With R. Charvee
An island of peace amidst a busy city
Anyone who wants to know the way to our colony gets a very queer set of landmarks to follow. A road besides a canal, a wine shop on the right, and the immediate right after a small Amman Koil on the street.
Nestled between the Visalakshi Thottam in Mandaveli and Maarwadi Thottam in Mylapore, is a quaint set of about 50 houses.
There! That is Narasimhapuram for you!
Laid out in the form of a square, the colony resembles a mini India with residents of different communities including Muslims, Punjabis, Christians, Marwaaris, Hindus, Telugus, and Malayalis.
A quiet evening stroll along the 4 streets with my neighborhood friend, R.Charvee, revealed quite a few interesting things about our very own colony, which we never knew before!
First, we decided to go to the house of the Narasimhapuram Residents’ Welfare Association (NRA)’s President Mr. P.S.Narayanaswamy, a senior Carnatic musician and a Padma Bhushan awardee.
Having been a resident of this colony for more than 50 years, he was quite happy to tell us his experience of
living here in the olden days. “Back then, there were no tar roads in this colony. We only had sand roads, and it used to be a big problem during the rains. Neither did we have the big bridge near Sai Baba Temple. People used the smaller one, while vehicles coming to Narasimhapuram had to come through Luz” he says. Telephones came 10 years later. Behind the colony, there were extensive panam thoppugal (Palm tree orchards).
He even had a lot of interesting anecdotes about the Buckingham Canal, which faces the colony’s entrance, lays stagnated, and plays host to the teeming colony of mosquitoes. “It runs right from Andhra to a place beyond Mahabalipuram. It used to be clean and free of mosquitoes in the olden days. A small boat with a lantern used to travel along the canal, carrying wheat, rice, coal (for cooking), veragu (firewood), vaikkol (hay), and grass, which would be sold at a sandhai (market) near Kutchery Road,” he says.
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Talking about Narasimhapuram, which is close to his heart, he said “It is a very calm place, where people are very attached and helpful. Our neighbors show a brotherly affection. And we have no fear of thefts here.”
It came as quite surprising to us to be told by the Secretary of the Narasimhapuram Residents’ Welfare Association Mr. Ravichandran, that famous cricketer Krishnamachari Srikkanth had once lived in one of the houses on the colony’s west street! Astounded by this piece of information, we enquired about it with Mrs. Revathi Venkataraman, a longtime resident of this colony. She smiled and said she even had a photo of herself playing cricket with him!
Next we entered a house on the left, with a nameplate that read “Mr. T.C.A. Ramanujam”. On being ushered in, we found out that he is a retired Chief Commissioner of the Income Tax Department, who contributes articles to newspapers and magazines. Being a resident of the colony right from 1989, he talked about the proximity of the colony to the Nandalala Temple, Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Sai Baba Temple, and Mandaveli Railway Station. “The colony celebrates national events such as the Independence Day, Republic Day, and New Year’s Eve. We have a lot of fun with children’s programs” he said.
He noted that in the past 25 years the colony has undergone several changes. “People have become modern. The streets are narrow, and there is no playground for the children. Mosquitoes are a constant menace here.”
His daughter Ms. Sangeetha is a lawyer who takes interest in Income Tax and the Consumer Court. She is also a veena
artiste. A picture of her receiving the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi with a bouquet, during the Nehru Centenary Year Inter Schools Meet at Delhi, adorns their reception room.
We then walked up to the house of Mrs. Lalitha Vaidyanathan, who is one of the earliest occupants of the colony. “Earlier, most of the houses here were independent ones, and had only 1 floor. This place is safe, even to stay alone” she says.
Many prominent people such V.S. Raghavan, and Vennira Aadai Murthy, have been residents of this colony. One such persons was Mr. R. Rangasamy, who was the chief make-up artist for Sivaji Ganesan in most of his films like ‘Thiruvilayadal’, ‘Navarathri’ and ‘Thillana Mohanambal’. Even the scar on Sivaji’s face in the film “Theivamagan” was done by him. He is no more, but two of his four sons currently reside in the colony. Two of his four sons live the colony now. Another son is into make-up, but lives abroad. Mrs. Kalavathy, who has been a resident for the past 52 years, says “I used to see a whole lot of wigs drying in the sun outside his house, when I used to walk to school.”
Another tenant Mr. Suresh, has an orchestra. His troupe mainly performs with the play back singer S.P. Balasubmaniam and Mano. They have travelled to 20 countries for music programs mainly with S.P.B. His entire family is into music!
As we walked around, we noticed yellow signboards at regular intervals all along the roads, proclaiming messages such as “Do not litter here” and “Drive slowly inside the colony”. We were told that the association had them ordered from SS International, a company that deals in signboards, and resides in one of the houses in the colony.
We then went to see Ms. Jaya Kapali, who came to Narasimhapuram when her daughter was in the 3rd Standard. “The colony was very comfortable and safe. We, housewives used to sit on the doorstep and talk late into the night. Children used to run around the colony even around midnight. It was very homely and the helping tendency was more. But now, more flats have emerged, and we no longer see that many people outside”, she says. Her daughter Ms. Srimathi is now the Principal of Venugopal Vidyalaya.
Mr. Ramani, who has been a resident right from 1957 told us about the different names that the colony took on over the years. “It was initially called Parthasarathy layout. Then it became Sai Baba Colony. And now, it’s Narasimhapuram. People used to sing Marghazhi bhajans around the colony. It felt like a village. There used to be lots of coconut tress, guava trees, and bottle guard creepers. Every house had plenty of trees around it. The whole colony was green.” he said.
His daughter Ambika, talked about the existence of a children’s library at Mr. Raman, one of the resident’s house. “He used to have around 2000 to 3000 books in one of his rooms. Every child in the colony had to donate one book every year. I used to give my ‘non-detail’ books. The library eventually became big. Everyday from 5 to 6 in the evening, he used to gather all the children and tell them stories. Then for the next half hour he used to teach us slokams. He continued these story-telling and slokam sessions for about 5-6 years. We all used to enjoy it. Some of the kids came to hear the stories even after joining college!” she smiled.
Although Narasimhapuram is situated in Mylapore, at the heart of Chennai, it is a calm and peaceful place, away from the hustle – bustle of city life. With almost no traffic, it is an ideal place for taking walks, playing and cycling.
Having two watchmen and a check post, it is quite a safe place to walk around even in the dead of night. Neat rectangular dustbins pop up on each side of the road, keeping the roads free of garbage. Sweet fragrance from maramalli, arali, pavazhamalli and sarkkondrai plants greet you at different points as you walk inside the colony.
With every road boasting of trees ranging from the ever popular mango and jackfruit, to neem, sapota, custard apple, and amla, Narasimhapuram is indeed a clean and green place that has managed to retain its essence amidst an ever changing city.