Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2018

Memories of Chetpet

by Geeta Doctor

There’s a buzz in the air around the plans for an underground station that will emerge at Chetpet. Drilling for soil testing has already begun at one end of the Chetpet Bridge, leading to speculations as to whether the tunnels will burrow under the Cooum or over it.

We shall soon be told. With that, one more slice of the old Harrington Road habitat will disappear. Hurrah! I am all for progress.

Except on a misty rain drenched morning when memories rise over a steaming cup of tea. I think of the ever-popular Hansa Stores and its owner who was simply referred to as the Hansa Stores Man. He looked after the needs of scores of schoolboys studying at nearby Madras Christian College school. He kept the flakiest of fresh mutton patties behind a glass cabinet that he served on paper plates with a dollop of what was then a great delicacy, Kissan’s tomato ketchup. Sometimes you could get a gentle whiff of the fresh bakery bread from CVK Bros. opposite. It was certainly the softest whitest bread you could buy. It was hand-wrapped in grey-white unglazed paper, with a double crease on the top. If you were competitive you always tried to prize the button of the label that was stamped with the initials and baked on top before the others did.

I am reminded of the old Post Office that used to be where the KRM Centre, Shoppers Stop and all the other offices now loom. My ageing father’s daily routine was to walk across the road, umbrella in hand and have a chat with the Postmaster.

It might have been for a simple task like buying an inland post cover or to send a money order. To do this he had to navigate a treacherous terrain occupied by the local cows and buffaloes lying in the pools of muddy water. It was a bovine beauty parlour. For sitting on their back, clad in white plumes, like beauticians, the visiting egrets used their long beaks to pluck at the ticks and mites hiding behind the buffalo ears. The mites themselves were a busy lot. The red rain bugs called “Velvetu poochi” by the locals, usually surfaced to breakfast on termites and ran around in circles searching for a bargain. The mounds of decomposing cow dung were the favorite coffee bars for the more sophisticated crowd of Sulphur yellow butterflies. The clouds of horse flies competed for a bit of liquid dung circling around the flapping tails of the cows. Shiny blue-green beetles searched for tree barks into which they drilled holes to lay their eggs. There was a whole community of living creatures that co-existed in that green space.

I was reminded of them once again when we cut down the branches of an over-grown Drumstick tree just before the rain. Suddenly the local women from the village appeared and foraged for the leaves, the white drumstick flowers and the pods. I remember how the older women would come after the rain and collect all manner of leaves and pods, stems and buds from the wild flowers and herbs that had sprouted from the pavements outside our house. Each one of these they explained had a medicinal property and would be dried and powdered, if not cooked that very day.

Today, of course we have paved them with cement and stone. Progress, like a blade of grass, is a double-edged thing. It cuts and heals.


  1. vijee says:

    What a lovely read. I loved the passage on the natural history of chetpet!
    One of the pavement medicinal greens I have heard of is Musumusukkai (which has the botanical name Mukia/Cucumis maderaspatana). It is a home remedy for kids with phlegm. The lady who was picking it showed me another plant nearby which had a similar-looking leaf but was absolutely smooth.
    Musumusu had a “burry” feel. So yeah — is musumusukkai the alternative to Vicks? We’ll never know once this (unproven) traditional remedy if forgotten for the lack of easily accessible plants..

  2. Krishna Bharati says:

    Possibly the only reference to CVK Bros on the internet !

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