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deponti to the world

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AchAri in Chennai
In the heart of




connecting North Mada (mAdA) Street and

Katcheri Road

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:

maddala narayanan st 241109

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:

purushottaman and girja myl 241109


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?

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Way Cool

Craftsmen of the old days ..I still got an emerald ring set in front of me in the 'Thinnai'

Memories of MMI listening to ..
Eppo Varuvaro; Vellai Thamirai Poouvil Iruppal..

U no me

Er, I still don't know you....could you introduce yourself please!

And also listen to sarasa sAmadAna and the Note... :)

wow, great to see this, hard to imagine working in such a small space day after day. so when you went to collect it, everything was ready? what is the small shiny pot on the desk? do you think his father did the same job in the same place?

I love showing photos like this to my friends here, because I think if you haven't been there, you just don't see this.

Oh, yes, this is not what you see on the tourist brochures!

The shiny pot holds drinking water. :)

Hmm...I forgot to ask about his father, will do so next time!

Oh Deepa!! Thanks so much for this! Thanks so much for explaining everything, too! You are making me love India so much.

(But you will never persuade me of the joys of bargaining. Oh man, I hate it so much... well, maybe I shouldn't say you will never persuade me... but between fearing that I'll deprive someone of the money they deserve on the one hand or be cheated myself on the other.... Gah!)

I love-love-love the photo behind the cut, too. Just love.

There are places and situations where I *like* bargaining and places where I don't WANT to. It's a complicated thing...in many places and situations, it's as much a social interaction as a practice....it takes YEARS to know when it can be done, how much can be bargained...it's the equivalent of the Japanese art of bowing, A, which outsiders will never get!

You'll have to tell me more about it one day--I'm interested that for you too, there are times when it's a pleasure and times when it's not. (That actually helps me understand better. I think I might not mind bargaining if the thing was not of great consequence...)

It's so interesting to learn about your country through your journal. Wonderful photos and great story. It reminds me people who have their studios in their homes....far cry from the Mall atmosphere....but not quite the charm level as Sri T G Achari's shop.

Oh, that shop won't be so charming when summer comes and the streets bake in 43 deg weather! But he's survived....

I couldn't even sit on the floor like that all day.

Oh, that's just conditioning, Debbie! Having learnt Carnatic music for a long time, I can still sit on the floor for hours...but most of my students can't!

This led to a hilarious incident. One concert hall where I used to ask my students to go to regularly to listen to concerts, had a few rows of chairs at the sides, but latecomers had to sit on the floor and listen.

The convener of the series was very impressed, and told me, "Your students are SO keen on the music, they arrive way ahead of everyone else!" I couldn't tell him that that they were doing that to ensure that they got the chairs!

Oh, yes, I remember that..whenever there was a wedding in the family, the jeweller would come home with the standard casing for the bendole (as the traditional design was called). The diamonds would then be set in it while he worked on it in the verandah of our home in Bangalore :-)

Oh, I haven't heard of "bendole"..can I come and see it once?

You know it..it is the Kannada name for the traditional 7 stone earring design that can be set with pearls or diamonds or rubies, etc..then you qualify it with muttina bendole, vajrada bendole, etc.

and forgot to add, welcome any time :-)

How very interesting personality you have shared here! Reminds me of our family jeweler but he has a bigger shop than this. Now that I am in India I will take pics of him and post when i visit him next week.

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