Vikku Vinayakram on the city's rich cultural atmosphere and why Triplicane was at the centre of his universe
My heart beats in synchrony with the pulse of Triplicane, because I've lived there for 53 years. During the brief period I spent in Kilpauk, the longing to return to Triplicane was intense. I missed the many things I had grown up with — a confounding choice of cafes, a dozen theatres within a radius of a kilometre, weekend concerts and the mellow chanting of priests in temples.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Triplicane had a lion's share of the best cafes in Madras. Since each eatery specialised in a different set of delicacies, it was easy to patronise all of them. Ratna Café had a scrumptious breakfast menu and, most importantly, one that did not burn the wallet. Its soft idlis came for two an anna, its delectable dosa for one-and-a-half annas and its celebrated coffee was a tad costlier, at two annas.
However, when in the mood for a plate of pongal, I always made a trip to Murali Café. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., Triplicane foodies would head to Coimbatore Krishna Iyer Hotel for its afternoon specialities — rava dosa and goduma halwa. It was customary for classical music vidwans to discuss talas, swaras and srutis over this spicy-sweet combo.
The right atmosphere for music and dance permeated Triplicane. A proliferation of sabhas — Triplicane Arts Academy, Thiruvateeswarar Sabha, N.K.T. Muthu Sabha and Parthasarathy Swami Sabha — drew heavyweights in the classical arts to the locality. Triplicane was not only known for weekend visits by famous musicians, but also for resident legends such as G.N. Balasubramaniam and M.S. Subbulakshmi.
But, Triplicane was far from being just a classical music enclave. It offered a lot for anyone addicted to celluloid entertainment.
As residents of Pillayar Koil Street, Star Talkies on Triplicane High Road made whimsical, late-evening decisions to watch movies possible. But, that was not the only choice. With only a little more effort, we could go to any of the half-a-dozen theatres found around Triplicane — Wellington Theatre, Gaiety, Casino, Chitra Talkies, Shanti theatre and New Elphinstone Theatre. And, of course, Paragon Talkies, which was a short walk away from home.
Many of these icons of cultural reference are lost, but Triplicane still bears elements that make old residents feel at home. The changes have been ones of degree and not those of kind. There has been an explosive growth of messes due to a rash of bachelor mansions on every street. For me, these messes — very different from the traditional cafés of those days — only continue Triplicane's deep connection with food. Many of the sabhas active in the 1960s and 1970s have since shifted to other areas of the city. But, the numerous music and dance schools in Triplicane still foster the arts.
However, the major factor that keeps many old residents still happy in this locality are its places of worship. The Parthasarathy and Thiruvateeswarar temples are why I can't move to any other part of the city.
To avoid getting mobbed in music-loving Triplicane, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar once came to our house on Pillayar Koil Street at midnight to call me for a concert in Kollam. Since I had fever and was fast asleep, my father told MKT that he would not let me go with him. MKT requested that he be allowed to talk to me. When the legendary actor-singer woke me up and offered to hire me as his percussionist, I instantly agreed.
THETAKUDI HARIHARA VINAYAKRAM Born in 1942, Vikku Vinayakram as he is popularly known, is the face of the ghatam. Besides accompanying illustrious Carnatic vocalists, he has made a mark on the international stage too. In the 1970s, he joined Shakti, a novel fusion experiment with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain. The Padma Shri award, a Grammy for being part of Mickey Hart's Planet Drum and the Hafiz Ali Khan award for contribution to music are notable recognitions that have come his way. He now runs the Sri Jaya Ganesh Tala Vadya Vidyalaya in Triplicane, an academy established by his father T.R. Harihara Sharma in 1958.