SR Snacks is a small tea shop sandwiched between other shops on Bheemanna Garden Street that snakes through Alwarpet colony of central Chennai. No more than 10 x 12 feet, the shop, however, boasts of an illustrious background.
Its earlier owner was one certain Sasikala Natarajan, then a home-maker who ran a business of renting out video cassettes from here in the 1980s. The shop was called Vinod Video Centre.
Decades later, Sasikala is one step away from becoming the chief minister. The business long gone.
Not many of the old timers, who saw Sasikala lead an ordinary life then, are around now. But a majority of the handful few who are still around prefer to be tight-lipped. “Leave it sir, it is not important,” a shopkeeper said. “What is there to speak? It happened so long ago that she lived here,” another of her erstwhile neighbours said.
Given her meteoric rise, very few are willing to risk her displeasure and are reluctant to come on record. Some of them do share snippets from the past, but strictly on condition of anonymity.
According to an octogenarian shop owner, Sasikala stayed in a double-storied house very close to her shop. An auto mechanic remembered Sasikala venturing out often on a rickshaw. Her husband Natarajan mostly used an office car. She also had a white dog which she took out at times for a stroll.
“She was a nice and affable person,” said the mechanic, who claims having run errands for her. Whenever she wanted something, she would call me, he said. ““I would send boys to fetch the things and then used to go and deliver them home,” the mechanic said.
The mechanic also recalls seeing J Jayalalithaa, the late chief minister and Sasikala’s mentor, visit the home once or twice. “She came in a black Ambassador car. I got them coffee.”
Having turned nostalgic and shared some secrets, the mechanic clamped up. “I will not get into trouble, right?” he asked, but not before reminiscing that Sasikala had closed down the shop soon after she shifted to Poes Gardens to stay with Jayalalithaa.
The owner of SR Snacks is aware of the shop’s legacy. But he is loathe to talk about it. “Leave me alone. I am busy making a living,” he said. It is mostly awe and a bit of fear that Sasikala’s name evokes among those who live in her old street.