June 08, 2013

Building local histories

My scrapbook of notes and pictures got a little bigger last week after a trip to Egmore.
A couple of friends, all schoolmates were catching up at our hangout - Charms Dress Makers, It sits in a narrow nook in a rundown building off the Adithanar statue roundabout near Hotel Ashoka.
The Charms family studied at St. Anthony’s Anglo Indian High School here. So the space outside this famous dress maker who has dressed up four generations of people, mostly Anglo-Indians has been a convenient place for many old boys and girls to meet up.
But that won’t happen anymore. For, the old building which had a nice façade at this roundabout is to be demolished to make way for a new project.
On the evening of our recent meeting, I walked around, looked up and closely at it, and at the shops and the people they held and took some pictures.
The school’s neighbourhood which is called Pudupet was also a part of our growing up days.
If Charms was a hangout, there was also Kamala Stores where we bought stationery and small gifts, there was a pharmacy we turned too if we nursed a cold or faked a fever.
And then there was Pantheon Café. We were regulars at the café and all we could afford then were idlis soaked in great sambhar provided by this hotelier from Palakkad.
For the cricket crazy in our lot, the game was played fiercely on a ground behind this building, at the rear of Munawar’s palatial bungalow which had a history of its own.
Living here was a well-known Muslim family of the Madras of old.
Personal histories and records of colonies are as important as histories of cities and nations, of movements and great people.
Sadly, we do not have a facility that can trigger and sustain such record keeping.
It can be easily done locally.
All we need is a bunch of volunteers interested in their place and the community, simple accessories like cameras and recording devices besides pen and pads and seniors who can sift through materials and keep them in some order.
A school, a library, a children’s centre, a temple office . . . can easily be spaces for local histories.
Recently, young Kartik who started Sri Chakra Library in West Mambalam shared his story about his enterprise, his passion and the hiccups that he was facing.
I suggested the local histories idea to him. Mambalam and its western extension is one of the older neighbourhoods of this city.
Imagine the pictures we can collect - pictures of wedding processions, temple fests, social meets and the like. Pictures we can cull from photo albums and dusty cupboards.
Imagine the stories we can record - audio recordings of seniors who built a house in the 1960s and have lived here since.
Writer Ashokamitran can share lots of West Mambalam stories I guess. So could any West Mambalam senior.
If you make a start in your own area, I would like to hear from you.

Listen to the audio of this post here.

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