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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Memories of Coimbatore: Women in action

Shashi Ghulati during a photoshoot Photo: K. Ananthan
Shashi Ghulati during a photoshoot Photo: K. Ananthan
I migrated from Calcutta to Coimbatore in 1964 after my husband Sagar decided to quit Hooghly Pilot Service to start his own business. Since I grew up in Madras in the 40s and 50s, moving to Coimbatore was a sort of homecoming for me. The city was an overgrown village back then. The hills in the periphery of the city gave one a feeling of being in a hill station. And yes, the salubrious climate! It was one of the major reasons why we chose to settle down in Coimbatore even after experiencing the exciting lifestyle of Calcutta.
I distinctly remember the level crossings on Avanashi Road and Cross Cut Road. The flyovers did not exist then. These crossings tested our patience especially when we had to get our kids to school on time!
When we moved to our first home at Siddhanaidu Layout, I would drive past the Kamarajapuram sweeper colony. The area housed municipal workers and cobblers. The roads were lined with numerous huts and they were very badly maintained. I wanted to do something about it. I became a member of YWCA and proposed an idea of starting a community centre at Kamarajapuram. The then President of YWCA, Dr. Rangala and Secretary Hepzibah were receptive to it.
Literacy drive
With the municipality's support, we restored a dilapidated reading room in the locality and started a crèche, nursery and a tailoring unit. Adult literacy classes were started for women in Kamarajapuram and they are functioning even today.
The very first Ladies Circle in India was founded in Coimbatore in 1968. The wives of members of Round Table No. 9 in the city formed it. I was the Founder President. The Ladies Circle helped organise recreational activities for children in Kamarajapuram, set up kitchen gardens and volleyball training sessions.
I remember the time I visited Stanes School to enrol my son there. The school had an expanse of open land. There were not many trees. Strong gusts of wind raised waves of dust in the school. Reverend H.O. Fowler of Stanes was a very genial man. His wife, Alda Fowler and V. Amritham didn't let me miss Calcutta at all.
In 1966, the members of the Society for the Aid of Handicapped Children started the Coimbatore Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Centre at Krishnasamy Mudaliar Road. Alda, Amritham, Dotty Boppayya and I were the first office bearers of this centre, which is now ‘Amrit Centre for Special Needs' on Mettupalayam Road.
In January 1984, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) was founded in New Delhi. In November 1985, Dr. Deborah Thiagarajan, then State Convenor of INTACH, Tamil Nadu, invited me to found a chapter at Coimbatore. In August 1986, this chapter was formed. Till 1995, our initiatives included documenting and listing several public structures in the city. We fought for the restoration of the Victoria Town Hall, which was being used as a godown.
Awareness campaigns
In 1987, 88, 90 and 92, National Environment Awareness Campaigns were held for a period of four months each. These addressed issues involving pollution of rivers Bhavani and Cauvery, the Noyyal tank, and the ground waters of Tirupur due to industrial and sewage effluents.
INTACH Coimbatore pioneered legal action to save the Bhavani River with a PIL in the Supreme Court.
In the early 70s, Coimbatore had the privilege of playing host to Mother Teresa twice. During her first visit, I had the opportunity to meet her. She expressed her desire to do something for the homeless in the city. She wasn't ready for any sort of civic reception then.
Nuns from the Missionaries of Charities came down to Coimbatore to set up Nirmal Hriday and Sishu Bhavan near Carmel Garden School. As members of Ladies Circle No. 1, we invited the nuns to volunteer at a home for juvenile delinquents near Lakshmi Mills.
During Mother's second visit, a huge gathering was organised for her at the grounds in Carmel Garden. But the most exciting thing for me was that I got to be her chauffeur! 
source: The Hindu

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