CHENNAI: The tendrils of time have crept around this cosy little outlet on Kutchery Road — it seems like time has stood still for a few hundred square feet. Antique-looking wooden almirahs, huge steel dabbas with multi-coloured natural medicines from the soil, powders, a wooden bench and a desk where a 57-year-old man sits — these are permanent fixtures of the Dabba Chetty Kadai country drug store on Kutchery Road, Mylapore.
“Does this contain athimadhuram? My throat aches so much. Does it contain thippili?” Asks an old woman as she slumps down on the bench and inspects a packet of brownish powder.
“Yes, it contains both. It’s a special mixture for cough and cold,” patiently explains K Badrinath, who runs the 130-year-old Dabba Chetti Kadai.
Before you scoff at those selling and buying old-world remedies in the age of western medicine, know this: this journalist had to wait for at least 15 customers to leave before he could squeeze in the first question.
“The specialty of naatu marundhu is that it has no side effects. It’ll do good if it can, otherwise it’ll just come out without causing harm,” explains Badrinath.
The store was set up by his great grandfather Krishnaswamy Chettiar in 1885 and Badrinath, now 57, has been working in the same spot since he was 18. “What can I take to reduce cholesterol?” asks a customer. Arugampul (Bermuda grass) and lavangapattai (cinnamon) are good,” suggests Badrinath.
Juggling his customers and this journalist, he says the shop may have got its name because the medicines were kept in dabbas. They still are — about 300 naatu marundhu items are neatly arranged in steel boxes, all the way to the back of the store. Most products are sourced from local traders, who in turn get them from Kerala, Andhra and states as far up as Madhya Pradesh.
“In the earlier days, only the raw materials were available. Now most of the items come in powdered form,” says the soft-spoken owner.
Rain seems to be no deterrent for customers. From those who come walking and buy kasthuri manjal for `4 to those who park their bikes and cars outside the quaint old shop and buy basket-fulls of medicine for `1,000, the clients are a motley crew.
“A lot of people come here for our special post-delivery medicine, for cold and cough and powders like paitha maavu, which people use while taking a a bath. There’s also the Deepavali legiyam which is very popular,” says Badrinath.
With the store running for three generations, one doesn’t know if it will last after Badrinath’s time. His first son is doing his CA degree, while the second is studying BCom. “We have to wait and see,” says Badrinath with a hint of a smile.