Sunday, July 26, 2009

When beer cost 16 annas and Egmore railway station had sponge cake, lemonade

She’s 87 years old but, would you believe it, she is keen to proofread! Anna Varki belongs to another age, so too her reminisces. Her memories of the Egmore Railway Station (its centenary was celebrated recently) in the 1930s-40s when life was more easy paced and Chennai quite another city, are vivid. With the city’s birthday less than a month away, Anna’s descriptions of Madras with its old world charm make for delightful reading. So, here’s Anna, in her own words:

Apart from the Marina Beach and good old Moore Market, our one and only mall where you could get everything you wanted, there was the Egmore railway refreshment room. A place I have vivid memories of, where we could have a treat. It used to be a favourite haunt of my father and his journalist buddies, days when journalists had to rush to get news to papers by phone and telegrams They enjoyed their anecdotes and we could hear their raucous laughter. People like Raja of Pithapuram and the Raja of Kollengode all spent time in the Egmore Railway Station refreshment room waiting for their trains.

Those days, trains came and went. Those who spent time in railway refreshment rooms were not travellers but just those who wanted a place to eat or a place to meet. In Chennai those days, eating out was not encouraged, in fact not allowed A bottle of beer cost 8 annas (before the decimal system, we dealt with rupees, annas and paise; 16 annas made a rupee). One rupee was a precious amount, especially for journalists who were so poorly paid. My dad used to take us for a treat to the Egmore refreshment room. We looked forward to sponge cake and lemonade fare and spent time moving around watching cars drive into the platform, people alighting and entering – something so much in the past. We watched the trains coming to the platform, the guard blowing a whistle waving a green flag, and the train steaming out.

No idli dosai. English breakfast consisted of two fried eggs, bacon and coffee. Really Expensive. You could have a four-course English lunch soup, a fish dish, meat dish and a dessert. You couldn’t just eat with a fork. The strict British manners were followed with cutlery meant for specific purposes A great favourite, which now may be termed as Anglo Indian, was rice and curry, and the famous Mullagutawny soup, which is really a kind off pepper rasam with some other ingredients put. Even some chicken pieces could be added which you the termed Chicken Mullagtawny soup.

Train travel those days had four classes - first class, in which only the rich and the British travelled The first class was a four-berth compartment; it had an attached bathroom then. The second-class and inter-class depending on the degree of thickness of the cushions; the inter-class where the cushions were very thin. Last but not least, the third class with wooden seats, in which the majority of people travelled by. A third-class compartment would have forty to fifty seats, long wooden benches; it was the cheapest. Any travel meant a holdall, suitcase and a trunk Travelling light was years away. Not far from Egmore station, round the corner, was the Egmore ice factory, which has a history of its own. One rupee was all my mother sent for the day’s marketing, which included meat, fish, vegetables and everything a family needed, except for the rice masala etc.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spl City Tour for Schools

Here is a lead that heads of schools can pick up.
The state transport corpn. runs a Chennai city tour.
It has a special fee offer for Madras Week.

Want to grab it?
Call Ramesh Babu at 98417 22026.

The Corpn can also plan a tour to suit your timings and need.

Help! Learn about Royapettah's link with cinema

A lady who resides in Royapettah and is related to poet-lyricist Kannadasan is keen to highlight the fact that close to 2 dozen film personalities of yesteryear - Sivaji, Karunanidhi, RMV, etc etc lived in this area.

She wants to plan a walk. And she has stories to tell.
She needs Royapettah / Gopalapuram residents who can lend her a hand. Youth welcome!
Plan the route and the walk, organise it and end with a breakfast perhaps.

If you want to help, leave your contact in the Comments section please

WANTED: Stories of North Madras!

Pritham K Charavarthy is an independent storyteller/performer based in Chennai.

For the Chennai Week, she would like to do a series of North Chennai stories for about 45 minutes duration, which she hopes to keep adding on to in the future.

She is familiar with that area - she has been the research associate for both Prof John C. Harriss and Dr. Sarah Hodges and has also independently worked on a documentary with her husband, Venkatesh Chakravarthy called 'Chennai/ The Split City'.

If this production takes shape, she hopes to travel it in North Chennai itself, in Tamil. for she performs both in Tamil and English.

Pritham wants to hear from people in North Madras who can share stories / legends / experiences. You can contact her at -

Or contact Vincent anyday after 9 pm at 98410 49155 and pass on leads.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Asan Memorial School shows the way, Prakrit Arts in

A couple of months before Madras Day and Madras Week, a group of catalysts or coordinators get together to plan activities for the week. The past two or three years, Madras Day has grown to Madras Week and more, with events spilling over into a whole fortnight.

This year, we thought of having two press conferences – the first a month ahead to announce the celebrations and to invite people who are interested to participate, and the second announcing the complete list of programmes. The first press conference is over and the response to what appeared in the newspapers the following day and after has been quite encouraging. Many called though to explore the possibility of tie-ups with the commercial aspect in mind and they were all sweetly discouraged.

For all that, most people are still not aware of what Madras Day and Madras Week are all about. Those who have participated earlier tend not to mark the week in their calendar. Very few take the initiative to do things on their own. One such is Suma Padmanabhan, principal, Asan Memorial School. This time, even before the group of catalysts had met, she had called for a meeting with her staff and students to discuss the celebrations. The other thing is that unlike most school principals I know, Suma is available on a direct telephone line. You call the number and she picks up; if she is not in her seat, nobody picks up. And that’s the way it should be.

I have not received the Asan schedule for Madras Week yet, but Suma has said that the focus this year will be on Madras as a pioneer in education in India. Mr Muthiah, city historian, would simply love that. He keeps saying that at every forum – that Madras is the first city of modern India.

I was also able to convince my good friend Meena Dadha of the Mukti Foundation to be a part of the week’s celebrations. She readily agreed, and her Prakrit Arts in Kotturpuram will have eight Chennai-based artists present ‘Besh, Besh, Besh’, a candid view of life in the city, the simplicity of its people and its tree-lined streets. These are not really the well-known artists, but those whose works are waiting to be seen and appreciated - Rama Suresh, Manisha Raju, Raju Durshettiwar, Nelson, Taygrajan, Usha Devi, N. Ramchandran and Vinay. I managed a coup of sorts by getting Mr Muthiah to agree to inaugurate the exhibition on August 15. Meena’s show will be on for a week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chennai Marathon is on . . .


The annual Chennai Marathon will be held during Madras Week.

Organised by GiveLife, it is good to have yet another major city event under the umbrella.

Chennai's Radio Stations must go ga-ga

It was All India Radio who called early.
Yes, its FM station would be keen to plan programmes for Madras.
And we all thought these folks were dowdy people.

Chennai Live came alive too - talked of a tie-up.
Well, there are no deals w r t Madras Day.
Anybody is welcome to run their show - all we ask you - focus it on our city. Celebrate it.

So, all ye RJs of Mirchi and Suryan, Aha and Radio City, its time to go to the Ideas Room.

Lead - check out our web site every now and then - the events list will inspire you.

Wiki, Twitter and Madatter!

It doesn't matter - Wiki, Twitter, Youtube and Mad-atter are all welcome to be part of Madras Day celebrations.

A Wiki project is the pipeline. For more on it, check out the Events on the web . .

Should we tweet now or from August 1? Tell us what we should/can/must do to create the buzz.

Yes, we would welcome a bunch of Media/ Vis Comm students who can shoot 3 min videos of key Madras Day events and post them on the Tube. Voluntary work this will be.

If you can tweak the tech to run an event for Madras Day 2009, please do. And keep us mailed.

Kilpauk gets active.

Deepa Sekar was quick to act on a suggestion to take a walk around Kilpauk.
Now along with her friend Venkatesh, another long-time resident of Kilpauk, she has taken the idea to lead a heritage walk in Kilpauk.
And plans end it with talk by Randor Guy, who is an interesting storyteller of Madras and cinema.
The rough route plan is ready.
Newtone studio is now Bhvana's, SIGA is Citael, Bain's School, Ewarts, Wesley church, St. Geroge's Home and Orphanage, Kushaldas Gardens, ending Nowroji Road - Rajaji's home.
They are also in the process of talking to people at these places to put up a small gallery of pictures and information about the place so that the walkers can get to know more about the places.
Deepa and her friends have been hosting an event Pongala, in the open spaces of Damodaramurthy Road in Kilpauk for the past two years. This event involves the local residents, kids and parents in putting together contests and cultural shows around the Pongal time.

But this Kilpauk walk is new for them. Deepa is buzzing her contacts in Facebook and Twitter to get more information and for more participation in the event.

After Mylapore, Adyar,Mount Road, Fort St. George and north Madras walks, a new addon to Madras Week celebration is Kilpauk walk from this year.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Wanted: Docu Films on the City

We are looking for docu films on the city.
Of any kind, on any theme. But they should be linked to Chennai/Madras.

Never mind if they were made a year or two ago.
We would like to screen them on Aug 23 during the Madras Week celebrations.

If you'd like to present even a part of a bigger docu project you are welcome to make contact.
But the theme must be on Chennai.

A videographer has shot the first Gay Pride parade off the Marina. And he may submit a rough cut for the Fest. So spread the word. Or, work on a subject close to your heart and mind, take out your small cam and shoot. Now.