Made in Madras Society

The corner shop in Mylapore

Kalathy Newspaper Shop, Mylapore Photo: R. Ragu  

If Kalathy Newspaper Shop could talk, it would have fascinating things to say about Madras. The tiny store, bedecked with olive-green soda bottles, curvy jars with murukku and kadalai mittai, and magazines strung up like lopsided kites, has absorbed the character of our once-quaint city over several decades of its existence. Today, it exudes this charm from its vantage point in Mylapore.

This is perhaps why people are drawn to it. They bask in Kalathy’s grandfatherly warmth, sipping its chief attraction — rose milk. Here are five interesting things about this creamy, shockingly-sweet drink.

* Kalathy was established in 1927 by K. Kalathy who worked in a general provisions store in the Andamans. It was taken over by N. Kannan in 1951, and is presently run by his son Mani, a retired assistant bank manager.

* Before rose milk became Kalathy’s USP, the shop was famous for its sweet paaku. Made of betel nuts and sweetened scraped coconut, it was hugely popular with school students who made a beeline to the store from school, in the evenings. A handful was sold for a quarter or half anna, and Kannan would sometimes give it for free.

* Kannan introduced rose milk at the store in 1952. The milk was freshly procured from milkmen. Mani recalls the jingling of cowbells as early as 4.30 a.m. “The milkman would milk the cows right at the entrance of the shop,” he says. “It would be boiled and cooled before the rose syrup was added.” At 3 p.m. the cows made another trip to the shop to be milked. Today, Mani uses branded pasteurised milk. His wife Shanti assists him in making the syrup at home. Since the Eighties, the store has been selling the syrup. “We initially gave it to friends and regular customers, and later decided to sell it,” says Mani.

* Kalathy was the first in the city to stock Coca Cola in the Sixties. By the Nineties, their rose milk became so popular that Mani tried to brand and market it on a large scale. But, it was not easy. He had to balance a bank job during the day and compete with MNCs who lured customers with freebies. Eventually, Mani gave up the idea.

* It was common to see celebrities stop by at the shop for rose milk. With the nearby RR Sabha being a major theatre hub, ‘Crazy’ Mohan, ‘Kathadi’ Ramamoorthy, and R.S. Manohar frequented it. On one occasion, a sudden wave of boys from the area rushed to the shop, hardly able to control their excitement. That’s when Mani realised that a special customer was in his midst. “They thronged him for autographs. It was cricketer Srikanth!” he says.

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Printable version | Jul 20, 2021 1:59:56 AM |

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