Tuesday, August 5, 2008


LIFE IN MADRAS 1956 to 1957

Viji, Raji and Bala, enjoying ice cream at the Egmore
station while waiting to receive visitors

Our next destination was Madras, today’s Chennai. After staying with a bachelor friend of Babuji, (S. Venkitaramanan, whom the children called Ramanan Mama) for four to six weeks, we moved into a brand new house in Sri Ram Nagar, off Mowbray’s Road, today’s TTK Saalai.

In those days in Delhi, it was a regular practice among friends to share one’s residence with those in need. We as a newly married couple stayed with friends for four to six weeks before we moved into our own government allotted quarters. And we in turn had shared our home with bachelors and newly married couples, and even couples with one or two children. We all lived as one family, sharing all household work and expenses. So I had no objection or awkwardness in staying with this friend. I felt sorry for him actually, for we were a family of eight members, three generations, plus one cook. He left the whole house at our disposal, but for one room upstairs, for his own use.

Madras in those days, that is, in the 1950s was a very laid back city, very quiet and peaceful. The roads were deserted most of the time. There were not even one-hundredths of the cars that fill the roads today. Even Mount Road, that is Anna Saalai of today, was peaceful to drive through. Motorcycles, scooters and auto rickshaws were unheard of. Babuji and I used to enjoy our drive from Gemini Circle (where today’s Anna flyover is) to the Beach Road, through Edward Elliotts Road, that is today’s Radhakrishna Saalai, a long stretch, without any hassle. Marina beach was very different from what it is today. It was a long stretch of sand up to the waves with no barricades or car parks or any man -made structures to ruin its natural beauty. There were a few sellers of eatables scattered over the place, and we really relaxed going there.

Another landmark which is no more is the Moore Market, the mother of all shopping malls of today, which was next to the Central Station. I remember my father getting me a celluloid doll when I was eight years old, and toys for my two younger brothers, when he went to Madras for a meeting, and visited Moore Market. My mother confiscated all these to display them only for the Navarathri kolu. I never played with that doll, and this is possibly the reason that whatever toys I got for my children were given to them to play with.

There were very few shops in our locality. Mowbrays Road was dotted with single bungalows in the middle of large compounds. The house we moved into was also single-storied with a big compound both at the front and at the back. The house belonged to well-known film star Ranjan. His brother Balu was the one who helped us to settle down in this house. Balu and Sujatha, a nice couple, were the only friends we made during these six months.

The few shops in our locality closed by 8 pm. One evening I found I had run out of salt. And to buy that packet of salt Babuji drove me all the way to Pondy Bazaar. Here too, we found only a single provision shop open, where we found our salt. What a difference to today’s life.

You won’t believe me if I told you that government offices in those days started working only at 11 am and ended by 4 pm. So office goers were able to eat their lunch leisurely and then leave for work.

Babuji was very much involved in the general election held that year. He was the returning officer in Kanchipuram. It was a very proud moment for him when he announced the victory of Mr. Annadurai. On the day of the election, after the voting was over, each ballot box was sealed and locked and kept in a room which was locked and sealed in the presence of all party members, to be opened only on the counting day, again in the presence of these members. Suddenly it was noticed that the fan in the room was still on. Someone had forgotten to switch it off. Babuji was in a quandary – an old fan going on for 24 hours for nearly a week could cause a short circuit because of coil-burning. Reopening the room was out of the question. Babuji hit upon the idea of switching off the main in the building, even though it meant that the other parts of the building had to do without electricity.

Even if it was only for six months, Bala joined St. Bede’s. He was not yet nine years old, but he used to travel by public bus; the roads were so safe. Viji was put in a nearby school within walking distance. But no school was willing to admit Raji in Class 7 just for 6 months. All said and done, both Raji and Bala lost one year of their studies – but no regrets.

A few words about Annaji and Ammaji, Babuji’s parents. Annaji was 63 years old and Ammaji was 56 years old. They were then considered as ‘old people’. They both took all the changes that happened in these two years in their stride without any complaint. Not only that, they were a great help in taking care of the children also. Ammaji took upon herself to bring up Raja from the very early days, and Raja also wanted only Ammaji for most things. And the bond between them was really strange. Every Friday Annaji and Ammaji attended the prayer meetings which were held in the Gandhi Mandapam without fail. Some days Rajaji used to attend the meetings, and on certain days M. S. Subbulakshmi used to sing bhajans. And they enjoyed this outing very much.

Another advantage of being in Madras was we came in contact with many of Babuji’s relatives from both sides. The main attraction for Babuji in Madras were Kuttiyappa and Kuttiammai, his aunt and uncle, who lived in Royapuram, and with whom he had spent part of his growing years.

We both welcomed visiting relatives with open arms. Ours was an open house, and there was food ready for anyone who needed it any time of the day – much appreciated by all.

When Babuji’s tenure in the south was to come to an end in June 1957, he applied to the centre for a posting in the south for a few more years, in consideration to his aged parents. The Centre obliged to this by sending Babuji to Pondicherry on deputation.


Viji said...

Ma, another evocative piece from you gently prodding the mind to rememember long forgotten yet faintly lingering memories ...my memories of our time in Madras is Bala hurtng his forehead on the rim of a flower pot and the sighting of a snake in the backyard .

Indrani said...

Another interesting leaf from the book of your life. :)

Kamini said...

As always, a very interesting read.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I am interested to know if the newspaper reporter ever contacted you and whether he has interviewed you for the newspaper. I imagine your life-story would be very popular with readers.

I enjoyed reading about how people would let friends share their houses if they were in temporary need. In England and Australia, after WW2 there was such a shortage of houses that many people had to share but I don't think they enjoyed it.

The problem we have now in the west is that young men and women are moving 'back home' so that they can save for a house. Mine are past this stahe, I'm happy to say.