CHENNAI: A concoction of strong yet pleasant aromas of seeds, roots, spices, herbs, powders and dry fruits hits us as we enter 130-year-old K Ramasamy Chetty Nattu Marundhu Kadai (country drug store) in Park Town. The shop is abuzz with activity. A staff member tells a customer, “If you are looking for something for your skin problems, this will cure it,” pointing to the Thumbai powder (Leucas powder).
Suresh, the store’s fifth generation owner, while supervising the activities takes us on a tour of the shop, which has been selling nattu marundhu for over a century. “My great great grandfather registered the shop in 1888 but, he began selling these herbs and spices around 1865,” he shares.
As we walk up the spiral staircase which leads us to the storage space, he shows us gunny bags filled with heaps of various dry fruits and roots including jathikai, murungai, vettiver and maasikai. “Since we have been around for ages, people know that our products are effective. We also create awareness on various time-tested cures,” he says.
The sound of wooden drawers and glass cabinets, labelled with the names of respective powders and herbal oils stacked in them, being opened and closed frequently, is part of the background noise. “The store is always filled with customers. In fact, many people queue up outside the shop, even before we open the shutters,” he says.
The store sells ingredients to prepare medicines to treat various conditions including diabetes, kidney stones, joint pains, cancer (early stage), asthma and erectile dysfunction. “The raw materials are sourced from various parts of India including Madurai, Virudhunagar, Amritsar, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh,” he says.
Over a decade ago, these shops saw a dip in sales due to modern medicines and other alternative medicinal practices that crept into the market, but owners of these shops tell us that nattu marundhu is back! “The main reason people didn’t buy nattu marundhu was due to lack of awareness. Now, awareness is slowly increasing and they get to experience the goodness of such age-old medicines,” says Suresh.
Raja of Dhanalakshmi Nattu Marundhu Kadai in Aminjikarai concurs. “We have been running the store for three generations now. We have had our ups and lows in business but this particular period has been very good for us. From youngsters to senior citizens, everyone now prefer nattu marundhu. Parents come to buy products like sitharathai which is given to kids for cold and cough,” he shares.
The price of ingredients sold at these stores ranges from `5 to `2,000 and above. “We sell in grams and in kilos, so the price is according to the quantity. For instance, a few grams of multani mitti is just `5 in our store. So, people don’t necessarily have to buy in large quantities,” explains Suresh.
These shops boast of a diverse clientele. “Some people think that nattu marundhu is only for those who can’t afford modern medicines. That’s not so. We have celebrities — from small screen to silver screen and even politicians who buy medicines from us regularly,” shares Karthik, who runs a nattu marundhu kadai in Pallavaram.
While medicinal spices, herbs and lehiyams — thippili, sitharathai, milagu, vallarai and prasava lehiyam and Diwali lehiyam — were once the popular products, face packs and hair oils have become the new favourites, especially among youngsters. Shreedhar, proprietor of a shop in Adyar tells that most women IT professionals buy face packs in bulk. “They have to sit in front of the computer. They feel their skin is getting damaged and most start getting wrinkles at a young age. So, they buy different face packs and also some ingredients like Kiksili kizhangu, which is good for the skin,” he shares.
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