The Marina beach is the prime promenade of Chennai, and occupies a special place therefore in the hearts of Chennaians. I have pedaled there on several occasions. It is much more pleasant to ride there than in other parts of the town, at least away from peak traffic hours, since the Corporation tries quite hard to keep the promenade clean. Plus, the ocean is, as always and as everywhere, a very soothing sight.
The beach itself runs for thirteen kilometers, and is mostly sand. It has a reputation for the opposite, but the times I have ridden along the promenade, the beach has been very clean.
The beach has special significance for me because of its connection to my grandfather. He was a civil engineer, who retired as the head of the Public Works Department (PWD) of the state. For most of his career, the British were in power, so his bosses were English, and possibly Scottish. His office was along Marina beach, in the PWD headquarters. I remember an incident he would describe often: some big shot mucky muck English dude comes over all the way from England, and for five minutes after entering my grandfather’s office, he is unable to say anything at all, he is so impressed by the view of the beach and the ocean from my grandfather’s office. “I say Venkataraman, how can you get any work done at all in this office?” he asks in the end. My grandfather would always grin when recounting the story.
My grandfather was connected to one other building along the Marina, although indirectly. For a brief period, he taught engineering at the University of Madras (as Chennai was then known as), except that he taught in the Guindy campus where the engineering college was located. The headquarters of the University of Madras however is located along the Marina beach, pictured here:
My grandfather was possibly the most influential person in my life. To him I owe my love of mathematics, and my love for language. During the summers that I would spend with him, he would give me mathematical puzzles to solve, and would read aloud English poetry to me. He had a library full of English poetry, English novelists of the 19th and 19th century, and mathematics.
I also got my love of bicycling from him. He gave me my first bicycle, when I was I think eight years old. It was every boy’s nightmare. It was to begin with a girl’s bicycle, made in England, which he then painted a bright shade of green. To make matters worse, it was small. Now this was India in the mid to late sixties, where there was basically one kind of bicycle: large and black. There were very few women’s bicycles around then, and if there were any, only women rode them. So, this bicycle that my grandfather gave me made me stand out, and I suffered endless teasing. But thanks to that bicycle I learned to stick it out, to dare to be different, and to be comfortable being different.
My grandfather died nearly thirty years ago. But I still miss him. Here is he, with my grandmother: