In a new series, we feature denizens who cherish and nurture their past associations with Chennai
When places disappear and the city re-invents itself at a dizzying pace, one of the links to its past is personal narratives and living memories of its residents. For old-timers like H.M. Belgamvala and his wife D. Dilnawaz who, ‘like squirrels, hoard everything’, memories of the city are as uncluttered and vivid as their 32-year-old apartment which is neat as a button.
Though Mr. Belgamvala may not be able to show his son around Nine Gems, a night club which once stood where Safire Theatre was, and where he went frequently as a college student, he keeps alive the place by the simple act of remembering it.
While Mr. Belgamvala, son of M.K. Belgamvala, was born and brought up in the city, his wife D. Dilnawaz, came to Madras from Karachi after their marriage.
He studied in Good Shepherd School on College Road, which used to be co-educational back then, and at St. Mary’s High School on Armenian Street which had Irish priests. He lived in a sprawling house on Nungambakkam High Road, where the flooring was of original Burma Teak and the ceiling shot up to a height of 25 feet. He saw Taj Coromandel being constructed, was a witness to the hustle and bustle surrounding Gemini Studios, and most importantly, saw the first flyover in the city come up down his road.
“When it opened, it was a novelty to see everyone go up and down Gemini Flyover in their vehicles,” he says. He still remembers how, during his college days, Hotel Connemera was their hideout because it was the only one of its kind back then. Then there was Gaylord Restaurant on Mount Road which also had a night club, and another place called Eskimos which closed a few years ago, he says.
“My father was a judge at Madras Race Club, and during big events like the Derby, he hosted lunches for 30-40 people which was a lavish affair back then,” he says. A former rally driver, he has fond memories of the Sholavaram race track. This is also incidentally the place where he met his wife. But, Dilnawaz’s connection to the city predates their wedding by many years.
Today, when Dilnawaz steps out of her flat, she can’t help but recall how during her vacations as a child, she would come to her aunt’s house on Pantheon Road from Karachi where she lived back then. “A car would pass every twenty minutes or so, and it was such a novelty that it merited clapping. We used to take a bus and go to Hotel Ashoka to have a dosa,” she says. And, she would ‘rush’ to Clive House and St. Mary’s Church inside Fort St. George to see the swords and costumes on display.
At Sholavaram, where she first met Mr. Belgamvala, she was amused to see cars like Standard Herald which he owned, because back in cosmopolitan Karachi, they had imported Toyotas and Mercedes. “When I got married and came here, my aunt who worked at Shaw Wallace and Company would take me to Burma Bazaar to shop. I saw so many people coming to buy colour televisions because it was just catching up here,” she says.
She fondly recalls the grand costume parties they had in those days at Gymkhana Club, where even old-timers would come in fancy dress. And their memory of the city is incomplete without the mention of the ‘huge red majestic building’ on Mount Road — Spencers. “Every single morning, a group of us would go to a café called Fiesta. It was a real meeting spot, and all our shopping was done at Spencers and VTI nearby,” says Mr. Belgamvala.