Dhinoo Hataria came to Coimbatore 60 years ago, and she has energised the English theatre scene in the city ever since
Accompanied by an ailing mother-in-law who was recouping from a facial stroke, and three young children suffering from whooping cough, we arrived at the Coimbatore station on a hot-as-hell day on May 1, 1952.
Having lived for five years in Bangalore at our uncle's lovely four-bedroom-three-bathroom English-style cottage with a garden to boot, we (my late husband Soli Hataria and I) expected similar accommodation here. To our consternation, our friend's choice of a brand new six-bedroom house turned out to be quite horrible. There were six tiny rooms, a deep borewell without a drop of water, and an open-aired toilet facility! We had to buy a vandi of water everyday. Though we boiled it scrupulously before using it for cooking, one of us ended up with jaundice and others with dysentery.
All my flowering plants and bulbs like the dahlias, lilies and rose cuttings I had brought from Bangalore withered and died. We spent a rather despairing month at that house. We moved five more times in the next five years. Now, our family had increased to include three more aunts-in-law aged 65, 70 and 96!
In 1960, one of our friends offered to sell their bungalow on Trichy Road to us. My husband had plans to establish a factory; so, instead of buying it, we took it on rent. It was called Homeleigh with more than an acre-and-a-half of compound. We lived there happily for the next 55 years. My husband I ran our business and also a free playschool for underprivileged kids at the back of the house for almost 20 years. I also learnt to manage a milk dairy with about 20 beautiful cows in the same compound.
While middle-class homes were hard to come by in Coimbatore, mill-owners and industrialists lived in beautiful bungalows with their extended families. Today, there are hundreds of apartments, one better than the other. But are they enough for the hundreds still pouring into the city as they find Coimbatore's salubrious climate, conservative lifestyle, good education and business facilities to their advantage?
There was just one vegetarian hotel in town called Woodlands. I remember J.M English Bakery with its good pastries and famous Japanese cakes. Today, there are eateries at every corner and splendid five star hotels have sprung up. Even the Taj has come to town.
Good hospitals were just coming up in the 1950s. And before we found a dentist for our family, we had to take the children to Bangalore every time an emergency arose! This happened till a doctor we knew who had trained abroad, returned as an orthodontist in 1965!
But today there are umpteen reputed hospitals specialising in allopathic treatment and we have world-class surgeons, specialists not only helping the local population but also much in demand for their remarkable treatment.
Schooling was no problem as there was the English-medium Stanes School and a couple of convents for girls who wanted to study in English. Two excellent colleges for agriculture and forestry were started in the early 1900s by the British.
And we must be thankful to the business community of Coimbatore for allotting so much of their profits into establishing more schools and colleges and helping education flourish.
I first joined the local Y.W.C.A at the Coimbatore Ladies Club. Later, when the English Club opened its membership to Indians, we were one of its first members. Once most of the English members retired and returned to their countries, we were able to change the name to the Coimbatore Club and enjoy its excellent facilities.
I have directed and produced plays of the Coimbatore Book Club Theatre Group for many years. I had trained with noted writer-director and dramatist Adi Marzban between 1944 and 1946 in Bombay and that is how my enthusiasm for theatre blossomed. And since childhood I loved mimicry and theatre.
In 1953 I played the role of Kannagi in “The Anklet” that Kasthuri Sreenivasan adapted from Silappadhikaaram. The AnkletI produced the same play in 2010!
Shopping in the city was a problem for me because I did not speak Tamil. There was a store called Dasai Gounder & Co that used to stock everything on earth and they knew a bit of English.
I remember once, one of the aunts needed a pumice stone to smoothen her heels and when I asked the attendant for it, he cheerfully handed over a Primus stove! That was when I decided I had to learn Tamil and fast. Today I can read and write Tamil well.
Dhinoo Hataria Born in 1925, she fell in love with theatre after she was trained by the famous writer-director and dramatist Adi Marzban.
When she came to Coimbatore she pursued this love and spearheaded many theatre productions in the city. She still continues to direct and advise theatre enthusiasts in the city. She is still a pivotal member of the Coimbatore Book Club Theatre Group
There were no hair-dressers in town back then. Ladies with bobbed hair would go to Ooty to have their hair trimmed. Today, there are beauty parlours and hair-dressers in plenty and in surrounding villages too. I have often seen some lady mill workers with their hair still covered in cotton fluff bargaining enthusiastically about buying beauty products for themselves.