A Tour of George Town/Sowcarpet on the eve of Madras week – Part I

It’s Madras week this week. It was on Aug 22nd some 300 odd years ago that Madras (or a small part of today’s Chennai) was bought by the East India company from the Nayak rulers. Hey, who’s buying whose land man? Anyways, there are a host of events that are organized every year to celebrate Madras week – art exhibitions, photograph exhibitions, talks, quizzes, heritage walks and I am sure a few painting contests and debates as well. On the eve of Madras day, I am going to take you all not on a respectable heritage walk down Fort St. George or Besant Avenue. And definitely not Marina Beach, Mylapore or Mahabalipuram! Please! That is for backpack toting foreign tourists wearing oversized FabIndia kurtas. This one is for the locals. I am going to take you on a fun ride through George Town (Sowcarpet). Why George Town? Because nobody else will bother celebrating this old, crowded, congested little place.

parrys corner,george town
Park your car at home if you’re going to Parrys corner

My dad is an ace kite-flyer, my family is sweet-addicted (the likes of Basundhi, Kalakand & Milk Halwa), we prefer our scooters over the car any day, we love little provision stores over department stores and we like buying pens & rough books by the dozen. Can you say I am from George Town? I grew up in George Town and it is like no other place in Madras, in every sense. It’s old, busy, cramped and full of history and mind-boggling shopping opportunities. Anything you want, you’ll get here. Anything! Hardware, electrical equipment, fantastic food, designer sarees, lehengas, dress materials, imitation jewellery, Cards and wedding Invitations, top-rate provisions, party supplies, stationary, toys..

parrys corner,george town

Like Little India in Singapore, George Town is little North India in Madras. The area is full of Sethjis, their pawn shops, their hardware shops, their cloth shops, their sweet shops and their provision stores. You get the best cashews in Madras in the Jain provision store on Govindappa Naicken street. All over this post, I’ll give you precious tit-bits like these – Maane theane Pon Maane style. Enjoy. Don’t bother trying your hindi with them, they speak fluent Tamil all of them, but in Udit Narayan style and are the shrewdest businessmen around. The area is mostly commercial but the interior areas are residential. One of the few areas in the city where you’ll still find street-houses with the front door directly opening on to the road (no gate, no compound wall here). There is absolutely no gap between one house and the next, it is one long stretch of houses and hopping from one to another is easy. This was extremely convenient for kite chasers who’d hop from one house to another to retrieve their beloved kites.

parrys corner,george town

To go to George Town, please park your cars at home. Take your two-wheeler instead if you have one. Else rough it and try finding a parking spot near High Court or Pookadai. You may get one if you are lucky or if it’s a Sunday. But remember, most shops here are closed on Sundays. From High-court or Pookadai, you can take an auto or a cycle rickshaw. I always prefer cycle rickshaw, you can take in the sights and sounds as the rickshaw bumps along slowly. Most of the streets here are really narrow, only one Maruti Van, one Kattai Vandi (bullock pulled carts) or Tata Ace can manage to drive through a street at a time. If another vehicle comes in the opposite direction, then one of them would have to back out all the way. Scooters are the most popular here. You’ll see high school aged boys on scooters with their chiffon saree clad wives behind them, whizzing past you.
George Town is still the busy wholesale hub that it always was. Restless Housewives looking to start a salwar/dress material business, head to Godown street. This is where you get the very same dress materials you buy in T.Nagar at about 3/4th the T.Nagar prices i.e if you are good at bargaining. I am terrible at it. I sometimes buy at prices higher than that in T.Nagar. And Ladies, you can’t just open up 50 salwar sets and buy 2 of them. They’ll thrash you. This is not lifestyle, no poor dress folding guys and girls here to straighten up the mess. And no trial room either. Husbands and Boyfriends must love these places.
This post is so incomplete without the pictures. I’ll try my best to update with some pictures pretty soon.
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  1. Simi says:

    I love your blog! Precisely for posts like these.. Not to say I don't enjoy your recipes, but the humour and writing style makes me want to come here everyday!

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