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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 22, March 1-15, 2013
Our Readers Write

An American in search of Mylapore memories

James (Jim) McConaughy walked the mada veedhis of Mylapore on the eve of Pongal to soak in an atmosphere that he had once experienced in the 1970s.

James, an American who now lives in Andover, Massachusetts, lived in Mylapore then to pursue an interest in Carnatic music and interact with vidwans like the late Ramnad Krishnan.

James' haunt in Mylapore was Hotel Suprabath on North Mada Street, a place that provided him many different experiences. That landmark has gone but James wants to reconnect with its owners and other Mylaporeans he once knew.

After a 42-year absence, I recently returned to Chennai to see some old friends, walk down memory lane, and explore new parts of South India I had missed in my previous visits.

The primary purpose of my visit was to bring to the family of Ramnad Krishnan (whom I had the fortune to study with at Wesleyan University and in India) several previously unknown recordings I had made of his concerts during 1968 and 1971, my times in Madras.

During the times I was in Madras, I stayed about six months each time at the Suprabath Hotel (really a boarding house) at 10, North Mada Street in Mylapore, now the site of the Saravana Bhavan, it would seem.

The hotel allowed me to live in South Indian style in an inexpensive way, being a young man pursuing his studies.

My rent was 150 rupees, not a day, or a week, but a month. How inflation and the exchange rates have changed in 42 years!

A vegetarian meal was 1 rupee 50 paise. The bicycle repair guy on the street would fix your bicycle's flat tyre for 25 paise, and the old sage palm reader would give you a thoroughly researched two-page 14-point report of your fate based on a careful imprint of your palm for just a few rupees.

While he was off the mark that I would be the owner of several movie theatres before I reached my 65th year, I am hoping that I meet or exceed his prediction that I would "live to the age of 90 years, like Winston Churchill." I must remember to get back to you in 2036 on that one.

North Mada Street and the surrounding area were quieter and much less congested than I found it today. There were no shops on the temple tank side of the street, and you could see all of the tank and the Kapali Temple from the front door of the Suprabath.

Motorcycles and cars, while present, were a rarity, the transportation being primarily bicycle, cycle rickshaw, pull rickshaw, bullock cart and the red diesel buses that spewed black smoke as thick as the old steam-driven locomotives.

There were more goats, cows and water buffaloes. Lepers on low wooden carts were pushed down the street quite regularly to seek alms. Vellaikarans like myself were seldom seen; maybe just two or three a month would make their way up from Luz Corner to the temple area.

Trains and autos were vehicles firmly rooted to the ground, not flying over it. Traffic jams were caused by napping or recalcitrant cows, not by a plethora of vehicles. And the Indian Bank on the corner seemed like the most modern building from my perspective, looking massive and soaring.

As I made my pilgrimage to my former abode in early January 2013, I looked for someone who might be able to fill me in on what happened to the Suprabath, its owners, and any of those young bachelors with whom I had many great conversations. What had happened to the owner of the hotel, and the manager, such a friendly man who lived there with his family? And the staff: Sashee and Raju, who dutifully kept the place clean and ran simple errands? What about the parade of young engineers who lived there, saving money and building a career before they ventured into the demands of married life?

On this journey to India from Andover, Massachusetts, where I live in the United States, I was able to return to the place where my love and appreciation of Carnatic music was nurtured and my connection to South India was deepened.

While I successfully kept up my pursuit of Carnatic music for a few years in the 1970s, I did not seriously continue my studies in the field, taking a different direction professionally. But the real connection with India has been the people I met who, without exception, have proven to be generous, genuine and a lot of fun to be with.

If anyone reading this piece might be able to shed any light on what became of the people who worked at or stayed at the Suprabath during 1968 or 1971, I would enjoy hearing from you. Mail me at – (Courtesy: Mylapore Times.)

Easementary violations

In Madras Musings, January 16th, a Special Correspondent has said that in George Town new buildings are coming up without any adherence to fire safety norms. In this connection, it should also be stated that they do not, in addition, adhere to the laid down building rules which protect the easementary rights of the neighbouring buildings.

The violation soon becomes a fait accompli and, later, gets ratified by paying the fine under the periodical 'regularisation' schemes of the Government. This is injustice against the aggrieved householder whose easementary rights are invaded and right to privacy denied.

If such civic offences can be 'regularised' by payment of a fine to the Government, the day will soon come when criminal trespasses too may be legalised! This indicates a possible moral decadence in the administration of Chennai.

C.G. Prasad
9, C.S. Mudali Street
Chennai 600 079

Congestion fee

In a bid to decongest some of the busy business centres like T. Nagar, Broadway, Purasawalkam, etc. in Chennai, and similarly in other States, and to encourage the use of public transport system, the Union Urban Development Ministry, it was reported, had asked the States to collect 'congestion fee' from those who would prefer to travel to these places by their own vehicles.

In shopping hubs like T. Nagar, there is no space even to walk – thanks to the encroachments, and haphazard parking of vehicles at public places. This apart, since most commercial complexes do not have parking space to accommodate vehicles of their clients, the shoppers naturally turn to the side streets and other places for parking. In doing so, they do not bother to think of the inconvenience to others, particularly the residents. Thus, the shoppers considerably add to the congestion by parking their vehicles at public places. Festival or no festival, T. Nagar draws crowds from far and near throughout the year. Hence, there is every need to decongest the area so as to provide a breather to all the stakeholders.

As it is a very sensible decision, it should be welcomed by all. The authorities must implement this in true letter and spirit as it will greatly help in decongesting the heavily crowded places and avoiding traffic snarls which are a routine affair. This move will definitely provide great relief to the residents. For the shoppers too, it will be a significant savings on fuel.

V.S. Jayaraman
31, Motilal Street
T. Nagar, Chennai 600 017

First Indian doctor

I read with great interest your article 'First Indian Doctor' in Madras Musings. Near the Royapettah Hospital there is a street branching off from the main road. It used to be called Andy's Street and I think the name has not been changed, since it is a small street and no politician would like it to be named after him!

In the early 1930s and 40s many Anglo-Indians lived there. I often used to wonder who this Andy was.

I wonder whether this street is named after him.

Radha Padmanabhan

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In this Issue

The sad, sad state of Chepauk Palace
Will Metro moves threaten Ripon Building, VP Hall?
On the Bookshelves – Of war and wickets
CUMTA should have a wider role
He took up a host of public causes
The illustrious scientist who teamed with C.V. Raman
From R'puram Medical School to Stanley Medical College

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Madras Eye


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