REMEMBERING GEORGE TOWN Metroplus

The building that breathes

The edifice that houses K. Natesa Iyer & Co., an 82-year-old jaggery godown in George Town, is living its last days. Photo: R. Ragu

The edifice that houses K. Natesa Iyer & Co., an 82-year-old jaggery godown in George Town, is living its last days. Photo: R. Ragu  

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The edifice that houses K. Natesa Iyer & Co., an 82-year-old jaggery godown in George Town, is living its last days

The building swallows us in one soundless gulp. The cluck-cluck of tricycles, the yackety-yak of customers and vegetable-sellers at the market, the “vazhi, vazhi” — “Give way, give way” — of sweat-drenched load men heaving jute sacks on their backs outside disappear the instant we travel down its throat. Inside, a man squats on a thinnai by a short wooden table, leaning on a pillar and writing down the order from a customer.

Temperature drops. Crumbling limestone pillars rise like pale white hillocks from the corners; wooden beams of the Madras terrace run horizontally on the ceiling. Surely, we haven’t travelled back in time? That’s the thing with K. Natesa Iyer & Co. on Anna Pillai Street — it has an otherworldly aura that borders on the mysterious.

The jaggery mundi (godown) is over 80 years old. “This property belongs to the Kannika Parameswari Temple,” says P. Suresh, looking up from his account books. “My grandfather took it for rent in 1933.” Natesa ran a wholesale jaggery and tamarind business that Suresh took over. “I get my stock from Tumkur in Karnataka,” he explains, adding that he has customers from all over Chennai, extending to Kanchipuram.

The godown opens out into a pillared courtyard — one with windows at strategic locations to let the maximum amount of sunlight in. Small chambers branch out from the main courtyard; the ceiling is high, rendering the whole place cool. Says Suresh, “Everything here is made of limestone. Construction methods back then were completely different from those of today. They resulted in sturdy buildings that withstood time.”

What did the building function as? Was it a dance-floor? A rehearsal room for temple dancers, perhaps? “I think it was a wedding hall,” says Suresh. “But I’m not sure. The size, the side rooms and such indicate that it could have hosted weddings,” he adds. “You can ask the temple authorities. But the old-timers are long gone; there is no one to tell you what exactly it was. We can only assume what the godown was, almost a hundred years ago.”

But two months from now, it will be razed to the ground.

Suresh says he has been allocated a shop at the Koyambedu wholesale food and grains market and that he is preparing to leave. “I hope to do good business there. Once I shift, the temple authorities are planning to demolish the building,” he says.

From the outside, K. Natesa Iyer & Co. looks desolate — new buildings have come up around it, elbowing it from every direction. It looks out of place in the bustling market place, peepal leaves sprout from its cracks and crevices. The men and women the building housed, their stories that the pillars heard…we will never get to know them.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2020 3:50:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/remembering-george-town-k-natesa-iyer-co/article6331902.ece

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