Sivasankari has just returned from Canada after receiving a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to literature and speaks about the city’s ever-evolving thoroughfare over coffee and her famous masala dosai.
“I was employed with the First National CitiBank (now CitiBank) between 1968 to 1971 as the public relations officer, and a new branch was opened on Mount Road. In those days, it was a fancy building with see through cabins and modern and fancy lighting systems, carpets and indoor plants. The lights were left on through the night and this would dazzle when you see it from outside even from a distance by passersby. This building was the talk of the town those days and needless to say that I was so proud of working out of this building,” she chuckles.
As a school student, Sivasankari was active in the National Cadet Corps and never missed parade practice conducted at the Island Grounds on Saturdays. “I remember my brother telling me a story about the Monroe Statue installed on the way to the Island Grounds. The stately Monroe statue was sculpted beautifully but the talented sculptor totally missed the stirrups… Whenever I see this stature, I realize or remember that everything has a flaw.”
An ardent movie buff, Sivasankari has never missed any Tamil, Hindi or English films and movie watching was a family affair. For English films they would go to The Elphinstone Theatre or the Sapphire Theatre. “Whenever we visit Elphinstone, we would visit the soda fountain, located at the entrance to the gate. It sold the best ice creams. I loved the Peach Melba. Would you believe it if I said that ice cream was served in a huge container with a big ladle and it cost just Rs 1.25 (onnekal ruba),” she asks.
In 1963, the Sapphire Theatre complex introduced the 70 mm screen for the first time in the city, and Sivasankari says that she saw this film a couple of times just for the grandeur of the film. “
Mount Road was also a shopping destination for the younger women of her family. While the elders preferred to shop at Nalli Silks and Radha Silk Emporium, the youngsters preferred India Silk House or Chellarams on Mount Road. “These two shops were well-known for fancy silks saris such as chiffons, nylon, printed silks, crepe and other fancy materials.”
In 1963, Sivasankari got married, and seven years later she moved to Villupuram, as her husband Chandrasekar had to take up his family business and run the factory over there. But she drove down to Madras every month, or sometimes even fortnightly. “One of the most iconic places on the stretch of Mount Road those days was the Spencers complex. During my monthly visits to Madras, I would go to Spencers mainly to get sausages, bacon, cheese, sauces, and eggs for my husband, who had lived in England, and preferred these for breakfast,” she says, fondly remembering her late husband.
Sivasankari says that the Congress Grounds, a little further down the Gemini Circle, was where all the exhibitions and fairs were organized. “Oh what fun it used to be to eat cotton candy while riding on the giant wheel and the merry go round! Every year our family and an entire battalion of cousins would visit this annual exhibition .”
In the 60s, the city had just two swimming pools, one at Marina Beachfront and the other one at the YMCA campus, which were used by men and women. Since her father was keen that young women of his family learn swimming. , she says he spoke to the YMCA administration and got a separate slot of two hours every Saturday morning exclusively for women.
Actor and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalitha and Sivasankari were childhood friends as they went to the same dance class conducted by KJ Sarasa. Their friendship continued until Jayalalitha took the plunge into politics. Sivasankar says, “Right opposite my office, CitiBank, was the most famous restaurant of those days, Gaylords, a fancy place. Jayalalitha, whom I used to call Ammu, would drop by whenever she found time or during breaks in her film shooting. We have been there for many lunches and dinners.”
Talking about Gaylords, the writer remembers the popular Drive-in Woodlands: “By 6 am they would be ready to serve piping hot ven pongal, idly, vada and filter coffee. The canopy of huge trees and greenery everywhere and the play area for children attracted family crowds that relished their badam halwa, masala dosa, bisibele bath and milkshakes. The novelty was that we could park the car and be seated while the waiter would come and fix the trays on the car door, so we could enjoy the meal sitting in the comfort of our car,” she says. “I truly miss that place.”
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