Of late there is a general feeling that I choose rather heavy topics for discussion in my forum. So let’s relax during this Wednesday. Let us just loiter around the busy streets of Madurai where festive shopping has picked up and tourist season has started. Yes, ILites, that’s what we are going to do this week. A walk around the streets of Madurai. Every city has its uniqueness, its own signature which cannot be replicated outside its limits. But being a Madurian all my life I can talk only of Madurai’s signature. As most of you might be knowing there are only 3 seasons in Madurai – summer, summerer and summerest. What we have in April and May is the summerest. We have something between a summer and summerer during this period. October-November. In Madurai Deepavali is a huge climax to which the everybody would be moving in a frantic pace. Thus if you now walk some where near the temple, let us say the South Chitrai Street and then go on via Dindigul Road, you will see a sea of people. All sorts of people. From Madurai proper, from the surrounding villages, from North India with the sarees worn the other way round and from foreig lands too. Incidentally the tourist season here is between October and February. So many people walking and driving all types of vehicles - from the ubiquitous tricycles to two-wheelers, cars, autos etc. Most of the platforms are occupied by the vendors. So people walk up to one half of the road. And the beauty is people from both sides, each walk up to one half of the road, which means that vehicles need to just crawl at the walking speed. Our vehicle drivers are very ingenious. You know that Britishers drive on the left side of the road, Americans on the right, we drive on all sides of the road. When you approach the temple from the west side, and walk in the West Tower street you get a direct view of the temple, its most majestic and the most beautiful West Tower at the end of the road. You can see the intricately sculpted Tower from the other end of the road and it is very difficult not to feel awed by such a artistic majesty right in front of your eyes. It is a symbolic representation of God waiting for us at the end of the road, waiting for us to finish our journey. You see textile shops all around the temple. The shop boys will stand out on the streets and almost smother you with their loving invitation to walk into their shops. The oldest shop is Hajee Moosa which is near the Eastern Gate of the temple. It was started in the year 1878. Those people are Muslims and have the biggest building near the temple. They have the courtesy to advertise their shop as “the second best landmark in the town.” The first always and will always belong to our Queen, Madurai Meenakshi. She is our most beautiful and the most compassionate Queen housed in one of the most beautiful temples ever conceived by man. We have some popular eating joints around the temple. One is a Gopu Iyengar snacks stall which should be more than 50 years old. They would close down by 7 PM every day. They start serving snacks from about 3 in the evening. They have their usual group of customers who would never deign to eat elsewhere. And for less than Rs.20 you can have so much of snacks that you would have to skip your evening dinner. And they serve a “kara chutney”, my God! It would be so hot (I mean “kaaram”) that you can keep it two feet away and just go on eating your idlies and dosas by just looking at it. A few blocks before that shop we have the famous “Original Nagapattinam Nei Mittai Kadai” Another 70 year old institution. Kara Sevu, a hot crispy savoury is their trade mark item. Another unusual item they serve is “Kara Urulaikkizhangu” (Potatoes – served very hot with red chillies) This item they will start selling by 10 AM every morning and the sales would be over by 1030, 1045. Another peculiar feature in Madurai is the “Sundal Vandi”. The trader will have a big push cart (something similar to the ironing cart) and will sell boiled ground nuts and a variety of sundals and sundry items. On a typical day you will find pattani sundal, kothukadalai sundal, payiru sundal all laced with chillies, mangoes, coconut, onions et cetera.. I think all these sundal vandis have an association. Because the price is the same with all the people. The standard unit of any item costs two Rupees. If you eat just about 5 packets then you can’t eat your dinner. They will be so wholesome and heavy. In the mornings you have carts that sell paruthi pal (juice made from cotton seeds) sukku malli coffee (a concoction prepared from all medicinal items like ginger etc) We also have carts selling Jil Jil Jigarthanda. A cool drink prepared from Faluda Seeds and a host of other items. Murugan Idli Kadai (now they have branches in Chennai) sell this Jil Jil in about three or four varieties. The area around the Temple will always be crowded. And now festival shopping is in full swing. You see people every where on the road, in the shop, on the pavement, in autos, share autos, cars and all sorts of vehicles. The typical Maduraiite would be non-chalant in this turbulent atmosphere. In a corner tea shop he would be sipping his “cutting tea” (again a speciality of Madurai; the word cutting refers to the fact that the tea is just cut into half of its regular quantity) with the serenity of the Buddha blissfully watching the flow of life around him.