My Mylapore

Mylapore Social History Project initiated by Mylapore Times - the neighbourhood newspaper.

July 18, 2018


Groves, flowering trees and gardens.
And then the land was plotted. 
A family of early settlers tell their stories of another age.
Documented by Bama Ranaganathan

Coconut groves, fruit and flower trees in abundance and gardens filled with vegetables – this is not in a village in interior Tamil Nadu. 

This was C. I. T. Colony to be specific, in the 1950s. 
( City Improvement Trust - CIT - one of the state's initiatives to promote housing in various parts of the Madras city).

‘Our family was one of the first to occupy this area, in the mid 1950s’, says Kalyani Muralidharan, who runs classes for children in the same house her father built in 1954. 

‘We used to live in Adanja Mudali Street, near Mandaveli market. It was a small house, we used to live in a small portion, what we call ondi kudithanam. My father was an electrical and building contractor. The government started this project – City Improvement Trust - to make plots available to interested people. My dad believed in investing in land and so he bought a two-ground plot for Rs. 3000’, she recalls.

Being in the construction industry, he put everything best into this house. ‘The foundation of the house goes down 8 feet. He built the ground floor first, then added on floors to give separate flats to each of his 5 children’, says Kalyani’s sister Radha Srinivasan, who lives in one of these flats. ‘Our father was perhaps the first in the area to come up with the concept of a family flat’, she adds.

G. Ramakrishnan and his wife P. R. Meenambal ( Kalyani and her siblings' father and mother) moved in to their house in mid 1954. The house is behind the Ramakrishna Mutt and Vivekananda College grounds. 
But when they moved in to this colony, the place was much of coconut groves and fruit trees.

‘It was all like a forest. All kinds of trees grew here – coconut, magizham poo (Spanish cherry or bullet wood), Flame of the forest. There were no houses here. From here, we could cut across this land, then pass by Nageswara Rao Park area (which would be a lonely space) and run to Sai Baba Temple (which was then newly founded) in just a few minutes. We didn’t have to worry about traffic either’, remarks Radha Srinivasan.
There are other fond memories the sisters have - of growing up here. 

‘We used to play outside all the time. We were 5 siblings, and there were our neighbour's kids. So the street would always ring of our laughter and noise’, they say. ‘Till the mid-sixties, there were not many houses here. Then, slowly the whole area started developing’, says Kalyani.

This family's children went to Ramakrishna Mission School till Std.5 The girls then attended St. Ebbas Girls School since the education was free there. They, then went on to SIET College. 

‘We walked everywhere. No buses or autos for us’, they say.
‘We were also brought up with a strict code. Our father used to garden and we had a number of plants. Amma would wake us up at 4 a.m. to collect the vegetables and flowers from the garden. Avarakkai (broad beans) and kothavaraikkai (cluster beans), pudalangai (snake gourd), vazhaikkai (plaintain) – all grew around our house and featured regularly in our menu. 

'We had many kanakambaram (firecracker flower) plants and we would pluck the flowers to weave into garlands for our hair’, says Radha.

‘After coming back from school, and having our tiffin, we would go to the Sai Baba Temple. Then play time from 4 - 6 p.m.. At six, we would be called inside, to wash up and say our prayers. We would study from 6 – 8. At 8, we had to shut our books, eat our dinner, spend some time with family and then go to bed by 9’, they say.

Eyes-byes, pandi (hopscotch variation) and kallangaa (five stones) were some of the games played by the children then in the open spaces in CIT Colony. Sometimes, friends would accompany them back from school and that would add to the number of children playing in the street.

‘It was much cooler, there would be a pleasant breeze from the trees. We slept on mats in the veranda, did not use even a fan’, they recall. 

But they do have scary memories of a lonely colony?
 ‘We think we saw the ghost of an old woman in the early mornings while drawing kolam outside. We would run screaming inside and later discuss this sighting with our friends at school’, says Radha. ‘We would find clay pots littered in the grove and used to think that ghosts left them behind’, chuckles Kalyani.

Mangoes, guava and nagapazham (jamun) grew in abundance in the area. ‘We loved to gather the small nagapazham in our skirts. How many skirts had been dirtied by those fruits!’, they exclaim.

As the colony grew, Rathnaiah, a resident, started a KG school in the colony. 
By then, huts had started coming up in Kattu Koil area ( a scrub jungle area where Our Lady of Light church built in the 16th cent. is still located - towards Luz area). 

‘It ( the KG school) was called Aunty’s School and was attended by all the children in the colony, especially the children of the milk men, servant maids  and workers who lived in the huts. The fee was very nominal, about Rs. 3 or so and the education was very good’, says Kalyani.

A social club for women was also came up around the same time. It was a small, one-room building where the women would gather in the evenings to chat and play indoor games. ‘I can also remember amma playing throwball and tennikoit there’, says Radha.
The women developed deeper bonds and were more like family than friends, they say. 

‘During Deepavali time, or if there was any wedding in any family, all the women would collect to make murukku (a savoury crunchy snack).  After seeing their kids and men off, they would gather at around 10 a.m. to spend the day making bakshanam (sweets and snacks) or murukku. 

"Murukku sutharadhu (twisting the murukku) was a special skill and they really enjoyed these occasions’, says Kalyani.
The women would also gather together each morning in the month of Margazhi (mid Dec. – mid Jan). "We would sing songs and go to nearby Perumal temples. Everything was a community affair’, says Kalyani.

A few Christian families were also settling down along Bishop Wallers Avenue and these families became friends of the Colony's first residents.  ‘They would attend all our family functions – even golu (nine days of Navrathri) and take vethala pakku (traditional religious gifts). And we would visit them for theirs. This continues even till today", they remark.

As the colony started expanding, more amenities came up, but the spirit of a close-knit community seems to have faded, and fast. 

‘Though we may know the early settlers, we no longer know all our neighbours; children nowadays do not get to enjoy the same care free life that we did. Those were the good days’, says Kalyani.

Photos: Kalyani and her sister in front of their apartment which was built on the original independent house in CIT Colony; 2nd photo is of the colony as it is in 2018.