Friday, October 24, 2014
The Dare House, at the corner of Rajaji Salai and NSC Bose Road, is the headquarters of the Murugappa Group. The Group's origins can in some way be traced back to a time when Chettiars were a significant presence in the traditional banking industry in Moulmein in South Burma. Legislation in Burma in the late 1940s made it difficult for them to continue there and they came back to India, setting up a business empire that is roughly $4 billion today.
From the top of Dare House, one can look down and across Rajaji Salai at another set of businessmen who also had to flee Burma during the 1960s. In 1964, the Ne Win government nationalised shops, which set small and marginal traders fleeing from the country. It is estimated that, during the '60s, almost 250,000 people of Indian origin fled Burma - and with over 90% of them being of Tamizh origin, Madras was one of the magnets for them to return to.
The official figure - one that is from 2001, though - is that 144,445 refugees have been rehabilitated in Tamil Nadu. Part of the rehabilitation programme was the Tamil Nadu government setting up shops for them just outside the Madras Beach railway station. That was in 1969 and over the years, the stretch has grown to roughly 200 shops, selling everything from A to Z. Known as Burma Bazaar, it has long enjoyed a reputation of being the go-to place for anything that is not allowed in through normal import channels. That reputation may be a bit dented now, but Burma Bazaar continues to be the magnet for things that regular stores would not be able to stock!