And like an idiot I made a wisecrack to my wife, ‘at least now they will rebuild SM Street’ effectively destroying the rest of the evening’s joys with a sulking partner glowering at me. You see, Kozhikodans are quite possessive about their town. But then, I was actually making a serious comment, remembering the famous ex collector of Calicut (Amitab Kant) who beautified the beach and Manachira maidan and the Zamorins pond….and one who wanted to modernize the SM street, but never succeeded..
So why is it called Sweet meat street? Meat was never sold there, nor were butchers allowed. It was because the trading foreigners equated Calicut halwas – a sweet brown red delicacy to Sweet meat. Man, these meat eaters from the west…how could they do this - anyway the name stuck for the next few centuries. Incidentally Halwa must have come from Turkey to India via the silk route, you do see Halwa in the Middle East & Turkey, but it is quite different. Only the Turkish Delight or Lokum is similar in texture (though not in taste) to our Calicut Halwa.
Ask anybody from Calicut – even though many women complain about gropers & bumpers in that busy & congested street, they say the ambience while shopping there is second to none – the energy of the shoppers and the shopkeepers, the shopkeepers being the friendliest in Kerala. My son for example remembers the sport shop there, from where we picked up sports gear and I remember so much– Maharaj Halwa, Topform restaurant, Queens restaurant, Bata, and so much more – even the shuttered out Parsi temple next to the Bata store. Not much has changed over the ages, except for a couple of new buildings opposite the Bata area where new textile shops abound. Let us take a detailed look…
Starting near the old Kidsons restaurant, with Kalanthan’s famous Sharjah (mixed fruit cocktail)juice & faluda centre, the street stretches half a mile bordering the LIC office, the Hantex handloom shop, the taxi stand…the Queens restaurant, a couple of shops selling this and that, a few sweetmeat shops, including Maharaj’s…a sports shop and a number of clothes shops, till you reach the fork with Radha theatre on one side and the road towards the tracks on the other…then comes the Parsi temple, the Bata shop and the WITCO centre…the other side has developed somewhat, some utensil shops and the arcade for clothes…further on to the railway tracks is the Topform restaurant – phew! you get the best Porotta and Mutta Kurma there. So much more to say, but non Kozhikodan’s won’t have the faintest clue…
MP road had the Oasis restaurant - a slightly up-market hotel in the old days, but now I guess it is gone with the fire. Somewhere in between is the famous Purdah house, about which much is said. The good thing is that only the MP road part has been damaged and the shop owners are simply not agreeing for a large scale modernization!! Hurrah!
Calicut, the centre for sweet meat, I remember my early school & college days there, and we go there every year where I still enjoy the walks around town - dhoti clad with a kalan umbrella (u need one in Jul-Aug) – people who know me ask, entha muftiyil?I enjoy that anonymity, walking around without a care…Calicut - The place where VK Krishna Menon grew up- the place that instilled the fervor & statesmanship in him, also the home town of stalwarts like MS Baburaj, Mamukoya, KPK Menon, Abdul Khader, Urub, SK Pottekat, and the place where the Sagar restaurant is located – I doubt if anybody would ever forget the Sagar biryani and the poricha koyi…Park restaurant (demolished long ago) which served the best coffee and faluda’s, Queen’s restaurant that claimed to be run by unemployed post graduates, which also proudly exhibited the wares of Michiko and Sumiko, the fabled cabaret dancers..
SM street is the nerve centre of that town – and when something happens to SM street, it upsets the very rhythm of the throbbing town and every optimist persona of Calicut – as I could readily feel from the words of my Mil and wife…
Kozhikode halwa seller photo – skasuga
A lovely column by Anita Nair.
The burning street photos by Ajilan – Varthamanam daily