Shops selling age-old antidotes look to adapt to stay relevant

The first thing that hits you when you cross the threshold of the small doorway in a narrow alley in Park Town is the smell. Or rather, the many distinct smells. Peer inside and you will see dark wooden drawers stacked against the walls, holding boxes that contain aromatic oils and herbs. 

“This powder will definitely cure your running nose,” says the tradesman to a customer who has been waiting for his turn in front of the shop. This shop has been selling naatu marundhu (potions and pills derived from traditional medical wisdom) for over a century.  

K. Ramasamy Chetty in Park Town was established in 1888 by Ramaswamy Chetty B. R. Rajesh, the proprietor, claims the shop even supplies dry herbs to companies such as IMCOPS, Tampcol and herbal labs in and around Chennai. Small time ayurvedic practitioners also rely on them.  

The shop, which sells ingredients to prepare medicines to treat various conditions, sources raw materials from districts such as Madurai, Theni, Salem and Virudhunagar. They have collectors all over the country too.  

K. Badrinath is the proprietor of Dabba Chetty Kadai, Mylapore, another long-serving Indian medicine shop. “Initially, we sold only raw materials but now, we have diversified into selling prepared medicines.” At the shop, which was established in 1885, the most popular products are medicinal spices and herbs such as milagu, thippili, sitharathai, kandathippilli, vallarai, vasambu and valmilagu and the most popular products are the Deepavali Lehiyam and Prasava Lehiyam.”  

These shops are now moving into the cosmetics sector as well, what with hair oils, face packs and various massage oils lining the shelves, according to G. Murthi, proprietor of Narayanan Marundhu Shop, Adyar.  

“Business was brisk a decade ago; now, there is a slight difficulty in obtaining herbs from forest areas as knowledge has not been passed to the younger generation in these areas,” Mr. Rajesh explains.

More In: Chennai | Society