I am yet to schlep over to George Town for those pictures that I promised in Part I. But I couldn’t wait any longer to post part II. The all-consuming daily grind of work, e-mails, kids, cooking and cleaning leaves me no time for anything else. Forget driving over to George Town, I’ve not had a pedicure in months, I’ve been paying late fees on my credit card bills for 2 consecutive months (I can never remember the payment due dates) and our room looks like a railway platform (a box of toys and random junk here, handbag there, laptop bag on the side, random bags strewn around). I’ll hopefully have those pictures within a month. Before that, here’s more about this great old place.
While you are in George Town, do visit the neighbouring streets as well. Kasi chetty street has lots of imported stuff, gift articles and party supplies (streamers, plastic toys etc). If you are into imitation jewellery, Narayana Mudali street is the place to be. I don’t have first-hand experience of this but many of my friends claim to have saved enormous sums by buying here. Anderson street has a series of wedding invitation shops and paper shops. I once scoured the entire street looking for colourful designed envelopes but I couldn’t find any. They had only the standard white envelopes and a few plain pastel coloured envelopes. Nothing fancy.
It’s not just shopping in Sowcarpet. But it’s mostly shopping. There was one lone theatre in the entire area – Select Talkies. Remember theatres of those days? Dirty paan stained corners, grainy ice-cream & soggy pop-corn. Well, Select Talkies was pretty much the average (below average actually) dirty theatre. Thankfully it closed down long back while we were still there. Other places worth visiting are the Kandhaswamy temple and Bairagimadam temple. I loved visiting Kandhaswamy temple when I was a kid. There was this huge tank in front of the temple filled with water and lots of tiny fishes. You could feed pori (puffed rice) to these fishes and there were vendors sitting there selling puffed rice just for this purpose. There are wholesale stainless steel shops near the temple. If you are looking to buy stainless steel dabbas in large numbers for wedding favours, party favours or items to outfit your own kitchen (on my wishlist are steel thali plates, small sambar bucket like Mani Iyer’s in Michael Madana Kamarajan) this is the place to go. Bairagimadam temple near Mint street is another beautiful old temple, a Perumal (Vishnu) temple. We’d go there atleast once a week when we lived there. I’d wander off behind the pigeons hundreds of which seemed to live within the crevices of the cool stone walls and pillars. The best part was the Lakshmi Narasimhan Sannidhi where the Iyer would sprinkle water in your face (only if you asked him to). It was a kind of ritual to ward off fear. I’d get it done every time.
If you’re hungry after all the shopping and wandering, go to Agarwal sweets on Govindappa Naicken street, just off Pookadai for the best Basundhi and Kachori in the whole of Madras. Idhu Basundhi! This is the real deal. No flimsy cream on top of sweetened milk thingy paraded as Basundhi in many restaurants. Another stalwart is Kakada Ramprasad sweets on Mint street. I remember eating a whole box of Kakada Ramprasad’s Milk Halwa at the tender age of 7. Kakada Ramprasad’s Milk Halwa is so incredibly good and I was a sweet fanatic even then. There were quite a few chaat shops on Mint street that serve great chaat. There was Arya Bhavan and Vasantha Bhavan but I am not sure if these restaurants are still there. They served really good tiffen items.
Diwali is nearing and it’s a good time to visit George Town for some great bargains and a feel of old Chennai. Ditch the malls this weekend and discover Sowcarpet. Cycle-rickshaw rides, lip-smacking street food, old buildings and the best shopping deals await you.