I have been a resident of Sastri Nagar in Adyar, an upper middle class colony in South Madras, since 1974. We were living in a rented house till 1982, after which my family moved to our own little independent house a couple of streets away.
I remember my first visit to Sastri Nagar in 1967. I was on an official visit and the Branch Manager of my company had invited me for dinner at his house. We had to cross a narrow one way iron bridge over the Adyar River connecting Gandhi Nagar, and beyond, to the city. A traffic constable was stationed to allow vehicles from either side alternately.
Sastri Nagar was earlier part of Urur Kuppam, a coastal village adjacent to the beautiful Elliots Beach. My friend’s house was one of the dozen independent houses in the area with plenty of open spaces all around. It seemed that during the rainy season the entire area would be flooded and Sastri Nagar would look like a lake dotted with houses!
When I moved to Sastri Nagar in 1974, though, the area had seen some development with more independent houses (but there were still plenty of empty plots). During the rainy season, in the absence of any storm water drainage system, the area remained water logged for a couple of days, making life miserable for all the residents, with knee deep water all around and all kinds of creepy-crawly things floating into the house.
Besant Nagar, lying between the Beach and Sastri Nagar was fast developing, with a complex of Housing Board flats servicing different stratas of society; categorized as HIG, MIG & LIG flats, paving the way for a number of shops cropping up. For all our daily necessities we had to go to Besant Nagar, or walk up to Lattice Bridge Road (LB Road), or to the adjacent Vannanthurai Street; a colony of Washermen (dhobis).
Modern stores on L.B.Road was our favourite grocery stores who door delivered our requirements. Today we have a number of depatment Stores in the area with a choice of both local and imported items.
For a number of years a washer man’s family was our neighbor. He (and many from his community) sold off their properties to builders, and with that money decided to look at alternative occupations; thus moving up the social ladder. Though Vannanthurai still exists, there are no Vannans (dhobhis) in this area now. Those who remain have become `Iron men’ or `Istriwallahs’, as they are known in the North.
Laxmi Sagar, the Udipi Restaurant dishing out delicious South Indian snacks was the only restaurant serving the entire area and it was located (and continues to exist) in one corner, at the Adyar Telephone Exchange signal on LB Road. Today we have a choice of multi-cuisine restaurants offering Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Continental flavours and within walking distance from our house in 14th Cross Street, we get everything from “pin to elephant”. We even have a branch of the ubiquitous Grand Sweets, just two minutes walk from our home.
Eros Cinema , gave way to the popular Wedding Hall – Shantha Sundara Mahal, which in turn gave way to Mitsubishi Motors showroom, was the only theatre in the area for long. Today the avid cinema goers in the area have to visit Ganapathiram theatre on L.B.Road or Jayanthi theatre on the same road in Thiruvanmiyur. Theagaraja Theatre opposite Jayanthi is closed down and is expected to take a new avatar soon.
Whoever was in charge of the layout of Sastri Nagar and numbering of the streets in the civic body must have been off his rocker! In Sastri Nagar the streets are not sequentially numbered. Eighth cross becomes 5th cross, 14th cross merges with 13th cross and the other way around. 7th cross runs parallel to 12st cross which in turn is parallel to 8th cross. 11th cross cuts across all these streets! Confusing? Imagine the plight of a first time visitor to Sastri Nagar trying to locate an address without proper direction. He will be totally lost in the maze of `cross streets`
In the good old days there was a `Kudam`(water pot) shaped water tank placed at on a height in the middle of the colony, with, a bus stop below it , which was referred to as a landmark for anyone visting the area. While the bus stop has vanished as there are no bus services on that particular road now, the tank too is lost among a host of multistoried apartments. Besides the streets are permanently dug up by the civic officials for some reason or the other. The colony has become a trap for unwary pedestrians and vehicle owners.
The price of land in Sastri Nagar in 1974 was Rs.15, 000/- per ground, which had become Rs.60, 000 by the time I decided to buy a plot in 1980. Today the price quoted is Rs.4 crore per ground. By virtue of owning a house on a plot of 3000 sq.ft. I can now consider myself a Crorepathi, at least on paper!
Until the early 90s, Sastri Nagar was a cute little colony, with lovely houses built by retired bureaucrat’s, upcoming businessmen and a few professionals. In the last two decades the greedy builders have managed to tempt the owners of the beautiful houses to go in for joint development of plots, with the result, Sastri Nagar has become a concrete jungle putting tremendous pressure on the poor infrastructure when it comes to garbage collection, sewage & water connections . As in the neighboring Besant Nagar and Kalakshetra areas, some of the streets are witnessing the appearances of commercial ventures in a primarily residential area, transforming the profile of the area.
All the development has come at a huge cost of the beauty and serenity of the colony. For over 20 years my home was a peaceful place tucked inside a small lane facing the Colony`s only Corporation play ground. Today we are surrounded by multistoried apartments on three sides blocking the sea breeze which we could enjoy in the afternoons. With strange people peeking into our homes at all odd hours, our privacy is lost forever!
I will, however, not think of leaving Sastri Nagar because of its strategic location - being located at a ten minute walking distance from the lovely Elliots Beach. I have been going for a walk to the Beach for the last 38 years- every day watching the Sun rise and breathing fresh air, recharging both my body and mind!.
It is another matter that I go for a walk in my car!
Feedback welcome on: rvrajan42 @rediffmail.com, or 984039208