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Thursday, August 02, 2001

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Colony of memories

ON A summer evening with the humidity irritating me, I felt I could not concentrate on anything. How long can one be shut in an airconditioned room or watch insipid programmes on the cable network? I took a book to read but couldn't make much progress, and I soon realised it was one such day when a person just doesn't feel like doing anything. So I sat in the verandah. sipping a glass of iced lemonade, and made a survey of our little colony.

Opposite my house is an old house that has been demolished and the four-storeyed building coming up in its place is just nearing completion. Watching this, I let my thoughts go down memory lane.

Years ago, when we moved from Trivandrum to Madras, the city was enchanting with its famous Marina Beach and well-paved roads with huge trees on either side. Edward Elliots Road in Mylapore - a road which led to the Marina Beach had small colonies nearby and in one such colony near the beach is where my parents built their house - 'Burma House'. It was a picturesque colony with just a few bungalows in small gardens. The residents were friendly with each other. While the girls used to play games or go for a stroll, the boys played cricket in somebody's garden or sometimes even on the road. Sometimes even the elders would join in. Festivals like Pongal and Deepavali were occasions for interaction among the residents. But it was during Navarathri that the colony was full of life. The children merrily participated in arranging the kolu dolls.

There were some celebrities living here too. The famous Travancore Sisters - Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini - who were good dancers and leading actresses of the Tamil screen then, lent charm to the area. The residents often witnessed at the gates of their house, crowds of star crazy onlookers trying to catch a glimpse of these popular actresses. The Travancore sisters owned a few houses in the colony and each bore the name of one of their family members - like Lalitha Bhavan, Padmini Nivas, Ragini House and so on. In Padmini Nivas lived their cousin Ambika, a leading actress of the Malayalam screen. Padmini Nivas was just opposite our house. I had known Ambika in Trivandrum; both of us went to the same school. I was delighted when I found that Ambika lived just opposite and we continued our friendship.

Though celebrities, these girls had a friendly disposition, had no airs about being famous and when invited would attend kolu and other functions in our house, provided they found time from their busy shooting schedules.

The residents also treated them normally. Another celebrity who lived here was the famous Carnatic musician, M. L. Vasantha Kumari. She also mingled freely with everyone. Thus, the colony besides glamour had music and rhythm too. We have often heard the jingling of bells when Lalli, Pappi and Ragi (as the Travancore sisters were affectionately called) and Ambika were practising dance and MLV's singing too. Visitors to our house had no problem locating the colony as it went by the unofficial name of Lalitha- Padmini colony.

It lost some of its celebrity status when the Travancore Sisters, Ambika and MLV moved out. But it still had little Shobana, the niece of the Travancore Sisters. Later, Shobana also moved out.

Today, the well-known colony is undergoing a transformation like elsewhere - old houses are being razed to make way for flats. My heart bleeds when I see such demolitions of familiar houses. However, some old houses still remain, one being ours. Some houses have changed hands, in some the occupants have changed and only in a couple of houses do the owners or original occupants continue to live. My friends Padmini and Ambika now live in the U.S. and on my trip there, sometime back, we met again and sitting in Padmini's house in Hillsdale, New Jersey, talked about our little colony and the pleasant years we had spent there. I realised the colony had such an impact on our young minds that many years later and thousands of miles away from India, most of our conversation revolved round it.

I feel therapeutically, it is better to dwell on pleasant and fond memories rather than on unpleasant thoughts. So, when I feel depressed, I go down memory lane and think of the happy times I spent in this colony.


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