C.N. Annadurai, fondly called Anna by his followers, held them in thrall when he spoke, as if he were a magician. But the real magician in him would manifest when he would inhale a pinch of snuff powder known as mookupodi or pattanam podi (where pattinam stands for Madrasapattinam) as he addressed a meeting. He would make gestures and move his hands to his nose in a flash, inhaling a pinch. Anna was truly fond of his Pattanam Podi, Madras’ tobacco-based offering to the world.
It is said that late Carnatic vocalist Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer started using snuff, reportedly on the advice of Rajaji, who recommended that the powder would help him sing better.
Such was the appeal of the powder that a snuff powder company came out with an advertisement saying that while the melody of the lure and the beauty of the rainbows could be surpassed, nothing could match N.C. powder.
“The powder made in Chennai is special as we add ghee while grinding the tobacco. Since the price of the ghee has increased, we also add vanaspathi,” said T.G. Arumugam of the TSM Snuff Company in Chennai.
At one point, there were so many snuff manufacturers that a road in Korukkupet was called Snuff Mill Road. B. Srinivasa Rao, the communist leader who built the peasant movement in Tamil Nadu, recalled in his memoir that he established a union for the workers of the snuff manufacturing workers along with P. Sundaraiah, who later became the general secretary of the CPI(M).
Though snuff is manufactured across the State, the powder made in Chennai has a special flavour and market. “The entire Anna Nagar and Arumbakkam area was once owned by the manufacturers of TAS snuff powder,” said Mr. Arumugam.
The labourers were extremely skilled in making the powder. Though methods vary when it comes to processing the tobacco, the most common is the sun-dried method to make snuff powder. After drying, it should be soaked in water for 15 days before being cut into pieces and finally ground into a fine powder.
Mr. Arumugam said the tobacco from Vijayawada was suitable for making snuff powder. He says the business is still doing well, and they are also exporting the powder to China.