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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 18, january 1-15, 2010
Our Readers Write

Getting on with the past

  • Responding to a report that the Editor of Madras Musings does all his writings using a 50-year-old Olivetti, Dr. D.B. James (37, Sadasiva Metha Street, Metha Nagar, Chennai 600 028) indulges in a bit of nostalgia.

When I joined as a Senior Research Scholar of the Government of India in 1963 at Mandapam Camp, I had to submit my periodical research reports to the Director. Since my handwriting was bad I had to submit typed reports. In a remote place like Mandapam Camp there were no job typists. I requested my father to purchase a second-hand typewriter so that I could type my reports and submit them. He bought a battered Underwood (USA) portable typewriter. I started typing using two fingers when my room-mate, who was a typist, taught me the three basic budgets. I learnt typing slowly without going to a typing institute. When I was trying to type on my ramshackle typewriter, my Director & Supervisor, Dr. S. Jones, used to tell me, “Don’t feel shy to show your typewriter. Nobody learns driving on a Rolls Royce!” Later, a friend of mine from Minicoy Island (Lakshadweep) presented me with a secondhand portable German typewriter (Olympia) which is still in a reasonably good condition. I now type all my letters and research papers using eight fingers!

The same friend asked me to use his ancient Morris Minor at Tuticorin. His son stayed with us for some time and taught me and my two sons to drive. We obtained driving licences without difficulty. I used to take my wife and two daughters every Sunday evening to Church. My wife used to serve as a navigator! My daughters felt shy to travel in an ancient model. So I returned the car to my friend.

When I purchased two-wheelers for my daughters, I started learning to drive them. I used Kinetic Honda to go to office regularly. Even after retirement I used the two-wheeler till I reached the age of 65. After that I did not renew my driving licence and took to cycling!

I am still going strong on the bicycle at the age of 70 inside my colony where there are no buses or lorries. I learnt cycling when I was a ten-year-old lad. My father purchased a BSA (USA) cycle in 1951 for Rs. 250.

The cycle which my father purchased is the most travelled cycle. From Anantapur we took it to Kadapa, Madras, Chandragiri, Kurnool, Banaganapalli, Visakhapatnam, Machili­patnam, Warangal, Nandyal, Madras, Mandapam Camp, Tuticorin, Madras, Machilipatnam, Port Blair (by ship), Madras (by ship) Tuticorin and, finally, to Madras where it is with me. Except for the frame and the handle bar, all the parts have been replaced. The handle bar looks new and there is no trace of rust.

And I still manage without a computer or a cellphone.

Dr. D.B. James
37, Sadasiva Metha Street,
Metha Nagar, Chennai 600 028

Cooum & our flyovers

I am amused at the idea of cleaning, re-cleaning, re-cleaning, and again re-cleaning of the Cooum.

No amount of money will clean the Cooum; only new slums will swell its banks while other banks (like vote banks) will swell even faster. Only a strong political determination will see the day through.

The same with the flyovers.

1. Mahalingapuram whose usage is forced by diverting vehicles zipping down the Liberty Bridge towards Gemini.

2. Adyar where some funny toy was put in place, only to discover later that buses cannot take a left turn.

3. Music Academy where the service lane was woefully short and later widened.

4. The Guindy flyover where there is no underpass for a U-turn from estate to station and, of late, bus passengers are tempted to have a try at the race course.

5. The Usman Road flyover which is nothing but a parking lot for the fat pursed shopkeepers’ customers. It has been extended on the ground, thoughtlessly extended by building a compound wall on either side bang in the middle of the road possibly to reduce inconvenience to the flyover users whom one can lesiurely count!

6. To add to the fun, a new wonder of Chennai has sprung up from nowhere on Cenotaph Road.

With great projections, planning and blaring of trumpets, you expected that all would end well. Alas, people who want to go to T’Nagar from the east of the city have no choice but to follow the old circuitous route which was taken before the flyover was built. To enter Venkatnarayana Road from Chamiers Road, you have to go roundabout. Also there is no right turn at two places into Cenotaph Road, and also no right turn from KB Dasan Road into Anna Salai. If you think you are wise to use Eldam’s Road, then you are the biggest fool for you are not permitted to go into Theyagaraya Road from Eldam’s Road but have to take a right turn and then meander your way into T’Nagar.

No, no more complaints, please! For, if the Government knows you are suffering, then it will immediately arrange for a flyover.

God alone knows how many more such useless Cenotaphs of city planning will be built?


Vaasthu colours

My basic question is whether, at the time of composing Vaasthu Shastra, there were so many colour pigments (MM, December 1st) that now mar the facades of homes under ‘Vaasthu spell’!

N. Dharmeshwaran
Plot 456, II Link Road
Sadashiv Nagar, Madipakkan
Chennai 600 091

Doctor’s certificate

This has reference to reader N. Dharmeshwaran’s letter (MM, November 16th) regarding the doctor’s certificate. The main problem is that a doctor's certificate is required when a dead body is taken to any burial ground irrespective of religion. My anguish is whenever a family goes and requests a nearby doctor to visit the house and certify that the person is dead, there is a negative response. Cause of death is irrelevant. That is entirely a different issue. For burying a body, a death certificate is a must. This certificate can be given by a doctor alone. Therefore, sensitisation over this simple issue is a must and government must find an answer to this issue.

S.R. Rajagopal
7/12, Peters Colony
Royapettah, Chennai 600 014

Where’s the memorial?

There was a memorial at Government Arts College (now women’s) compound facing the Connemara Hotel. In my student days, we used to congregate in the Mandapam which may have been more than a hundred years old.

Recently I saw the dismantled pillars of the Mandapam on the Binny Road and asked who had pulled it down. A few roughnecks gathered and warned me not to ask questions. What was the memorial for and what has happened to it? Can’t at least the ornamental pillars and peetams from them be restored in the College?

V. Ramachandran

Unchanging Madras

Although it was exciting to read about the changes in the city’s architecture and its people, for me, returning after many years, Chennai has not changed, especially in the little trades that make up its everyday life.

When I heard the clang of metal against metal at the end of the street next to mine, I knew who it was. The kadalai kaaran was coming. I waited – as I had waited 20 years ago – with childlike excitement, eager and looking forward to the prospect of a delicious afternoon snack of warm, salted kadalai.

The clangs grew stronger and louder, indicating that he was now at the end of my street. Time to dive inside my room for a few two-rupee coins.

By the time I was back outside, I could already see the top of his cart – a rusty tin roof atop four colourful wooden posts. On the cart’s surface – of plank – was a sackcloth slightly damp on which the raw salted kadalai was spread in a low mound. At one end was a burner fired by a small gas cylinder and atop it was a big baanali (heavy bottomed vessel), rusted and black from use (this hadn’t changed, I told myself).

Inside the baanali were hot sand and peanuts. As soon as he saw me, the kadalai kaaran stirred the sand peanut mixture with vigour, scraping the ladle against the bottom of the baanali. I knew from memory what that scraping sound meant: the peanuts were roasted to perfection and ready for eating. The kadalai kaaran struck his iron spatula against the rim of the baanali; the spatula clanged, bounced along the rim and clanged twice more. Sensing my custom, he slowed down and stopped. I went up to the cart and asked for two ‘packets’. Whereupon the kadalai kaaran lifted his lungi, folded it at his knees and knotted it at his waist (that hasn’t changed too!). He ripped a sheet of paper from a back issue of Mangai magazine, held it at one edge and twisted it into a cone. Then he picked up a metal sieve and sifted the peanuts from the mixture. He blew twice into the sieve; the skins of the peanuts flew. He shook the sieve once more and tilted the peanuts into a silver basin and transferred some of it into the two paper cones.

When the cones were filled he tossed a few more peanuts in. Kosuru (free extras) came to my mind. He closed the cones and handed them to me.

I pulled out two 2-rupee coins from my pocket and gave them to him. “5 rupees. And 10 rupees,” he said smartly in English, indicating that the times, prices (and his language) had changed. I dived back into my room and returned with a 5-rupee coin and a 10-rupee note and handed it to the kadalai kaaran.

He lifted the sack and flung a 5-rupee coin under it. Then he lifted his lungi to reveal a pair of khaki nijaars (shorts) below. He tucked the ten rupee note into it, let his lungi fall back over his shorts, clanged the handle of the spatula against the rim of baanali and slowly moved along, pushing his cart.

Some things in Madras really haven’t changed! 

Arun Ganapathy
22, Malaviya Avenue
Chennai 600 041


In this issue

Yet another Committee?
What’s with Madras and heritage conservation?
May 2010 see their conservation
Calming traffic in shopping areas, like Pondy Bazaar
Historic Residences of Chennai - 33
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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