Memories of Madras — Days of baby taxis and food tickets

My first tryst with Chennai was my father's alma mater, Madras Christian College, which was then located on Thambu Chetty Street. I wanted to study BA in Economics there instead of doing it in Chidambaram. And so, in 1955, I landed up here and then found that the college had shifted to Tambaram and moved into the hostel there.

We had Englishmen for teachers back then and our principal, Dr. Alexander Boyd, was a very popular man. When I entered the hostel, there was a photo of Gemini Ganesan there. He had also been an alumnus of the college.

Tambaram itself was like a forest in the 1950s. It was bare and there was no traffic or even people, for that matter. There were no shops at all and the college was on the other side of the station. Sometimes, we would cross the station and visit the few shops on the other side. There was a G.K. Theatre then, where we would catch the late night shows.

There was also a temple around that area but we wouldn't really go there until the evening before our exams, to pray for marks. On weekends, we would take the train to Park station and walk to the beach. We'd eat, catch a movie and get back.

There weren't many places to eat around the area. There was the station canteen and a Hotel Manasarovar, where we would sometimes go. When I finished my degree, I wanted to pursue law but had to wait a year since I was down with jaundice during the admissions. At that point, I worked as an assistant lecturer in a college in Meenambakkam.

I moved into a small room in Triplicane with a friend. We would frequent the many messes around the area for food. Sydoji Mess was very popular back then and it was run by a family. I would then take the train from Park Town to Meenambakkam.

After law school (I stayed in YMCA then), I never practised because my father took ill and didn't want me to be an assistant to anyone but him. So, in 1961, I joined Remington Rand, which was in Agurchand Mansion on Mount Road, as a sales representative. But I quit within a year and began looking for another job.

Woodlands Drive-in opened around that time and I went there about four days later. There I ran into my friend N.C. Chakravarthy, who was working with director Sridhar and asked him to get me a role in films. He had seen me in plays before and set me up for an interview with the director. I met him and landed a role as a hero in Vennira Aadai, which released in 1965. The irony is, the first ever shooting I saw was when I went for a make-up test for my first movie.

I was never much into Tamil films until I began acting. I would watch only English movies. I frequented the Elphinstone, Casino and Minerva theatres where I enjoyed many Hitchcock movies, Tarzan and a couple of Laurel and Hardy comedies.

When we had to get to places, we either took a bus or a baby taxi, which was usually a smaller car such as a Standard 10 or a Herald that would cost lesser than an Ambassador or a Fiat taxi. I've seen tram tracks but never a tram. There was a Ramakrishna Lunch Home where they served breakfast. Since I was always out of money, I would save up for three or four days and have a late brunch there.

Most hotels used to give out food tickets then. You could buy them for a week or a month or even more. But I was never interested because I wanted the freedom to eat anywhere, anytime. Other places we would frequent were Rayar Café in Mylapore and Coimbatore Krishnaiyyer hotel in Triplicane, which would always be crowded.

Mount Road was known for Buharis; Kodambakkam had studios, tea shops and a few costume rentals; and the beach was just an empty stretch of sand.

I REMEMBER When I joined Chitralaya Gopu's Unity Club, we spent a lot of time in Triplicane. I realised now that it hasn't changed all that much. There are still people in a constant rush, trudging up and down the streets, lazy cows hanging around, sometimes right in the middle of the road. But my fondest memory of Triplicane is that it is the only place where you can get a plate of idlis and filter coffee as early as four in the morning.

BIO Born in 1936 in Chidambaram, Venniradai Moorthy came to Chennai to study and did his BL from Madras Law College. He entered films with ‘Vennira Adai' in 1965 and became a well-known comedian, with a career spanning 45 years and 817 films. He entered the small screen in 1993 and has been a familiar face on it too, writing as many episodes as he acted in. His hobbies include astrology and reading.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 9:56:44 PM |

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