A chance meeting with Rajesh Govindarajulu recently had us thinking that we must make use of the puja holidays to show older children around the city. He being so well versed with events and places in the city, we were in the best hands to get started on an exploration of sorts.The area that Rajesh wanted us to see was the Thyagi Kumaran market because he had heard that it was to be taken down in the near future.
We got off at the plague Mariamman temple and Rajesh led us to the entrance of the Kumaran market. Before he could commence his introduction on the area some of us die hard foodies spotted a street cart selling a heart shaped sponge cake with a plump red cherry in the middle, for Rs.60/.The vendor was most amused to see the cake being pulled apart and demolished right before his eyes ! Seemingly we were off on a good start !
This market was founded by C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar when people had excess produce to sell from their farms after they had shared the choice pickings amongst the family.
It was only when we got off the narrow lane and stepped inside the market did we realise what a large bustling space it actually was.To our collective surprise,it was clean and devoid of unpleasant odours.There was just so much to soak in.We were fascinated to see that gold and silver polishers shared space with coconut and basket sellers.A member in the group asked an old timer how does one decide which person to buy the coconuts from.He laughed and said it didn’t matter,there was no rivalry here when it came to such things !We passed many a stall and our excitement seemed to be catching, traders looked up with curious smiles wondering where we were from only to be told that we all lived just a few streets away!
The middle lane in the market turned out to be a treasure trove for assorted candies,kara kadalai and other dried assortments in fancy shapes that needed to be fried.We found rose mittai,striped hard candy which had animal cut outs attached to them,alphabet biscuits and what we like to call “ellipullukkai mittai” encased in aeroplane shapes.As we called out to each other loudly pointing out to this and that ,an elderly lady asked my cousin sister to take a picture of her in the vetrilai shop which she started decades ago and proudly bears her name. How could we not oblige?
Rajesh suggested that we also step out and walk around the periphery of the market. R.G. street is where he pointed out some of the old edifices and styles of architecture that are now quite run down. We encountered a push cart selling sachets of spices and vibrant dried rose petals , just perfect for potpourri or baking. The ARN store is located here. A.R Nagamanickam pioneered the manufacturing of wheat into small granules to be cooked as rava ,this was then made popular by the neighbouring store which is well known for their Mayil brand. We also found a store selling Madras snuff powder and I’m sure the man in the store though we were high already as several voices loudly pointed and exclaimed “hey mooku podi”!
This is where the children spotted a family of three.The man played a harmonium while singing along with the lady and their small child.They weren’t begging but they did have a small container for any handouts and they were all smiles seemingly enjoying their own music which was so good that we felt humbled giving them small change.
One of our walkers being a die hard samosa fan was craving for one. And around the corner at the Annapoorna coffee bar she found exactly that. The hot ,frothy filter coffee along with some delicious mixture from the small shop next door just hit the spot.
Another point of interest here was the Vyasaraja mutt which housed a 500 year old hanuman statue and is home to some native breeds of cows. Enroute to visiting the famous Ayyar and Co we passed the achu vellam stores consisting of different grades of jaggery blocks .One among us was thrilled to spot a shop selling old fashioned canes.He bought one and walked around holding it quite pleased with himself ! There was plenty of laughter wondering whose behind that was going to land on!
At Ayyar and Co my friend pointed out how nothing was wasted.Even the cake crumbs were sold in small packets,perfect for making cake pops. We were more than a tad disappointed at not finding our childhood favourite square ghee biscuit with the orange line running all through but we did find some fresh paal peni that just begged to be bought !
It was starting to get dark at this point and we had to go back into the confines of the Kumaran market to view the wrestling space inside the old Garadi temple. I was fascinated by a sort of low wall complete with railings that seemed to encompass the market. even that was put to good use by a trader to hang a bunch of bananas.
Rajesh tells us this area was also famous for buying the traditional the salt and turmeric as the traditional first purchases for auspiciousness at a typical South Indian wedding. It’s only after this does the actual wedding shopping commence.
Garadi has no reference here to the vahan of Vishnu but refers to the wrestlers that use the place.After entering the low doorway we were treated to the most unusual sights. Weights made of stone were placed in the same room as an ancient 1000 year old bronze from Sri Rangam. It was most spectacular to see the inscription on the old brass deepam ,the neem and peepal tree whose trunks had gnarled and twisted with each other over time ,an antique knuckle punch and the wrestling mound itself managed by the Jetty community which Rajesh tells us is in use even today.
Enroute to the temple we spied many carts commencing their trade at dusk,from the ever present green manga to hot paniyarams with chutneys, we sampled it all.
While this started out being called a food walk it clearly didn’t end that way. It’s a place that is alive with human interaction and emotions. Other than the coffee there is no must do food experience here that we are aware of.There is food everywhere you turn , without a doubt ! Maybe if we frequent the place long enough we can settle on a favourite bonda vendor or discover a forgotten treat.
Walking on Raja street,Big bazar street and RG street was more than just a culinary or a heritage walking tour.Needless to say our cameras worked overtime and it was in fact a chance to get to experience the way of life in a part of a city other than the one that we are familiar with. There was not one negative vibration throughout this entire walk. No one complained of smells or garbage or noise, we all just soaked it in to the extent that no one believed we were locals ! Amusing but in a way sad, don’t you think ?! Despite living at such close quarters we are so far removed from this organised cacophony of sights , sounds and tastes.The people here despite being in cramped quarters ,depend on each other not only for their livelihood but for companionship and familiarity. We were all so deeply grateful for having been a part of this market for a few hours. It does give one a lot to reflect upon.