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Adyar and Me – a writer’s fond recollections of his neighbourhood

R.V. Rajan describes his long association with Adyar, a popular residential area in Chennai. A resident of Sastri Nagar, one of the colonies forming a part of Adyar, for the past 49 years, he says what was once a peaceful place tucked inside a small lane facing the colony’s only Corporation playground has now become a concrete jungle. He talks about his early morning walks, how he made friends and how they generally look forward to their morning meetings to gossip and have fun

A few weeks ago, a team from Federal Bank accompanied by executives from their advertising agency landed at my home. As a resident of Adyar for the last 49 years, they wanted to know what the place meant to me and the highlights of my long association with the area. I was told that this was being done as a part of a campaign called ‘I am Adyar. Adyar is Me’ that celebrates people and their culture in Adyar. This gave me an opportunity to go down memory lane.

It was on my first official visit to Chennai in 1967 that I had to visit Sastri Nagar in Adyar, responding to a dinner invitation from the branch manager of my company. I remember that I had to cross a narrow one-way iron bridge over the Adyar River connecting Gandhi Nagar and the areas beyond with the city. A traffic constable was stationed to allow vehicles from either side to go over the bridge alternately. My branch manager’s house was one of the dozen independent houses in the area, with plenty of open space all around. I was told that during the rainy season, the entire area would be flooded and Sastri Nagar would look like a lake dotted with houses. I never imagined that within seven years I would move to Chennai and settle down in Sastri Nagar, a beautiful little colony with lovely houses built by retired bureaucrats, upcoming businessmen, and a few professionals. By the time I moved there, the area had seen some development with more independent houses.

Rajan (standing closest to camera) seen early morning with his groups of “walking friends” in this picture and in the one below.

Besant Nagar, lying between Sastri Nagar and the beautiful Edward Elliot’s Beach, was fast developing, with a complex of Housing Board flats serving different strata of society. For all our daily necessities we had to go to Besant Nagar or walk up to Lattice Bridge Road (LB Road). Laxmi Sagar, the Udupi restaurant that dished out delicious South Indian snacks, was the only restaurant serving the entire area and it was located (and continues to exist) diagonally opposite Adyar Telephone Exchange. Today, Adyar, with several well-developed colonies, has a choice of multi-cuisine restaurants offering Indian, Chinese, Italian, Korean, Japanese, and Continental flavours. You can get everything – from a pin to an elephant – in Adyar today.

In the past two decades, greedy builders managed to tempt the owners of the beautiful houses to go in for joint development of plots, with the result that Sastri Nagar has become a concrete jungle now. This is true of many other colonies in Adyar. Many of the streets are witnessing the appearance of commercial ventures in a primarily residential area, transforming the profile of the locality. My home, which is one of the few independent homes in Sastri Nagar, was a peaceful place tucked inside a small lane facing the colony’s only Corporation playground. Today, we are surrounded by multi-storied apartments on three sides leading to a feeling of suffocation.

A shot of the writer’s home in Shastri Nagar – now in the midst of a concrete jungle.

I will, however, not think of leaving Sastri Nagar because of its strategic location. It is just a ten-minute walk from my home to the lovely Elliot’s Beach where I can watch the sunrise and breathe fresh air every morning. Though I have been walking on the beach road in Besant Nagar, popularly known as Bessie among the younger generation over all these years, I had never bothered to befriend strangers crossing my path in the old days. It would at best be a courteous hi or a bye to some acquaintances I bumped into. It was only after I had completely come out of my active professional life that I started cultivating new friends during my walks because I was not in a hurry to get back home.

The two groups of walking friends I am now associated with consist of people who are in their seventies or eighties. It is a mix of retired professionals from the private/ public sector, bureaucrats and even educators. Every morning, the groups meet at a fixed time – exchanging the latest gossip in town or discussing the political situation or cracking a few jokes. Jokes at the expense of some members are not uncommon. You can judge from the boisterous laughter emanating from the groups from time to time that everyone is having fun.

I make it a point to spend 60 minutes between these two groups every morning and indulge in some throaty laughter considered good for the mind and body. Laughter keeps the doctor or the blues away. A brisk walk followed by a dose of healthy laughter and a good cup of filter coffee sets the right tone for the rest of the day for me. I come back fully charged to spend an active day ahea, which also involves interacting with a whole set of new friends I have made in the literary world as a writer. One of them is Kizhambur Sankara Subramanian, the editor of Kalaimagal.

I first met Kizhambur 25 years ago when I went to hand over a short story in Tamil written by my late wife Prabha. However, I got closer to him only after I established in her memory the Prabha Rajan Talent Foundation which has conducted a few literary contests in association with Kalaimagal. Kizhambur’s association with Tamizh Puthaga Nanbargal, of which I was one of the founders, cemented our friendship.

(The writer, a veteran adman, was chairman of Anugrah Advertising and is known as a rural marketing specialist. He was also managing director of WAN-IFRA, the World Association of News Publishers. Post-retirement, he took to writing and has authored quite a few books. This article had originally appeared in Tamil, titled Adyarum Naanum (Adyar & Me), in the Diwali issue of Kalaimagal. For the benefit of the writer’s friends who cannot read Tamil, he has now produced the English version.)