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Namma Chennai-la Yen Route-u to School

When I saw the title 'Namma Chennai-la Unga Route-u', I was just thinking of what my favorite experience has been in the routes I've travelled in Chennai. Although there are so many to mention, I just thought of sharing something that has been close at heart and probably a different experience to many nowadays. I'm going to tell you about my daily routine to school from Egmore, Anand Apartments to Chetpet, Our Lady's School during the early 80's to early 90's.



We lived in the third floor of Anand Apartment in Egmore. Hearing the clatter of the rickshaw bell from the 3rd floor of the apartment balcony along with a loud voice of the rickshaw man calling out my name, I immediately knew it was the time to leave to school. A slow ride in the rickshaw, unlike the fast paced life we live in now, let me observe the many things on the way to school which still remains fresh in my mind. I enjoyed the ride in the rickshaw with no pollution whatsoever along with the warmth of the early morning sun. From Casa Major Road, I take a turn left to Spur Tank Road.


Once I turn to Spur Tank Road, I need to mention the two main landmarks here. One is the commonly called TB Hospital or the Institute of Thoracic Medicine established in 1916 and the other is the World University Service Centre's open ground. One could see the strong men without shirts working out in the open Corporation grounds. As we go along Spur Tank Road, with the Cooum along it, there was a time when the Corporation planted trees along the river. This was very important to me as many a time I used to walk back home from school and there used to be no shade. The sad part of it though, was that although the saplings were kept inside wire mesh frames, soon within a couple of weeks either cows would come and eat the leaves or people would come and break the branches.


As we cross the Cooum, I always watched the buffaloes taking a dip in it. Sometimes they would come out with muddy backs on to the road too. Although this was happening on one part of it, on the other side we could watch women washing their clothes just outside their settlements along the Cooum with the same water. The rickshaw ride always started with its hood off, as it was easier for the rickshaw man to pedal. On very sunny days I would request him to please put on the hood as it was very hot. As we turned right into Chitti Babu Street, we used to see many vehicles lined outside the RTO Office. The vehicles were not of too many kinds, just the usual Ambassadors and the Marutis. The simple buildings, which just served the purpose, with electrical posts of crossing wires was a common scene here. Cattle like cows, goats and chickens often blocked the road. The rickshaw man would often just keep making all kind of odd sounds to chase them off the street as we turn into Dhanamal Road.


Another common thing, which back then I never understood and felt very oddly about was the making of dung cakes. Of course the smell of it would make anyone feel unpleasant, however currently I understand the importance of such things. The women were busy collecting and making the dung cakes and smashing them on the wall in perfect circles. There was a temple on route in the School Road which often played loud music through every loudspeaker possible. Everyone were in a festive mood around it. Even the goats and chickens around looked excited. The settlements were one storied and had clothes drying out in the open and some covered in thatch while others with asbestos sheets. They were painted either blue or white or some oddly bright color.


A stationery store on the School Road with our most essential maps and geometry box and charts was almost a daily visit for me. I love stationery, all the more now, but it all started at that little store. At the end of the street, was an auto stand with auto drivers busy relaxing reading the newspaper or just stretching, waiting to start with their savaries (rides) for the day. On days when the rickshaw man took leave, which was quite often, I used to walk up to this auto stand to get home. I remember I used to pay the minimum charge of five rupees to get home. Our rickshaw man being an old man was unable to ride the rickshaw up the Dr. Duraiswamy Bridge, so he used to drop us under the bridge. On monsoon days, this experience was quite an ordeal, especially because the underground bridge was flooded with water. The rickshaw man used to cover the passenger compartment with a blue plastic sheet which was rolled up to the hood. He used to just get wet most of the days and rarely used any cover.


As we crossed the underground bridge, there was the Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal which had weddings most of the year around. The entrance was always decorated beautifully with banana leaves and the names of the bride and groom written outside with some engraved letterings. The day after wedding receptions, cows had a good treat with the banana leaves filled with food leftovers that lay outside, which by the time we return back from school was completely cleaned out. The rickshaw man dropped me near the railway tracks. Through a broken wall and along some wild hedges of calotropis I would wade my way through to wait to watch if any train is coming. The wild calotropis kept me company as I loved to pop their buds. The Chetpet station could be seen from right here. A loud horn would be heard and that was a strong warning that a train is coming. Sometimes as passenger trains pass by I would wave to the passengers. Other times when a goods train pass by I would count the number of bogies. I would pick up five stones and put it in my pocket sometimes, to play later at school. I would walk through the broken fence on the other side, which was just barely enough for a person to pass through and reach Mc Nichols Road.


Most of the time when I reached the entrance of Our Lady's School, our only school bus also arrived. I used to see vendors outside the school in their thallu vandis (push carts) selling cut mangoes, elanthapazham (jujubes) and soan papdi all wrapped and served in newspaper with a hand full of spicy chilli powder and salt strewn on it. Sometimes there was an ice cream cart too which was mostly on special days. The Our Lady's School had a rather high compound wall lined with tall Asoka Trees and covered with colourful bougainvillea. The campus was well shaded with huge rain trees and a big tamarind tree. Such was an unforgettable experience of reaching the school.



About the Author:

I'm Annette Morais, a practicing Architect in Chennai. My husband and I practice under our own firm Circus Architects. I was born and brought up in Chennai and have done both my schooling and college here. I have loved art and craft since a very young age and still pursue it as a hobby relentlessly. Of course having a 12 year old daughter being a mom also is also part of my journey. I have a passion towards the city of Chennai and have been reading a lot about it in the recent years. When I saw the Namma Chennai-la, Unga Route-u, it kind of sparked a interesting thought and lead to sketching this; as it was my daily ride to school (from 1st to 10th grade) in a rickshaw from Anand Apartment on Casa Major Road in Egmore to Our Lady's School, Mc.Nichols Road in Chetpet.

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