The four gates of IITM open to different ways of life. The main gate opens to Chennai with its dashing cars and highways; contrastingly, the Velachery Gate opens to the infamous Phoenix Mall and places to go cafe hopping.
The Taramani Gate, or the T Gate as we call it, opens to the most elegant form of Chennai. The scents of the agarbattis from temples and jasmine from the florist akkas, the playful barking of the friendly street dogs, and the smell of cigars set it apart from the others with the plethora of small shops and their humans, giving life to T Gate.
Before diving further into the article, T5E and the author would like to state that we do not endorse or support smoking despite playful references. So, enjoy the read and make choices that don’t lead you ashtray 😉
To write about the humans of T gate, one had to immerse oneself in their world, breathe their air, and walk in their shoes. And so, I decided to become one of them, if only for a day. My proficiency in Tamil, though limited, did not deter me. I sought the help of Kishore, a close friend fluent in the language, to assist with communication logistics.
Our walk began the moment we passed through Taramani Gate, leaving behind the secure cocoon of insti. T-gate welcomed us with Auto-rickshaws and Zomato delivery bikes whizzing past and the occasional car honking impatiently, interrupted by dogs wagging their tails and barking.
“Which way should we head first? Left or right?” Kishore asked.
“Straight,” I replied.
The store right opposite T Gate is Jaynith. Within its walls, one could find an array of small snacks, refreshing cold drinks, and tantalising titbits that provided a much-needed respite from Chennai’s relentless heat. Here, we met Santosh, the shopkeeper of Jaynith and the keeper of its stories. A warm smile graced his face at the mere mention of an interview. In the recesses of Santhosh’s memory resides a cherished narrative from days past.
Jaynith had been a student haven for ten years. Santosh, who had worked there for two years, shared stories about how the store started as a small tea shop. Some customers just came and went, but there were special ones who became friends. They discussed their academic stress placement uncertainties and invited Santosh to watch movies in OAT.
Santosh also mentioned incidents of shoplifters sneaking in and playing the blame game when caught. He laughed about how they always managed to escape. One fond memory was when the alumni from the 1996 batch visited. They showed Santosh pictures of what the old tea shop looked like and some facts that Santosh himself didn’t know.
Right next to Jaynith resides a charming haven, luring you in with the promise of flavours from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. We met Gopi, a cheerful soul hailing from the very heart of Andhra. He was busy on his phone when we interrupted him for an interview. Gopi was a linguistic chameleon, seamlessly switching between Tamil and Telugu as the diverse student population of IIT Madras flowed in and out. “You name it, we serve it,” he said with a grin. “Btech, Mtech, Tamil, Telugu, all sorts of students come here.” He pointed out the stack of bulk orders that he gets frequently. “You know, during Vinayaka Chathurthi, we’re the go-to place for Mothakam in IITM,” he explained.
Andhra Snacks was once known as the Andhra Mess, stretching back two decades. “But for the last twelve years,” Gopi said, “we’ve been Andhra Snacks.” He shared how he was brought to Chennai by his mentor from the Andhra Mess days. It all began as an expansion, but in time, it had blossomed into Andhra Snacks, a tribute to his mentor’s legacy. He spoke of the special bond he shared with the students. “They’re more than customers; they’re friends.” He showed us his phone, which had chats from the graduated students who constantly updated their work lives through WhatsApp and Facebook. “I’m connected with the graduated students. They send me life updates, work updates, selfies from their new lives.”
“Punugulu and Mirchi Baji,” he revealed, to the benefit of the eager foodies reading this article, “are the hot sellers.”
“I never got the chance to study,” he confessed. “I’ve been cooking since I was sixteen. So I always wanted to cook for the people who study.” Although his dreams had been stowed away, his culinary skills had flourished in their stead.
The location shift from the main gate of IIT Madras to the heart of T gate had proved a game-changer. “More students come here now,” Gopi explained. “And when they graduate, they return one last time for selfies.”
Right next to Andhra Snacks is My Bakes, one of the most famous among students. Despite going there five times for an interview, we have yet to get a chance to interview the owner due to its never-ending hustle and bustle. The main person at the counter spoke Malayalam, with a northern Kerala accent. The store’s perpetual crowd reflected its fame. My Bakes was the ultimate spot for students’ ‘chai-sutta’ sessions, offering various evening snacks and small bites.
Ammu’s Fruit Shop
Continuing our walk, we turned left toward D Diet but paused at the junction, noticing a small fruit shop without an official name. For the sake of this article, let us call it Ammu’s Fruit Shop. Nestled quietly on the street, its essence was defined by Ammu, the gracious elderly woman who had witnessed four decades of change around T Gate.
Ammu, with her silver hair and warm smile, blushed when we asked for an interview. Her shop had seen generations of students pass by, each leaving their mark on her memories.
“Some students inquire about prices, while others want to learn the Tamil names of fruits,” she chuckled. Her English picked up through conversations with IIT Madras students, was a testament to her lived experience.
Over the years, Ammu’s shop had been a silent witness to remarkable events. She shared stories of film shoots just outside her stall, where celebrities like Vishal and Sneha graced the street. Apples and papayas were always popular, but mangoes flew off her shelves in a frenzy when the season arrived.
Ammu recalled a heartwarming incident. “This student came with his parents, showed me a picture of his grandmother, and said I resembled her.” These moments, bridging generations brought warmth to her heart. Yet, she expressed her worry. “These days,” she sighed, “junk food has overshadowed fruit sales.” Her words, tinged with nostalgia, reflected the changing trends.
In a place where names weren’t always necessary, the stories and bonds nurtured here were what truly mattered.
Then we headed to the infamous D-Diet. The owner, Mohammad, hails from Malappuram, Kerala. This local eatery has become a favourite haunt for an eclectic mix of people. Among them were the city’s residents, the insti population, and the corporate employees seeking a respite from their busy lives.
The menu was uncomplicated but satisfying, with the bread omelette reigning supreme. For the insti crowd, it was the go-to choice, often accompanied by a steaming cup of chai or sulaimani. Interestingly, amidst the usual orders, there is a quirky preference – ‘chai-sutta’, a combination of tea and a cigarette, which found its place among the charges.
“D-Diet opens at 4 in the morning, making it a perfect spot for morning bites after pulling an all-nighter,” said a tired but satisfied customer from Insti.
We could not hope to encapsulate the essence of the “Humans of T-Gate” without consulting the hoards of students frequenting the spot. A group shared their stories, each tale as unique as the next.
In these conversations, an Insti student, preferring to remain anonymous, shared a lighthearted insight. “T Gate is also a place where all backend mamas tutor their backend babies,” they joked, highlighting the camaraderie in this vibrant corner of the world.
Among the conversations were the ardent chai-sutta enthusiasts, finding solace in the simplicity of tea and a smoke, a ritual that eased the burdens of academia. Then, some sought refuge in T Gate during moments of crisis, be it the pressure of placements or the challenges of internships. For them, the familiar surroundings and comforting aroma of food and flowers provided a brief respite from the chaos of their academic lives. In moments of crisis, when the pressures of the outside world threatened to overwhelm them, they sought sanctuary within its familiar walls. The comforting blend of aromatic food and the gentle embrace of blooming flowers welcomed them, offering a temporary escape from the chaos that often defined their academic lives.
Amidst the clinking of cups and the laughter that echoed off the walls, these students found more than just a place to unwind. They found a home away from home, a haven where friendships were forged in the crucible of shared challenges and triumphs. With their unique preferences and individual reasons for being there, each student added vibrant hues to life at T Gate.
In these simple yet profound moments of connection, the very essence of T Gate came alive. It was more than just a spot for tea and chattering; it was a living, breathing entity, a tapestry to the resilience of the human spirit. It was a place where laughter echoed louder than the worries of the day, where problems seemed insignificant in the warmth of companionship. Here, learning and growing was not a solitary endeavour but a collective celebration that painted the canvas of their shared experiences.
Edited by: Pooja Shankar
Design by: Ramana and Aruthra
I like metaphors more than simile because I become what I write.