locked doors and as to where the key would be available was anybody’s guess. It is MMM’s view that the important functionary who inaugurated the two toilets (how do you inaugurate them?) must have also locked them up and made off with the keys. Perhaps he/she was given the keys as mementoes on the momentous occasion.
The staff that man the gates to the two places for which tickets are a must – the shore temple and the five rathas complexes, are most rude. Their attitude largely resembles those of hustlers and bouncers at the seamier kind of bar. Their only job is to tell you that every monument closes down at 6.00 pm. Beyond that they have no information whatsoever.
Now what do you do after 6.00 pm when as were told at every turn, Mahabs closes down and turns in for the night? Well, MMM and troupe went off to gaze at Arjuna’s Penance, which being in the open could be viewed even after curfew. MMM had read somewhere that the place was floodlit at night. It was only on reaching the spot that MMM and co realised that the illumination is done only while the dance festival is in progress. On all other days, Arjuna and the rest on the rock call it a day at sunset. The van driver who took MMM and friends around kindly switched on the headlights and that was how everyone got to see the carvings.
The roads within Mahabalipuram are another story altogether. The kind of traffic jams that are experienced within the town would put even T Nagar to shame. Chaos is the only word to describe the way vans, cars, buses, cycles and other vehicles jostle for space while driving. As for parking, there is sufficient space to accommodate vehicles but regulated entry and exit is beyond any good citizen of our land, we being familiar only with rights but no responsibilities. Consequently, there is much tooting, hooting, bumping, denting, abusing and heckling.
Someone once described India as a functioning anarchy. Mahabalipuram according to MMM would be a good microcosmic representation of that.
Night Life at Mahabs
After having seen Arjuna’s Penance, there was considerable time to kill and the question of what next hung heavy on the mind of the Man from Madras Musings. He need not have worried. For unfolding in all its glory was a political meeting at the busiest intersection of the town. Bunting and festoons were hung all the way from the entrance of the town (and this is a heritage precinct) and every wall had posters proclaiming the great leader’s arrival. MMM is rather doubtful if Narasimha Pallava would have had such a rousing reception when he entered the city. A foreigner asked MMM if a native festival was in progress and MMM had to explain rather shamefacedly that it was not and that a native leader was on his way. The intersection was cordoned off and a massive stage was erected there. Music blared right through the evening and by 7.00 pm rows of party faithfuls had seated themselves on plastic chairs to watch the show. When MMM left the town, the music was still blaring and a couple of men in white shirts and tights were dancing on the stage. The great leader was still on his way. The foreigners with MMM were delighted to see democra(z)y at its best.
The other side of VP Hall
The other day the Man from Madras Musings alighting at Central, made his way to the pre-paid taxi counter only to be advised that he would have to wait for ten minutes before any taxi arrived. The ten minutes stretched to twenty and there was no taxi entering the portals of the pre-paid queue though of taxis soliciting customers outside of the system there were plenty. Apparently in this city of laissez-faire, all taxis entering Central do not HAVE to go through the pre-paid system. Only a few self-declared honest characters have opted to do so and the rest simply crawl along the kerb, soliciting customers. The policeman there declared that he could do nothing about it and that was the way the system worked. MMM by then thoroughly exhausted, made his way back to the counter and asked as to the reasons for the delay only to be told that it was all due to the “blasted red building you see around the corner which the government has taken into its head to renovate”. Apparently the space behind VP Hall was where all the pre-paid taxis used to park and they would make their way from there to Central when needed. Now with the restoration work beginning, the pre-paid taxis have been told to park ‘elsewhere’ though where exactly has not been specified. In the absence of parking space, these taxi operators have decided to give Central a miss. Consequently very few pre-paid taxis make their way to Central and the entire system, never robust to begin with, has begun to totter at its very base. MMM cast his stone too, for weary of waiting at the pre-paid, he made his way to one of those winking enticingly from the kerb and concluded a win-win transaction (the taxi won the fare he wanted and MMM won his way home) under the benign eyes of the policeman.