Saturday, November 22, 2014


The 'Muscleman' is certainly one of the icons of Madras. And after a week away, it is nice to be welcomed back by the city's icons!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Small auditorium

The M.CT.M. Chidambaram Chettyar Matriculation School was established in 1981 in Mylapore. The school has been at the same premises since then. But in 2002, there was an addition to the school buildings. The Smt Sivakami Pethachi Auditorium is a multipurpose performance space, which can house about 500 people. 

It was a few Sundays ago. Nithyasree Mahadevan was performing that evening. It was open to all, so no wonder that the hall was quite full!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Believe it or not, there is actually a law which is supposed to penalize those who 'disfigure' public places with 'advertisements' or 'objectionable advertisements'. The Chennai Metro has been trying to keep its pillars clean by scraping off the posters and cleaning any graffiti that appears on them. 

Wonder if this warning would fall under the purview of the Act it refers to!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Early morning, the clouds are running across the sky. And the dragonflies are also going crazy. There were hundreds of them flying around in the soft light of the morning, before the heat gets to them!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elevated rail

At about half-past-eight on a weekday, you would expect the traffic on Mount Road at Guindy to be much denser. Maybe it was just an off-day, for it seems to be quite light. 

The tracks of the Chennai Metro are seen, at a height from the road. Once it is in operation, it is expected to further reduce the traffic congestion. On the evidence of this picture, there doesn't seem to be much need for it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bank office

When the banking sector was nationalised in India, fourteen commercial banks ended up in the hands of the Government of India. Of those, there were two that had been established in Madras - the Indian Overseas Bank and the Indian Bank. The latter was set up in 1907, following the crash of the Arbuthnot Bank, by V.Krishnaswamy Iyer, a lawyer of the Madras High Court. He was the moving force behind the Indian Bank, though it was sustained by Ramaswamy Chettiar and later, his younger brother Annamalai Chettiar.

Initially headquartered in George Town - the commercial hub of Madras - the bank moved to Royapettah much later. This new building came up less than 10 years ago; the bustle of Avvai Shanmugham Salai seems a rather unlikely location for the headquarters of one of India's largest banks; but there it is! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Half and half

Half in the sun, and half in the shade. And the cows doing the same as well. This is certainly within the limits of Chennai city; don't let the cows fool you into thinking otherwise.

It is common practice in Chennai to have at least a shrine, if not a temple itself, for Vinayagar at the top of the 'T' where two streets intersect. The temple at this intersection of Vellala Street and Audiappa Street (from which we are approaching the temple) is dedicated to Karpaga Vinayagar. 

There is nothing remarkable about this temple. It is a recent one and is pretty much like hundreds of other temples in the city. Just that the half-light on it made it look interesting, that's all!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saving water

It has been a little over a dozen years since the Tamil Nadu government amended the Chennai Metropolitan Area Groundwater (Regulation) Act of 1987. That amendment was carried through in a kind of tearing hurry, as the city's water reserves were almost exhausted. The law now required all buildings to ensure that they had made provisions for rainwater harvesting (RWH) and there was a phase of six months when the implementation was carried out vigourously. Buildings that passed muster had to have a notification indicating compliance displayed on their wall.

Most buildings displayed the notification in a discreet manner. Not this one, which has proudly proclaimed its status on this. For a moment, that basin seemed to be one of the components of the RWH process; but no, it is just a decorative piece - it doesn't even seem to hold the little bit of rainwater that has fallen into it!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Back gate

This was once the rear entrance to the students hostel of the Presidency College. The main entrance was on the Buckingham Canal, across the canal from the College itself. Of course, at the time this was constructed, the main entrance would have very scenic; open space, with the canal coursing through it. Across the water, the red-brick buildings of the College, with a hint of the beach, and the sea, beyond. 

These days, the Canal is more like a ditch. The MRTS blocks the clear view to the east of the hostel. I haven't tried the access to the hostel from the college, but chances are it is easier for the students to walk around and get in to their rooms through this gate!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kerala cutting

Why do so many hair dressers in Chennai refer to Kerala in their names? Is it only because the founder is from Kerala? Or is there something more to it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Oh really?

I don't know what it means. I don't know if it is a promise or a threat. I don't know what 'Singappore' is. 

You go ahead, change your food style. And wait for the plate!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

By the way

"Ninaivale silai..." was a lovely song from 'Andaman Kadhali', a late 1970s film. The song was very popular in those days and it also attracted a controversy. There was a good deal of outrage over the pronunciation of the word "திருக்கோவிலே" (Thirukkovile - holy temple) in the song. It was claimed that the singer K.J. Yesudas was unable to say it correctly and that he sung it as "தெருக்கோவிலே" (Therukkovile - street temple), which somehow denigrated the temple.

It was that song which came to my mind when I saw this arch, leading to a temple. Although I did not go inside, I am sure this  would have been around in the 1970s. As you can make out, the temple does not seem to have any wall in front of it. You just walk off the street into the temple's foyer; and the main deities can be viewed - and prayed to - from the street itself, if you wish. 

The arch says "அருள்மிகு திருவீதியம்மன் ஆலயம்". (Sacred Holy-street-amman Temple), using a synonym of 'தெரு' for street; so, when it has taken over the entire street, it is okay to call it a street temple, I guess!

Monday, November 10, 2014


The seated Buddha greets you at the entrance to the buildings of the Great Lakes Institute of Management in Manamai. Are symbols associated with the Buddha ubiquitous across educational institutions? Or B-Schools? I know one which has a "Bodhi Tree" on campus!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Corn on the beach

Evenings are cool enough these days for the grilled-corn sellers on the beach to do good business. Sometimes, just the sparks flying out of the corn griller makes the evening feel that much warmer!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who was that?

The first thought that this must be a contracted version of Ravana Iyer; but Ravanan is not a very common name. And the only other instance that I have come across the contraction of "ier" is in the name of Veena Kuppier

But more interesting for me is the way in which the Tamizh form of the name is written. The third letter is written in a way that is quite different from what the modern script prescribes, which is for it to be written thus -  "ணை". Now, this change in the script happened in 1978, which gives us another of those old white on blue boards!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The name lives on

The obituaries section of yesterday's The Hindu had twenty-one identical anniversary inserts. Well, twenty were identical and the twenty-first had the same photograph as all others, but covered a much bigger area of the page. All of them paid homage to Janab Haji S. Madhar Sha on the fifth anniversary of his passing away. The largest one was from the firm that he founded - Madhar Sha Group - while all the others were mainly from textile wholesalers from various cities, including a few from as far away as Surat. 

It is still difficult to think of Madhar Sha as a person. Radio advertisements in the 1970s and 80s kept throwing the name of the firm at us so often that it took on a larger-than-life image. In those days, it was probably that large, being one of the very few retail textile and garments showrooms in the city. It was certainly the largest in Purasaiwalkam and continues to be a landmark in the area.

But for all that, it has been very difficult to find any information about the Janab. Even finding another photograph of the man seems to be impossible. Help out, anyone!

Thursday, November 6, 2014


At the Cholamandalam Artists' Village, visitors are not allowed to take pictures of the works inside the galleries. That is a big disappointment, but to make a mess of Keats, "...those unseen are brighter...". But they do allow you to take pictures of the exhibits and installations outside, and here is one of those. 

This one, by Keizo Ushio, and goes back to 1990. Titled 'Seven Thoughts', this granite sculpture took two years to be completed. Most likely, Ushio gifted this to the Cholamandalam Village in 1990, when he was invited to the 2nd International Sculpture Symposium in South India that year.

I am drawing a blank right now, but what do you think Ushio's thoughts were?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Level crossing?

On a rainy day, seeing the spelling on this sign makes one wonder if a train is going to pass this way!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Needs saving?

The Salvation Army has its Divisional Headquarters at Gangadeeswarar Koil Street in Purasawalkam. The Division referred to here is probably the state of Tamil Nadu; add Pondicherry, and that becomes the South-Eastern "Territory" in the Salvation Army's structure, with Territory Headquarters in Tirunelveli.

From the looks of the board and the building, some salvaging seems to be in order!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Old machine

When credit cards first came to India, these devices were used to 'swipe' the card - essentially taking a print of the details embossed on the plastic. I thought they had disappeared completely. 

But no. They are around. This one was being used in the lounge at the Chennai airport; the clack-clack of the imprinter running over the card and charge slip brought back memories. I don't think the Chennai airport is doing it for any concerns on privacy - unlike PF Chang's in the US, which, in June this year, turned to these readers in an effort to to safeguard their customers' data!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


There is a short stretch of the Adayar river - not more than a couple of kilometres - where you will have a chance of seeing people using the river for recreation. The bridge over the river at Kotturpuram is a vantage point for such sights, and early morning or the evening, just as dusk is falling are the best times. 

That is when rowing members of the Madras Boat Club take their boats out for a spin. Haven't seen it being too crowded - there would not be more than four or five shells at the most, with the number usually being less than three. A single, a pair and maybe, just once in a while, a coxed four going through their practice sessions. Along this stretch, the Adayar is reasonably clean, even if it is slow-flowing.

It might not seem like much, but the practice here helps. Members of the Boat Club have gone on to represent India in several international competitions. The next time you go across the Kotturpuram bridge, watch the rowers closely. You just might end up seeing a future Olympic medallist practicing her craft!

Saturday, November 1, 2014


The building is called Cine City Hotels, firmly establishing the connection that this area has to the film world. If that is not enough, it has named its restaurant 'Kollywood Kitchen'. Kollywood, of course, is the moniker for the Tamizh movie industry, because it is centered around Kodambakkam. This hotel is right there in the middle of Kodambakkam; it has come up in the place where there used to be a landmark for movie makers, mostly from Kerala - Uma Lodge.

At the edge of United India Colony, Uma Lodge was close enough to the studios at Vadapazhani, without being so close as to the studios' presence overwhelming it. It was therefore a favourite spot for several young men - almost never women - aspiring to make their mark in the movie world. And many did make it big, even though there are likely several who continue to be on the fringes. It is not often that those who made it big talk about their time in Uma Lodge - but if I remember right, the movie Udhayananu Tharam makes a passing reference to it.

The list of Malayalam film makers who spent time at Uma Lodge, if it can be reliably compiled, will be long and distinguished. From what I have heard, it will include Srinivasan, Raveendran, Cochin Haneefa, Adam Ayub (and maybe Priyadarshan and Mohanlal as well?) and several other technicians. In the early 1970s, one of the residents of Uma Lodge - who had bagged a role in Thikkurissi Sukumaran Nair's 'Urvashi Bharathi' - would regale the others with his anecdotes from the sets; he was one of the earliest 'graduates' from Uma Lodge, who moved to a different orbit, going on to become not only a well-known actor, but, in the elections of 2014, a member of the country's Parliament - Vareed Thekkethala Innocent!

This month's theme is "Landmark": and Uma Lodge was certainly a landmark in its heyday. For landmarks from other cities around the world, head over to the CDP Theme Day Page!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Garden house

Walking down Dr Alagappa Chetty Road in Purasaiwalkam, one can't help but notice this manse - well, not a manse in the narrow sense of the word (that refers to a Presbyterian minister's residence), but somehow 'house' seems to be inadequate to describe this property. 

Called Janaka Nivas, it has the name "C. Sampath" on the gatepost. But it appears to be deserted, but in a good way - it promises to be warm and nice smelling - and that was an invitation to take a couple of pictures. But no, it is not deserted. Having seen someone clicking pictures of their house, two ladies threw open a window on the upper floor and let loose a volley of words, which don't lend themselves to easy translation.

Well, it is clear that this house is occupied. And the occupants do not like it being photographed. Yes, I did get the message!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Coloured board

This printer advertises scanning and colour 'xerox' (that's the word for photocopy) in its more modern display. But what catches the eye is the old enamel-on-blue board of the business.

And to top it, the board talks about 'Madras', not Chennai!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The good doctor

It was sometime in the late 1910s that Gopala Menon, of the Mokkil Maruthur tharavad in Vadavanur landed up in the city of Madras. The eldest of 6 siblings, he had to move to Madras to study medicine - and stayed on in the city to set up practice. Within a short time he was very popular in Kodambakkam, where he was practicing from. His popularity came not just from his medical abilities - which were considerable - but from his seemingly boundless compassion as well. He discriminated patients only on the basis of their health condition and he drew his clientele from all classes. It helped that he was fluent in several languages: Malayalam, Tamizh, Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit, English, and, it is reliably said, the dialect of Narikoravas, the nomadic tribes of the region. He could relate to his patients and talk to them in their language.

And they flocked to him from all over the Presidency. It was common for his clinic to have indigent outpatients from from as far away as Pazhaverkadu and Nellore; patients in similar straits from Malabar were a constant factor. The doctor would treat them, very often gratis, and then give them free board and lodging for a couple of days, besides giving them "theevandikooli" (steam train fare) to get back to their villages. Such largesse was partly subsidised by Dr. Gopala Menon's well-to-do patients, who included the zamindar of Vizhuthamangalam (more about that connection in a later post) and others. The generosity of such patients also enabled the doctor to acquire lands in the Mambalam / Kodambakkam area, on which he settled some of his patients, helping them find gainful occupations. That was very much in keeping with his belief, printed on his letterhead, "लोका: समस्ता सुखिनो भवन्तु" ("lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu" - may everyone everywhere be happy). 

His generosity extended to his siblings and their families. He brought all his sisters to Madras and had them married off; one of his brothers died young, but the other was brought to Madras and settled down. Meanwhile, his nephews were coming of age and they needed residences of their own. As many of them as possible were accommodated in a 'compound' in Kodambakkam, which was given the name of the ancestral tharavad - Mokkil Maruthur. Having all these members of his extended family around made the doctor forget that he had to get married and have children of his own; he died, a bachelor, on December 26, 1976. The family had little say in the post-mortem ceremonies; dignitaries dictated and the residents of Raja Pillai Thottam, the neighbouring slum, took over the funeral, for he was their doctorayya, the one whose kairasi ("goodness of hands") set right their malaises without ever failing. It was they who made sure the road next to Dr. Gopala Menon's house was renamed in his memory. In the manner of most street signs of Chennai, this one also has got the spelling of his name wrong - that alone testifies to the greatness of the doctor!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Setting right?

There have been a couple of news items during the past week about Chennai as a travel destination. One was Lonely Planet putting Chennai into its list of 'Top 10 Cities for 2015'. It was great to see Chennai coming in at number 9 on that list, even if it invited disbelief from many, including resident and non-resident Madrasis

The other, not so flattering appearance, was on the list of 'worst airports'. Especially galling was that it was the third year in a row that Chennai was finding a place, this time as the sole representative from India. This one is more believable for those who use Chennai's airport frequently. Though I have not been involved in any such mishap (or personally know anyone who has been), falling ceiling panes - over 20 times in one year - are not confidence inspiring.

The last time I was at the airport, I found this cherry picker rising up to repair the roof. Hopefully, it will hold up - and get better - so that the cheering crowds coming in to Chennai next year do not have to worry about the sky falling on their heads!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Stop and pray

If you are driving northbound on Gandhi Mandapam Road through Kotturpuram, there is one place you would need to be extra careful. The road is quite neat and well maintained, and the traffic flows along smoothly, so it is usually a pleasant drive. However, just before you reach the bridge across the Adayar, make sure you are alert for a sudden pause. Many of the vehicles, just before they reach the bridge, hit the brakes for the occupants to look left and offer a quick prayer at this temple from inside the vehicle. 

That is the Varasiddhi Vinayagar Temple. It is not of any great antiquity, probably dating back to the 1970s or 1980s - I will not swear to it, though. Over the years, it has been quite popular with the passing motorists. Most of the times, the pause in front of this temple is not obviously noticeable; because of the road from the TNHB flats which comes out to join the main road, traffic does slow you down. It is when the road is clear that the pause and obeisance become most identifiable - and unexpected.

The temple was in the news recently, when the former Chief Minister Jayalalitha returned to Chennai from Bengaluru after being granted bail. Each time that she passes this temple on her way to the airport, she has the habit of stopping across the road and praying to Vinayagar, the remover of obstacles. Late September, on her way to Bengaluru for the court hearing that saw her - unexpectedly - being jailed, she had supposedly broken that habit, even though the police had made arrangements for her to halt and pray there. It is reported that she made amends on her way back!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Elephant in the room

In the middle of the mall, actually. The elephant made of papier mache and plaster of paris stands in the middle of the Express Avenue mall. All decked up in anticipation of the festival season. 

The ambari on the elephant's back carries an image of the Goddess Lakshmi. With the shopping season in full swing, guess both images are needed for the visitor - Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth to provide the moolah and an elephant to cart away all the stuff that would be bought during the season!

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Wonder what has happened to that Audi. It seems to be in good shape, so I guess it has not been lifted out from an accident site. Because it has an out-of-state registration, is it being transported to Chennai because its owner is shifting base to this city?

Or is it being re-possessed because the owner did not pony up the instalments in time?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Burma side

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!