Back in the 1950s-60s, one of the popular hangouts was a restaurant near Old Post office, run by a Chinese, serving cantonese food – hot Chow Mein… way before Maggi noodles captured Indian markets. Interesting nuggets of information like this, is what B V Radhakrishna shares with our feature writer, G V Ramesh, with inputs from Sri Radha Krishna’s son, Tejaswi.
Hailing from one of the old families of Vizag, B V Radhakrishna, is an eminent Vizagite who worked in the rural and urban development sectors as a management consultant. Contentedly retired, he now resides in his traditionally designed house at Rishikonda. In his prime, he was actively involved in many development projects including research with eminent professors like Sarveswara Rao, Parthasarathi and many others. Prominent among those were the projects of bringing Godavari waters to Vizag, disaster prevention and preparedness, watershed management and many self-help projects for weavers, marginalised sections of society, and more, with government and international aid agencies. In his connection he travelled widely within and outside the country as well.
Radhakrishna’s love for Vizag is infectious; his video-graphic memory and vivid recollection about life in general in Vizag during 1950s and 60s is educative and awe-inspiring. He says that Vizag has been cosmopolitan for there were Telugu people, Anglo-Indians, Oriyas, Bengalis, Tamilians, Marwaris, Gujaratis to name a few. People of Vizag, he says, have never been parochial. Back then, the family used to stay in One Town area, in Chinnamma vaari Veedhi, next to the Dutch/English Cemetery (colloquially called Goreelu, vernacular for ‘graves’). An avid gourmet, his childhood memories revolve around his trysts with famous eateries of that time – HMS Bakery, Ashoka Hotel, Naaz Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant near the old post office, Siva Shankar Vilas, Central Café, Das Sweets and Marvari Hotel at Pappula Veedhi near Kurupam Market and Cochin Café near the Reading Room. His most delicious recollections were reserved for the Chinese restaurant established mainly for catering to the requirements of Chinese crew of ships that docked at Harbour, and Shiva Sankar Vilas, owned by a Palghat Aiyar called Mani. The Chinese restaurant he frequented with his Chinese friends Yang Yu Ling and Yang Yu Zing for chow chow (noodles). And Shiva Sankar Vilas was his preferred joint for their delicious and crispy rava dosas. The master cook at Shiva Sankar Vilas was an embodiment of efficiency, he says; watching him preparing dosas – spreading the dough for almost a dozen dosas simultaneously on a large thick griddle was in itself a great treat. His deferential devotion for his craft and the art of dosa-making, apparent in the manner he would chanting prayers and reverentially offer the first dosa of the day that he prepared at 4:00 am, to the burning-fires of the oven (Agnihotram) everyday, was something that Radhakrishna cannot forget even to this day.
The other notable food-delicacies that were famous then were the Japanese cake at HMS Bakery, Masala dosa at Ashoka hotel, non-veg dishes and Tea at Naaz Restaurant. Apart from these, some small hotels too were famous, they included Venkayya hotel and the Street End Hotel, which specialised in Kalipinattu (mixed-gram dosa); most of the clientele for these hotels were the shop-keepers and workers in and around that area. A Marwari hotel used to sell phulkas with aloo-curry in Puppula Veedi, mainly for north Indians. Customers used to sit on the ground, while their shining brass plates were on a small low table in front of them. This was a novelty for Vizagites for it was exactly opposite of the way the people over here sat for eating. Cochin Café with its unique systems of coupons, which could be redeemed anytime within a stipulated period, was another important feature of that era. Owning those coupons as a sort of private collection was one of many hobbies then for children; his sister was one such proud collector then.
The Das Sweet shop, whose cooks were from Benaras, was a busy hub in the evenings. Apart from Halwa, Mysore Pak, Kaza, Jalebi, Laddu, Kova, Pakodi, Spicy boondi, he used to sell hot chapatis with spicy curry. And, on the beach, pidata-kinda-pappu (a pot of burning charcoal placed on a bed of groundnuts and puffed rice crisps, that roasted them to perfection).
Back in that day, with an exception of a movie or two in Hindi and English, generally Telugu movies were screened. NTR, ANR, S V Ranga Rao, Relangi, Savitri and Jamuna were the reigning popular stars. English movies used to be screened only on Sunday mornings at Saraswati Talkies. Sri Radhakrishna very vividly remembers the movies on Amazon River, with its rich flora and fauna and the famous comedy ‘Great Race’ starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood that he watched then.
“This city can be hailed as the best city in India, if not in the world!”
Interestingly, in his childhood, Soccer was more popular than even Cricket – the sport for gentlemen. Every day after school, they used to spend an hour or two with football. Vizag was home to some great soccer stars like, Nandi Varahalu and Appa Rao. In fact, Varahalu was renowned across the entire country for his speed, skill, technique and passion. Apart from playing for country, he represented India’s leading football clubs, Mohan Bagan and East Bengal for Durand cup and Rovers cup for almost a decade in 50s-60s. There used to be many football clubs in Vizag, with many matches played among them in Municipal Stadium and old Port Stadium in one-town. Apart from this, playing Jori-ball (hitting players with a small rubber ball) on the beach in the evenings was great fun. The fun and frolic involved in retrieving the ball, dodging the waves, whenever it went into the sea was something of an out of the world experience the dangers associated notwithstanding. Kids used to take great pains after the end of the play, to dry out wet clothes to escape the parental wrath and reprimands.
Even festivals had a special impact back then. Preparations for Deepavali used to start a month earlier, with them making fire crackers at home. Sisindris (small rockets), flower-pots, mathaba and rockets were all made in-house by sourcing the material – metal scrap (aluminium, iron filings – Beedu), Saltpetre (Surekha Ram), Sulphur (Gandhakam), Charcoal powder (Boggu) – chiefly from Pachipulusu Sannayya’s shop, which is still running near Kurupam Market.
Vizag should be proud for producing some of the greatest litterateurs of modern Telugu – Sri Sri, Arudra, Ravi Sastry, Puripanda Appalaswamy and others. Sri Sri and Arudra were relatives of Radhakrishna. He remembers attending as a teenager, gathering of relatives where Sri Sri was venerated as part of his shashti poorthi celebrations (60th birthday celebrations). In fact on the eve of his shashti poorthi, many felicitations were conducted by different organisations in Vizag, chief being the public felicitation in Municipal stadium presided by great Vizagite, Tenneti Viswanatham, who was a Minister, MP, a man of letters and a very honest man. It was attended by thousands from across Andhra. In the felicitation by relatives, awe-struck by the great poet, Radhakrishna listened with rapturous attention as Sri Sri spoke, amongst many things an anecdote related to a great French writer’s experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of France in Second World War. Through that particular anecdote, Sri Sri made it clear that of all the felicitations, he enjoyed the one conducted by his relatives the most.
With such experiences, laced with guileless happiness and unpretentious lifestyle, Sri Radhakrishna helps us easily visualise the rich kaleidoscopic picture of our Vizag a few decades ago.