Kadais (Part II): Thalapakattu Biriyani and Men’s Beauty Parlours

See, I’d planned to do a second piece on theyil kadais in the city (a sorta sequel to this one) but then I came across some irresistible signboards on a couple of other kadais meanwhile, and the series took a bit of a detour. Here goes 🙂

‘Executive Package’. Written in neat white font on a dark blue signboard put up high on a drab, office-type building in Adyar (I don’t what it is about Adyar and awesome signage… first the iconic ‘Hotel Runs’, apparently now an unofficial tourist destination, the safari kadai and now this), the sign reeks of officialdom. Taking in the name and the style of presentation, one immediately assumes, naturally, that this is a corporate courier company of some sort. Like, you know, ‘we deliver your top secretest documents anywhere anytime’ and all that. But one would be dead wrong. Because right below, in the same super serious and businesslike font, are the words ‘Exclusive Men’s Beauty Parlour’.

The ingenuity is remarkable. Think about it. This humble sign is attempting to do the impossible — appeal to both your average stick-in-the-mud executive and your with-it metrosexual at the same time. The businesslike title and signage should reassure the middle-aged executive who wouldn’t, for instance, be caught dead going into one of those super stylish, house-music-pumping, unisex salons frequented by ‘The Youth’ (with the images of scarily hip-looking men and women with spiky purple hair out front). At the same time, the discrete ‘Men’s Beauty Parlour’ at the bottom should effectively draw in the blossoming middle-class metrosexual who believes unabashedly in the notion of male beauty and therefore in visiting its Mecca, the male beauty parlour, facials, foot scrubs and all.

This is a place, one feels, where sufficiently serious-minded young men in neat tailored trousers and full-sleeved white shirts (with starched collars, of course) will give you fabulous manicures with business-like efficiency, where a tea boy will serve you hot tea/kaapi with Marie biscuits as you wait and you have plenty of peons to sweep up or wash your hair rapidly before styling. It’s truly a breakthrough in marketing the concept of the ‘male beauty parlour’ to the fuddy-duddy crowd.

Ingenious kadai no. 2 is a biriyani place I passed by on ECR the other day. At first glance, its sign looked much the same as that of any other Thalapakattu Biriyani joint in the city, except that it seemed a little more crowded (hardly enough space for the customary headgear (thalapakattu) drawing). That’s when I realised this is a two-for-one sign, with the bottom half — in bold orange– proclaiming proudly that this is also ‘Gayathri Travels’.

Of course, I immediately began to imagine a neatly dressed travel agent in glasses sitting behind a computer, politely making bookings for a three-day package to Singapore (“There is one beginning on June 16… shall I pencil you in? I can get you an excellent deal”), flanked on either side by huge, steaming biryani pots being stirred by big, sweaty men in lungis and baniyans (handle bar mustaches are optional). This is one travel agent’s office where delays are no issue; you can just shovel in freshly made biriyani as you wait.

This delicious picture was mildly ruined by my husband informing me that this isn’t that sort of travels place, but merely a sort of glorified bus depot with benefits. As in, you can purchase tickets for various tour bus companies here, and their buses stop here, so you can hop on. Apparently, it’s pretty common too.

But I’m struck, once again, by the terrific multi-tasking abilities of our kutti roadside kadais. Hungry travellers hopping off after a tiring ride can tuck into the hot-n-spicy confections and families with a 13-hour ride ahead can pack some up for the road. And of course, the biriyani will keep you going during the inevitable delays…

I mean, does any tour bus stop in London or New York provide you that sort of service? No, you have to trudge to the nearest Starbucks and get fleeced for a cup of coffee and a sandwich.  Just like no Parisian beautician ever thought of ‘Executive Package’ to draw in their shyer male clientèle.

Viva la Chennai, I say!

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Filed under Humour, Kadais, Madras, Series

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