From Amma With Love
I watched a video on YouTube the other day about a Madurai institution, the Prema Vilas Halwa shop which they said has been in business at this location since 1954.
The interesting thing for me was that before it was a halwa shop, this was a house where I was born and lived in as a young child when it was called Prema Lodge. Though it maybe hard to believe now, this was more of a residential neighborhood back then, and the buildings didn’t reach out to the street as they do now. We actually had a small compound around the house with a Neem tree and a Nagalingam tree in the yard.
My father rented the house from a gentleman named Abbai Naidu, whom I’ve spoken of previously for over 10 years and multiple generations of our extended family lived here. Though the house and the surrounding areas have changed beyond recognition, I can still remember the many connections this part of Madurai had with my family over the years. Since I don’t have a picture of those times then you’ll have to follow along with the vision of my minds eye of the home and the city in the 1930’s.
We’ll start with the upstairs where my aunt Singari whom I was very close to used to sleep, in a little room overlooking the street where I usually ended up as night fell. As I said in another post she was a civic minded citizen of Madurai who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the women in the city in many ways. In the mornings she was usually off to one of her charitable activities such as the Meenakshi Seva Sangam, down on Goods Shed Street, where abandoned or indigent women could find succor.
Across the street was the Victoria Edward Hall complex where leading dignitaries like Nehru and Bharathiyar spoke when they came to Madurai. It also housed a club with tennis courts and a library which still exists today. Regal Talkies where english language movies played was another attraction, which I see is now called the Thanga Regal Theater.
Nehru and Kamaraj in Madurai
Nearby were many schools that my brother and cousins attended such as Madura College High School and Union Christian High School which continue to educate a new generation of young people.
Past the train station was where our family friend Dr. Grace Kennet had her practice, delivering generations of babies including many of our family. I always remember how kind she was to everyone and the admiration we all had for her. Here’s a nice story in the Hindu about her and this is a link to her hospital that continues her good work.
My father worked about a mile away in the municipal court building in the grand Tirumalai Nayakkar Mahal. He took my sister and I there once where were instructed to keep quiet during the proceedings.
I understand the building has been renovated with all the offices cleared out as its now used as a set for tv shows and movies.
Of course the Temple was down the street and as always through Madurai’s long history, the center of the city and its residents.
This brings me to the point of this post, that many generations of families like mine have lived in Madurai from time immemorial and no doubt each of them thought of the city in terms of their life experiences and they people they’ve known.
Some things though always remain the same in Madurai and define its character - the Temple, its’ festivals, the pilgrims arriving at all times of the day and night, the farmers coming to market, these are the rhythms of the city that will never change.