This is Dinesh Soni, and he makes and sells lassi. More to the point, he makes kesar lassi - a saffron-flavoured, primrose-coloured version of this milk-based beverage. (It's traditionally made from buttermilk, the low fat liquid residue created when butter is churned.)
Dinesh is a mountain of a man. The story goes that he is a wrestler from Rajasthan who opened his lassi stall in Chennai many years back. It's on Mint Street in Sowcarpet - a long, crowded road which is great fun to walk along.
The street is a culinary delight - indeed I went there as part of a walking/eating tour yesterday organised by Chennai Past Forward and conducted by the inimitable Sriram V; more from that on future posts.
Dinesh's lassi stand - it's called Anmol (or priceless) Lassi - has become a fixture on foodie tours of this city, which takes eating very seriously. And the proprietor laps up all the attention.
As you can see, behind the stall there's a blow-up newspaper cutting about the place and the man ... and he even advertises, tongue-in-cheek (I think), the Dinesh Anmol Lassi Welfare Association. In other words, whenever you buy one of his kesar lassis you are contributing to Dinesh's welfare ... as well as your own.
There's just one service a year at Chennai's glorious eighteenth century Armenian church. This year's service was this morning. Two priests - the Very Rev. Fr. Movses Sargsyan, Pastor of the Armenians in India and (wearing the ornate clerical headgear) Rev. Fr. Artsrun - came specially from Calcutta to officiate.
Armenians once constituted one of Chennai's most wealthy trading communities. It has long since melted away. There are now perhaps five Armenians in Chennai - and with well-wishers and the curious, the congregation today just touched double figures ... though the youngest of those attending was only eight months old, so there is hope for the future.
There are about twenty-five Armenian families in Calcutta - the church there gets about 100 worshippers for its Christmas service. The Armenian College in central Calcutta is one of the city's most venerated educational institutions. Usually, a few of the college pupils and the Calcutta community come to Chennai for the annual service; today it was just the two priests.
The Chennai church - which I've blogged about before - is well-kept in spite of the paucity of the community. It was lovely to see a baby today among the congregation. His mother is Armenian and his father is a Chennai-based architect. I asked the parents what the language of the household was: English, Armenian, Hindi, Russian, Tamil ...
The church has a separate bell tower with six bells - the oldest dating back almost 200 years and two of them bearing the name of Thomas Mears, a master founder at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London's East End which, alas, closed last year. Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to venture up.
The Musalman - founded in 1927 - claims the title of the oldest Urdu daily paper in India. It may also be the only one still using traditional calligraphers. And with a cover price of 75 paise - that's one US cent, or a penny in British currency - it must surely be about the cheapest paid-for title in the world.
The paper's been based in the largely Muslim district of Triplicane, what passes for inner-city in Chennai, ever since it was set up. I popped by at its rather cramped offices today and chatted to Syed Arifullah, the young man who is both editor and proprietor (he requested no photographs),
The paper was set up by his grandfather and he's the third generation to run it. And in case you are wondering, well, his son is just three - so it's a little early to say!
And for such a venerated title, its offices are about as inconspicuous as you can get.
The paper has a network of freelance reporters across India. It consists of four pages and publishes seven days a week. The print run is 21,000 - about a third of those sell in and around Chennai and the rest are posted to subscribers.
The Musalman employs three kitabs - traditional Urdu calligraphers. It takes them an hour to get the paper ready for the offset printing press, which is on the premises. No, the paper doesn't pay, Syed Arifullah says; but he's proud to keep the title and its traditions alive and it's subsidised by the commercial printing that he takes on.
The newspaper's offices are adjoining Chennai's grandest mosque, the Wallajah Big Mosque, built towards the close of the eighteenth century by the family of the Nawab of Arcot, whose heartland this was. It is constructed of granite throughout and is visually arresting - though once again photos are not allowed, so this is the view from Triplicane High Road.
And of course, where you have a large expanse of property in a central location, you have a property dispute to go with it ...
A Russian restaurant! It's not quite what you expect in downtown Chennai ... indeed I can't think of many places (Russia excepted) where you would come across a place advertising traditional Russian food.
The Winter Palace (the name is from the Tsar's old palace in St Petersburg which was stormed by the Bolsheviks in 1917, an event recreated in one of the high points of Soviet cinematography) is just a stroll away from where I and my fellow guest faculty are staying. And it has had good reviews.
So we gave it a go!
The Winter Palace is in the grounds of the Russian Cultural Centre, and the decor has been assembled with some care. It might be identikit Ruski diplomatic design, but there was a certain charm to it.
The menu includes some Russian favourites - borscht is there of course along with various versions of stroganoff - but extends well beyond it. Alcohol is served (but if you order a beer and can't work out why the mug has come and nothing more, do check carefully - there could be a sprinkling of Kingfisher lurking in the depths of the tankard). The service is ... well, well-meaning.
All it lacks is customers.
And the food? Well, on the whole impressive. We all enjoyed our meals - which ranged from steak to pasta, to stroganoff to pork loin. To be honest, it was better than I expected.
I had the pork, advertised as in a French style - which basically meant that there was a bit of melted cheese on top of each piece of loin. It was good, served with freshly-fried potatoes. A decent portion and intelligently cooked.
But alongside the high standard of the cuisine, I need to mention that there were - if you follow my drift - after-effects. You can't be sure about cause and effect, and I might well storm the Winter Palace again ... but Jane's prayers to/for her chicken stroganoff were not fully answered!
Do you recognise this? Then you are clearly of a certain vintage. It's a Uher - a portable (though not very) reel-to-reel audio recorder. And once upon a time BBC radio reporters swore by - or was it swore at - these sturdy monsters.
I came across this splendid specimen at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai, where I am teaching - about the last place in the world where I would have expected to find one.
When I joined the BBC at the beginning of the 1980s, the Uher was radio standard issue. It used five-inch tape spools, which when you were recording lasted for just fifteen minutes. And if you used the fast forward and rewind buttons too much, your batteries went flat in double quick time.
Uhers were heavy - there must be radio veterans around who still have a sagging shoulder - but they were stout and the sound quality was excellent. What's more, in the pre-digital era when audio editing meant leader tape and razor blades, you could take the tape straight from the Uher to edit. When reel-to-reel began to be replaced by audio cassettes in the mid-1980s, you had dub from cassette to tape for anything but the most basic editing.
Here's A. Kamal, technical director at the college, with the Uher - which he used in journalistic action while covering India's 1971 war with Pakistan. The machine has the dents and scrapes that you would expect of such a war veteran. Once while covering the war, he fell into a stream - he got doused but he managed to keep the Uher out of the water.
Kamal told me that he was working for Indian TV at the time, and some models of Uher were designed to 'sync' audio with pictures recorded separately. At one point, Uhers were also used to record high quality sound for feature films, again using this 'sync' facility.
You are seeing the Uher against the backdrop of the stunningly modern new auditorium at ACJ, designed to allow performers to be heard clearly without the use of microphones. So it's ancient and modern in the same shot.
Uhers sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay but Kamal told me he had just sold this Uher for a single solitary rupee. If you give things away, he said, people feel they have no value.
Happily, the new owner is a Chennai audio buff who collects - maybe hoards is a better word - all sorts of vintage audio equipment. This wonderfully battered old Uher is in safe hands!
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