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VOL. XXII NO. 7, July 16-31, 2012
Nostalgia – Memories of Madras
Bharati Paul

It was 1943. My father Dr. G.D. Boaz, mother Daisy Tucker Boaz, and brothers Prabhakaran and Premakaran and I arrived in Madras. The three of us siblings were all below ten years of age. It was hectic pre-Independence days, and my father had just returned from London after securing his PhD at Oxford. He was to join the University of Madras to set up the Department of Psychology; Sir Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar was the Vice-Chancellor then. Madras had been evacuated the year before and when we arrived we could sense the unease and shock that still prevailed in the city.

We rented a house on Cathedral Road in the vicinity of where Hotel Maris stands today and right opposite T.T. Krishnamachari's house. TTK and my father would sit in the immaculate lawn in front of TTK's house and have long discus-sions ranging from culture to politics. As a little girl, I tagged along with Father just to enjoy the sumptuous snacks that were served in beautiful silverware!

Our house belonged to actor Ranjan, who became famous after the release of Gemini's Chandralekha. Ranjan visited our house frequently to get help from my father for a thesis that he was writing. Not many people know that actor Ranjan was a scholar and was academically well qualified.

My brothers and I joined St. Ebba's, and walked there every day. On the way, in front of Gemini House where S.S. Vasan lived (it was previously called Sivaganga House), there was a long concrete bomb shelter which looked like a tunnel. We took great delight in running through it on our way to and from school; we did not comprehend the implications of such a structure.

Father was a staunch nationalist. When Mahatma Gandhi visited Madras in 1946, a public meeting was arranged in Avadi. I remember Father taking me and my brothers to see Gandhiji, insisting that the chance to see the great man in person was not to be missed. The crowd was huge and unmanageable, but somehow Father dragged us close to the stage, saying, "Have a good look at this man." We were too young to be aware of the freedom struggle under Gandhiji's leadership. However, even today, I hold in my mind the picture of the frail-looking man without a shirt. Little did we imagine the impact this man was to have in the months to come. I am thankful to my father even now for taking us to see Gandhiji that day.

August 15, 1947 was a great day for India. Flag hoisting and sweets were the attractions for us at school. At home, the songs of D.K. Pattammal – Aaduvomay, pallu paaduvomay and Vetri yenghum kottumurasay – in 78 rpm resounded through the HMV gramophone that Father had brought from London.

In 1947, we moved from Cathedral Road to Adyar and started attending Besant Theosophical High School, where KFI school stands today. In those days, the Karpagam Garden area was all paddy fields. We were the first and only Christian students in the campus. Krishnaratnam Sir, who was the Headmaster then, showed special interest in us, and even made me sing a Christian prayer song during one of the morning school assemblies.

Father was one of the directors of the Madras Cooperative Housing Society which planned and created the housing colony Gandhi Nagar in Adyar. Daniel Thomas (Minister) and Narasimha Rao were also directors of the Society. In those days, Gandhi Nagar and Kasturba Nagar were thickly wooded with ink trees. An ink factory stood where Sellers stands today on Sardar Patel Road. This road was then called Guindy Road as it led to Guindy Engineering College (present-day Anna University). The entire stretch of this road was heavily forested and there were no buildings – no IIT, Leather Institute, Gandhi Mandapam or Cancer Hospital.

In those days, Adyar was known only for the Theosophical Society with its famous banyan tree, and just one bus – route No. 5 – came to Adyar. It would halt at Arunachalapuram, opposite present-day Malar Hospital, which was the terminus. Even today, after 60 years, the No.5 route bus runs from Adyar. From the bus stop, a mud road led to St. Patrick's, which used to be an orphanage on the banks of the Adyar River.

Our house, Door No.5, First Crescent Park Road, Gandhi Nagar, was one of the first houses to be completed. The then Governor, the Raja of Bhavanagar, along with other dignitaries, visited our home. I remember our house being spruced up in a hurry for their visit. Father was passionate about the garden and won awards almost every year from the Horticulture Society in the domestic category. His speciality was hill station roses, which even won a mention in The Hindu.

In 1950, I was one of the few girls to go to Besant School on a bicycle. Of course, some women used cycles inside the Theosophical Society too. Boys playing by the roadside would shout, "Dai, look da, a girl cycling!" Adjacent to Besant School was Kalakshetra. Often, we would have Rukmini Devi paying surprise visits to school. She would arrive in style, chauffeured by Shankara Menon. We addressed her as "Amma" and she would talk to us.

In the early 1950s, the All India Radio recording studio was opposite the Egmore Rajaratnam Stadium. Mother, who scripted and produced Christian skits, periodically visited AIR and I often went along with her to sing in her productions.

In 1952 when I joined Queen Mary's College, my father taught me driving. I got my driving licence in 1954 and was one of the very few women to drive on the road in Madras. Again, I would hear pedestrians exclaiming, "Look, look, a woman driving a car." We had a powder blue Hillman, then a black Wolseley. Driving was easy, what with almost no traffic on the roads. On one occasion, I remember touching 100 kmph on Marina beach road. I was thrilled about this, but my father was not happy!

In 1954, MGR lived in a house on 4th Main Road, Gandhi Nagar. His movie Malaikkallan had become a runaway hit. It was a big thrill for us to see him sitting in the garden and entertaining friends – minus the cap and dark glasses! I also remember spotting MGR in the funeral procession of Kalki Krishnamurthy on 4th Main Road. It was an awesome spectacle to see everyone dressed in white, maintaining pin-drop silence and paying homage to that great personage.

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The author was one of the first recording artistes of Christian Gospel songs in Tamil with HMV. Her songs made her a household name among Christians in Tamil Nadu as well as abroad. Dr. G.D. Boaz was an eminent psychologist who touched the lives of several people in varied walks of life through his column 'Know Your Mind' in The Hindu from 1948 to 1965.

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In this issue

First in bus accidents – a dubious status for Chennai
Whither VP Hall's restoration?
Nostalgia – Memories of Madras
Looking back – Goldingham and the Madras Observatory
Cricket in India stands for hope & opportunity
A music academy for the future
Ismena Warren – documenting Madras in water-colours and sketches
Better use of city spaces
Garden gloom

Our Regulars

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


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