Growing up in a bustling locality like Purasaiwakkam, I never imagined that this place would turn out to be a valuable part of my memories one day. For some, this place will be a shopping destination or a place to hang around, but for me, it is home. Purasai has seen tremendous changes that are reflected in me as well; the very locale mirrors my mood, my pace, and my temper. The locality never fails to amaze me with its contrasting faces, where you can find peace and chaos coexisting harmoniously. I cherish the blooming reminiscences of a big pale yellow house on Deewan Rama Road, shaded by a large gulmohar that showered its red flowers and surrounded the house like a carpet; this was where I used to live with my grandparents.
I hardly remember having a vacation out of Purasaiwakkam. For most of our relatives, their vacation spot would be the place where I lived, being situated 2.5 km away from Central, 2.9 km from Egmore, and accessible to all the tourist places in Chennai. All my vacations involved shopping, watching movies in theatres, and relaxing at the Marina, 20 minutes away from Purasaiwakkam. If we happen to go to Garden Aisha for shopping, I would be the happiest person that day; whether my family buys me clothes or not, my happiness lay in a machine that gave me a small packet of Balli Mittai (sweetened fennel seeds) for 50 paise. As the hours extended, so did the number of packets! Once shopping was done, we always ended up in Welcome Hotel for dinner. I mostly preferred eating sambar idli, where islands of idlis float in an ocean of sizzling hot sambar (my sizzlers in those days). Welcome Hotel saw a lot of visitors, especially for its mouth-watering sambar.
All this bustle of the neighbourhood is offset by the peace and harmony I find at the same place. Every Saturday, my uncle used to take me to Gangadeeshwarar Temple; going to the temple was a ritual that meant skipping non-vegetarian food and having an oil bath. It is custom to wash our feet while entering the temple which I always found fascinating as one had to walk on a small channel of running water. As a kid, I remember pestering my uncle to find out why there was no water in the temple tank. I used to rush up my prayers to every deity and run around the Purasai tree to catch up with the long queue for prasadam which was my ultimate goal of going to a temple. Even today I can feel the warmth of the stones laid around the temple. After having a taste, I played around with other kids in the temple. My prayers would always fetch me Old Lala Topi Wala sweets, especially the brown to lightly tinted pal khoa (milk sweet).
During festivals, the facades of the buildings on Purasaiwakkam High Road reflected the festive spirits. Tana Street would always have a different makeover every festive season and the seasonal and traditional things required for the festival would be made available. Ayudha Pooja meant visits to my grandpa’s small factory on Brick Kiln Road, with its heavy machinery that makes tools. My mom and grandma would take me to Ratna Stores, where the most fascinating thing for me was the technique used to hang all the utensils from the roof, who did it, and how it was achieved. When Abirami Mall opened, I was quite young and it was my very first mall experience - my first escalator ride, my first wide-eye visual of a huge statue of a golden lady with a crown, and my first time tasting a variety of ice cream flavours. Although I have had multiple more visits and experiences at the mall, it’s always my first experience that continues to enthral me. I remember vividly how I was mesmerised by a juggling act in front of a clothing store and got separated from my parents! After a long search, I was caught hold by them and received heaps of scolding. But this never stopped me from looking around for new things, because Purasai never failed to surprise me.
Purasaiwakkam had everything we required at our doorstep. Even today, I go to Purasaiwakkam for all my shopping needs, to satisfy dual purposes - I am able to buy everything I need and I get to relive my childhood. I started my schooling here and so did my mom. It is our shared journey that spans generations that makes this place and its history that I’ve inherited quite special.
About the Author:
Darshana is an architect from Chennai. Fascinated by her observations from around the city she was born and brought up in, she pens down her memories that throw light on the city of the past.