Madras - A Flashback
Madras, what a lovely name, I still use this name whenever I go abroad when people ask me "Which part of India you belong to", and yes, still it is very well known and famous when we say Madras, rather than saying "Chennai". This brief post is a tribute to the city I was born, brought up and the city I live in, and hopefully the city where I wanted to die as well. I am not sure about the other cities in India, but when it comes to Madras, the population here has a lot of emotional bonding, after all we are the folks who gave a "teary" send off to our beloved "meter gauge" train when it was all converted into "broad gauge", so this particular city is just more than a place in the map, it is more like a DNA in every "madaraasi"
Born in the year of 1977, I was fortunate to do all my education and some years of work in Madras before my career took me to various places. Mylapore is the area where I grew and still continue to live, and to me Mylapore is one place which did not want to change much for good, when compared to the other parts of Madras, of all the famous identities of Madras actually originated from Mylapore only - "Filter Coffee", "Iyer Maama", "Veshti", "Idly-Vadai-Pongal", "Maami Mess" so this place is the start of Madras to me and if you dig history as well, when Madras was formed, Mylapore was already in existence.
I have travelled in "Pallavan" bus transport (PTC) to my school, during those days the bus ticket used to be "10" paise from Mylapore to "Sanskrit College", the bus number "21" which plies between "Mandaiveli - Parrys" is still in service. During those days, Mylapore used to have a bus depot which would house "5B - Mylapore - TNagar", "3A - Mylapore - Alwarpet", "38F - Mylapore - Maadhavaram", nowadays due to congestion, they have moved these busses to Mandaiveli, unfortunately we dont see any service of "3A and 38F" these days. I used to maintain some of the old bus tickets as collectives, but I have missed them somehow, those were the times where the busses does not have a door, and there used to be an "alarm" behind the driver, and that would beep whenever the bus driver "over speeds", these days they are gone.
Madras and food are inseparable, but default madrasi's are foodies, you name a restaurant, you will get a minimum of 100 reviews about that restaurant, the quality of food that you get in Madras is incomparable to any other place in India, be it your morning "pongal-vadai" and "kaapi", or your limited "south indian thali" Madras has maintained its taste and quality. It is only in the recent times we are used to "Saravana Bhavan's and Sangeetha's" of Madras, to me they are not so good in taste or quality when compared to our good old "Rayar Cafe", "Shanthi Vihaar", "Ramakrishna Lunch Home (Parrys Corner)" or "Udupi Vilas", those players had "service" as their motto and hence provided super hygenic food, but today's players only have "service tax" in mind.
The very famous Madras slang is extremely unique to this place, and there used to be a "Wiki" link as well for translations of some of the "slang", though I studied in a high-class school in Mylapore (P.S.S.S.S), I developed a liking for this "madras bhaashai" and once in my school, the teacher asked me to show her my home work notebook and I spontaneously gave her "Idho keedhu paaru" response, of course I was made to kneel down in front of principal's room for using "offensive language" in the class, but today, a kinder garden kid is using the "F" word, just like that. When we talk about this Madras slang, we will have to talk about the "Rickshaw" walas who mastered this language as well as made it so popular.
Madras main identity was "Rickshaws", of course when I grew up, there were not "hand pulling" rickshaw's, and most of them were "pedal" operated, thanks to MGR (the then CM) who mandated a law that "humans cannot pull humans" and gave free rickshaws to many poor people. Those small yellow colored vehicles were all over the city and at that time, "auto" was not that famous, they charge you somewhere between 1 rupee to 5 rupees during those days for a 4km trip, round trips were even more cheaper. During rainy seasons, those rickshaw wala's would tickle their creative brains and used to decorate "plastic" covers to shelve their passengers from rain, and during summer days (those days summer was never this hot), the "top" of the rickshaw would be pulled down and you get some awesome breeze.
Madras also had another identity which is "aavin" milk, and during those days they used to serve them in a "bottle" container, and if I am not wrong and my memory was right, 1 liter of milk used to be Rs 3.50 and slowly that creeped higher and higher, and they removed "bottles" and replaced them with "plastic" pouches. In those days, you can sell those empty milk bottles for a good sum, and even in my house we used to keep aside the empty milk "plastic covers" and then sell it, 100 covers would fetch you 8 rupees or so, it was good money then. There used to be an aluminium "cap" for those milk bottles, that can be sold separately for a better amount, so every part of "aavin" can give you money. Glad that we still have aavin in business till date.
Madras and Music, to me they are husband and wife, Madras always gave importance to "Arts and Music", I dont think any other city in this country would have hosted so many "art exhibitions" than madras, in those days "Vaani Mahal" is very famous for hosting "art" exhibitions. When it comes to music, Madras stands first in organising big events, during the month of "Maargazhi" madras would be bubbling with crowd of all famous singers, in those days, it used to be a "pride" to sing in "R R Sabha (Rasika Ranjani Sabha)", I have seen so many great singers perform in "Kabaaleeswarar Temple", so Madras in one city which got itself upgraded without losing its "eternal" traits, the culture and heritage of Madras did not fade because of the other mushroomed entertainments which came into the city recently
Madras is a place where anyone can come and survive, this city has got something to offer for everyone who walks in, the following "businesses" could only be found in Madras and today most of them are non-existent - "Aruvaamanai - Katthi - Saanai", a guy used to carry a huge wooden stole which would have a "grinding stone" fitted on its top and connected via a cycle chain, that guy used to come twice a month to "sharpen" kitchen knives and "aruvaamanai's", these folks are not seen today. Also there used to be a business where we call it as "Thari podaradhu", a group of men would come, place few iron rods on the road and start weaving threads", they are killed by the modernisation of this society. There used to be folks who carry a big basket full of new vessels, they would take old clothes from you and then replace them with some useful utensils, they are not to be seen today. So Madras did offer all of them some kind of revenue till the time they were in existence.
Madras and cycles, oh how sweet of a combo it used to be, for anything and everything "Cycle" was considered to be a "status symbol", in those days, marriages too would be decided if the guy owns a "cycle", because "cycle" is such a precious thing to have. Even if someone's wife went missing, they may take a day or two to report to the police, but if a cycle is lost, that would send a panic attack and immediately the theft would be reported at the nearby police station, and my family was a victim of one such incident, and when we reported that to our "Kutchery Road" police station, the immediately replaced us with another "cycle" though it was not that new, but ok to manage. It used to be a mandate that every sunday all "cycle" owners would wash their cycle and put oil between the moving parts, putting an attractive "seat cover" and again covering it with a "shabby" cover was the norm those days, and notorious people, putting "blade" on the seat cover too is a famous "hobby". That good old "cycle" is not in existence and hence we could see huge crowds standing in front of hospitals and doctor clinics
"Jhaam Bajaar", that is how we pronounce it, is one place in Madras where you can get "refurbished" items, it is also notoriously famous for "stealing" new parts from varied "articles" and then sell them as "refurbished", so the famous such thefts were, removing the "cycle handle guard and locks". You name it, you will get it in Jhaam Bajaar, and if someone says that he knows someone in "Jhaam Bajaar", he is considered as "wowww" person. Another famous place used to be "Moore Market" which is famous for almost everything, books to clothes to video cassettes you get everything in that market, and it is the only identity of "mount road", unfortunately we lost it in a bad fire accident and today I am not sure what lies there as remains
Madras and Kuchi Ice / Gulfi - This industry flourished in Madras during my school days, and we used to wait for the last bell for the day to strike and the next moment you can see some 50 to 60 kids circling the "Ice man" to buy variety of ice. If a guy is wealthy, he used to buy "Semiya Ice" which is Rs 1, a guy from an upper middle class family would buy "Grape Ice", which was priced at 0.50p, and other normal guys like me would settle for "pepsi cola" which used to be 0.25p, "milk ice" is something which you can buy if you have Rs 2. That tiny vehicle which has no power or any motor would store 100s of ice kuchi's without melting, and to me that was "world wonder no 8", but later I realised that they use "dry ice" to keep them going. Another night time entertainment was "Gulfi", these vendors would come only in the night, they used to come in a tri-cycle which is covered with a "red" cloth, and they have this unique "bell" which would be audible even when you are fast asleep, they come pretty late into the nights and still they make good business. The guy who sells that was looked like a "super star", the way he opens that gulfi ice, the way he takes it out and cuts it into pieces, were all a treat to watch, finally it would be served on a "thaiyal ilai" which add more taste to that ice cream.
Madras and Games - No, I am not talking about the games that is played at any level, I am talking about the games that ruled the streets of Madras, when I was a kid, I have played "Gilli" - A game where you will have a big stick on your hand and there will be a "<--->" shaped wooden object on the floor, you will have to hit the wooden object on one of its "conical" side and when that wooden piece flies up in the air, you should hit it as long as you can with your stick on hand, the more the distance you score the winner would be decided, I have played "gilli" across many streets. Then comes "Goli" a game played with glass marbles, and not to boast my skills here, but I was a champion in this game, at one stage not many folks were willing to play with me as I would break their marbles, this game has got so many variants like "Raaja - Raani", "Bendhaa", and "Double Decker". Next famous game was "Top (Bambaram)" and I have played these as well, it is an art to wind the chord and then spin the top, also this has got a "sub game" called "Aakar" where you have to hit the opponents "top" and break it into pieces. There is another game called "Vattam" where we used to make "round" cuts with a "soda moodi" (Panneer Soda Cap) on a "cigar" box and then throw it in the air, one who collects more "dots" is the winner. Thank GOD, when we were young "Steve Jobs" was also young, hence we were not pampered with any of the "i"s
I can write loads and loads of such sweet things about Madras, but I think, too much of over-dose on anything is a killer, :) hence, I stop here and I hope these would have kindled some of your nostalgic memories, if you are also a 70s child. I love Madras and I love this city beyond anything else. Let this city be the same for the next 1000 years. Love you Madras.