Sivasankari on how children had ample time to pursue the arts, were not burdened with undue expectations and derived joy from simple things
During the evacuation of Madras, properties in prime localities went for throwaway prices. My father sold our huge house on South Boag Road for a pittance. After the crisis blew over, we returned to Madras and took a big house on Thirumalai Pillai Road. The new house had a 10-ft. by 10-ft. war shelter, which served as a ‘hideout' for the children of the family when they played hide-and-seek.
Growing up in Madras in the 1940s and early 1950s was the best thing that any child could hope for. Children were not burdened with undue expectations. Close relatives had time for one another which meant children never had a lack of playmates. Our house on Thirumalai Pillai Road would crackle with laughter as our cousins dropped in every day. They joined us in all our outings.
In stark contrast to what it is now, Elliot's beach was a deserted stretch. It was customary for our family to have dinner on its sands on full moon days. Any celebration in the family warranted a roof garden party at Dasaprakash. The roof garden restaurant accommodated a family of twenty or thirty people, and no other place could do as well for us.
The present generation will laugh at us for the kind of things that we found interesting. On Independence Day and Republic Day, an area starting from Ripon Building to the Fort would be illuminated. I can't remember any of these special days passing without a visit to this area. We experienced shivers of excitement as we watched the Ripon Building and the Central Station bathed in sparkling light. The Chettinad Palace was a visual treat at all times of the year. A monolithic structure surrounded by profuse greenery, the palace was arresting. Whenever we took the single bridge, we stopped the car to take a good look at it.
Talking about deriving joys from simple things, ice water was a treat for most children. The cafeteria on wheels run by Modern Café offered ice water for half anna. It was lapped up by children as if it were a delicacy. The van, which transported the cafeteria, would be parked at Marina beach and you could watch all types of people have dosas for two annas each.
Children wanted to visit Elphinstone theatre, irrespective of the film. The reason was the one-foot tall glass of ice-cream at Jaffar's; a ladle, not a spoon, was provided to scoop out the ice-cream! Anyone who has tasted the range at Jaffar's can't forget the peach Melba (Rs. 1.25) and Jaffar's Special (Rs. 2.50).
Among other popular theatres of the period was Rajakumari in T. Nagar, which gained a reputation for screening high-brow English films. For children, these films acted as a window to diverse cultures and worldviews. The fair at the Congress Grounds in Teynampet was something children eagerly looked forward to. Nawab Rajamanickam Pillai's mythological plays were a big draw. He was known for his grand sets, which he changed in the twinkling of an eye.
On the flip side, girls had limited opportunities for sports. There were only two swimming pools, one at YMCA Saidapet and another at Marina; they were off-limits for women. My father spoke to the authorities and ensured that a time slot — 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturday — was given to women. Actor Savithri could be seen at the Saturday swimming session at YMCA.
Children had ample time to concentrate on the arts. Teachers were more committed. K.J. Sarasa, my dance teacher, would travel by a hand-pulled rickshaw from Mylapore to T. Nagar to teach us at our house. In my eyes, Madras of those days was perfect. There is nothing that I wish had been different.