Memories of Madras – Campus jottings

Lodd Govindadas Street, behind Odeon Theatre, evoked my curiosity. As a name or a prefix, Lodd was unusual. Was Lord being misspelt as Lodd? Balasubramaniam of Sunday Observer threw light on this conundrum. Govindadas had a sweet tooth, and he liked laddus the most. Therefore, anyone visiting him bought a packet of laddus without any second thoughts.

Whenever I went to Odeon, I could not help recollecting this anecdote. You could be assured of seeing public figures at Odeon, which screened only English films. C.N. Annadurai loved to watch matinee shows there. For a college student in Madras, weekend entertainment revolved around theatres. I can't count the number of Tamil films I watched with friends at Lakshmi Theatre in Aminjikarai. For those keen on films in English and vernacular languages, there were Minerva, Roxy, Gaiety and Crown. A popular joke among college students was ‘Give proxy in college and go to Roxy.' In those days, film stars enjoyed greater adulation. Hopeful of catching a glimpse of their favourite actors, a multitude of fans waited expectantly at the railway crossing in Kodambakkam.

Hanging out at a café was another pastime. Madras was known for its excellent cafés. However, for the students of Pachaiyappa's College, the temptation to eat out was not great. There were three messes categorised as A, B and C. Together, they offered appetising vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Dishes in the vegetarian A and B messes were sold at subsidised rates — which made these messes popular and attracted visitors from outside the college.

Being a foodie has been my undoing in many situations. My hope of becoming an NCC cadet was dashed because I succumbed to the aroma of vegetable somas emanating from a mess. The gruelling NCC drill started at 7 a.m. After 30 minutes of the drill, I headed straight to the canteen and tucked into the somas. I was suspended, and never got back into the NCC.

In Madras, inter-collegiate events generated tremendous interest. I cut a sorry figure during an oratorical competition at Loyola College. The Bertram Hall was so big that I felt stymied. An overwhelming stage-fright took hold of me, and the words got stuck in my throat.

Students of Pachaiyappa's had respect for things that were remotely connected with the college. They looked upon bus no. 24 as their own, because it plied on the route. We mentioned the bus in ‘Pachaiyappa's Bharataam', a villupattu that we composed as a tribute to the college.

I often preferred shank's mare to public transport. It was a joy to walk on the streets of Madras. Open spaces were aplenty. To give an example, nothing but a vast space separated the Santhome church from the Adyar palace. There were not too many vehicles on the road. No auto-rickshaws. Baby Hindustans that could barely accommodate four people served as taxis. Big private cars were rare. And, you knew all the owners of these luxury cars. V.L. Ethiraj travelled by a Chevrolet. When this car passed by the Eithiraj College in the evening, you knew it was 5 p.m. — he was a stickler for punctuality.

I REMEMBER Buhari's is remembered for its non-vegetarian fare. But vegetarians used to flock to this hotel for an one-off dish — vegetable noodles.

BIO Avvai Natarajan Born in 1936, he started his career as a professor, but gained prominence as an ambassador of the Tamil language. Thanks to his felicity with English, the Tamil Nadu Government appointed him the Director of Translations in 1975. Later, as the Secretary of the Department of Tamil Language Development and Culture and Literature and Vice-Chancellor of Tamil University, Thanjavur, he did great work promoted the language. He is association with the Sakthi Group of Companies is long and at present an advisor to the Sakthi group of companies.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 10:53:54 PM |

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