M.G. Road The 70-foot main street was planned in 1923 but work started only in 1949
A road can be an aesthetic statement with its own characteristics. The Mahatma Gandhi Road was planned to be one; a long, wide straight line running through the city. The main artery of the city, the MG Road was clearly planned as the cornerstone of the city, as a commercial high street.
The 70-foot road runs for four kilometers north-south from the Venduruthy Bridge, Thevara in the south to the Madhava Pharmacy Junction in the north and passes through ten defined junctions.
The Jos Junction is the heart of the city. It links two important roads directly and apart from being the flag-off point on this ‘lifestyle lane’ it is the nearest point to the Ernakulam Junction railway station.
“Long before work on the MG Road began there was nothing here except long stretches of unused paddy fields, overrun with acacia. There were rows of coconut trees and a narrow pathway. When we purchased the land here, in 1942, there were a couple of tiny, thatched huts. The land value was just Rs. 100 a cent. Now, the price fixed by the government at Jos Junction is more that Rs. 40 lakh a cent,” remembers P. S. Sukumaran, whose Ensign Studios at this junction was one of the first in the city.
The road itself has an interesting history. It is believed that plans for this road were made in 1923 though the work started only in 1949. It was the vision of Sahodaran Ayyappan, the then PWD Minister. There were few takers and a great deal of opposition to this project. There were many who felt that there was absolutely no need for a road of this kind in the city.
The late C. M. Antony, former PWD chief engineer, who designed and executed this 70-foot road, in an interview a few years before his death said that this feeling was only natural. There were very few vehicles and the number of cars in the city could be counted. But the minister was keen to have this straight road that would have around 45 foot as carriageway, 10 foot as footpath and five-foot drains on either side. Initially, there was a plan to extend the road from Thevara to Chittoor. But later this was limited to the present Madhava Pharmacy Junction as it was generally felt that people would not be interested in setting up business centres beyond this point.
“Those days there were no drains. There was a narrow canal and drainage flowed through this to the low lying areas beyond Jos Junction. When the road was built there were no drains at first and the whole place used to be waterlogged once it rained. The drains were built later,” informs Sukumaran.
The road was opened to the public in 1951. And in 1972, the road was named as Mahatma Gandhi Road.
The landmark Jos Brothers building was constructed sometime in 1953-54. “It was the first ‘pucca’ building on this road. Earlier, a small shop that sold firewood stood here. This three-storied building housed one of the largest textile shops in the state. In fact, before they moved in here, the two brothers worked from a shop near the present TDM Hall. They were expert tailors who specialised in uniforms,” recounts Sukumaran.
The old Woodlands building that stood a few metres away from Jos Junction was built simultaneously with the road. “When MG Road opened this was the only building on this road and for long it was the only high-rise hotel in the city,” adds Sukumaran.
Today MG Road and Jos Junction have changed drastically. Jos Brothers is owned by the family who have rented out the building operating only a dry cleaning unit from here. This area has developed into the chief business district with rows and rows of textile shops, jewellery outlets, leading hotels, several branded retail stores, hospitals, business houses, banks, and the Cochin Shipyard.
AlterPoint is a monthly column that looks at famous Kochi landmarks, as they were then and as they are now.