Grandmum’s tales would be insipid without the brave maharaja, the wily snake charmer or the playful elephant, and so will our mythology itself. These tales, so much a part of every Indian child’s growing up, are still echoing in the quaint streets of Mylapore. Be it the thriving temple economy or vibrant kolams adorning door steps or the colorful gopuram of the Kapaleeshwar temple, each has its own share of stories to tell. And what better way to savour the city than through its stories. One such story teller is ‘Peacock Trails’, a journey of unraveling these little traditions and customs that makes Chennai so kitsch.
The trail, starting outside, the Kapaleeshwar temple in Mylapore traverses many myriad rituals associated with the temple, the teeming life that has stemmed around the temple. It takes you to the tomb of the St. Thomas, the apostle who brought Christianity to, Santhome and ends with a grand breakfast at Saravana Bhavan.
A lot caught my fancy, for one the Jennal Hotel (Window hotel). It has been around for the last 50 years (like a lot of other stores in Mylapore), dishing out piping hot sambar and idli in the morning and a tiffin (light evening snack) in the evening. Living up to its name, the restaurant has no tables or chairs. It is not even what you would call ‘a stand and eat joint’. It’s an old Brahmin serving food from a window. The tradition has been handed down from father to son, and what’s more, the prices still haven’t changed much since then.
Ever noticed the intricate patterns decorating the threshold of houses? It’s what we call a ‘Kolam’ in the south, Rangoli in the north, but unlike the Rangoli the Kolam is not just for cosmetic value. It is an indication that all is well in the house. Incase of a death in the house the family stops putting kolam outside their homes so passers by would know they are grieving. The rice flour used in the kolam also serves as food for ants. The otherwise white kolam comes alive during temple festivals with the women of the house trying to outdo others with huge intricate patterns splashed with colour.
They have a story for everything – why do we have so many gods to why we go clockwise around the temple. Story Trails will even tell you the right place to get your ancestral veena repaired to how to drink your filter coffee. They believe stories show you the way of life. Flavoured with traditions, these stories have grown and evolved with civilization, dynasties and people, and continue to remain relevant even today. Vijay (founder of Story Trails) and Vishna (our storyteller) are like Scheherazade of Arabian nights. They have a thousand and one stories to tell, one just has to keep listening.
With a riot of colours, seasoned with the idiosyncrasies of the tam bram community, the wafting smell of filter coffee mingling with incense, the journey is exhilarating and intoxicating.