Chokkikulam is an abode of peace
Chokkikulam is remembered by any old timer as a posh, elite, aristocratic residential area. The huge bungalows with a splash of greenery around is a cynosure of all eyes. Chokkikulam has always been an abode of peace for big shots of Madurai who were lucky to spend their life in an idyllic and serene background. It is one of the very few areas still left untouched by mundane changes except for some flats that have come up recently.Chokkikulam was named after a tank that earlier existed in the area. The kulam in Chokkikulam refers to tank and the name `Chokki' perhaps derived its origin from the name of Lord Shiva who is also known as Lord Chokkanathar, according to NMRK Jawahar Babu, managing trustee of Seetha Bai Parvathavarthini Ammal Trust.
His guess is the area came up in 1937 and a few years later the NMR family moved in around 1942."I was born here and continue to live here. But for minor changes, the area largely retains its peace and serenity," he says. He remembers one doctor P.N. Ramasubramanian of Harley Nursing Home on Krishna Rao Tank Road who helped his father buy the 80-cent plot for Rs.6000.Now, the cost of land, as per the government guidelines, is more than the market value. One feature, which Chokkikulam, however, shares with other areas is the water problem, he shares.
Prior to the 70s, the residents were apparently unaware of the water problem. The Government raised several buildings like the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Provident office, housing boards, hostels, All India Radio on the Chokkikulam tank and Reserve Line tank which led to recession in groundwater level. Buying water was easier and cheaper than maintaining the pipelines, given the hard nature of water. But recently with implementation of rainwater harvesting structures, the groundwater has not only increased but also the brackishness of water has reduced, says Mr. Jawahar Babu.Chokkikulam continues to intrigue toponomists as no conclusive theory about its origin has been arrived at. Walking down memory lane, a resident of 70 years says the area had its origin in the early 1900s, when a few advocates arrived and later industrialists settled here.One prominent family of the area is the TVS family who shifted their home from Sandaipettai to Periya Chokkikulam. The area adjacent to the tank was named after the lake as Chinna Chokkikulam (southern part of the tank) and Periya Chokkikulam (northern part of the tank) and the agricultural land in between the two Chokkikulam areas was bifurcated by the tank.People who could afford their own conveyance settled in the area and the residential area, especially the Periya Chokkikulam and its three main roads Jawahar Road, Vallabhai Road and Bhulabhai Desai Road managed to retain its glory by not allowing shops to occupy space. Reminiscing his stay in Chokkikulam, J. Vasanthan, a retired English professor of American College, lists out names like TVS family, PTR family, NMR family, ARAS family, Vishalakshi Mill groups and Vadamalayan Family who lived here besides a few other legendary personalities.
Edwin Periyanayakam, a lawyer and a diwan of Raja of Panagal, lived on Hakkim Ajmal Khan Road. On Gokhale Road were a Tamil professor of American College, Karmega Konar, who traversed the streets in his turban and sherwani, and Dr. Betty Chinnaiah, a renowned gynaecologist and paediatrician. There is a TVS Guest house where Jawaharlal Nehru stayed and the building that houses the present TVS Hospital provided accommodation to Gemini Ganesan, Anjali Devi, Nambiyar and few actors who acted in the film `Kanavane Kankanda Deivam.'The first city bus service Route No:1 plied from Chokkikulam to Periyar Bus Stand that was called Central Bus Stand, says Dr. Kumar Venkatesan, living here from 1952. It is perhaps the only residential area that has managed to remain less polluted by modernisation where families have lived for generations with a sense of nostalgia.S.S. KAVITHA