Saturday, July 1, 2023

Post-rain recce

You don't need to read this blog to figure out that the weather patterns everywhere are going through some shifts. Chennai's weather has also been cranky. Even though there would be a few days with sharp showers in June, the past month has actually had people thinking about the weather as being a factor in their plans. 

On one such day, we had a mongoose in our next door apartment complex come around to take a look. He must have been quite satisfied with the way things were. Wet weather on a day or five can't change his plans significantly!

Friday, June 30, 2023

School gate

This was early on a Saturday morning in May. Just after 7 AM. It was not the earliness of the hour. It was May, the season of school holidays and the reason for this space being largely vehicle-free. 

For the gate you see over there is the entrance to the Chettinad Vidyashram, one of Chennai's sought-after schools. It was founded much after my school days were over, so I am not able to bring up a school-boy's perspective of the kind of school it was. But I remember hearing about how it encouraged a whole lot of activities, within and outside the curriculum. There were horse-riding classes as well, probably channelling the connection the Chettinad royals have with turf clubs. The one thing that stood out about this school was that it had a large number of students (and staff, too) - almost in 5-digits, though I have not been able to validate that. 

The other aspect that is striking about the school is that it does not seem to be overly concerned about preparing students for the typical career paths (at least among its comparator schools) of engineering and medicine. The school does have special coaching streams for the IIT-JEEs and the NEET, but it seems more happy to let the children discover what they are good at and follow that lead. So much so that a list of the school's notable alumni has a larger proportion of actors, musicians and sportspeople than usual. Maybe that's the best indicator of the school's motto: "The Golden Mean" being put into practice!


Thursday, June 29, 2023

Deadline nears

Even though the RERA Act of 2016 mandates the declaration of an estimated completion date for a real estate project, it does not require that date to be displayed so publicly. But having taken a position of building "Timeless Homes", DRA Homes could not allow it to be treated casually. I assume that is one reason why they decided to put this sign up on their project in Lady Madhavan Nair Colony, Nungambakkam. 

To my untrained eye, it looks like there is still a lot to be done before this building can be lived in. And yet, the sign says very confidently that the completion date is just a day away. I hope they can do it, without having to cut any corners!

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

All-round education

It might not sound like a big thing today, to have a society that is focused on educating boys and girls alike, but set up at a time when girls' access to formal education was minimal, this was a path-breaking effort. But P.S. Sivaswami Ayyar was such a path-breaking man. He started off with establishing a school for boys in his hometown at Tirukattupalli in Thanjavur, but he very quickly also established (rather, rescued) a girls' school in Madras, naming it after his wife. 

His 125th birth anniversary was celebrated in 1989 with the founding of a co-educational school that bears his name: Sir Sivaswami Kalalaya Senior Secondary School in Mylapore. A couple of years later, the Sir Sivaswami Kalalaya Higher Secondary School was also established in Mylapore.

Make that four. The society that he set up, The National Boys and Girls Education Society, which runs the three schools has set up The Radha Swamy Centre of Excellence in Mandaveli last year. This Centre is intended to offer experiential learning facilities to the students of the three schools, including their study of the performing arts, high performance training for table-tennis, special coaching for competitive exams and also a centre for Indic games. Which means this playfield in Mylapore will continue to be the place for the students to hone their skills in outdoor sports!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

On my mind

If you are a fan of Chennai, this book would be part of your library already. 

If you are a newcomer to the city, this would be a wonderful way to get under the skin of the city that you're now in. A collection of some of the articles about Chennai's past, published as a regular column in The Hindu between 2008 and 2011, this volume will give you perspectives from not just the writers themselves, but also memories of some prominent residents of Madras. 

Read it. And fall in love with the city once again!

Monday, June 26, 2023

Port view

That's all there is to it. A view of the harbour inside the Port of Chennai.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Rear view

As you enter Anna Nagar from the Koyambedu side of an evening, you cannot miss the multi-coloured tower of the VR Mall. Make that in plural, even though the traffic does not allow your eyes to wander around to spot the other towers. 

Meant to evoke the temple gopurams that are unique to Tamil Nadu, the multi-coloured towers of the Mall define its entrances. The temple theme is carried on into the mall itself, with its huge temple doors, a massive bell that hangs just inside one of the entrances and similar iconography, the mall deserves a visit to just figure out what it is about. Shopping can wait.

This view is not crowded at all, because it is from inside a gated community adjoining the VR Mall. Walking down to our vehicle, I was struck by the contrast of the sterile white-light inside the complex with the warm and colourful glow from its neighbour!

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Not going

Something that gives me special joy these days is the sighting of a sparrow (Passer domesticus). But that is quite rare, as the bird is almost 'extinct' in city spaces. The reasons may be many, from rock-pigeons finding crannies in apartment blocks more convenient nesting places and thereby driving the sparrows out from their close-to-human haunts, to kolam becoming a lost art, thereby depriving these small fellas out of an early morning snack at the doorways of our houses. 

Despite not having been sighted in most of India's big cities for a long while, the range of this bird is quite vast and it therefore continues to be listed as a "Least Concern" by the IUCN in its Red List. 

This painting was on display at an exhibition last year. Even if it is not the sparrow itself, it is such a wonderfully done likeness that I left the place beaming!

Friday, June 23, 2023

Talent aplenty

This picture was taken a couple of days ago at the Chennai office of a data analytics firm. The office itself was very interesting - very open plan, with split level seating and the feeling of abundance as one walks through. 

On this mezzanine area, the posters are up, speakers are set and the console is all ready to be worked on. A couple of hours after this photo was taken, this spot was pulsating with the energy of several teams auditioning for a place in the finals of their company's "Got Talent" event. Chairs, except a few, were pushed aside for the employees to find place to watch their colleagues show off their moves. 

The finals is scheduled in mid-July. The teams need that time to put together a brand new set for their show and to rehearse it. It surely can't be held here - there will not be enough space for the cheering crowd!

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Landmark on the left

It started life as a small shop south of the 'periya gate' - the gated railway crossing between Kodambakkam and Nungambakkam - in 1952. Buildings did not go beyond the ground floor then and S. Chandrasekaran thought a small shop, with a sign over the entrance would suffice for the business he wanted to run. But he must also have been a thoughtful man, and probably one who was a little more learned than his contemporaries. 

He did not go with the norm of naming his store "Sekar Dresses" or "Sekar Clothing". In choosing the word 'Emporium' to go with his name, he was signalling his ambition to expand. Within a couple of decades, it did expand. More storeys were added to the building and it filled out a little more. For all the variety that Ranganathan Street, or Pondy Bazaar, across the Kodambakkam Bridge (the railroad was now traversed by a bridge, rather than a gate) had to offer, Sekar Emporium was the place to shop for residents of Kodambakkam and further south. 

It has grown to be a true emporium, offering much more than just textiles or dress materials. Cloth remains the mainstay, but the firm has branched off into groceries and consumer durables as well. All of those are around this building where it all started. The Sekar brand has not expanded geographically; with the third generation of the family now managing the business, they well might now. However, having stayed at this spot for over 70-years, it has outlived even the Liberty Cinema as the landmark for directions to Kodambakkam and beyond!


Wednesday, June 21, 2023


Last week, this would have been a super-tempting poster, but with that little bit of rain brining temperatures down, the desire for such thirst-quenchers is likely to have cooled off!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Pale substitute

The idea behind Drive 'N Eats is wonderful, even if it is not entirely new. The concept of sitting in your vehicle and having a meal was well established in Madras of olden days. When the first  such restaurant, the Woodland's Drive-in was opened in 1962, the number of vehicles would have been very few, so they also had a place where 'regular' folks could also sit down and have their fill. 

This one seems to have come at the problem from the other side. Every restaurant needs parking space; so why bother with putting up more infrastructure, when you can serve people at their wheels? But then, when this space on Luz Church Road came up in 2019, I mistook it for a parking space; noticed the sign only after a few more passes by the place. Before I could check it out, we had the pandemic lockdowns. A couple of years later, Chennai Metro's construction in this locality cut off easy access to this, and I haven't ventured to check it out since. 

Even with the attraction of a food-court inside - to rival the Woodies single-style menu - it will take a long while before this can claim the mantle of being Chennai's true drive-in restaurant!

Monday, June 19, 2023

Rather ignored

And so, with all the summer showers which have been happening since last morning, it is unlikely that anyone felt a craving for a glass of ice-tea today. 

But then, this looks inviting in any weather!


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Going anywhere!

I think it is fair enough to say that the Asiatic Lion would be about 1,350 km away from this sign. But why would the Wild Water Buffalo (I assume that's the last one on the sign be so much farther away? Even a twisting and turning road+rail route to Manas National Park from Chennai shows up to be only 2,500 km; a crow could cut off much more than 20% of that, as it flies there from Chennai!

The mystery continues with the pictures of the Monitor Lizard and the Mugger, at 900 km away from here. That would put them somewhere in the middle of the border between the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean!

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Rains, anyone?

An old photo of the Raintree on Mount Road

Looks like it is going to rain tomorrow - at least that's what the forecasts say. The rain itself is secondary; if there is some way by which temperatures come down a few degrees, we will all be glad for that!

Friday, June 16, 2023


The renowned dancers Srikanth and Ashwathy performing at the Narada Gana Sabha about 6 months ago. 

Watch out for their next performance - not to be missed!

Thursday, June 15, 2023


Unlike that TV-journalist who was pretending to be covering Cyclone Biparjoy, this one makes no claims. 

All papier-mâché, she just sits unconcerned in the middle of an exhibition hall, while around her swirl people. The 'wind' seems to be from one direction only!


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Should circulate

That is the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH), across the road from the Chennai Central station. It has been providing medical care from this space since the late eighteenth century, when John Sullivan, a writer at Fort St George, won the tender for constructing a hospital capable of receiving and accommodating "500 men and 30 officers". 

One of the facilities we take for granted in hospitals now is a blood bank. But that part of the medical profession is very recent. It was only in 1937 that Bernard Fantus of the Cook County Hospital in Chicago began refrigerating donors' blood, naming it a 'Blood Bank'. Following upon the work of Dr. Charles Drew, who oversaw the large-scale shipment of blood plasma to UK in the 1940s, the nature of blood banking changed. 

Today, large blood banks are commonplace in many hospitals. The RGGGH in Chennai has the largest one in the state. It is one of the nearly 3,000 blood banks across the country, most (~75%) of which are public / not-for-profit operations. Despite their best efforts, they are not able to meet the demand for blood. Projected at 14.6 million blood units for this year, demand outstrips supply by over 1 million units. On this day - the World Blood Donor day - go over to register as a donor here and make sure you do your bit to reduce that shortage!

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Other end

From a celebration of Kashmiri culture at Kalakshetra earlier this year. Apparently the river Jhelum was earlier called the Vitasta - the ever-flowing one. 

There were quite a few people who seemed to be of Kashmiri origin in the audience. Should not be surprising; the most well-heard of such Chennai resident has been here for at least 25 years, if not longer. Any guesses on who I'm referring to?

Monday, June 12, 2023


The address of this institution locates it at 1, Prakasam Salai, which was earlier - much earlier - called Popham's Broadway. But it also has had a hand in bestowing a name to one of the roads nearby, just around the corner, so to say. The 8-acre campus of the Bharathi Women's College is flanked by the Old Jail Road on its northern side. 

Not meeting debt obligations seems to have been a very high crime in late 17th century Madras. It seems to have been bad enough for the British to establish a civil Debtors' Prison in Fort St George. Much later, this Debtors' Prison moved out of the Fort, ending up in these buildings on Broadway. By the 1800s, the prison had gone beyond being just for debtors into a larger scale. It served as the main jail of Madras until the Central Jail was built across the road from the Central Station. That being the new jail, the Debtors' Prison came to be referred to as the 'Old Jail'. 

Sometime after Independence, probably in the 1950s, the Central Jail became the only jail in the city. The inmates of this building were also moved there and these premises were used for housing various educational institutions, culminating in the Bharathi Women's College in 1964. It is somehow very odd that former prisons have given way to supporting education for women.  Apart from this one, the 'new' jail gave way to the Women's Hostel of the Madras Medical College!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Clear road

Well, this was taken on a Saturday morning, so it is good that there is almost no traffic here.

Greenways Road is usually busy, but even then, traffic is kept moving on this stretch, especially because of the residents here - the judges of the Madras High Court, the General Manager of the State Bank of India, a few ministers... 

None of them seems to be up and about so early!

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Morning light

This road in Kodambakkam is usually a low-traffic zone. But with changes to traffic flow on Arcot Road due to the Chennai Metro's construction, the volume of traffic close to this road has increased considerably. 

Sometimes, a driver who does not entirely believe in the Metro's signs tries his luck in finding a shorter route. One through Dr. Gopala Menon Road (this one, yes.) might have been possible a few years ago, but with a new flyover shutting off one end of the road, it is a bit of a challenge using this road to save time!

Friday, June 9, 2023

Catch the light

If you did not know that Chennai, over the course of its history from 1639, has had 4 lighthouses serving the city. The first was just a flame lit on top of the Exchange House in Fort St George (now the Fort Museum) and the second was atop a Doric column which is now on the premises of the Madras High Court. The third was a grander affair, right on top of the buildings of the Madras High Court itself. The one in use now was commissioned in 1977 and it has another 38 years to go before it beats its predecessor's record of the longest-serving lighthouse of the city. 

You can barely make out the red-and-white structure of the lighthouse in this picture. And it is not usual to get this kind of a view of our lighthouse. This photo was taken from a second-floor window of the All India Radio station in Santhome. 

Do you think they'd get to see the light beam from here?

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Talk to me

I don't remember what kind of a shop this is, but it is wonderful how a small space has been converted into a niche business. I will hazard a guess that this is some kind of an apothecary's shop. It looks as if the man would climb over his 'work-desk' after he opens the business of a morning, always taking care to leave his footwear outside. 

Once he gets inside, he makes sure he puts out that small metal stool - an invitation for his customers to take the weight off their feet while they talk to him about their ailments. Maybe physical, maybe just the need to unburden themselves. 

I hope they go back with some panacea for their illness. This may not be a financially thriving business, but in helping people cope, it must be an absolutely necessary one!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Game on

It is the opening day of the Final of ICC's World Test Championship. We could be doing better than what currently is happening. But then, they've left out Ravichandran Ashwin, Chennai's own lad from the match.

Thinking of better times, like playing a friendly match in a B-School Alumni tournament from a few years ago. This is the IIT-Chemplast Ground inside the IIT Madras. Maybe it is nothing like the Oval; but this is also exciting cricket!

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Connecting line

That is a very nice view of the eastern sky from inside Tholkappiyar Poonga. 

If you're able to see something like a straight line from the white cloud at the centre, worry not. It is indeed a line made of water vapour, from a jet flying rather high. It was a rare thrill to be able to spot one of these jets riding on water vapour, but I guess it has become the norm these days. 

Are you able to spot the contrail in the picture?

Monday, June 5, 2023

Those squares

The Chennai Circle Office of the Canara Bank was earlier a rather dour building; it was nothing spectacular to look at, nor was it an eyesore. In some ways, it was presenting itself as quiet, efficient, businesslike - much like what one could expect a public sector bank to be. 

I cannot remember when these colours on its facade came up. The bank had undergone a change of identity many years ago - in 2007. Its earlier logo was a hand holding a flower, which was changed to two interlocked triangles. What that is meant to signify is hazy at the moment, but the triangles were coloured yellow and blue. There was some explanation for what the colours indicated, too, but that is beyond me now. 

These days the building on Anna Salai is quite distinctive in the evenings. Once the lights are up, you can't miss the bank with its yellow / blue lights. While I can't remember when this happened, I know it has been this way for quite a few months now. But it was only today, as I passed this that I thought: wait a minute, maybe this was also done for the Chess Olympiad? And sure enough, the building has the 8x8 grid of a chessboard!

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Changeover man

You are probably aware that the Corporation of Chennai is the second oldest in the world, having been established in September 1688. The office of its Mayor, would have had an unbroken 335 year streak had it not been for changes in the way the Corporation was structured and run. 

The first break happened thanks to the French. Between 1746 and 1748, when they had control over Fort St George, the Mayoralty of the city was suspended and for some reason, it was not restored until 1753. And then, for long stretches in the early part of the 19th century, the Corporation functioned without a Mayor. For a while, it was the Justice of Peace who played the Mayoral role, before a committee of three Municipal Commissioners collectively did it. The term was changed in 1886, and the head of the Corporation came to be called President. And then it was in 1933 that the title reverted to 'Mayor'. While that has remained the same, the office itself has been suspended twice since. The long stretch between 1973 and 1996 saw the Mayoralty suspended, as it was again for 6 years between 2016 and 2022. 

But this photo is of a statue at the end of Pantheon Road; it shows Mayor Thamarapakkam Sundara Rao Naidu. Even though his tenure was for a year, as was usual during the 1930s-1960s, Sundara Rao's was special. As Mayor between 1946 to 1947, it was he who saw the transition from the British Raj to independent India!


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Shore temple

There are some temples built along the sea coast, but I daresay those on banks of rivers would be more in number. Chennai has a few such, including one that is almost at the mouth of the Cooum. This one is hidden away inside Tholkappiyar Poonga; it appears that there is some arrangement by which worshippers can access it at specific times of the day. 

Angala Parameswari, who is the presiding - and sole - deity here is a kaaval deivam (guardian deity). In this form, the Goddess Parvati had chased down and killed an asura who had taken refuge inside a corpse in a burial ground. Angala Parameswari is therefore depicted with a waist-sash of human bones. 

These days, the Goddess is appeased with a few lemons stabbed on the tines of her trident; and there are at least 5 tridents in front of her sanctum - may those help Her in protecting us all!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Green light

One of those few photographs I have taken which has people in them. 

This is a place that deserves a post of its own; the Chennai Rail Museum at Perambur, where kids can get to ride a toy train. 

You've got the green light. Go!