Sundari Mani on weavers at Mada Street, her consumer-activist mother and the many women who were committed to social service
My earliest memories of Madras are visits to my aunt's house on South Mada Street during the school summer vacations. Weavers would arrive at sunrise on the street where the Velliswarar Koil is located and set up their looms. Only four-yard dhotis and the red towels known as Kasi thundu were woven by them. They would all leave by 8 a.m., when the street began to fill up with traffic.
I was married at 14 to N.S. Mani who belonged to the 1936 batch of the ICS. He sent the proposal to my father (Justice P.N. Ramaswami) who was then District Judge at Chingleput. We had come down to attend a concert by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar at the Music Academy.
My husband and I came to Chennai from Delhi in 1963, and I have lived here ever since, first on Nungambakkam High Road and from 1979, on Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai. Nungambakkam High Road had shady trees and peacocks roamed the area. High Court judges resided there. Behind their huge bungalows were paddy fields, dotted with herons and storks. There were about ten houses on Haddows Road, in which ICS officers resided.
Sudharma on the present Radhakrishnan Salai was the home of my grand-uncle Sir P.S. Sivaswami Aiyar (who was Advocate-General of Madras). Dadabhai Naoroji and Madan Mohan Malaviya visited him. There were just a few houses up to Kalyani Hospital. It was a silent and serene stretch with coconut groves, and toddy tappers at work. The Hindu.
My mother Rajammal (alias Rajam) Ramaswami started the consumer movement in 1975 and the Consumer Protection Forum in 1981. I remember my mother taking a sample of the worm-infested, ration rice to the Raj Bhavan and marching straight up to Governor P. Patwari! And, he immediately took action.
We expanded our activities for consumer protection. One of our major successes was bringing down the MRP. Unfortunately, consumerism of the blatant kind is increasing in the city today.
The malls are quite vulgar. The amount of food thrown into the dustbins in kalyana mandapams is heart rending. Weddings are all show. Everyone stands in a queue like a conveyor belt today, and there is little warmth.
Mary Clubwala Jadhav was my mother's peer. She organised social service as a system in Madras, and consolidated the Guild of Service. Justice Sadasiva Iyer daughters Bapakka and Balakka, Savitri Rajan (Dr. Sitapathy's daughter), Parvathy Srinivasan (Dr. Murali's mother) were all committed to social service.
The Women's Indian Association was a strong force.
I was a committee member of the Madras Literary Society. Sadly, its membership has declined. Then every ICS and IAS officer would become a member.
For Rs.100 a year you were allowed six books a week, out of which two would be dropped off on your doorstep.
There is enormous attitudinal change regarding education of the girl child in the city. Sixty years ago there were very few colleges for women. Queen Mary's is the pioneer in women's education in Madras.
I'm happy that some of the old institutions such as the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, Venkatramana Ayurvedic Dispensary and the Sanskrit College continue to flourish.