An introduction to Besant Nagar

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Besant Nagar has been my home since 1999. Well, it’s not that I’ve actually stayed there all this while, but it is what I use to fill any form that asks me for a “Permanent Address”. At the present, how ever, I am a resident of both Besant and Anna Nagar, something that came out of a pre-nuptial agreement. No. Not the formal American style legal document thingie. This was just a desire to change this whole “Bahu leaves her house behind” tradition. We started out by first eliminating the “Gotra Change/Transfer” step (read about it here) in the wedding. After the wedding, we decided to spend time in both my parents’ as well as her parents’ homes, till we move into one of our own. So, it’s weekdays at Anna Nagar, and weekends at Besant Nagar.

So why a post about this seaside suburb, one might ask. My youngest brother, the one studying to be a journalist has been given this assignment to do a photo essay on Besant Nagar. Since I am his official chauffeur over the weekends, I thought it might be fair to utilize some of his material to come up with a Jalsa Guide to Besant Nagar.

General Hawa

Generally, there is a lot of hawa (wind. breeze) in Besant Nagar thanks to the Bay of Bengal, which has, over the years deposited what is known today as Elliots Beach. This is the beach where thousands of Tam-bram Maamas (wearing shorts and sneakers) and Maamis (wearing sarees and sneakers) take morning walks. The choice of sneakers reveals an important fact. Parents of software-in-the-USA-L1-H1 types wear Nike/Reebok. This is because those are usually available in refurbished/discount sale factory outlets. Parents of MS/PHD/IIT types, on the other hand, wear New Balance. Pricier and snootier, although the same sweatshops in SE Asia make all the three.

Morning Breakfast and Evening Tiffin

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There are broadly four categories of eating joints in Besant Nagar.

Full, pure, Tam-Bram approved Vegetarian.

If these restaurants were people, they would be wearing sacred threads. Eden, Vishranti Hot Point, Murugan Idli store.

Tam-Bram partially approved, (garlic) Poondu-using North Indian places

Tam Brams will heartily tuck into Pnjaabi food that is loaded with garlic. But Chettinaadu Kaara Kuzhambu is a no-no. Dhabba Express, Clay Oven. Khaana Khazana. Cozee da Dhaba

Hardcore, Tam-Bram unapproved Non-Vegetarian.

Kaaraikudi. Daawat (Halal only), Prime Roaster (The Subway right next to it is losing some serious Tam Bram business because of the slowly rotating rotisserie chicken that is on display here)

“Squeezing money out of the poor unsuspecting software bachelors” multi-cuisine

The kind of restaurants that serve Sizzlers, Szechwan Hakka Noodles and Paneer Shashlik. Cascade, Giorgio and Pupil Burgers

Geography

Besant Nagar is greener than most suburbs, simply because almost half of it is inside the Theosophical Society, which, as a policy, tends to disallow the general public and local government from mindlessly chopping trees inside their campus.

The main artery of this suburb, the tree-lined Besant Avenue, serves as a testing ground for Bajaj Pulsar, Yamaha and Hero Honda bikes’ acceleration capabilities.

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The four boundaries of this suburb are:

Elliamman Koil

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In case you are wondering why the popular Ashtalakshmi temple does not feature here, it is because geographically and pincodically, that temple is located in the nearby suburb of Thiruvanmiyur, a shady locality (It is full of trees) that is nowadays entirely populated by IT bachelors working at Tidel Park.

Velankanni Church

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The Bay of Bengal

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What you see above is the famous Karl Schmidt memorial, built in memory of a Dutch sailor who lost his life while attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer. Another interesting thing about Elliot’s beach. The crabs. Or the lack of them. 15 years back, when the entire population of Chennai was not trying to squeeze themselves into the beach on Saturday evenings, Elliot’s beach used to teem with small crabs. Not the kind that bite. The kind that tickle as they run over your feet and into their small holes in the beach sand. But they are gone now. One has to visit the secluded beaches (at least so far) on the East Coast road to see them nowadays.

The Adyar River estuary

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Besant Nagar is a study in contrasts. A melting pot of the Old Madras and the New Chennai. Maamas and Maamis. Teenagers on fast bikes. Boyfriends and girlfriends sipping lime mint cooler (one glass, two straws) in the Fruit Shop. Right across at the Vinayakar temple, a “Horoscope Exchange Meet” conducted by the Besant Nagar Brahmin association.