Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 5, June 16-31, 2021
During the 1960s, schooling at Vidya Mandir Mylapore and walking back to C.V. Raman Road where home was meant a wonderful time spent soaking in the sights and sounds of hyperactive Luz Corner.
The stretch of shops on Royapettah High Road on the western side began with Shikar Armoury, arms and ammunition dealers, in a niche property owned and run by an eminent royal family. The father, a highly respected person and a leading authority in India on arms, ammunition and ballistics, handed down every subtlety and nuance of that niche sport to his son (with him whom I am in touch with till today, by virtue of the fact that we are both members of the Chennai Rifle Club). Between father and son they took competitive shooting in India to great heights.
BSC footwear was next door, which we presumed was Bata Shoe Company, or so the owner promoted the theory to us. My first pair of Beatle boots was bought from here for about 35 Rupees. I had saved up some thirty rupees in notes and the rest were given to the shopkeeper in coins – I know I shortchanged him and wherever you are Sir, I still owe you a rupee or so. And thank you for letting me leave the shop with a pair of shiny black Beatle Boots, instead of holding me for ransom till I coughed up the balance.
Blue Brothers, Opticians, was next door; I should think everyone needing eyeglasses in South Madras had at some point had their spectacles made here. The owner and staff spoke Telugu and it was at a point where my young eyesight was perfect, so all my visits to this shop were with my parents who were the real customers.
Lingan’s Photo studio was next door. As a young amateur photographer, I bought Black and White photo film, usually ORWO, the popular East German brand from this family run enterprise. In the mid ‘90’s when I was one among S. Muthiah’s photographers for Madras Musings, I have had many rolls of film processed and printed here. But I’ll get back to Lingan’s again soon!
Rangoon Leather works was the adjoining shop – perhaps Burma evacuees – all suitcases that went bust were fixed here. No real interest for me as I usually had to rush to the next shop as hunger pangs were gaining control over me. For 25 paisa I could pause at the Bombay Halwa stall, a shop the size of a cupboard and down a delicious samosa- mint-chutney-and-onion served in a Dhonnai. Or, stop at Shanthi Vihar on the opposite side for a plate of Pulao Kurma wishing the snack would never end, the best ever in the world. For a mere 35 paise.
Then there were the maze of obscure pavement stalls selling knick knacks galore. Cheap affordable plastic stuff that were mandatory accessories in every household. Only to afford mere passing glances from me and mindlessly begin homing in towards home.
Take the corner to the right and you’d walk past Mohan Dress Center, our Headquarters for the annual shopping for new clothes because Deepavali came around only once a year. They stocked readymade stuff for boys and till a certain age, my brother and I wore the same matching outfits as we lit the crackers. A friendly salesman at this shop, again Telugu speaking, was bald with a large trade mark lump on his head; the lump was always a distraction every time we siblings stepped inside the shop. A few shops away was Fashion Silk House; this was for the ladies of the house. This was a textile store run by a family of Sindhis. Once, my brother and I waited in our car as my sister and parents disappeared inside the large shop. A man came around and gave us two bottles of chilled Kali Cola and as we savored the sweet beverage, another man came storming up at us, slapped himself on his own forehead muttering something, and disappeared. The drinks were for some other two kids sitting in another car. Burp!
Next door was Kamadhenu Theater. As a family, we had endured many a Tamil tear jerker matinee here – but we siblings had an agenda on our minds. To cross the road after the movie to Udipi Sukha Nivas rooftop restaurant for cold Rose milk and slurp on it loudly to the last drop. Our parents settled for those legendary masala dosais that they ate like the world was ending that evening. Below Sukhna Nivas was Himalaya Cool Drinks. The elderly panchgacham clad gentleman, again Telugu, sold fruit drinks of which pulpy grape and Badham Kheer were popular favorites. It was traditional to run into thirsty schoolmates at this shop.
India Stores was next door with many an exciting toy or an unaffordable whatever waiting for me inside a gloomy, poorly lit showroom. I bought cricket balls here for Rs.3 and never played with them – didn’t want the shine to wear off.
There was Nehru News Mart to one corner that was of no interest to a twelve year old, likewise India Coffee House on the opposite corner. Coffee was for adults. For me, it was junk food followed by more junk food. Ranganathan Studio on Kutchery Road was one more shop to buy B&W film.
Back to Lingan’s Photo Studio, that was run by a father and his two sons. The shop had a front desk behind which was the darkroom. A narrow flight of stairs inside the shop took you upstairs to the photo studio. How many graduation photos and pictures of newlyweds this studio must have seen! The chief photographer was the silver haired father who was also a Carnatic/Bhajan singer and on occasions he and his fellow accompanists sat around at the studio and rehearsed for forthcoming recitals. A typical rehearsal that I sat through on one occasion was the father singing from behind his desk, the chorus that included a Ganjira player, stacked themselves at different levels on the staircase and with eyes shut and portraying deep emotion; they performed with gusto to an audience that comprised only me. I remember remaining seated for quite a while until a customer came around and the song ended in a hasty fade out.
Then, as always on school day evenings, I would begin the slow walk back home. Tomorrow was always another Luz Corner evening, full of intrigue.