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MEMORIES OF COIMBATORE - Tales from Ramnagar

People line the streets during the Ayyappa Puja Sangham annadanam. Photo: Special Arrangement

People line the streets during the Ayyappa Puja Sangham annadanam. Photo: Special Arrangement

I've known this city like no other — for five generations, my family has lived here. My earliest memories are of life in Telugu Brahmin Street. Life moved at a different pace. We had all the time in the world for tasks such as cleaning tamarind, pounding rice and rolling out appalams.

I took over the reins of my house when I was seven — I was a posthumous child. Those days, you could buy 100 measures of rice for seven rupees. We paid a like sum as rent, and Rs. 30 saw us through an entire month.

During World War II, we experienced fuel and food shortage. Rice was rationed. We would get a mound of firewood; at home, I would cleave it into smaller bits to make it last longer. The weekly kerosene ration was half a litre for a family. Still, people coped. Farmers would come home, hand over a keerai kattu in exchange for a handful of rice.

My life revolved around a limited area — Telugu Brahmin Street, Sullivan Street, Sami Iyer Street, Thomas Street, Karuppa Gounder Street and Raja Street. The city was framed by the railway line on the East, Chetti Veedhi on the West, Cross Cut on the North and Aathupalam on the South.

Can you imagine, R.S. Puram used to be looked down upon as an area of residence because of the burial ground. Even then, it had a 70 ft road. Two arched streetlamps lit up the entire, tree-lined stretch. As for shops, I distinctly remember two — A. Rangaswamy Chettiar, and Rajammal, the betel leaf seller who ran a petty shop.

Transportation used to be so different. Most people cycled. We paid a half-an-anna tax every six months to the Corporation for a seal that allowed us to cycle. The rich owned bullock carts; the road leading to the girls high school on Raja Street was lined with carts waiting to take the students back home.

Many people walked. You had some buses. The fares were inexpensive — from Clock Tower to Ondipudur, the charge was one anna! Cars and scooters (Lamberetta) were few, because of the long waiting period before allotment —sometimes, we even waited four years! Getting a telephone connection was equally traumatic.

What's in an anna?

Those days, money had a lot of value. With half an anna, you could have a coffee or a masala dosai. Two annas got you a ‘maand' of jaggery. For one paise, you could buy enough groundnut for two boys.

Even in the 1920s, we had money transfer. Only, it was done differently. Rupee notes (Rs. 50 and Rs. 100) would be cut into two and sent through different handlers. The receiver would stick the notes together and deposit it in The Madras Bank.

Ramnagar, as we know it today, came into existence sometime between 1908 and 1910. It used to be called Brahmin New Extension. Each plot measured 25 cents; it cost a paltry 150 rupees.

And, during construction, you had to leave a 15 ft margin in front of the house, and 10 ft each on the sides and back.

Other than the main road that leads to the 77-year-old temple, all the streets were named after leaders — Sastri, Malaviya, Ansari, Rajaji, and so on.

I moved to Ramnagar in 1965. Beyond Ansari Street was Katoor, home to mill quarters. There were large swatches of agricultural lands too. In a way, this was the end of the new town — a reason why Suburban school got its name!

Among the welcome changes is that poverty has reduced. When we fed people at the Ayyappa Puja Sangham during our annual puja, they would line the roads on either side from the Ramar kovil; there were so many hungry people.

I'm also happy that parents allow children to follow their dreams when it comes to a career. In education, the work of Rajammal P Devadas was immense. With T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar's patronage, she brought education to the city and emancipation to women. PSGR Krishnammal and Nirmala College contributed to women's education too.

Women slowly started driving too. A lady from the Keshavardhini hair oil family and Dr. Saraswathi were among the first to take to the wheel.

We had little in the form of entertainment. Carnatic concerts used to be held at Binny Subba Rao's house on Ponnurangam Road. Later, we had concerts at Sankara Madam, Ayyappa Puja Sangham, and other places.

There was no space for drama, though, and that's how the Ramnagar Fine Arts Society was born. We brought in plays by Cho and other veterans, staged in Shanmuga Theatre. Drama competitions were also held; judging them was such a pleasure. All the worries of work wilted away, and you were rejuvenated.

Among the things I miss are the spacious homes, the lilting notes of good tamizh , and the crystal clear Noyyal. It used to flow near Sundakamuthur, you know? I miss the crows, sparrows, and mynahs and the music they created at dawn and dusk as they set out of their nests and returned to roost.

C.G. VENKATARAMAN Born in 1927, CGV turned auditor in 1956 and practised till 1982. He helped collect funds for and construct a building on DB Road for auditors and audit students. He now renders his service to many organisations, gratis. CGV also helps renovate small temples.

I REMEMBER

Every street would have a stone trench brimming with water for cattle to drink from. As they walked back after quenching their thirst, people would hold out bundles of agathi keerai


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 8:41:08 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/memories-of-coimbatore-tales-from-ramnagar/article2295904.ece