Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Of things gone by

This started off as a picture to say:

"I think that I shall never see
a billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all"

just to highlight once again how, with the hoardings gone, so much more of Chennai is visible now. To those looking down from the Gemini flyover, the greenery provides a welcome relief from concrete.

But this space has been subject to a double blow; after 46 years, the Agri-Horticultural Society took back this land, which had been leased to Hotel Woodlands. They plan to build a botanical garden and merge it (through overhead walkways and subways) with their large gardens across the road. It is good to hear that this green patch in the heart of the city will remain as such. But then, it is not easy to digest the loss of what was a unique Chennai phenomenon - the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant.

It could have been an elite joint when it opened in 1962; not many cars, or even 2-wheelers, then. Yet, it was never snobbish and never had time for any bandha. One went to Woodies because the food was good, the prices economical and one could stay there for ever. When your car is your table, you don't worry about people drooling over your shoulder, waiting for you to finish.

But Woodies is gone, and the 200-odd people (including the only vegetarian Mr. Madras) who worked there must have been accommodated in other branches of the Woodlands chain. Many of them supposedly began work - as 10 to 12-year olds - when the new concept restaurant opened in 1962 and have forever been called 'boys', even after they had had children and grandchildren of their own. I do hope they are taken care of.

Woodies is gone, and the Government is getting plans for the botanical gardens ready. I hope they do not think that having a coffee shop in the middle of the planned gardens is a good idea. That would be an insult to the institution that was the Drive-In and a sore spot in the gardens themselves.

The poem is "Song of the Open Road", Ogden Nash, from 'Happy Days' (1933)

1 comment:

Sanna said...

ah! the moment i saw what the blog was about, i started looking for this post. am glad u havent missed it.

I was a regular at the drive-in, went there every evening for a cup of coffee and conversation. The company couldn't have been more diverse and interesting. you could overhear just about anything - business plans, sales targets, boss bashing, lovers' spat, maami vadaam techniques, smokers' philosophies... the legendary P.B.Srinivas who came there everyday since eternity, the occasional visits by Director Vasanth and any number of small screen artistes who sat in the next table, the autowalla who came in just for a smoke everyday...for that short while we were all one family.

of course the 'boys' there who treated all of us alike. there was one who remembered to add less sugar in my coffee, that my partner preferred tea and wondered if everything was fine between us whenever i came alone or with other friends. Then there was this waiter who was physically challenged and would walk very slowly; hell, who complained? Greenery or not,it was the home so many of us went back to at the end of the day and damn, i miss it!

well, guess i have written more than i intended to, but thanks for giving me an excuse to relive the experience.