Nagpur: Yesterday, amongst the shops demolished in Sitabaldi after SC order, the kitchen and entire first floor of an iconic and popular Vishranti Gruha were brought down too.
It was 97 years ago that Vishranti Gruha first opened its shutters for customers.
It was not just the city’s but probably entire Central India’s first South Indian restaurant to come being.
More importantly it was started at the instance of the great C.V. Raman who was posted in Nagpur for some months by the then British Government.
Some years ago, we at Nagpur Today, went on a quest to search for Nagpur’s Heritage restaurants and in looking for the city’s oldest South Indian/ Udipi eatery we came across Vishranti Gruha!
This is what we had written about this restaurant three years ago:
“Indira Gandhi, as we fondly remember was a connoisseur of local arts, craft and culture. She celebrated anything that was truly Indian and ethnic.
So guess where she preferred to eat when she was in Nagpur in the 1970s when she coined that famous motto which reverberated throughout the country? Garibi Hatao!!!
She chose to eat at Nagpur’s first authentic South Indian joint Vishranti Gruha situated on Sitabaldi main road!
May be she had heard that this place was started at the instance of the world famous Scientist C.V. Raman when he too had a brief sojourn in the city (we know she admired and looked up to scientists too.) Or may be she knew that when the Congress party meet was held in Nagpur in the 1940s, veteran Tamil leader Kamraj – also known as Kingmaker, in her case Queen maker, had his daily breakfast parceled from this joint? In fact Balan, present owner of Vishranti Gruha remembers sending parcels to many leading politicians, film stars and other luminaries like Ashok Kumar over the many years it has been in existence.
Which is precisely 95 years ago this year!!!
It was in 1922 that a young C.V. Raman came to Nagpur and was disgusted with the stale, oily ‘wada’ , topped with deadly looking ‘tarri’ he was served at an eatery. He immediately instructed his own cook Rama Iyer, who had accompanied him to begin a small restaurant serving fresh, healthy and athentic south Indian ‘tiffin’ ( as idli, dosa, upma etc. are called) to the good Nagpur folks!
Though Rama Iyer’s heart was in his native village of Kerala he complied with the instructions and began such a restaurant in Mahal first, and then shifted to Sitabaldi.
“Nagpur people had never seen or tasted South Indian food before – not the soft idlis, nor the crisp dosas, pungent sambar or delicious green coconut chutney. (In fact the use of fresh coconut in cooking was a practise not followed at all then – fresh coconut was used for pujas only, dried coconut was used to make gravies… this custom is still there.)
But Nagpurians were, are and will always be discerning Foodies! They ‘gobbled’ up this new food with relish and it grew in popularity real fast.
“Within a decade or so, we used to get so crowded on Sundays and holidays with families coming from all over the city to enjoy our food, that police had to stand on the road and control traffic and stop mobs from rioting.
Our Manager used to stand at the door and allow fixed number in, as the inside people exited.
‘Char nikale, char ko chodo andar’ he would say” remembers Balan with a chuckle.
By the mid 1930s Rama Iyer could not keep away from his home place any longer and handed over Vishranti Gruha to his most trusted employee A.S. Mani Iyer who had come as a teenager to Nagpur to help out ‘uncle’ Rama.
“He first washed dishes, then kept the hotel clean and finally was allowed in the kitchen to learn cooking. He loved it and very soon became an excellent cook! Probably that is why he was chosen as new owner of Vishranti Gruha.” Remembers his son Balan.
Vishranti Gruha lost its kitchen and almost 50% space in the demolition drive carried out yesterday to make way for the Glocal Mall.
This project was envisioned many decades ago when the well known Chandrashekhar, IAS officer was Commissioner of Nagpur. The objectives of the project were to better manage the crowds and traffic snarls of that area and provide ample parking space for 2 wheelers and 4 wheelers.
Fighting for their existence, some shop keepers of Sitabaldi main road whose plots were going to be acquired had gone to the High court for relief. The H.C. ruled in their favour after which the Builder and NMC/ NIT had appealed in the Supreme Court. The S.C ruled in their favour last week.
Change is the only constant we understand, but institutes and establishments that have a long historical value and have our emotions attached with them should be preserved for posterity too!
“My father began running this place many years ago and I have been looking after it for some time… Vishranti Gruha will turn 100 in 3 years. I wish to keep it running at least till then, though it is going to be very difficult. We have lost our entire kitchen and first floor. It will be difficult to run it profitably in the remaining constrained place. But my family will keep on trying… We are not willing to give up hope.”
We, the Heritage lovers and Foodies of Nagpur hope that even when the new mall comes up, places such as this find pride of place so that they exist for not just 100 years but 200!!
.. Sunita Mudliyar – Ex Editor