The suburban trains: those were the days when……….

We used to live in Tambaram on Agaram Road in Professor’s Colony, close to the Air Force Station, when I was in the seventh and eighth standard in school. Our home was diagonally opposite the Heber Gate of Madras Christian College. The catch was that my school was in Vepery! So it was that I used to cycle to Tambaram Station every morning and take the suburban train to Egmore, then walk from there to school. Those years of riding the train were an experience I cherish, and which gives one an indelible experience of Chennai as it was!

My brother and I knew every inch of that track in terms of the view from the windows on either side, and used to watch the changes that occurred with the seasons with avid interest. Of particular note was the ride in the monsoons, and the filling up of the great irrigation lake at Chromepet, the filling of the Adyar and Cooum rivers, the Chetpet lake and other areas. We also knew the sound of the train along every stretch of the way, and could tell where we were with our eyes closed! Another site that used to fascinate us were the stone quarries in Pallavaram which were operational even then.

Sometimes, after school, those long rides used to be tedious, especially on an empty stomach. So our mother used to ensure we had some money in case we were really hungry. We used to eat at the VLR Stalls in the station at Egmore. ‘VLR ‘stands for Vegetarian Light Refreshment, and these stalls were clean, affordable and very efficient. I remember that two iddlies with chutney and sambhar served on a banana leaf used to be ten paise, and a masala dosa used to be 35 paise! These were our favourites, depending on how hungry we were! Occasionally, we used to have bondas, which were equally good.

In those days, we used to pass many rice fields which have long given way to the spread of the city. The underpass leading to Ashok Nagar between Saidapet and T Nagar, for example, is in an area which was covered with rice fields in those days. As is the Madipakkam area of today. We could actually see, over those two years, the spread of development, as colonies came up East of the tracks near the St Thomas Mount Station, and homes began sprouting up in the one areas closer to the heart of the city. Perhaps the fastest growth was in the suburbs, including areas such as Chromepet.

The other thing one remembers are the vendors, some of whom had trademark calls for their goods. One that used to sell items from a small wooden box used to walk down the compartment calling out, “Siclets, saacklets, sewing gum, sips!” He was, of course, selling Chiclets, chocolates, chewing gum and chips! There were also vendors selling roasted peanuts and the like, so if one was perky, one could always munch on these. Their ability to move around depended on the time of day, and one didn’t see much of them in the rush hour when the compartments were quite packed with people.

We were fortunate in that we got on at Tambaram where most of the trains originated, and more often than not, got a place to sit. The return journey was at varying times, depending on the activity after school, but we often had to ride standing till Saidapet or T Nagar before being able to sit. Riding the trains taught us how to deal with strangers, how to handle your money responsibly, and how to manage your time! It also gave us a great deal of confidence, despite being kids in the seventh and eighth standards. Its been a long time since I rode those trains, and will certainly do so one of these days just to see what its like today!

4 Comments so far

  1. neoflys (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

    yea I too have great memories of commuting in suburb trains daily during my college days. Travel from egmore to tambram always use to be a wonderful experience for me with my other college buddies teasing each other. Those train journeys always made me feel that i am part of the city

  2. sadak (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

    david, can u tell me the name of your school in vepery. coz I studied at st.joseph’s,vepery

  3. david (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

    Sure Sadak. I studied at a small school on Valiammal Street off Ritherdon Road called Seventh Day Adventist High School. Its close to Ewart’s Girls High school which was a bonus in those days!

  4. G V Balasubramanian (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 6:10 pm

    I have memories of travelling in the opposite direction from Beach to Tambaram when I studied Pre-University at Madras Christian College (1970-71). Duraiswamy Road subway was under construction that time and the train used to move slowly over that stretch. While I was getting accustomed to the canteen and various mess at the St Thomas, Selaiyur and Heber halls at MCC, i was taking my lunch regularly in a bunk type restaurant (the name of the restaurant is Durga, if i remember right) midway between MCC and the Tambaram Railway Station. Somedays we go to the VLR at the Tambaram Station. Prathap Pothen was a senior that time and in one of the College functions, he staged a play called “That Man from Guduvancheri”. Your post kindled the memories of MCC. Thanks, David

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