Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Matunga, like Malgudi, has an ethnic charm. A sanctified citadel of the Tamils, it has the blemish-less blending of the cultures of Palakkad, Thanjavur and Tirunelveli at their brilliant best.

The SIES High School, like Albert Mission High School in Malgudi, is an essential part of life at Matunga. Traditional turban, immaculately white tucked up dothi draped with a knee long cotton coat demanding reverence, a stern look penetrating through the button-holes of half pant clad boys who stride the steps to their class room in silence, a mere appearance that instilled discipline even among the delinquent, Muthuswsamy Iyer, the trade mark teacher of the school, who later became headmaster, dominated the scene. If SIES could produce a Kasturi Rangan who launched Satellites for India, the foundation could be traced to Muthuswamy Iyer’s magic in mathematics. Muthuswamy Iyer firmly believed, like the Rugby School teachers in England, that flogging was the only facilitator of studies and that a cane tucked under the armpit alone could tame tall boys in their teens that teased timid ones. ‘Swamis’, who stepped out of SIES are now scattered everywhere- providing software solutions at Silicon Valley to back office support in BPOs of Bangalore, Gurgaon and elsewhere.

While Telang Road with Bajan Samaj and Bhandarkar Road with Asthik Samaj constantly remind and raise mortals of Matunga to the skies by stressing the relevance of life hereafter, ‘Concerns’ and ‘The Society” opposite, with Trichur Mess and Rao Mess from the sidelines, by pampering to the palates of the ‘singles’, bring angels down. Thursdays would be eagerly looked for at ‘Concerns’ for ‘Onion Sambar’ and ‘Potato Kara kari’ though a few faithful would fast, dedicating the day to Bhagwan Saibaba. Palakkad boys would not budge an inch from “Sociey’, tantalizing ‘Concerns’ opposite, notwithstanding.

UDIPI Restaurants, which have taken over eateries everywhere today, had their humble origin at Matunga decades earlier. Four feet nothing, bald headed, clad in white cotton dothi- kurtha, with a black bag and brisk walk, Rama Nayak laid the foundation for the first Udipi Restaurant in Matunga. Mysore Cafes and Madras Cafes, weaned away customers from ‘Concerns’ and ‘Society”, leaving them to lick their wounds. While bucketful of Sambar have shrunken in size to palm like cups, plantain leaves have yielded place to plates, like white flannels to coloured corduroys.

A stroll along the Station Road towards Dadar amidst thick trees, sprawling ground full of budding cricketers holding bats and turning balls and the resplendent Ruia and Podar Colleges, perhaps would provide a parallel to Oxford with its tall trees, Colleges with green lawns and come hither looks and avenues for long walks. If Sunil Gavaskar learnt his tennis ball cricket in the by-lanes of Hindu Colony, Farookh Engineer and Ajit Wadekar perfected their games while playing for Podar and Ruia Colleges and enhanced their excellence.

The promenade from Post Office to Bhajan Samaj, is full of fragrance, of jasmine, rose, sandal and tulsi as a row of flower shops would decorate the scene. If the ‘adepts’ prepare a garland or a bouquet in minutes, even while gossiping, the young recruits from Tamil Nadu, not yet free from Dravidian Politics, nostalgically talk about their days in “Nanguneri”, recalling scenes from a MGR movie, even while sorting out flowers, size-wise.

In the evening, ‘Vadhyars’of Mumbai would unite at Matunga, exchanging notes on the programmes for the morrow- may be a Shraddha at Shraddanand Road, a Birthday at Brahmanwada, a marriage at Malad or Mulund or a funeral at Flank Road. Assignments would be allocated area wise, looking into age, levels of learning, degree of dependence and ability to command respect and demand ‘dakshinai’. Subalterns for the ceremonies and cooks on contract would be available for the asking. In the compound of ‘Concerns’, Tamil Nadu Politics, T.N.Seshan’s antics and T.N.Krishnan’s “Thani” in the musical concerts of yore would be discussed threadbare even while lamenting about the declining standards of “vettakuzambhu’ every where.

Earning young men, yet to be married, found their haven in shared single rooms at Mohan Niwas, Manu Mahal or Mahavir Building. A stint in one of those buildings would sensitize the ‘single’ to any surroundings in Mumbai. Once married, the ties with Matunga would be severed, save an occasional visit to the temples, marriage receptions or Vadhyar joints in a nostalgic jaunt.

If the religiously Inclined had literature aplenty at “Giri Trading”, betel leaves and scented tobacco would be provided by Nataraja Pillai, to the lots from Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, who throng the shop. Only at Matunga, one could see Bhaiyas’ selling vegetables, blurting out words in Tamil, while soliciting Mamis to look at their wares. “Nairs”, networking in “Naadan” bananas, would refuse to bargain, hurling abuses on mere onlookers who had no intention to buy, casting aside ‘customer is the King’ concept. Chips of every variety, Cheedai and Thattai would seduce us, sitting in a row in front of Venkateswara Stores. Mamas in ‘Mundus’ and Mamis in ‘Madisaars’(nine yards saree), would walk in their majestic way, making Matunga a Ranganathan Street look-alike.

If ‘Malgudi” had an ‘English Teacher”, the footpath opposite Kings circle Garden often boasts of collection of books, ranging from first edition of Indian Contract Act to Shoba De’s ‘Selective Memory’. Mamas of Matunga could be seen, bending their backs, trying to sort out ‘Bhendis’, breaking the edges, swallowing abuses in their stride at the vegetable Bazaar and trying to decipher the scribbled pencil comments on a Ben Jonson Classic, at the footpath bookstall.

Matunga is in metamorphosis now. ‘Marwaris’ with their millions, have taken over the tiny rooms of the tamilians, driving them away to Brindavan Society or the yonder Yogi Hills. The unmarried ones have lost their haven, looking out for H1 Visa or HDFC aided houses in the distant suburbs. Colleges and scattered books, SIES and Indian Gymkhana, remain, resurrecting themselves from the ruins, looking for ‘old familiar faces’.