Mittai Theruvu, now known as SM Street, holds a sweet spot in every Kozhikode native’s heart. It also sells the best ghee halwas.

Black and white photo of SM Street in Kozhikode with lights on top Image courtesy: Facebook/Hari Krishna Prasad
Features History Saturday, February 13, 2021 - 14:54

They say if a writer falls in love with you, you are forever immortalised. These words and a statue of writer SK Pottekkatt in Kozhikode's SM Street stand testimony to a glorious love story. Pottekkat’s lover was no woman, but the 500-year-old ‘Mittai Theruvu’ or the ‘street of sweets’ in Kozhikode which he made immortal through his words. In his 1960s book Oru Theruvinte Katha, Mittai Theruvu, now known as SM Street, is the protagonist — a steady presence in a literary land where many quirky characters come and go.

Most Kozhikode natives have a sweet place in their hearts for SM Street, complete with its narrow cobblestone pavement and old halwa shops. A road which goes back to the time of the Zamorin rule, the Mittai Theruvu is probably among the oldest markets or trading hubs in Kerala, existing for 500 years now. And for Kozhikode, which has rich links to its past, this theruvu ties together many nostalgic stories and historical events, forming the collective memories of a city.

There’s a story behind how the street got its name, says Swamy Natarajan, a third generation owner of Swamy and Sons coffee store, and a history buff who has traced the past of the street. “The market came up with many sweet sellers setting up halwa shops. The classic red ghee halwa was everywhere and according to SK Pottekkatt, the sweet halwa looked like a cut of meat, prompting the British to name the street 'Sweet Meat Street'," he says. Thus the name 'sweetmeat' stuck, and over time, it was shortened to SM Street. It still has many of the old halwa shops from where you can pick up the best Kozhikodan Ghee Halwa in a variety of colours. 

A river which birthed a street

Legend has it that a river flowed parallel to the street centuries ago. Back then, it was the custom in the Malabar region to pay respects to the deceased members of the family by offering bali (a rice offering done on palm leaves). Balis are performed during full moon days and also during important festivals. 

“Be it Onam, Vishu, the auspicious month of Karkidakam etc., people used to come to this river and offer bali under a Banyan (Aal maram) or Fig tree (Athi maram),” Swamy adds. Although the story remains unverified, it is believed that the banks of the river had several Athi marams as it is known as Athi Kottaparambu now. 

While going back after offering bali, many people would stop to buy fried banana chips or sweets. This is believed to have led to sweet shops springing up everywhere in the area. Earlier, SM Street stretched out from the Kozhikode Railway Station to Manachira Maidanam or square.

Years later, during the time of the British rule, a decision was made to build a railway station in Kozhikode, as the nearest station was at Beypore. This led to railway lines being built in the place where the river had dried up. 

Gujaratis and textile shops

The flourishing trade centre had space not only for locals. When Gujarati traders landed up in Kozhikode from Ahmedabad centuries ago, the Zamorin ruler gave them places to set up shop to the south of the palace compound. 

“The Gujarati traders brought cloth from mills across Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat etc., and sold it in Kozhikode. At the time, Kerala had no cloth mills,” says Natarajan. Even before the Gujarati community's arrival, the Zoroastrians or Parsis had already come to Kozhikode and started different businesses. Proof of this is the Parsi prayer hall and burial ground that still exist on SM Street. 

“The Zamorin was a generous ruler and offered land to all those who arrived in Kozhikode. For the Parsi community, he gave a space to bury their dead to the southern side of the palace. The place exists to date and is called the Parsi Anjuman Baug,” Natarajan explains.

Image courtesy: Facebook/ SM Street Calcity city 

The Parsis who settled in Kozhikode practised different businesses. Some started ice plants, others were bankers and so on. Today, a lone family in Kozhikode keeps the city’s Parsi links alive. Darius P Marshall and his family, including sons, are as Malayali as they can get. However, they also continue their Parsi customs and speak the language fluently. The Marshall family also owns an automobile store on the Vellayil road in Kozhikode. But unlike the Gujarati community which still thrives in the city, most of Kozhikode’s Parsi links have now disappeared. 

“SM Street has so many Gujarati stores. Right next to the street is a Gujarati street dedicated to these vendors from the north,” Swamy adds. Be it Gujaratis or the locals, they all sell Kerala snacks such as ghee halwa and banana chips on the street. “There is a Krishna Maharaj sweet shop and a Sankaran bakery on the same road which both sell authentic snacks like any other shop on SM Street,” says Rupesh Koliyoth, who runs Arya Bhavan, a hotel which has been on SM Street for over 90 years now. 

Arya Bhavan was founded by Rupesh’s grandfather Imbachan Moopar who leased the building out from a Mumbai based businessman Sait Nagjee Purushotham. Over the years, Rupesh’s family bought the building and began running the business. For nearly a century now, Arya Bhavan has been serving traditional south Indian meals and tiffin to its loyal customers. 

Oru Theruvinte Katha engraving at SM Street. Courtesy: Facebook/Calicut city 

“Right next to Arya Bhavan was the Huzoor’s meeting hall or Huzur Cutchery, which was the headquarters of the East India Company and later the Malabar Presidency. The Huzur, who was a collector appointed by the British, would hear complaints from this hall,” Roopesh adds. However, throughout the 1800s and the early 1900s, the cutchery was shifted back and forth in Kozhikode. For a brief period, the Huzur Cutchery was located in Mananchira, right next to Arya Bhavan. This building was later demolished and in its place now stands a mammoth office building of the LIC. 

Arya Bhavan hotel on SM Street 

“During this period, Mittai Theruvu’s name was changed to Huzur Road. After the collectorate shifted to a new location, the road went back to its original name,” Roopesh says. 

Freedom struggle and protests

The iconic road has also witnessed many protest marches during the freedom movement. Several prominent freedom fighters from Kozhikode, including Kozhipurath Madhava Menon, AV Kuttimalu Amma, E Moidu Moulavi, an Islamic scholar and Indian National Congress leader, and others held protest marches to the Huzur. Decades later, the road still sees protests and gatherings for important social causes, Swamy adds. 

Facelift

Today, SM Street only retains vestiges of its past. Barring iconic shops such as KR Brothers Stationery store, Swamy’s coffee shop, old halwa shops such as Sankaran’s, and City Opticals (an old eyewear shop), most of the road is now taken up by new shop fronts including retail outlets, gift shops, books and stationery and stores selling knick-knacks.  The road has also undergone many facelifts and reopenings over the years, one as recent as 2017. 

However, the street is still famous for offering vintage trinkets and even old spare parts which may not be available elsewhere. “If you want to find any parts of your old camera, record player, anything vintage, you might just want to look on SM Street as the market there can surprise you. No wonder, there’s a saying that apart from your parents, you can find pretty much anything in this market,” Swamy says with a laugh. 

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