Looking Back The Memorable Summer Trips To Mango City

My mother Aravindakumari and my paternal granny Lalitha hailed from Salem. This gave two generations an opportunity to spend our ‘Summers in Salem’. A customary inland letter from my maternal granny Chandra used to precede our annual exams. Mummy used to get ready with the huge suitcases to pack our clothes. Daddy would drop us by car in Salem after a trip to Ooty. We would begin early and reach Sankar Café in Bhavani for a brunch. This Iyer kadai with marble topped tables used to offer nice dosas and beverages. At times mummy would take us to the residence of her paternal aunt Amirthavalli Thayar for a chat. Her husband B.R.Arunachalam had been a Mirasdar. I have heard that their village residence had been endowed with rose wood cradles for adults. It was for the afternoon siesta. Anyway we would reach Salem by lunch and our grandfather Sampathkumar, aunts Jaisree, Prabulla and Mythily would be happy to see us. Granny used to say that my brother and myself had become darker and thinner. One Pudupatti Avva (Paatti) used to stay at home and make food for us.
Lunch used to be served on a huge leaf for my father. My granny used to stay behind a door and enquire about our Coimbatore family. We used to visit our relatives after 4pm. My father’s grandparents Padmanabhan, Parvathavardhini Thayar and their son S.P.Ramanathan, his wife Lakshmi Bai lived in Salem. Great grandfather Setty S.N.Padmanabhan had been a scholarly businessman. We used to visit them and have ice cold rosemilk in a huge tumbler. Great granny used to give me a book on every visit and one of the books ‘Sethu and Rameswaram’ by Vanamamalai Pillai (1929) has recently been reprinted by Dr.Nanditha Krishna of the C.P.R Foundation. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the only original was with me and it was used for the reprint ! She had visited Athi Vardar in 1939 along with my granny. We used to visit my father’s aunt Subadhra, an avid reader of magazines and Tamil fiction near 5 roads. Later on a visit would be to my father’s cousin Suguna and her family. Uncle Gopalakrishnan used to sing well and both my cousins Kalpana and Jana used to wait eagerly for us. We would be pampered with sweets, savouries, gifts and beverages. Daddy used to take my uncle and aunts for a night show and then leave the next morning. He used to discuss business, social matters with his relatives at Salem each time. Daddy used to come back one month later and follow the same routine before bringing us back to Coimbatore.
Salem used to be really hot and power cuts were frequent. My grandparents lived in Mohammad Pura Street and all the neighbours were Muslims. Our house had a big ‘Namam’ painted at the entrance. We used to eat and sleep well. My great grand mother Swarnambal used to be with us during summer and she used to tell me stories from the epics connected to Ramanuja Sampradayam. She would be reading the Divya Prabandham (Dravida Vedam) all the time. We would go to movies by a horse drawn cart from ‘Thermutti’ which was nearby. My father’s mother used to give us Rs.10 and someone would go to the Rajaganapathy temple, break a coconut and leave the rest in the hundial. Sundays were meant for watching old black and white movies in Prabhat Theatre. My brother Suresh, cousin Anusha and myself used to enjoy movies like ‘Kalyanaparisu’ starring Danaal Thangavel. In fact I wanted to start one ‘Mannar & Company’ later ! Our relatives lived in the nearby Kanakkar Street. One tailor Padmavathi Akka used to make ‘Narthangai Uuntas’ for digestion. She lived in ‘Padhi Kapuram’ (ten row houses). My great grand mother’s family was known as the ‘Jamakkalam’ family and they lived nearby. They were from Edapadi. One of them used to grind batter and sell it to hotels. One ‘akka kadai’ used to sell one crush called ‘Love O’ and it was popular in Salem. Diwan Beedi Company, Kumbakonam Silver Shop, Coimbatore Jewellery, Gopala Padma Vilas, Elli Chetty Cloth Shop, Gokul Jewellery Mart, AKB Shop, Henry & Wolsey, National Hotel etc., were famous those days. My grandfather was the founder of Kalpana Theatre. Great grand father K.L.Chinnikrishna Chetty was a liquor merchant and he used to sell foreign stuff prior to independence. His letter pads, visiting cards, calendars etc., were printed and supplied by the liquor companies of England, Scotland and Europe. I still have an old beer mug (Tuborg) from that collection.
Grandfather Sampath used to read The Hindu, Reader’s Digest and listen to the news regularly. He would not like to be disturbed. I used to read his books and novels. I was introduced to ‘Sivakamiyin Sabatham’ by Kalki because of him. He could not use his right hand because of a paralytic stroke. Granny used to take very good care of him. The house did not have a mixer, grinder, heater, over head tank or an electric pump for the well. Everything had to be done by hand. We used to have oil baths every Saturday and drink a few drops of the strong Omadhravam. A number of legiyams were made by granny. She used to have one for lactating mothers. Neighbours used to come to her for putting a ‘padam’ in order to get rid of a sprain. She used an iron rod and would rub it gently and it would be accompanied by the ‘Sulukku Padam’. She had a scorpion bite padam too. I remember being stung by a scorpion and my great granny tied up my leg and started putting padam. I yelled and told her to take me to a doctor first ! However these padams worked and the first child was the best person to learn. One learnt it at the time of the eclipse in order to increase its efficacy. Lakshmi Akka used to grind the bhatter every evening by hand while the boisterous Nagamma was the household help. We used to buy mangoes from a street side vendor and ghee from a door to door vendor who was an elderly lady.
My maternal grandmother Chandra was from Namakkal. Her parents used to invite us to Namakkal for a few days. We used to go by bus to Namakkal. I used to be thrilled to see the fort on the hillock, the Narasimha (cave) and Hanuman Temples. My granny’s brothers Ramachandran and Jayagopal used to take us to touring talkies to watch movies. Great grand father was N.V.Venkataswamy but he was known as Kolar Abbay Chettiar. Great granny was Namagiri Thayar. She used to cook very well. Her daughters in law Shantha and Padma used to take good care of us. My other aunt Vijayalakshmi and her kids Anusha, Shivakumar would spend the summer with us. The ‘Innippu Sevai’ used to be very tasty in Namakkal. Mummy used to tell us about the butter dosas made in the Rasipuram Lakshmi Hotel. Our great grand uncle Gopal used to be very affectionate to us and he used to attend to all our needs.
We used to visit great granny Parvathavardhini Thayar in Salem once in between. She would serve us fabulous ghee roasts lined with spicy ghetty chutney or tasty lunch cooked by one Padmavathi Akka. The Beeda podi, Rail Kattadam (one achu murukku) were much loved by us. The plump lady who used to make the Rail Kattadam never taught anyone her trick. No one makes it that well anymore. Sambar from Vilvadri Bhavan used to be got for my father. Uncle Srinath used to mimic all the comedians and we simply loved it. Granny Chandra would make a lot of ghee sweets and savouries for our house in Coimbatore. We used to exchange our out of size clothes with the vessel vendor who used to come home. My mother had thus made a huge collection those days. Summer would be over and daddy would come to pick us up and I still remember the tears at the corner of the eyes of my grandfather every year.
‘Chethi kadilu’ was a fabulous ritual. Great granny Swarnambal used to make us sit in a circle and put hot rice a huge container. She used to mix charuannam (rasam and rice), Perugu annam (curd rice), Pulusu annam (sambar and rice) in quick succession. Charuannam with udhu pindi (one podi), ghee and paruppu in the charu used to be divine. We used to eat it with naravallikai urugai (pickle). She would mix by hand and serve into our hands. The food used to be hot and tasty. Even the ones who would be unwilling to eat would finish up all the food that was available. Urugai Annam (pickle and rice) was a favourite. Oil, podi, rice and pickle would be mouth watering as a combination. Mangoes, appalam, vadagam, pickles, small onions, poriyals etc., would be the accompaniments. There was a big rose wood swing and we simply loved swinging. It would need a full book to write about the varieties that we was made in Salem. By the way my granny gave her daughters a nicely hand written cookery book. Their family was known as the Kota family and they were Vaishnavaites. The Kula Deivam was Kottai Perumal. They used to also go to the Mariamman Temple at the time of the Chaattu and mummy told me that she used to draw water with the aid of a her small silver pitcher for the deity. We used to visit the Sugavaneswarar and Vasavi Temples too.
We would go to Yercaud once a way. My parents used to stay at the Shevaroys in Yercaud. My father used to visit his granduncles Ramaswamy and Sadasivam during his visits to Salem and catch up with his uncles Rajagopal, Viswanathan and cousin Bhadri. My father’s Salem great grandfather had been one Navakoti Narayana Chetty. He was the ninth child of his parents. My mother’s family used to literally be on their toes during the visits of my father. He had not demanded it but that had been the custom. My brother Suresh and myself used to chat up and play with the younger aunts and other relatives. We learnt the song ‘Surangani’ from them. It used to be fun and we used to await our yearly visits to Salem year after year.
Mama Seetharama Guptha used to accompany us once in a way to Salem in order to catch up with his sister Perundevi and brother in law Surendran who used to live in Thammampatti. Our shop staff Parthasarathy and Krishnan had married women from Salem and they used join in once in a way to catch with their families who would be holidaying in Salem during summers. Granny Lalitha and my father father used to write letters once in a way while we were in Salem. We used to go my uncle’s shop in order to speak to my father over the phone once in a way. Granny used to also join us during our trips to Salem.
Our car would be loaded with our suitcases, books, sweets, savouries and lots of love and these experiences continue to nourish me.
My brother and myself would return home plumper and fairer. We would tell the Coimbatore family about our summer in Salem and that used to take a few days. Those were the good old times.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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