Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Memories of Chinese Restaurants

I drove down Mount Road after a long time.
From the Gemini Circle to the Spencer Plaza end and caught in the evening rush hour, I gazed at the gleaming facade of a new building in Thousand Lights.

It wasn't the facade that interested me.
Wasn't this the place where one of our favourite Chinese restaurants existed?

I think it was called Nanking.
Why did we go there to eat in the 70s and 80s?

I was always fascinated by the way its entrance looked.
Wooden panels which framed quaint Chinese paintings on glass reflected the red and yellow light that streamed from above and from inside.
Some Chinese trinklets that were dropped from the door frame.
And if you froze for a few seconds on the sidewalk here you could pick up strains of music from the inside.
It was the kind of entrance which promised the unknown for a first time diner.

Nanking, if the name was right, had a warm atmosphere inside.
I did not get to know its owner very well. But one Anglo-Indian steward who lived beyond Perambur was a delight.
For, he would play all the old rock n' roll numbers on the music system in the dark corner. And he had stories of the city to share while the food was being cooked.

Nanking was a family-run restaurant like the many others in this city.
And if you were a diner enjoying the last service of the day, you would find the family sitting down at one of the tables for dinner.

There was a similar restaurant on Greames Road, its name I have now forgotten.
We went there for its delightful vegetable soup and the no-frills food.

Both these restaurants are now history.
I had wondered if Nanking would find a place in the same area off Mount Road after the house it occupied was demolished.
It certainly would have been anachronistic had it been given space or had the money to rent it in the new building where a private bank has come up and corporate offices may move in soon.

Where is the Nanking family today?
The Chinese community of this city deserves to be written about.
Perhaps you have stories to share here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Civil Society Groups in action

Some years ago, we at the ADYAR TIMES promoted a sand castle contest on Elliots Beach.
I guess we did it in the summer hols so that children could have some fun.
You rarely see moms and dads taking their little kids out to the seashore, armed with buckets, pails and little spades, to build castles out of wet sand.

Perhaps, some artistic young people of Adyar should hold Sunday camps on the beach side this summer.

Well, last weekend, some young people carved a Olive Ridley turtle on this beach. A really large one. The act was one of the many things that made up a Beach Fest hosted by the Civil Society Group.I came across this group when it became public that the city Corporation wanted to 'beautify' the beach and on its agenda were plans to put up many structures on the sands. And a few beach users were against it. They wanted to discuss the plans, involve people and then plan the project.

The Group is small; some studied at the KFI-The School or are on its campus now. There are also a few community activists and Adyarites who have lived in this region for decades.

But they seem serious. They have conducted a survey amongst beach users on what must be done on this beach. They have had meetings with the civic officials too. They have invited professionals to present alternatives and ideas. Architect Tara Murali who is also with INTACH has been one such.

And the most positive action from their side has been to move forward - so they are convincing the hawkers who sell bajjis and fried fish, who run 'shoot-the balloon' stalls and the rest not to use plastic cups and bags and not to dump waste in the sands. I hear the food hawkers are being given water cans and paper plates so they we can avoid using plastic water sachets. . .

The CSG also seems alive. So when the Corporation of Chennai began to chop down many avenue trees ( some were over 50 years old) on Sardar Patel Road, to make space for a new flyover at the Madhya Kailash junction, the start point of that smart-looking IT Corridor road, the CSG volunteers responded.

Some of them sent a flurry of e-mails in protest, some rushed out at midnight to challenge the labourers who were sawing the trunks and they organised a protest demo on the main road. ( The photos here are by C P Dhanasekar)

Though the effort is small, disconnected and lags when the issues are so severe, it needs appreciation.

That is because there are very few civil society groups who are alive to issues that affect Chennai. We do not have people of stature who stick their neck out, who sign petitions or lead a protest.
And we need stronger action in the face of unilateral, one-sided plans that are thrust on this city.

I was hoping that the IITians and the College of Engg. students would be engaged in the 'trees' campaign. It did not happen.
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