Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 17, December 16-31, 2021
A recent phone call from old friend Kichami – Krishnaswami Alladi, to be more formal – led literally to a trip down memory lane, a visit to Murrays Gate Road, Alwarpet, and the house where I had grown up with my siblings and cousins in the 1950s. Suprabha, as it was called then, was home to two brothers and their families. My father P.N. Venkatraman, a bank manager, and his brood occupied the first floor, while my periappa P.N. Sundaresan, sports journalist in The Hindu, and his family lived on the ground floor.
Suprabha has miraculously survived progress. It is still the same two-storeyed bungalow, built some seven decades ago, its present owners – the Vasudevan Alladi family which bought it from ours in 1961 or so, resisting the urge to “develop” it. The Alladis have not only maintained it beautifully, but actually made tasteful additions and alterations that have made the building sustainably modern and livable.
The family lived here for quite some years, and seem to have enjoyed their stay there even more than we did, actually performing many functions including weddings there. Kichami is one of the twelve children the Vasudevans had, and though he was my fellow “Presidencian” in the 1960s, and a well known tennis player at Presidency College and after he moved to the Madras Institute of Technology, I never visited him at Suprabha. His family let out the house after living there for years, but eventually converted it into a guest house for their family and friends, especially during the December music season.
Now, to come to the provocation for Kichami’s recent telephone call, it was to invite me, my sister Sarada and my brother Sivaramakrishnan, all old residents of the house, with our families to an evening of reminiscences and dinner at erstwhile Suprabha, as a kind of farewell to the house, as the Alladis, now dispersed across the globe and most of them getting on in years, had decided to sell the property and had in fact clinched a deal. In a lovely gesture, Kichami and Co. had included almost everyone connected to the house over the years, to the reunion, with Kichami himself making a nice audiovisual slide presentation on the history of the house. It informed those present that the house originally belonged to my grandfather V. Narayanan, that Kichami’s father, an Indian Railways official bought it from him. Many of the invitees of the evening had lived in the house at some point, and some others present had been neighbours and playmates. I was glad to catch up with some of them, including Narendran, a son of film director A. Bhimsingh who lived across the street. Unable to attend was another invitee, Shankar or Srinivasaraghavan, one of our playmates of the fifties and sixties, but in his adult years a tenant before the Alladis took the house back. It was a pleasure to catch up with another family member Heramba Cadambi, who like Kichami, lives in Bengaluru. When we lived at Suprabha, we had granduncles Venkataraman and Ramachandran, sons of Justice P.R. Sundara Iyer, living in adjacent houses on Eldams Road, and, as our house and theirs had no compound walls separating them, we kids had a free run of a considerable extent of land. I was delighted to learn from Kichami’s Powerpoint show that the compound wall did not come up for a long time after we sold the house to them. The many interesting group photographs on display therefore showcased friends from both the roads, Murrays Gate and Eldams. One interesting slide included a certain young film star who then went by the name of Kamalahasan (spelling deliberate).
To provide some topographical perspective to the whole story, Murrays Gate Road is where today’s Venus Colony is; only back in the 1960s, there was only a vast open ground where the colony is now. Bang opposite Suprabha was a massive gate that opened into a long driveway that led to the Ananda Vikatan office (hence the loincloth-clad twin Gemini pipers standing on top of the gateposts). When I wrote my first cricket book, which was about Madras and Tamil Nadu cricket, I got an artist to reconstruct the Gemini gate, the driveway, the Vikatan office in the distance, the open ground where we kids played cricket, and the entrance to Venus Studios located approximately on the deep midwicket boundary from the pavilion or Suprabha end. In the book (Mosquitos and Other Jolly Rovers so graciously brought out by the Sanmar Group in 2002), I wrote of the barefoot cricketers of our streets who went on to play the game at much higher levels, but I have elsewhere chronicled the comings and goings of several interesting personalities, large and small, that enlivened our otherwise sleepy lives. Two of them appeared spectacularly different from the normal run of visitors – one was the young Sathya Saibaba with his unusual hairstyle and dark glasses before he became famous, and another a so-called junior artist in the movies, Anugundu Ayyavu, with his bloodshot eyes, wild hair and eccentric clothes. Saibaba was a frequent houseguest of a business tycoon popularly known as the Mica King. K.B. Sundarambal, G. Varalakshmi and S. Varalakshmi were among the movie people that formed part of the Alwarpet-Teynapet ecosystem of the time. The Chinese textile salesman on his bicycle, the seller of soapu-cheepu-kannadi, Latif the tailor, and Kareem the perfume merchant were other bygone regulars remembered during this memorable reunion organised by the Alladis.