Wednesday, August 17, 2011

To you Madras, for giving me beautiful memories- Part I

Generally when a person is questioned which his/her favorite city is, normally it would be the place where they have made best memories or had/have a great social circle or work culture irrespective of the city’s weather, politics, lack of infrastructure and even traffic and with that definition, my fav cities are Madras,Bangalore and Hyderabad in random order.

Though I have never lived in Madras, I share a special bond with this city. No matter how far you go, your childhood stays with you and this city other than giving me memories has been the venue of my wedding and my birth too.

This place celebrates its formation day as ‘Madras day” on August 22 every year and the week around is celebrated as Madras week.

The character of Chennai lies in the fact that it has not lost its culture and deep rooted values while adapting itself to new,  for which reason it attracts many foreign tourists on its shores some of whom have made this their home. This is very evident from the many visting foreigners who went on to become students at cultural hubs like Kalakshetra, cholamandalam arts village and at many other cultural centres, but due to paucity of time, technological advances and the world shrinking into global village, we do take our own culture and heritage for granted, at times like this it is occasions like our festivals which helps us to take a step back in time and ‘Madras day’ is one of them.

A team of enthusiasts who value heritage like Mr.Vincent, Mr. Muthiah , Mr. Sashi nair supported by many volunteers and organizations connect the present generation with the past by arranging and focusing on an eclectic mix of madras related activities like heritage walks, photo exhibits, docu dramas and talks at the various parks,schools and hotels which volunteer to host.

It just feels beautiful to share this series of post which is not a travel guide of madras but a celebration of memories that is madras for me apart from its culture, couture, craft, coffee, cinema and cuisine, especially these memories were made in 4 old suburbs of Madras – Adyar( where I was born),Mylapore( my maternal grandparents home ), Nanganallur( my paternal grand parents place) and now my marital (extended family) home at T.nagar.

There could be lot of grammatical and spelling errors, and some lines could even be repeated, a very random list straight from my heart,    To you  Madras.....

As a little girl while travelling by Brindavan express( Bangalore to madras), I used to be so excited when the train reached Basin bridge junction because Madras was just a few minutes away and thatha would be there to receive me at the station and I would be in the company of my loving relatives and cousins.

As the car passed through Napier bridge and the world’s second largest beach Marina, I would be bursting with joy to capture the beautiful moments that lay in store for me.

Here’s where I caught the sights, sounds, scents and sweet people like in the list below and all these are so symbolic and represent Madras, On a personal level these are the things that I have done in madras long back,

  • A vibrant and active city( thoonga nagaram) is awake as early as 5 or before, and you will find people splashing water and cleaning the door steps to put kolam(rangoli). Most people rise here to the south Indian wake up music  of noted carnatic singer M.S.Subbalakshmi’s suprabhatam, followed by a cup of Filter kaapi.. Here filter kaapi is served in a stainless steel davara and tumbler( cup and saucer). The way kaapi is poured from the cup to the saucer from a great distance to make it frothy is an art to be mastered and could keep capuccino, mocha out of the race.
  • The scents and sights of the beautifully strung kadhamba poo made up of flowers of henna, bluebells, kanakambaram, marikozhundu, the scent of jasmine flowers all these were strung beautifully on a banana fibre by the florist on almost all street corners. The paneer rojas( a scented rose used in gulkand) would be made into huge garlands and encased in silver threads and the scent of these flowers were always in the air, the marikozhundu(Spanish cherry), thazhampoo(screw pine), Manoranjitham(ylang ylang) and the festoons made of coconut glade during ocassions.
  • The lovely procession of janavasam( baraat) where the bride groom goes in an open car piloted by the mellifluous tunes of nadaswaram and mridangam band and relatives ,flanked by the carriers of petromax lights( Ilike the effect of the filtered light in the night) all this from the balcony of our patti’s home. The baraat passes through our home to the Raja kalyana mandapam beside Buckingham canal.
  • The pattu pavaidas brought at rasi silk and nalli and tailored by maadi tailor and all those colorful rustling silks of the madisar maamis around kapali kovil and Nanganallur anjaneyar koil.
  • The taste of the Goli soda at T.A.S ratthinam pattinam kadai, kaara sevai of the matthala narayanan street, the jeeraga mittai , eli mittai and 5 star bought at sankar stores, the herbs at dabba chetty kadai, the softy,flavored milks and palkova of aavin and of course nothing to beat the taste of patti’s malligai poo idli, suttennai and milagai podi and the rose barfi of Grand sweets.( I was very angry with my grandpa once when he told me to share a 5 star with a co - passenger on my train).
  • I studied for 5 months during my mom's confinement while my sister was born, and amirtham our maid used to take me to kumaran's school, not wanting to go to school, I swung the oonjal (swing) against her head while she was mopping the floor and while she was writhing in pain, i was so happy i would miss school till thatha punctured my happiness by tellling me that he would take me to police station.
  • My first sight of Television and I loved to watch oliyum oliyum, wonderballoon , here’s lucy, and non-stop nonsense and I would be delighted to see those east man color movies  and this oliyum oliyum was telecast on fridays during the archanai at kapali koil and my patti told us cousins to accompany mami. Oh, How we hated to go to kapali koil those days, and now almost daily before going to sleep, I am mentally go around this temple.
  • The pride I and my cousins felt while giving neer more( chaas/buttermilk)  to the passers by sitting on the steps of the sengalineer pillaiyar koil which patti specially churned during ramanavami and summers.
  • The utsava murthi( god in procession) which used to exclusively pass in front of our home and all of us would come out with  pooja items to offer pooja( this arrangement is done by the temples so that invalid and old people can have the darshan of god)
  •   The sidaru thengai( breaking coconuts on the road in front of Ganesha temple) and the rickshaw wallas rushing to get the sidaru thengai.
  • My own choppu basket( toys)  made of cane which was downloaded from the attic when i went for holidaysand the games of pallankuzhi. I still have my patti’s pallanguzhi ( a traditional game which has a wooden base).
  • The strolls around maada veedhi (road), luz church and the narrow alleys like matthala narayanan street, bazaar street, walk to santhome beach, around the lanes of my mom’s school and the various falls I had while learning to cycle in the vast ground before 41, lakshmi nagar colonynanganallur and union carbide colony , the walks to watch movies at ranga, kapali and kamadhenu theatres.
  • Shopping at luz, mada street, t.nagar, pondy bazaar, Burma bazaar and the old red spencer building .
  • In nanganallur home, there were sepia toned photos of our ancestors walled in a linear fashion along with those was a photo of nehru and gandhi. As a child, when I asked who was that? my thatha answerd as nehru thatha and till many years I was thinking nehru was related to me and he was my thatha.
  • Our visits to the temples of kapali kovil, luz anjaneyar, mundakanniamman, nanganallur anjaneyar , ashtalaksmi koil, velanganni , ayyappan koil at R.A puram and santhome church .
  • The aroma wafting out of patti’s kitchen while she makes keerai masiyal, urulai curry , vengaya sambar and that tasty arisi upma made in vengala uruli , the kaisuttu murukku and adirasam were too tasty and how can I forget the special atthi kai( fig) sambar . These atthi kai was not available in all shops, only in a roadside shop outside hindu chit fund office, paati sent amirtham( our maid) to get this because I love this atthi kai sambar and the taste is still lingering on my tongue
  • The sound of the cycle rickshaw bells which carried rosary matric children, bells of the soan papdi cycle the nearby pillaiyar koil still chimes in my ear.
  • The cool sea breeze which caressed us while we played on the hot summer terrace.
  • The smell of amrutanjan while you stood outside the bustop at luz,The casual bow to luz vinayagar,My cycling experiences at the huge open area called nanganallur.( On my last visit to this place , I could find no open space, only flats), My first electric train journey from Pazhavanthangal to mambalam and our joy rides in my thatha’s amby MSR 2277, the phone number 73762, the beautiful chettinad mansion on adyar, the various kutcheris at Ramana kendra, the dramas( madras has a very active theatre group), The Christmas cakes at universal bakery, the sand castles built on the beach, the maangai sundal and chocobar of santhome, marina and elliots beach, the cool breeze that caresses your  face while you walk up the narrow alleys of Ashtalaksmi kovil,,The warmth and service of people like mani mama( jewelry shop), veenai mami, Shankar stores, the archakar at kapali kovil, srividya manjal kunguma kadai , rickshaw puller kapali, Dr. kailash his wife Dr. chitra and all those people at the post office, thambi pharmacy, sarasa pinman, Shankar stores, dabbachetty kadai,the gurkha of the United bank, the librarian at the nearby library who went on mouna vrat’s on Monday , my aunt’s and mom’s typewriting and shorthand institute, devi milk depot. and our maid amirtham ,
  • Come December and this city experiences concert tourism where musicians from all over the world congregate to celebrate and experience the December katcheri – a music fest which is unparalled in the world.
All these and much more are  the memrorable times  that Madras has given me that will stay on forever wherever I go and so madras day is a reason for me to celebrate. There is still lot more to madras and I leave this list incomplete…………….

Regular winner Mrs. Gowri Chandrashekar at 'Mylapore festival' with her winning kolam(rangoli)

The aroma of Patti's kitchen, idli moligai pudi, nallennai or sometimes suttennai

                                                 The spirit of madras - dance and music

The theppotsavam at mylapore temple tank, the air around mylapore is very festive during this time

                               She is the morning raga for most Chennaites - The divine M.S.Subbulakshmi
Interested may find the madras day events listing here

All the photos are from :Global village's Best of chennai - a coffee table book. except the theppam photo which is from mylapore times.


  1. superb post yar...kalakittingo..aiyo aiyo...ippo sooda chennai filter coffee kudikanam pola irrukuya...besh besh...hey i am taking a print to read this post aram se again later..cheers

  2. Asha, you can add url of my blog in your dashboard, reading list.

  3. Loved your post Asha, My son calls himself Madras man...and blogs too under that name. at present he is not active as he is busy with studies, Next year we were planning to shift to Chennai .Our permanent residence is there.
    Loved the photos.

  4. ebbbbbbbbbbaaaaaaaa....ivlo mattera!!! ithana varushama inga iruken..ithula naalu line kooda senthapala adika varaathu :) kalakiteenga..Travel and Living channelku commentatora podlam ungala :)

  5. BEautfiul post .. I dont know what to say..
    pictures are beautiful ... reminds me of the 2 -3 times that i have been to madras.. THe ota , the beach and Station tooo :)

    I had to spend a night there at station but will tell u later why.. dont want to put a dampner on the post .. It is a beautiful city and i got a lot of friends there now ..


  6. You seems to be in nostalgic mood.. gud post

    That idli pic is defenetly from Murugan Idli Shop.

  7. @ ramesh--- coffee kudichiteengala.. good...good...:)thank you for the encouraging comment:.

    @chitra --- yes, i love the active life there and where everybody smiles at everybody :)

    @ gils--- Look who's saying this... naalu line adika varama 450 post mudichhu, heading towards 5k post ivaru, thank you:)

    @bikramjit --thank you for reading this post bikram, i hav'nt even bothered to translate the tamil names in some places, despite that you could catch the feeling. i know you feel the same about punjab...very nice of you:) btw oota is kannada, it is saapadu in tamil

    @ravi -- :) oh, is it murugan idli shop? I don't know... may be... thank you :)

  8. What a beautiful post. I loved getting a little peek into your history, and the photos made me feel like I was really there. I Just wanted to say hello from Best Posts of the Week. -Lola from Lolarati and Buddhatropolis

  9. Such a lovely description, makes me want to visit Madras, it has been a long time, we must plan to visit it one of these weekends. Lets see,how things go.

  10. AWESOME post... loved each and every item, tho am yet to do most of em :))

  11. @ Rama -- my visits to chennai are very short these days and ends in hopping from one house to another or attending functions. Must plan a visit exclusively to discover chennai.

  12. Welcome aarti and nice of you to say such sweet words :)

  13. just linked this article on my Facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

    Chennai Cakes

  14. Hi Asha, we would like to use the kolam` photo (Mrs Gowri Chandrashekar) in our web site. Is it copyrighted to you? If so, are you happy for us to use it?

    Nats Subramanian
    New Zealand

    1. As you can see i have down loaded and credited the photos to the global village's e-book.You can also do the same and give the photo credits to the e-book global village.

    2. Thank you Asha. I contacted GV and they have gracefully given permission to use the image, subject to us giving credit in our web site, which we would gladly do. Thanks again, and my wife Uma & I really enjoyed reading your posts :)

  15. @Nats- thank you and Uma for reading my posts:)

  16. Nice post. It’s a very interesting article for us. It is a beautiful city.
    Loved Your post. Thanks for sharing.

    From - Chennai flowers

  17. Was googling for dabba chetti kadai and happened to read this post, nice one, I am reminded of my good old days in Chidambaram

    I am from deep south, Chidambaram, and now chennai vasi as I am married to a charming fellow from Triplicane.

    I stayed in Chennai (Triplicane) for few days during my college final year...for the project work, :-) I hated the very sight of a thiruvizha kumbal in every bus stop. By then I did not know that I am going to stay in Triplicane for years

    But U know what, going around Thiruvallikeni parthasarathy koil/Marina beach/Kutchery Road/ Busy South Mada street of Mylai has become our weekly routine and I am soooooo fond of Triplicane and Mylai