At one in the afternoon, when everyone, from the suited and the booted to autorickshaw drivers wait outside a nondescript stall on East Mada Street to get hold of a glass brimming with a notoriously pink frothy brew, you know that the shop has some history. Curious to find a motley group outside a tiny shop in Mylapore, Asha Sridhar takes a quick peek

At one in the afternoon, when everyone, from the suited and the booted to autorickshaw drivers wait outside a nondescript stall on East Mada Street to get hold of a glass brimming with a notoriously pink frothy brew, you know that the shop has some history.

K. Mani, whose family started Kalathy News Mart around 85 years ago, is fiercely attentive when it comes to overseeing the preparation of the shop's hugely popular rose milk. Even as his thoughts drift down memory lane, his gaze is unwaveringly fixed on the glasses of rose milk being dished out to restless customers.

“I am 62 years old now, and I have seen rose milk being made here when I was a child,” says Mani. The shop, he says was started by his uncle Kalathy Mudaliar in 1927 because he felt there was no other shop in the neighbourhood that sold essential items. Back then, it sold plantain leaves, chimney lights, and betel leaves, among other provisions. As years went by, the shop grew to sell whatever the neighbourhood demanded from time to time. Today, the shop is lined with glass jars filled with butter biscuits, and shelves neatly stacked with soda bottles.

The reputation of the rose milk made at ‘Kalathy Kadai', as it is popularly known, however, precedes itself. Earlier, Mani's family owned a few cows and fresh milk was used to prepare the drink. Today, they use pasteurised milk. “The concentrate is prepared at home, just like it has been done over the years,” he says, unwilling to divulge anything more about the “family's secret recipe”.

“Since Mylapore was dotted with sabhas, this shop was a meeting point for theatre actors, singers and also, lawyers,” says Mani. Cho Ramaswamy, Sivaji Ganesan, Visu, Crazy Mohan and Ramanathan Krishnan were regulars to his shop, he says. “As soon as court proceedings would get over, advocates would come here to buy betel leaves and something to munch, and carry on discussions for hours,” says Mani.

He says the shop once sold newspapers and magazines, and even delivered publications at doorstep. “Some time in 1966, we were one of the first shops in the city to sell Coca Cola. We sold milk in bottles much before Aavin,” says Mani. The concentrates sold in his shop, in flavours such as rose, almond, banana, pista, chocolate and nannari, still find many takers, he says.

“I sell between 200 and 300 glasses of rose milk every day. Be it stormy or sunny, my shop is always open,” Mani says. A retired bank officer, he says the family continues to run the shop for “sentimental reasons”. When asked who would run the shop after him, he smiles and says, “Lets see.”

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Asha SridharJune 28, 2012

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