The first thing you will notice the moment you get off the train at Tirunelveli Junction is that the train pulled in late. The Nellai Express strictly follows the concept of Indian Stretchable Time (IST), just like every other upstanding Indian citizen. Well begun is half done, so the train will start on time… and leave it at that. This will also serve as your first introduction to the Alwa (not Halwa) that Tirunelveli is famous for.
For some reason, Kollywood has always made Tirunelveli and its occupants look like a bunch of shady motherfuckers who will chase you from Kanyakumari to Australia, just to put a dent in you with makeshift farming-equipment-inspired weaponry. Contrary to popular belief, the people of Tirunelveli are extremely welcoming, right from the auto rickshaw drivers to the food stall owners. If you aren’t in your senses, it might feel like you travelled all the way here only to get driven around town in a rickshaw, or stuff your face full of Idli, Dosa, Poori, Pongal, and the likes. The only way to escape is to make no eye contact; just keep walking.
While Tamizh is the local language, the dialect sounds like Honey Singh rehearsing his lines sans beats in the background. Yela (not to be confused with Yelawolf) is the Tirunelveli equivalent of Bro, Dude, Dude-bro, Nigga, Fella, Man, Macha, Machi, etc. Every third sentence begins with Yela or ends with ‘la. Exercise caution, though, as this term of endearment is only for informal communication. Do not rope it into conversation while talking to an elder, or you will meet the same fate as Jackie Chan in Rush Hour. Surprisingly, the most soft-spoken lot is the police. The cops regularly belt out instructions to motorists parking on the roads leading into the Junction, and make it a point to address each person with sir or a similar term of respect. “Sir, please do not park your vehicle there. If you refuse, I will be forced to fuck you up, sir. Please, sir.”
Tirunelveli Junction is also home to Arasan, the most happening hangout spot a student can afford. If you are on Tinder and looking for some fun times in Tirunelveli, you don’t have to swipe right or left, the screen will instead flash GET OFF YOUR ASS AND GET TO ARASAN, BITCH! This is where awkward first dates happen, where the girl you want to meet will bring her own posse (unannounced) and you will pay for everyone. No. Questions. Asked. The menu has a decent number of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, pizzas, and a good selection of drinks and ice-cream. The plush couches, the tables, the chairs, the ketchup, it’s all red. Red for louw, maybe? Oh, stop it, ya! Shy is coming.
The bus stand is the size of a football pitch. If you ever find yourself waiting for a bus, try one of the tea stalls, where the chef will try to speak in Hindi if he feels you are a few shades fairer than everyone else in the vicinity. Once the bus arrives, it is war. Nobody gives a fuck about you getting in and settling into a seat. It is each man for himself. From a distance, it will look like a litter of puppies trying to cram their way back into the womb – ten individuals pushing into one narrow entrance. Fret not, for there is a hack. As soon as the bus pulls in, you must jump up, alley-oop, layup, and slam-dunk your bag into a seat – through the window while you’re still outside the bus. Unfortunately, everyone else has mastered this trick, so only sheer determination and animalistic want for a seat will get you through. If you manage all of that, there’s still getting into the bus. Therefore, an inside man for the job is recommended. This teaches you the most valid life lesson – if you want something bad enough, fuck the shit out of it. Once you are in your seat and the bus has moved, you may steal a few lines from Malcolm X; “Yela, we didn’t land on the seat. The seat landed on us, ‘la!”
Tirunelveli is home to the most interesting food, excluding the Alwa. Sri Sugi is probably the only place where you will get a donut for less than twenty bucks, and the donut will hit the G-spot in your tongue. It is succulent, soft, sugarcoated on the outside and yellow on the inside, and laced with rosewater extract. At nightfall, head back toward the station for the most satisfying street food experience of your short and until now aimless life. Banana leaf adorned benches skirt each side of the street, and you won’t have to choose where to go because someone will eventually pull you by the hand and plonk you down on the stool. The first thing you will have is Idli, you have no choice. As soon as your tush touches down, four white, round, breast implant-like objects will land on your banana leaf. After that, you will be asked what you want to have. Your options – Dosa, Podi Dosa, Mutta Dosa, Chappathi, Half Baayil.
Podi Dosa is when the Molaga Podi is sprinkled all over the inner surface of the Dosa. The moment you take a bite, your mouth will experience hell – extreme heat, extreme spice, extreme sinning. It’s like an STD for your tongue: you know it’s bad, but it was fucking worth it. The Mutta Dosa is what happens when a Dosa and an omelet 69 each other. The Half Baayil is the Tamizhian’s version of Sunny (Leone) side up. Everything you ask for is made right in front of you. So, when you aren’t lost in mandible masturbation, the preparation of what you are about to eat will act as good filler content while waiting for your next item. The best part about dinner on the streets of Tirunelveli – you can eat the entire solar system (including Pluto and all the other banished planets) for a hundred bucks or less.
Alwa for dessert is a must. It is a lubricant for the soul. Hot, fragrant, and floating in clarified butter, with one cashew nut at the top – like Pompeii prior to decimation. But, buying yourself the perfect piece of Alwa is an art honed over many years of trial and error. Santhi Sweets is the real deal, but there are five of them in a row. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the right one, dive into the throng of Alwa addicts, and come out victorious. You will get molested, groped, pinched, mentally undressed, and that’s just if you’re lucky. Your gender does not matter. But, the Alwa makes it all worth it.
The images featured aren’t mine. I was busy either watching where I was going, or busy stuffing my mouth. And, my battery was low. I am human, after all.