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A market of the people

Antique knuckle punch at the Garadi temple  

A chance meeting with Rajesh Govindarajulu (who is always trying to dig out the city’s history), led to an expedition with him to the Thyagi Kumaran market because he had heard that it was to be taken down in the near future.

We got off at the Mariamman temple and Rajesh led us to the entrance of the Kumaran market. This market was founded by C.S. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar so that people could sell the excess produce from their farms once they had shared the choice pickings amongst their own. When we stepped inside the market, we realised what a large bustling space it actually was and to our collective surprise, it was clean and devoid of any unpleasant smells. There was just so much to take in. Gold and silver polishers shared space with coconut and basket sellers.

The middle lane turned out to be a treasure trove for candies, kara kadalai and other goodies in fancy shapes. We found rose mittai, striped hard candy, alphabet biscuits and aeroplane-shaped sweets. As we called out to each other loudly pointing out to this and that, an elderly lady asked us to take a picture of her in the vetrilai shop which she started decades ago and proudly bears her name. How could we not oblige?

Rajesh suggested that we also walk around the periphery of the market. At R.G. Street, he pointed out some old edifices and styles of architecture, sadly run down now. We encountered a push cart selling spices and dried rose petals, just perfect for potpourri or baking. The ARN Store is located here. A.R Nagamanickam pioneered the manufacturing of wheat into small granules to be cooked as rava. This was then made popular by the neighbouring store which is well known for its Mayil brand. We also found a store selling Madras snuff powder and I’m sure the man in the store thought we were high on it already, as we loudly and excitably pointed and exclaimed “hey mooku podi”!

Then there was a family of three — a man, his wife and child — who sang to a harmonium, quite oblivious to anything else and enjoying their own music. They had a small container in front of them and we just had to drop some change into it for the good cheer they were spreading.

Walking is hungry business and we stopped for a break at the Annapoorna Coffee Bar. The hot, frothy filter coffee along with some delicious mixture from a small shop next door just hit the spot.

Rajesh then pointed out the Vyasaraja Mutt that housed a 500-year-old Hanuman idol and is also home to some native breeds of cows. We also passed the achchhu vellam stores with its variety of jaggery as well as a store that sold old-fashioned canes. At Ayyar and Co the famous cake shop, we saw cake crumbs being sold in small packets, perfect for making cake pops.

As it got dark, we headed back to Kumaran market to see the wrestling space inside the old Garadi temple. We ducked into the low doorway and saw weights made of stone in the same room where there is an ancient bronze from Srirangam. There were inscriptions to read on the old brass deepam, and the neem and peepal tree whose trunks had gnarled and twisted together over time. There was also an antique knuckle punch and a wrestling mound managed by the Jetty community which, Rajesh tells us, is in use even today. We ate once again from food carts — green manga and hot paniyarams with chutneys.

Walking on Raja Street, Big Bazar Street and RG Street was more than just a culinary or a heritage walking tour. It was in fact a chance to experience a way of life in an old part of the city that is so different from where we live. We saw how, despite living and doing business in cramped spaces, people shared a camaraderie, a kinship and a tremendous support system. We were grateful we could enjoy the positive vibes, at least for a little time.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 8:49:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-market-of-the-people/article16071179.ece

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