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

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

Queen Marians’ haunts in the 1930s & 1940s

Excerpts from 'One Woman's India' by Anna Varki

Page 5_1 picture

Moore Market of yesteryears.

When I was in the Queen Mary’s College hostel, our mode of transport was the man-pulled rickshaw or the tram. Our favourite haunts were Round Tana, which has now changed so much, and, of course, Moore Market, which is no more. It was for us a mall for all seasons!

Our trips to the Round Tana from QMC were by tram. The trams started from Ice House (or Widows’ Home), now called Vivekananda House. The conductor rang a bell to denote a stop or a start. The tram dropped us at Round Tana and proceeded down Mount Road to Saidapet. We invariably alighted at Round Tana to see a movie at the Elphinstone. Now that landmark too has disappeared, along with Swadeshi Emporium and Chellaram’s, which was the best place to buy sarees.

The matinee show at Elphinstone Cinema started at 3 p.m. and got over by 5.30 p.m. which would get us to the hostel by 6 p.m. The late show went on till 9 p.m.; this meant we had to have a senior student, called ‘chaperone’, accompanying us, and a permission slip signed by a member of the staff on duty. We enjoyed masala dosa, badam halwa and other goodies at the Udupi restaurant across the road.

In those days, Elphinstone Theatre was famous. It was where Rabindranath Tagore had staged his play Chitrangada. It was Tagore’s practice to accompany his theatre unit wherever it travelled. Dressed in flowing robes, he would sit in a corner of the stage and read aloud the play in a rich melodious voice as the action unfolded. But the only problem was that he read in Bengali. When those of us who had planned to go for the play heard that it was going to be in Bengali, we hesitated, wondering whether to go or not. Father, on learning of our hesitation, encouraged us to go. He said that we would understand and follow. So we went. I must say it was a rich experience.

Much later, Pandit Ravi Shankar came to the Elphinstone with his orchestra, which used the jalatarangam. This was a set of water-filled porcelain bowls, which were arranged in a half-circle, which were struck by bamboo sticks to sound the notes of music, such as sa re ga ma pa da ni sa. Uday Shankar was the first to come up with and stage a contemporary Indian ballet. He, his wife Amala and their troupe staged a dance-drama at the Elphinstone.

Next to the theatre was an ice-cream parlour called the Elphinstone Soda Fountain, now replaced by Vasantha, a vegetarian restaurant. The taste of the peach melba ice cream they served is still fresh in my mouth. P Orr and Sons is still there. Khadi Bhandar, which had the pride of place in our hearts during the freedom struggle, was a small shop then; now it is a showroom selling only handspun and handwoven cloths. The present Bata showroom housed the famous Italian restaurant Bosotto, well-known for its pastries. The other famous landmark, which has shifted from Mount Road, is the G.K. Vale Studio.

The word ‘hanagraph’ must sound strange to man today. It was a cubbyhole-sized photo studio that took eight photographs for the cost of a rupee. These photos were slightly bigger than today’s passport size photographs. Inside the studio was a table on which you could rest your hands. You could pose with a book or a bouquet of flowers, usually dry flowers kept handy by the owner, or pose with a friend. All these little stores were clustered around Round Tana, where a statue of Annadurai stands today.

Our favourite shopping centre was Moore Market, next to Central Station, where you could get anything under the sun! There were small eating-places where puffs, pakodas, samosas and cold drinks could be enjoyed. One of the shops had a sign, ‘Ready to serve hot pups’, meaning warm baked stuffed pastries. Perfumes in tiny bottles were also available, the hot favourite being ‘Evening in Paris’ – a tiny dark blue bottle priced at one rupee and four annas. It was a great place for Christmas purchases and second-hand books. Shopping at Spencer’s at that time was not considered affordable.

In those days, refrigeration or any kind of cold storage was a dream! Behind Moore Market; there were shops from where you could buy live turkey, goose, and chicken. You could choose the bird and get it prepared for cooking at home for special occasions.

Another landmark, which has disappeared, is ‘My Ladye’s Garden’ with a pond alongside, and the Zoo. The Zoo was a favourite picnic spot. We could go boating and enjoy elephant rides!

Those were also the days when the Cooum River was clean and students from Women’s Christian College could cross over to Spur Tank Road without sullying themselves and give their blouses to be stitched at their favourite tailor – Jyothi’s. Incidentally, the shop is still there, run by the grandchildren! For Queen Marians, their favourite tailor was the humble smiling Naidu, who stitched blouses to perfection from puffed sleeves to leg-of-mutton ones. Started as a one-man outfit in one room, Naidu Hall is, at present, a flourishing business of readymade garments run by his grandchildren, while still maintaining the quality that was Naidu’s hallmark!

Apart from the Marina Beach and good old Moore Market, there was the Egmore Railway Refreshment Room. It’s a place of which I have fond memories since we could always have a treat there.

The refreshment room used to be a favourite haunt of my father and his journalist buddies. People like the Raja of Pithapuram, the Raja of Kollengode, and others waited in the refreshment room for trains for their respective onward journeys. Others who spent time here were not always travellers but just those who wanted a place to eat or meet. A bottle of beer cost eight annas. Sixteen annas made a rupee, so one rupee was a precious amount, especially for journalists, who were poorly paid.

Father used to take us for treats at the Railway Refreshment Room. We looked forward to devouring the sponge cake and lemonade, and enjoyed spending time watching the trains pull into the station, the people boarding and alighting, the guard blowing the whistle or waving a green flag, and the train steaming out.

The English breakfast consisted of two fried eggs, bacon and coffee, and it was all really expensive. There was a four-course English lunch that included soup, a fish dish, a meat dish and dessert. You couldn’t just eat with a fork! Strict dining etiquette was followed, with each piece of cutlery meant for a specific purpose. A great favourite (which now may be termed ‘Anglo-Indian’) was Rice and Curry and the famous Mulligatawny soup.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *