Gopulu recalls the time when the city was a village, everything was simple, when you knew all your neighbours, and when coffee — not cappuccino — ruled!
When I came to Chennai in 1941, I was but a 17-year-old student who wanted to learn about art. I met the legendary artist Maali of Ananda Vikatan, who was impressed by my cartoons. He asked me to do a few paintings for that year's Deepavali Malar, and the first I did was ‘Rama Pattabishekam'. Thus began my tryst with Ananda Vikatan.
I stayed in Purasaiwalkam with a couple of friends in a house that was previously owned by Seshachalam, R.K. Narayanan's uncle. I did a lot of art work for private publishers, and spent most of my days walking from Purasaiwalkam to Royapettah and back — it was only a 20-minute walk then! It would be so silent you could hear the sounds of crickets and other insects.
I would dine at Pankaja Lodge in Purasaiwalkam, where two meals and tiffin for a whole month would cost me only Rs. 7. Two bondas and a coffee in the evenings would cost an anna. Even then, I would have no money to spare; I lived frugally.
When evacuation was announced because of World War II, I went back to Kumbakonam. From there, I travelled to Bombay, after which I set foot again in Madras on December 31, 1944, when Maali offered me a job in Vikatan. I joined on January 1, 1945, and stayed put for another twenty years.
My first salary was Rs. 100 and even with that amount, I was able to save about Rs. 50 to send home to my father. Later when I shifted to Mylapore, I enjoyed food at the popular Krishna Lodge. I lived close to Venkatesa Agraharam near the tank. I would take a bus to Mount Road, where our office was. The area wasn't fully commercial yet, and was very thinly populated.
Around 1946, when Mahatma Gandhi came to Madras, he held prayer meetings in an open area near Boag Road. People came from all over the South to listen to him..
In 1953-54, writer Saavi and I did a series of travel pieces wherein we would visit places all over the country — he would write, while I did the sketches. We went to Ajanta, Ellora, Delhi, Jaipur, Calcutta, and many other places. The series became popular.
Around 1956, I moved from Mylapore to R.A. Puram, where I've been staying for over 50 years now.
Everything was simple back then — Madras was like a village, and you knew all your neighbours. Everyone walked to everywhere. Coffees were good, and there were no cappuccinos!
S Gopalan, popularly known as Gopulu, was born in Thanjavur in 1924. He was with Ananda Vikatan from 1945 to 1968, after which he shifted to advertising. He is known for his sketches of ‘Thillaanaa Mohanambal' and ‘Washington-il Thirumanam'. A versatile artist, he has moved across genres — politics, social, humour etc. He started Ad Wave Advertising in 1972. In 1994, he left advertising, and became a freelance cartoonist for Kalki, Ananda Vikatan and other magazines.
In those days, when you asked for directions, you'd be surprised at the way they would direct you. I remember that anyone who wanted directions from Alwarpet to St. Mary's Road got the same answer — ‘go left and you will see C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar's house. A bit further down, you will reach C.V. Raman's house. Then you must turn left'. There were other such ‘sirs' whose houses people referred to as landmarks.