June 15, 2007

Writing social histories . . .

When do you get nostalgic?
When you turn fifty or when you read of the 'good old days'?
Ms. D'Costa of San Thome was certainly going down memory lane when she read my column last week.
She corrected me - the Chinese restaurant I referred to was not Nanking but Southern Chinese. And the Nanking I mentioned was the famed restaurant in Royapettah, close to New College.
Well, Ms. D'Costa had to get nostalgic because she was the manager at that popular eat-out for almost two decades, had served the big guns in politics and the popular stars of the film world and got an insight into the Chinese community of our city.
Nanking opened in the early 70s, almost the same time that Hotel Chola Sheraton opened for business on Cathedral Road.
But its owner had moved to this city probably in the 40s. A respected man, he was considered to be the elder and the godfather of the Chinese community.
The Chinese I had known were the dentists whose clinics dotted Evening Bazaar, on that section of the road between Memorial Hall and Handloom House.
Then there were the well-known shoe makers of the community. One nook which never escaped my eyes was the shop close to the Thousand Lights mosque.
Ms. D'Costa tells me that the younger Chinese who have stayed on in the city run a few dentist clinics on Ellis Road ( now that is one road which has colourful stories to share if you have the time to walk down this alley!).
Nanking does not exist anymore but the memories that Ms D'Costa treasures should find a place in a document on the Chinese community of Madras.
We need lots and lots of documents on the people, landmarks, businesses, public places and activities of this city.
They can be notes in diaries, pages in a blog or typewritten sheets neatly filed.
For, these are the documents which tell the stories of a city and its people.
A 'sasthiabthapoorthi' in your family should prompt you to start penning your family history. The expansion of your business is just the time to think of publishing a booklet on your enterprise. The annual day of your 'nagar' should motivate you to write about its early days and its first residents.
Ms. D'Costa's conversation has given me something to think over.
'New Peking' was the first Chinese restaurant which opened in Secunderabad.
Today, 'Nanking' is the most popular destination there I understand.
If you love food, perhaps you should begin a series on the histories of our restaurants.

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