72-year-old resident recalls how Velacheri used to be in earlier days

V S Vijayaraghavan

Chennai: The neighbourhood has undergone a sea of change. There was a time when Velacheri was a sleepy village, brimming with water and greenery. There were quarries, ponds, kuttais and lakes.

V S Vijayaraghavan (72), a social worker and founding member of Dhandeeswaram Nagar Residents’ Welfare Association, is a long-time resident. Right from his grandparents’s generation, his family has been living in Velacheri.

In a conversation with News Today, he recalls that this place was called ‘Veda Sreni’ – land of Veda Samrakshanam, homams and sacrifices. “It was a pure place. There is a hearsay that there used to be an underground tunnel connecting the shrine at Dhandeeswaram to the Marundeeswarar temple at Thiruvanmiyur. This must have been 1,000 years ago,” he says.

But what is missing today in the neighbourhood, according to Vijayaraghavan, is its green cover and waterbodies. He says he misses seeing poovarasam maram (portia tree) the most and that the surrounding areas used to be filled with these trees. “Years ago, the Velacheri lake extended till Maduvankarai Road, but now it is merely 55 acres,” he says shaking his head.

Being a retired employee of Oriental Insurance, he was involved in Union activities from his younger days. Decades ago, he says, people were united and very concerned about the environment. “In the ’70s, those belonging to a powerful political party began building huts on the banks of Velacheri lake. But we fought and got them removed. We residents didn’t give in and came forward voluntarily to save our lake. I was a part of an NGO that campaigned for waste segregation to keep the area clean, but this is not the case today. People do not cooperate much,” he sighs.

One of his fondest memories of the neighbourhood is when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the Tidel Park in the year 2000. Vijayaraghavan also opines that the area was better under the Panchayat. “All these roadside taps were put by them, things changed when the Corporation took over. Today, in the place of ponds and quarries, government offices and banks have come up,” he rues.