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Lost in Plain Sight

Do you have favourite buildings, shops, and spots that you might not frequently visit but nevertheless enjoy the presence of? Do you feel for an old building being brought down, simply because youâd been seeing it all your life? I do; quite strongly, in fact. My list of favourites is varied and long - it has old, weary residences, charming shops, commercial establishments of yesteryear and standalone structures. I have never thought of clicking photos of them because they transcend beyond just another picture in my phone gallery. But as I sat down to write this, I realised that it wouldn't be so bad to get a few pictures, in case I lose one of them tomorrow. The recent loss of one such building - an independent house with a front yard, complete with two dogs and a joint family, whose site will now be home to 'luxury' flats, is what has got me thinking. What if I wake up tomorrow to find another of my buildings brought down?


What if it's Jani Stores? The quaint, little shop has been here for more than three decades now and has a worn out, old-fashioned signboard with its name only in Tamil. Itâs what is termed a âfancy storeâ - you get everything from cosmetics and stationery to gift items and knick-knacks. Jani Stores has grown to become much more than just a shop; it is a landmark. Directions to anywhere close by are provided with the shop as the focal point. Enveloped by new shops on either side and a pani puri stall right in front, the shop has now been pushed to the background, both literally and figuratively.


What if it's the elaneer kadai (tender coconut shop) near the four-way crossing? It doesn't fall under the traditional definition of a shop and is housed under a huge tree with the elaneer laid out according to size and price, on a cart. Nevertheless, it is colloquially referred to as the elaneer kadai and has supplied uncountable elaneer to all of us over the years. Most of the day the cart lies covered in a tarpaulin sheet and you can find the lady who runs the shop working multiple jobs in and around the street.


What if it's 'Annachi' Kadai? The general store at the end of our street has seen multiple generations of multiple families shopping for their everyday essentials. Although officially known as 'Kavitha Store', it is fondly referred to by the nickname for the owner - annachi, meaning elder brother in Tamil. He was annachi to everyone and has a friendly smile to anyone who comes by. The shop has these big, glass jars with biscuits and sweets lined at the front counter that serves as the barrier between you and annachi. Anything you wanted had to be asked over this counter which meant you'd always end up buying something from those jars! It's a fact that the shop has, over the years, lost out to supermarkets, and of late Dunzo, but neither can provide the comfort and convenience of walking down the street and buying what you need in under 10 minutes; my mother swears by this, in fact.


What if it's the old house near the auto stand? Its entrance is blocked by a permanent pandhal honouring the late MGR and Jayalalitha and offers water to any thirsty passer by. If you look past the branches of the trees blocking it, you can get a glimpse of the beautiful, ruined house, sitting, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Apart from the pandhal, there are other activities happening around the house as well - a small temple abuts its compound wall and young boys on their cycles chat away in front of the gate. But the house, deafeningly quiet.


What if it's the other old house by the Cooum stream? It must have been handsome in its days, sitting near the river with a huge balcony opening out onto the road. The parapet has these beautiful balustrades that are generally found in old Madras houses. Today, itâs a limping shadow of its past with faded, black walls, and the ground floor transformed into a storage space for bags and bags of laundry. An open garbage spot right near its entrance further adds to its woes. Sometimes, when I walk past the house, the main door is open, letting me glimpse all the way to the back. I wonder then, how many stories this house must contain within. How many characters, plots, endings, and near endings all these buildings must have been witness to? What if they disappear before these stories are heard?


What if all these stories were lost?

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