Cityscape History & Culture

Life at 10, Sullivan Street

Charu's santhome house   | Photo Credit: mail pic

An old Portuguese settlement, Santhome, near the beach, with its majestic cathedral, the basilica where St Thomas’ remains are believed to be interred, was our home. Families with names like Saldanha , de Costa, Vaz, Dray , Green and Kenny were common in our small locality. A mix of Indo-Portuguese and Anglo-Indian families lived in the area. Our family was the odd one out. My siblings and I went to the nearby Rosary Matriculation and St Bede’s schools and followed both Christian and Hindu tenets. In fact, my brother attended midnight mass at the cathedral for Christmas and new year, and regularly feasted on Anglo-Indian specialities like dhol dhols and konjee.

In December, young men with guitars would come visiting our house to sing carols. With the sea breeze as the background, it was heavenly.

Mr. and Mrs. Green and Mr. and Mrs. Dray were genteel English couples, who lived in British-style mansions. Afternoon tea was served in English China accompanied with buttered scones and fruit cakes and laid out on tables covered with white lace-bordered cloth. The women dressed in long gowns and wore lovely hats when they went out.

In many Santhome houses, one could hear the sounds of the piano and the guitar. Even in school, we had choirs. Once in a way, a group was taken by our Irish headmistress sister Teresa Xavier to AIR, where the ace pianist, the late Handel Manuel, accompanied us. In fact, my first performance was a western music presentation.

Our bungalow had no fans; the sea breeze kept us refreshed day and night. We slept in the wide verandahs. A Portuguese lady, Ms Lazaro, a midwife, brought me into this world. She lived opposite the church, in a cosy bungalow next to the elegant building of the Santhome post office. These European structures lent a quaint touch to the landscape. Sitting upright in a hand-pulled rickshaw, Ms. Lazaro would pass our house, to attend to delivery calls.

Our lives were guided by the church bells that rang every hour. The trilling Angelus was heard early in the morning and in the evening. Mother’s Feast and the Grand Fancy Fete were two events we students looked forward to. When I was around ten, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke’s visit to Madras created excitement for us. Bhavani teacher trained many of the students to perform the Kolattam. Months were spent in practice. Imagine being part of a group of 500 and dancing in front of the Queen!

In Santhome, life was laidback. We had a number of friends and classmates as neighbours. We went for long walks on the Marina. Leisure was spent learning Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam from teachers who would come home on bicycles and enjoy tiffin and filter coffee served by my mother.

Going to watch films at Star, Odeon, Midland, Gaiety, Chitra, and attending music, dance performances or plays of Sivaji Ganesan and R. S. Manohar kept us entertained. Sunday mornings were reserved for special screenings of Bengali films. Congress exhibitions as well as Christmas shopping at Spencer’s were annual must-dos.

I have sweet memories of 10, Sullivan Street, Santhome, especially the visits by legendary musicians like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and Veena Balachandar.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 3:33:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/charumathi-ramachandran-talks-about-spending-her-childhood-in-the-quaint-santhome-neighbourhood/article6363039.ece

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