Where family dwellings organically grow

Today i walked down off Perumbukkam road to see Raji and Shanti, and to search for where Erumalai tailor has set up shop, and where Kannan has retreated after his cafe was closed, and I found them all down here in little back streets that are always changing.

I love these little backstreets, formed in a higgeldy way, by one after another construction growing up like termites’ nests, with no levelling process, no planned sanitation or planned any thing whatsoever, drains effortlessly finding their way by gravity, rubble flamboyantly pushed aside with rubbish – sometimes gigantic plastic mountains with chickens or goats up on top – tremendously unhealthy it all is, yes, but terribly friendly. And every now and then somefamily finally hits it right on the knocker with something so sound and confident and so thoroughly justified that its like a song, one that everyone can sing, loud as they like. Look at this:


This house is opposite to Kannan’s house that has sheltered his family for seven years so far; I don’t know how long it took to grow The Green House, I will ask him. Kannan, Selvi his wife, Kavita his daughter and her son Agilan stand as they are on their front porch so this photo could take its place here:


After seven years of sanctuary, the interior of their home is presently in some disarray because Kannan’s marvellous Amman Roof Top Cafe recently had to be abandoned. The lucratively central hot-spot suddenly became the apple of the owner’s eye to build apartments; Kannan and his family were forced to merge their cafe with their home – a daunting process that will subside after some time. Meanwhile exams are demanding of the remaining two family members: Gayatri and Karthik, consequently the remainder of the shifting and ordering process is allowed to quietly wait until exams are over.



Behind this line of cloth a big heap of sand fills the space that will become another room. Sand is a valuable commodity and Kannan will make good use of it when he can. The floor of another cafe will eventually become the roof, and the small kitchen now run by Selvi will be augmented by more cooking space, and space for fridges and all the needs of a functioning cafe-com-restaurant that this whole family know well how to organise. The food they cook is very wholesome, nourishing, tasty, so much so that local Indian people normally would not be at all attracted. Kannan specialises in International-cum-Indian simple healthy food. And it couldn’t be tastier.


Agilan is the first grandchild in this family. . .



. . . . .a very lucky boy – as Kannan points out contentedly, because he has loving grandparents, loving parents, and as well: a loving Aunty and loving Uncle, and a loving neighbour Mallaga also – an old friend of Selvi’s.

What more could any boy want! You see, this is absolutely true.

Kannan intends to buy a uniform now so that he can drive a rented rickshaw to provide for his family until such time as he can embark on building a restaurant on the roof.

And that is about as noble as a man can be.


Tomorrow morning they will offer iddlies for breakfast to whoever comes – they have put the word about their street. I will go for breakfast and Good Luck. On the way home I spy a good omen in the dust:


Good morning Neighbourhood!



Kannan plans to buy a large second-hand plastic sheet this morning – as you can see, shade is needed for this breakfast venture.

When I arrive at seven-fifteen, Gayatri has already left long ago for tuition before school; she won’t return until after sunset. Karthik – also studying for exams, has also already left carrying tiffin tins of idly, vadai, sambar and chutney – breakfast ordered from five or six households nearby. The little Lord of the Manor is sound asleep but he wakes up sparky when Mallaga arrives from across the street with her wonderful shining son who everyone loves:



Suddenly water pots are hastily gathered from the room full of sand .. . .


. . . Karthik returned just in time to begin filling pots from the hose connected to a pipe under the earth and emptying precious water into the blue plastic drum while Selvi tried to get through the family wash before the water stops flowing as it will all too soon. As I left after a delicious breakfast, water-management was the street’s primary focus . . . .



. . . . . And other families in equally unfinished dwellings were involved in their own idly breakfast preparation:


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