When arrack flowed freely on the sands

The shops on the Marina have been there for over seven decades, recall old-timers. “There were shops when Arignar Anna and MGR were the Chief Ministers. We have watched them drive past us and waved at them. No police or Corporation officials came threatening us,” said a former paan vendor, who sold “sweet beeda” behind the Gandhi Statue since the 1980s.

In the 1970s, a pack of peanuts used to be sold for 10 paise and a mango piece for just 2 paise. “There were not many vendors at that time. Peanuts, corn on the cob, raw mangoes and sharbat used to be what beach-goers would find and, that too, at select locations. Of course, the mobile murukku and sundal vendors were very much part of the ethos of the place, and these snacks continue to find a place on the sands,” said C. Ranganathan, who visits the Marina regularly.

There also used to be a time when the beach was known for the sale of sundakanji, a fermented rice brew made on the beach and buried under the sand. In the late 1980s, there have been many instances of arrack being found by the city police during raids.

Arrests, too, happened in areas, including Balaji Nagar and Rotary Nagar. Fishermen from some hamlets, including Urur and Olcott Kuppam, were also known to vend sundakanji, which was sold at ₹10 for a 300-ml sachet.

“When things began to get out of hand, the police intervened and raids were conducted on the homes of those brewing this drink. They were asked to stop the business and instead sell food on the Marina, which is how another section of people got into it,” said Kabaddi Maran of Nochikuppam.

Since many spots on the Marina and Besant Nagar beaches were not very populated after dark, they were also chosen by some beach-goers to consume alcohol.

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