Professor Om Chary NN Pillai, president of Kerala Club, dressed in the traditional mundu. His wife (left) is wearing the neryatu (saree).
The shift of the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 saw people migrate from various parts to the new Capital as it turned into the hub of political activity and regained its stature as the seat of power.
Madras Presidency, with several colleges started in late 19th century, had no dearth of English educated people. So when opportunities came, Tamilians flocked to Delhi to join the government service. Most of them joined as clerks, stenos and typists but few went on to occupy high-ranking positions.
Gole Market’s government quarters became the first hub. Miles away from home, the community felt the need to preserve their cultural traditions and language. “Being in clerical jobs, nobody could afford public school education for their children. So they started a school of their own,” says S Krishnamurthy, president of the Delhi Tamil Sangam.
Thus was born the Madrasi Education Association on Mandir Marg in 1921. The school — later known as Delhi Tamil Education Association (DTEA) secondary school — started with one teacher PHS Iyer and one student.
South India Club on Mandir Marg started in the early 1920s as a recreation club where Tamilians would meet and celebrate festivals together. “Delhi Tamil Sangam was started in CP and only later shifted to RK Puram,” says KHV Subramanyam.
Sensing the need of the growing Tamil community, N Sundaram set up a shop aptly named Madrass Stores. It was the first south Indian store. It started in 1932 at Gole Market and later shifted to its present location in Karol Bagh in 1959. “When he came from Kancheepuram, my father had in mind the idea to start a business,” says R Sundaram, 67. It housed all things essential in a Tamil household under one roof.
It was a time when idli, vada and sambhar were unheard of in the Capital except at Tamil homes. CS Mani Iyer, came from Guruvayoor (Palghat) in 1952, set up a small canteen in Baroda in 1954. The popularity of the south Indian food encouraged him to start the South Indian Hotel in 1955 at Karol Bagh. “My father sold two idlis for 10 paise those days,” says Balan Mani.
People looked forward to the morning snacks of idli, dosa and sambar and tried out full meal at lunch comprising rasam rice or sambar rice, not to forget the quintessential more (buttermilk).
Soon Karol Bagh emerged as a hub of Tamilians. Ravi Ramanujam started a tiffin service, then known as ‘Ramanujam Mess’. It offered south Indian meals to bachelors coming from Madras for government jobs at affordable rates. It is now a stylish lodging boarding establishment Ramanujam’s.
“There were Tamilians in each block. There is a Puja Park where the community came together for the annual Ayyappa Puja till recently,” says Shyamala Krishnamurthy, who has been living in Delhi since 1949. Her father K Rangachari was the chief editor at The Statesman in those days.
Mani Iyer’s sons Balan Mani and Murali Mani expanded their father’s business. While their father only wore a veshti (pristine white dhoti) and their sisters wore dawanni (half saree) till early 1970s when they attended Venkateswara College, the family today has adapted to Delhi habits. “Our day-to-day dressing has changed to suit the cosmopolitan culture. But on days of puja or a family function, we all wear traditional clothing,” Balan’s wife Radhika asserts.
Over the years, the community spread to different parts of Delhi. Mayur Vihar resident M Veera Pandian, 52, runs Ganapathy Stores with typical south Indian stuff in a quaint corner in Karol Bagh. “My daughter V Priya who completed class 12 from DTEA School can speak and write Tamil. But you cannot tell from her Hindi that she is a Tamilian,” Pandian, who came to Delhi in 1969, says. Like Shyamala, Balan Mani and Pandian, scores have made Delhi their home. That is a common feeling shared by Tamilians today.
Malayalees have been, and are, Delhi’s most influential of communities. They may have adapted to the ways of the Capital, yet the Keralite essence remains intact.
New Delhi: Even when Malayalees started coming to New Delhi — declared the Capital of British India in 1911 — since 1914-1915, the numbers had risen to barely 1,500 by 1950. But what the community lacked in numbers was compensated by the influential Malayalees, what with over two dozen of them being ICS.
Other than the ICS — Indian Civil Service — rest of the Keralites joined government service as stenos, typists and clerks. Most rented places in and around Connaught Place. The ICS officers occupied government residential units. They brought their staff — cooks and drivers — all the way from Kerala.
Lack of direct connectivity — a Keralalite first had to go to Madras to reach New Delhi — could have been one of the reasons why not many ventured north. But those who came, left no opportunity to bond. “There was no club then, but people came together to celebrate festivals,” says NP Radhakrishnan, secretary of Kerala Club that started in 1939 from CP’s M block.
“There were regular clubbing activities and festive occasions, when the entire community came together,” adds Radhakrishnan. The club’s Friday Literary Meet has continued since 1946. It was much later, to be precise in 1957, that the Kerala school started in Delhi.
Bonding was evident in other ways too. Anybody who visited the state came back loaded with grocery items to be distributed in the neighbourhood. “A typical sight in those days would be a Kerala family coming back with two sacks full of green coconuts, kitchen equipment and grocery items, specially spices,” says Prof Om Chary NN Pillai, 84, who retired from Indian Institute of Mass Communications (IIMC) after holding various posts in different government departments.
Kerala sarees called neryatu and girls’ dress pavaada (skirt and blouse) not to mention, mundu (sparkling white lungi) for men were a common import those days, “even though Delhi weather prompted many men to slowly shift to shirt pants. Many girls too started wearing salwar kameez on regularly,” says Pillai’s wife Prof Leela Omchary Pillai.
But though people adjusted to Delhi weather and adapted to its ways of life, including Hindi language, food remained unchanged. A typical breakfast in many homes still comprises idli/dosa/sambhar or at times, idiappam, puttu and appam. Coffee is a must,” says Leela Pillai, who has grown jackfruit, banana, kadhipatta (curry leaves) and drumsticks trees near her home.
But things are different now. Says Mayur Vihar resident Divakar Menon (alias Deepu), who came to Delhi around 30 years ago, “I work here and plan to settle here. Over the years, the comfort level for a common Keralite like me has increased as I get Malayalee newspapers, I get to watch TV channels in my mother tongue and even, celebrate in Kerala-style temples.”
That the Malayalee population as on date is well over one million in the Capital speaks how well the community has adapted to Delhi and yet retained its essence.