A Chennai landmark disappears - and with it a bit of city’s history

April 21st, 2008 - 11:17 am ICT by admin  

(Letter from Chennai)
By T.S.V. Hari
Chennai, April 21 (IANS) Woodlands Drive-in Restaurant, a landmark of the southern metropolis known for its proximity to the US consulate and the arterial Anna Salai, has ceased to exist following a court order. While its 100-plus workforce, most of them in the 50-plus age group, has been left in the lurch with the order, old-timers like yesteryear’s crooner-multilingual poet P.B. Srinivas (a permanent brooding fixture at the eatery), and poor yuppie lovers who cannot afford other upmarket rendezvous, have no place to chill out.

Started in 1962 by one Krishna Rao after getting a huge tract of land belonging to the Madras Horticultural Society (MHS) on lease, Woodlands formed the backdrop of many successful Tamil novels penned by late authors Manian and Sujata. It also introduced the north Indian delicacy chole bhatura to the city.

Its clientele included the late thespians MGR and Shivaji Ganesan.

The tepid coffee served in chipped china became the alibi for the middle class youth to spend endless hours plotting a course to land in distant America, which had a consulate just across the widest avenue in central Chennai - Radhakrishnan Salai - once known as Edward Elliot’s Road.

Woodlands also used to be a stopover for those entering or leaving a show from the Wee-come-see multiplex (one of the first of its kind in Madras), which housed three cinemas - Safire, Blue-Diamond and Emerald.

Before those days, Woodlands also served as a feeding spot for the poor who worked at the Gemini Studios - across Anna Salai (then Mount Road) and Colour Laboratories.

That all these institutions around Woodlands’ horizon have disappeared is, of course, another story.

The Woodlands’ establishment has been a sore point for three DMK regimes - all headed by M. Karunanidhi since the late 1980s. Chief Minister Karunanidhi has always yearned for more lung space in the heart of Chennai for renovating or creating parks along the coastline, helping reclaim park sites like that of Woodlands and easing traffic congestion by building more flyovers.

Karunanidhi paid a visit to the MHS property Tuesday - a day after the court asked Woodlands to vacate.

Karunanidhi himself resides to the northeast in Gopalapuram. The homes of Leader of Opposition J. Jayalalitha and her bete noire matinee idol Rajnikanth are just a hop away in a southeast direction.

Meanwhile, the fact that the Woodlands establishment was owned by people with bigger business connections in Karnataka - a state that has a running water dispute with Tamil Nadu - is known well in Chennai.

(T S V Hari can be contacted at tsv.hari@ians.in)

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