In the heart of
connecting North Mada (mAdA) Street and
is a small street…lane…called “Maddala )Narayanan Street” (maddaLa nArAyaNan)
Who Maddala Narayanan was, history does not see fit to record (at least, I couldn’t find traces on the internet!)…“maddaLam” being a variation of the percussion instrument, the
the instrument being more used for harikathA and yakshagAnA….
but for a long time, many musicians resided on this street or its surrounding areas.
There are still some music shops here, where one can buy veeNAs, tablAs, or repair various instruments…
But MY song, today, is about the small jewellers’ shops that also sit on this street, and this particular one:
Can you see the shop there? Yes, it’s that tiny little…well, literally window of opportunity that’s open next to the motorcycle!
In this shop, for at least thirty years (to my certain recollection) sits Sri T G Purushottaman Achari.
"AchAri" usually denoted a goldsmith in Tamizh, and the only concession Mr Purushottaman seems to have made to modernity is to have a mobile phone (er, which he didn't pick up the three times that I called!). Other than that...white shirt, white dhoti...he looks exactly the same as he did thirty years ago.
And how do I know that? Because thirty-three years ago, when I married and came to Mandaveli to live, I went to him for several small repairs of my jewellery.
My last visit to him had been around 1999, when he soldered some Jaipur silver jewellery for me.
Recently rummaging through my cupboard, I found that "jaipur stone" set and decided that I need some repairs done to it, and in Chennai, met up with my friend Girija and went to the Tank area, looking for a jeweller to do the repairs....and lo and behold, as I turned into Maddala Narayanan Street, I saw the old shop still there, with Sri Purushottaman still in it!
He smiled a little doubtfully at me when I said hello...but when I pulled out the jewellery, his recognition of his work was instantaneous! "Yes!" he said, "I remember doing this..."
Here's Girija looking on as he works:
Let me explain some of the things in that photograph:
He's got a "kaNakku piLLai" (old family accountant) desk in front of him, and under it, the round things you can see are "peerkam shorai" (skeletal framework of the ridge gourd) which is used for cleaning jewellery.
The little bowl of water in front also is to wash the jewellery.
You can see the little machine that he cranks up to heat up the coals to melt the gold and silver.
The mirror is for customers like me to put on the jewellery (neck and ears) and look at themselves!
The shiny vessel holds drinking water.
The daily calendar on the wall has a picture of the famous Tamizh movie actor and concert singer, M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar
M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, affectionately called MKT
(Though it appears very unlikely to us, apparently he was an actor and with that revolutionary-for-the-times-hairstyle, a singer very popular with the ladies of the day..one of the first matinee idols! He was also implicated in a murder case ...see the Wiki link!...but he seems to have successfully resisted the urge to join Tamil Nadu politics, which is, even today, dominated by people from the film world.)
The mud lamp (ahal viLakku) on the tray in front of him will be kept lit with a long flame, and a small implement (oothu kuzhal) will direct a very hot flame to the precise point on the jewellery that he wants to work on. No oxyacetylene torches required!
He's actually looking at his mobile, and writing down the number for us!
To our mutual satisfaction (I *must* make another post on the joys of bargaining, and the uses of bargaining to establish a social bond between disparate sections of society!) we settled the amount payable for several things like re-stringing a triple thread of pearls, setting a missing stone in a ear-ring, renewing the gold polish on a "kochi kempu" set, and so on. I probably DID overpay a little...but to me, those pieces of jewellery would lie, unused and unusuable, if they were not repaired. And he is MUCH more reasonable than the large jewellery shops on North Mada Street...who ultimately go to jewellers like him to get the repairs done! (Actually, Shukra Jewellery, from whom I had bought the Jaipur set, told me the work could not be done.)
I went off with Girija to have hot filter kaapi in
Hotel Saravana Bhavan
(they've made themselves into a very successful chain!)
and in a few days, collected my repaired and renewed pieces of jewellery....wondering how much longer this lifestyle will last, and marvelling that it still has!
Well…in my grandmother’s day, the jeweller would probably have been called home, where he would have spent the entire day on the “thiNNai” (the front porch) in the shade of a neem tree or two, setting and repairing jewellery….my generation went to him to get our work done…who knows how the next few generations (I certainly don’t envisage women giving up jewellery in the next few thousands of years!) will manage?