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Walking Along Mount Road

Everyone in Chennai has an emotional connect with Mount Road and the new 'Mount Road Social' just added another reason to love it. Now renamed Anna Salai, most people in the city still refer to it by the former name . Recognisable structures on Mount Road can be seen in many of Tamil cinema songs like Urvasi from Kadhalan , Yethi Yethi from Vaaranam Aayiram, etc . Mount Road has become an icon that represents Chennai as a whole.

When driving on the road today, it's hard to picture the cart track it was once, used by the English to travel from Fort St George to the holy mount of St Thomas. Over the decades, as the city grew in size and stature, the road became significant as well. It became the main transport artery of the city and the increasing traffic compelled the government to construct the Anna Flyover in 1973, the first flyover in Chennai. Till around the 1980s, Mount Road retained its importance as the high street of Chennai. Its location and proximity to the Beach, Chepauk cricket stadium, the bachelor paradise that was Triplicane ensured its prominence on the map of the city.

Talk to anyone who attended college in the city in the 90s and they'd tell you with glowing eyes, all about the Cinema at the Roundtana. Movies were the next big thing - after cricket, of course - and Hollywood a favourite, even though the movies seemed to take an eternity to come to India. A string of theatres specialised in bringing to life heroes from Beverly Hills Elphinstone, Casino, Shanti and Anna were just yards away from each other on Mount Road. No visit to Elphinstone was complete without a gigantic Jaffar's Special that used to come with a special long spoon and would prove too much of a good thing during the short intermission something I wish I could have had the chance to indulge in.

Looking at pictures from yesteryears, the Mount Road that is today - is hardly recognisable. On the corner plot where Blackers Road meets the Mount Road, now sits a vacant smelly plot with an interesting compound wall. Situated here once was Madras's finest hotel, Hotel D'Angelis. In it were Madras's first electrical hotel lift, hot water on tap, electric fans, floors of imported tiles, an ice-making plant and cold storage, and a three-table billiard room. Its French and Italian cuisine was renowned throughout India. It had outdoor dining areas â ornately decorated with wrought iron embellishments, truly a sight to relish. It was listed as a Grade 2A building, but is no more today. If you get close enough to the compound and peek through one of the arched openings, you may catch a glimpse of what remains of it â dust and rubble.

Lawley Hall is another interesting structure located on this stretch. Located near the infamous P. Orr and sons, this Indo-Saracenic structure barely stands today having survived a fire a couple of years. This building has had the honour of hosting a lecture by Mahatma Gandhi in 1915. In the later 1960s, it housed one of the best 'tiffin rooms' of the India Coffee House chain, its coffee, dosais and omelettes served by handsomely clad, turbaned waiters.

Today Mount Road is stripped off all it used to be. But every time I drive on the stretch, I can't help but picture horse-drawn carriages and unhealthy amounts of ice-cream, jelly and marshmallows in the context. Behind the ocean of hoardings and the chaos of the overflowing streets though undergone a multitude of changes lies a fascinating past that only a few are aware of.

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