MEMORIES OF MADRAS
When the living was easy
The city was less crowded and people had more time for leisure, remembers lawyer-actor S. Charuhasan
The Hindu PHOTO Archives (1962)
T. NAGAR THEN The bus terminus wore a deserted look
In the late 1940s, when I was a student of Loyola College, students travelling by train, boarded and got off at Kodambakkam or Chetpet station because the Nungambakkam station did not exist then. Nor did the under-bridge that now leads to Nelson Manickam Road — a level crossing stood in its place. Director Ramanna (brother of actor T.R. Rajakumari, he directed a film with M.G. Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan ) used to be seen sitting near the level-crossing and discussing stories with his assistants.
Lined by bungalows on either side, Sterling Road offered interesting views. Occupied mostly by Railway officers, each of these bungalows was set on four or five acres of land. Marked in a 1909 map of Madras, it is among the oldest roads in the city. Probably because white officers lived there, it was the best laid road, after Mount Road. I can vouch for it, as I have travelled at 60 miles per hour on my cycle, hitched to a motorcycle that belonged to my room-mate at Loyola hostel. Among the other marvels during my stay at Loyola was the boa constrictor Father Lee kept as pet!
There was no hustle and bustle. What we call the T. Nagar bus stand was a wooded area. There was no terminus in the area — the buses were parked along South Usman Road. As the roads were never crowded and wore a deserted look after 7.30 p.m., there were no traffic snarls. Even on Mount Road, all commercial houses, except for Buharis and Bilal, closed around that time.
In the 1940s, public transport was readily available and there was no dash for seats. An admirer of trams, I was disappointed when the service was discontinued. I idolise Erode Venkata Ramasamy (Periyar) and believe he deserves more credit than we give him. Periyar pointed out that the portion of the tram lines that lay beneath the tarmac was all copper. The man was right. If my memory serves me right, the tram shed was exactly where the Dinathanthi office is, now.
If you looked at the encumbrance certificates of many well-known properties, there could be surprises. The building, on the corner of Eldams Road, which houses the Lifestyle Home Store now, was owned by an editor of Sunday Herald. He had his office there, which I visited as a student.
I was away from Madras for a period, first to study law and then to practise it. Even then, I was in touch with the city. Stationed in Ramnad district, I often had work at the Madras High Court. I would take what was called the Indo-Ceylon Express. Plying between Madras and Dhanuskodi, it was popularly known as the Boat Mail — people from Madras went to Dhanuskodi by this train, and from there, took a boat to Ceylon. Yes, back then, we lived in an uncomplicated world!
Always, before I landed in Madras, I wrote to a man who ran a taxi service at the MLAs’ Hostel. He drove a 1930 Ford or a 1928 Fiat to the Egmore station. Having paid him Rs. 20, equal to half a sovereign of gold, I could drive the car for one full day. Filling two rupees worth of petrol, I would go about my work. As it was located near the Egmore Station, I always took a room for Rs. 5 at Everest Hotel.
I would have lunch at Ambika Hotel or Modern Cafe in Parry’s Corner, usually for four annas. These were among a small group of hotels that had character. All other hotels were known as Udupi hotels or military hotels. The idli-vadai-sambar system of food we assume to be Tamilian actually came from Udupi in Karnataka.
Bosotto Hotel, on Mount Road, is unforgettable. I have never dined there, because its doors were barred for the commoner. Closed down in 1950s, Bosotto hotel gave way to the Indian Tea Board office. Today, the building houses the city’s biggest Bata showroom.
S. CHARUHASAN Born in Paramakudi in 1931, he is a lawyer by education. He practised law for three decades. His career in films began in 1979, when J. Mahendran offered him a role in “Udhiri Pookal”. Apparently, the director was looking for someone who had never acted before. The lawyer-actor was on the National Awards Committee and is now on the State Awards Committee.
As there were no constructions in between, it was easy to walk over to the graveyard from Loyola College. As I was given to pooh-poohing the idea of the spirit outliving the body, my friends wanted to test my conviction. In the dead of night, when I was sound asleep, my hostel mates carried my cot to the graveyard. Hidden behind tombstones, they were waiting for me to open my eyes and yell in fear. Their prank did not work as I slept till the early morning sun made it difficult to continue to do so.
As told to PRINCE FREDERICK
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