The sun is halfway down the sky, but her glower is still harsh: she’s clearly still working up to the full wrath of her summer onslaught. Most people are happy to turn their backs to her, and gaze instead at the Bay of Bengal. But at 4.30 pm on Marina beach, the sea isn’t a soothing expanse of soft blue either: it’s a taut stretch of dark denim, ripped white here and there with the current.
Those craving some shade are huddled behind Kannagi statue, chatting, texting and occasionally gazing out at the seemingly roasting sands, on which families, couples and friends are plonked plum. Children zigzag their way across the sand — which isn’t warm at all, once you dare set foot — stopping suddenly to scoop up handfuls of it and emitting surprised squeals of laughter at the feel of it. The squeals get progressively louder as they inch closer to the sea: but we aren’t here to just soak in the joy. We are here to find as many tangible sources of it as we can, within ₹99.
Senguttuvan’s stall is right at the entrance to the beach.
In the evenings, his customers have their back to the sea when facing the white wall of balloons, which means the sun throws its rays right into their eyes as they aim and shoot. He knows this: in his 35 years of manning the stall, he has seen enough people determined to have fun despite having to squint. So he is as unconcerned about such challenges as he is with my fumbling attempts to steady the heavy air gun.
When I try holding it with one hand, the weight of the barrel tilts it almost down to the sand, and he can barely refrain from rolling his eyes. With one sweeping gesture he shows me how to lock it under my shoulder. With another, he fills in one pellet at a time. Finally, I decide to aim at the far edge of the frame. Almost outside it. And lo! Three balloons in the centre get shot.
She demands ₹100, and looks so stern — almost intimidating — that I turned to walk away hopelessly. But unlike me, my friend C is a college student, and has her bargaining mechanisms well-oiled and raring to go. When negotiation, pleading and grandstanding fail, C unleashes a potently innocent puppy-eyed expression, coupled with one last “please, Akka”. Startled, the stern face dissolves into laughter and I am ordered to extend my palm, for ₹30.
My future seems bright. I have what it takes to get into the film industry (my theatre teacher from school would disagree vehemently). I will rule like a king wherever I go (try telling that to the colleagues who pull my leg everyday). She ends by telling me (and this is downright ironic) that money will never be an issue, “and yet, you refuse to pay an old woman more than ₹30,” and dismisses me with a sharp tap of her fortunetelling stick.
Colours and bubbles
Most people build castles on the sand. Kumar builds a shopping counter. The U-shaped platform of sand within which he sits, is barely ankle-height. But it’s all he needs to prop up and display his wares: star-topped wands in pink and blue; balls that emit light; furry, worm-like creatures made of sponge that can double up as yo- yos and pretend pets (pygmy puffs, anyone?); and bubble blowing sticks in bright plastic containers, in sizes worth ₹10, ₹20, ₹50 and ₹60. These, C points out, are reusable — you can keep refilling them with soapwater at home — and a popular prop for photoshoots on campus. If you (or your fancy photographer friends) know how to bring the translucent bubbles into focus, it can provide hours of entertainment. Or days, if you have the impressive imagination and energy of a two-year-old.
Not all merry-go-rounds are meant for children. Many adults at Marina look like they might want — or need — the fun. Some are in office wear, yet to shrug off their workplace frowns. Others are dressed to the T for the special family outing, with flowers in their hair to match the floral dresses and bright saris that dot parts of the beach like they might have scattered out of a kaleidoscope. The roundabout’s benches can accommodate them all — 36 adults at a time. We are informed that the entire contraption weighs about 800 kilograms, and can be dismantled and taken to your neighborhood party, should you care to order it. We take opposing seats for balance, wondering if we should be excited. A second later, we are clutching on for dear life, as the world turns into a blur. It stops a couple of minutes later, but we stay put. Frozen. Green in the face. “Speed?” I gasp out. “60 kmph,” he replies with a grin.
In this column, explore the city to unearth its most interesting facets for both tourists and locals. There is just one catch. How much can you do with ₹99?