All in the FAMILY
CHENNAI : It is hard to separate Tamil Nadu from the Telugus. The community has been a part of this state for so many centuries and generations, that it is almost impossible to differentiate where one culture ends and the other begins. And that is how most Telugus, who have made Chennai their home, feel.
The Telugu community's entrepreneurial skills are well-known , foraying into hotels, hospitals, movie studios, businesses and the textile industry. నల్లి కుప్పుసామి చెట్టి (Nalli Kuppusami Chetty), owner of the famous Nalli store, calls himself a Tamil though his impeccable Telugu might give him away. A Telugu Chettiar, who belongs to the weaving community of Padmasaliars, Kuppusami's origins lie in Kancheepuram, from where his grandfather నల్లి చిన్నసామి చెట్టి (Nalli Chinnasami Chetty), a weaver, came to set up the pioneering brand in the city in 1928.
His eldest son Ramanathan K Nalli, 49, looks into the export side of the business . "Youngsters do not think Nalli is a 'cool' brand," says Ramanathan. And that is what Nalli Next intends to address, with its selection of sarees that will convey the message of being hip. His daughter and president of Nalli, 23-year-old Lavanya R Nalli brought about the corporatisation of the family-run business. Her pet project , Lavanya Nalli, an independent venture , hopes to bridge the gap between luxury brands and mass retailers. "They will be designer saris without the designer tag. Right now, the market is only flooded with embellished sarees that pose as designer sarees," says Lavanya.
Part of the same weaving community is K Rajaram, 49, from Kumbakonam, who set up an exquisite silk sari boutique named after his wife in 1998, which is now well-known as Sundari Silks. Talking about the trade's challenges, Rajaram says, "Sadly, the cost of living has gone up, and everyone is interested in technology . Soon, power looms will take over."
"There is great demand but no supply ," says Nalli Kuppusami. "Weaving is skill-intensive and takes years of training , and very few are interested in continuing the tradition."
Competition and inflation also threatens the retail industry but it does not worry Aravind Ramaswamy, owner and MD of Naihaa, a unit of Naidu Hall. Naidu Hall was set up in 1939 by his grandfather M G Nehru, a tailor from Gudiyatham, which started by selling ready-made blouses and bras. Aravind joined the business when he was in class VIII to help his father Ramaswamy. From taking care of the whole marketing division to designing ad layouts, he relies on technology to take his business forward . The turning point was in 2001 when his father passed away. The business split in 2005, and with that he embarked on giving new meaning to the age-old brand. Decentralisation and expansion plans followed - there are now 11 Naihaa stores and 20 FG (Feel Good) shops, which are his brainchild. So are the women's lingerie store Mermaid, and the new baby store Bloo-Pink . Future projects include hotels, cafes and stationary shops. With the next-generation continuing to better their trade, the family businesses are in safe hands.
In the 70s, Casino theatre was the place to go for spine-chilling Hitchcock thrillers and Eastwood westerns. Today, the rundown theatre is frequented only by those who want to catch Telugu movies. Jayaseelan, manager, Casino, says the theatre has been screening only Telugu movies since 2003, playing four shows a day.
The mushrooming of multiplexes has hit the business of the single-screen Casino theatre. The theatre has screened blockbusters such as the Chiranjeevi-starrer , 'Shankar Dada MBBS' and Trisha's 'Pokiri' and 'Varsham' , and the recently released 'Ready' . "These days, if a movie runs for 25 days, it is equivalent to 100 days for us. We cannot afford the advance fee for either Tamil or English movies but by playing Telugu movies, we survive," says Jayaseelan. "If a Trisha movie is being screened, we get a large Tamil audience too. Otherwise only Telugus frequent this place," he says.
KNOW THE TELUGUS
The major influx of Telugus into the Madras province took place around the 15century under the rule of the famous Vijayanagara king, Krishna Devaraya The community is made up of several sects that include Kamma, Reddy, Raju, Vellamma, Kapu, Chettiars, Naidu, Brahmins who are into hospitality, healthcare, entertainment and judiciary For many Telugus, the ritual of tying the sacred thread or mangalsutra is secondary.
Foremost is the practice of applying జీలకర్ర బెల్లము (jeelakarra bellamu) - a paste made from cumin seeds and jaggery - on top of each other's heads which signifies the intricacies of marriage పప్పు చారు (Pappu charu) , a thinner, diluted version of sambar (without sambar podi) is the staple diet in most homes.
పెసరట్టు (Pesarattu) , a variant of dosa prepared from moong dal is a signature breakfast dish. It is often served with upma and known as MLA Pesarattu The pachadis and pickles of Andhra are equally popular; the most well-known being గోంగూర పచ్చడి (gongura pachadi) (made from a sour spinach) and the ఆవకాఇ (avakai) (mango) pickle The wafer-like పూతరేకులు (pootharekulu) , or paper sweet from Rajahmundry made from thin foils of rice paper interspersed with finely ground sugar is much relished by Telugus and non-Telugus . The West Godavari బొబ్బట్లు (bobatlu) or sweet puris made with maida and Bengal gram is another sweet that is sure to melt in your mouth