Friends’ reunions in India are getting increasingly rare. With most of our circle living elsewhere, such meetings happen about once a year, each time with a different set of characters. Let me first define the circle for you: it consists of seven friends (G. and his partners-in-crime from childhood) and their wives (us). Let me also tell you how these gatherings usually go: we eat, we go to the beach, and we eat again. One of these meals is always taken at Saravana Bhavan (Vadapazhani, if possible).
Today’s gathering was slightly different: there was no visit to Saravana Bhavan, an event which deserves to go down in the annals of this group’s history. We went to Bombay Brasserie for lunch, and I don’t think I’m far off the mark when I say that the tamarind candy and sugar-coated cumin were enjoyed more than the actual meal. Don’t blame it on the food – it was lovely – but our tastes are still bound to be gratified by the simplest things. We grab the chance to go back to a time when playgrounds existed and the biggest crime we could commit at college was to skip classes to go to a movie.
We went to Elliots Beach after lunch; we had to, on an afternoon tailor-made for the purpose. The sea was blue-grey and the weather pleasant, for Chennai’s monsoon is arriving and a cyclone hovers not far away. A rickety blue wooden boat bobbed towards the shore on high waves. A brown horse cantered on the sand and a man loaded with colourful plastic toys called out his wares. Snack stalls did brisk business and voices rose in merriment above the rush of the waves. Our own group bought a plastic gun and a bottle of soapy water to blow bubbles from on the pretext of entertaining the child. Visiting the beach after over a year, I enjoyed soaking in the colours and the sounds that I had missed during my stay in the US. Life in Chennai can be messy, but simple joys are more easily attained. Never underestimate the comfort of not having to wrap up every time you decide to step out in December.
We waded into the surprisingly cool water. The foamy brown waves rolled in, throwing salt-spray on our faces. We dug our heels in as the receding waves deposited sand on our feet. Srini screamed in delight, filling his fists with sand, and I wished I could, too. But I’m unfortunately more obsessed with propriety and hygiene than my three-year-old self. I insist on bottled water and I’m wary of iced golas. However, I’m also pretty hypocritical about such things, which is evident from my enjoyment of steamed peanuts fresh off a pushcart on the pavement. The others ate, as Sai put it, chilli powder with a bit of sliced mango around the edges.
We rounded off the day with a little balloon-shooting tournament, where the owner of the stall displayed a tremendous amount of good-humoured patience as she loaded our guns. I marvelled at how quickly she blew up the balloons; one short whiff of air, one twist of the mouth, and the shiny multicoloured balloons were ready to be torn into a million pieces, victims of our unerring aim. We wound up with a visit to Murugan Idli Shop, for what is an afternoon out in Madras without idli, vadai, and filter coffee? (I simply cannot wait for the December Season to begin.) Plans for an all-boys’ vacation were laid as we stuffed ourselves – Thailand, Dubai, Goa, Pondicherry – and postponed as reality kicked in, all in the span of half-an-hour: another exhibit of the perils of growing up.
So ended, we thought, our day of feasting. But one unscheduled stop at our friends’ as we dropped them off meant being plied with murukku, barfi, and laddoo – Diwali and an upcoming wedding ensure that they are well-stocked and equipped to cater to ravenous beings who haven’t been home in a while. Celebrating my first Madras Diwali, I realised that it didn’t really matter that I didn’t have “childhood” friends I grew up with nearby. If you’re lucky, you find people who accept you the way you are and there is no pressure to dress a certain way or to speak a particular language. You also learn important things to store in a corner of your head until required: for example, did you know that animals have passports and that Ferrari model cars start at Rs 3 lakh? I didn’t.
During our conversations at the beach, we briefly touched on the fact that the last of the group turned thirty yesterday. The grey hair and crow’s feet are starting to appear; there are marked transformations and masked troubles as our parents and grandparents grow old, and balancing home with work gets demanding. However, none of this matters on a day like this, all laughter and no expectations. Some good company and a beach are all you need.