Monday, December 22, 2014

Intersect guardian

A statue of C.N. Annadurai, the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, stands at the intersection of Avvai Shanmugham Salai (Lloyds Road) and Royapettah High Road. I am not sure if there is any particular significance of having his statue here, apart from the fact that the political party named after him (of which he was never a member) is headquartered nearby!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hidden hotel

A guidebook published in 1987 contains a "Where to Stay" list for Madras, in which 'Hotel Admiralty' is listed in the 3rd place. One could assume that Hotel Admiralty was therefore functioning in 1987, but somehow the previous entry ("Hotel Holiday Inn Aya Gate") does not inspire much confidence in the veracity of this listing. It is however true that Madras had an "Admiralty Hotel" at one point in time. It was not always a hotel, though. In 1892, a naval officer acquired a garden house along Santhome High Road and named it Admiralty House, presumably after his line of work. Most likely his family did not want to stay on in Madras after his time, and the property was sold in 1914 to the Maharaja of Vizianagaram. During the Maharaja's time, it was known as the Vizianagaram Palace. It was in this palace that the Maharaja fell off a balcony and was fatally injured. After his death, the Palace acquired a reputation of being haunted and a place of ill-fortune.

With nobody from the family interested in living in the buildings, they were let out to AV Meiyappa Chettiar who took it on an interminably long lease at a rent of Rs.250/- per month. AVM - yes, it was he of the studio fame - had no intention of living there, either. The palace became the setting for a few of AVM's big hits: Sabapathy, Bhoo Kailas and Sri Valli. But somehow, AVM did not use the palace for any other movies. His successor as tenant to the property was a gentleman named Palliagraharam Kandaswami Pillai who announced that he would make a movie at the palace. Titled "A1" (not to be confused with "Ai", it was to be directed by Ellis R. Dungan, but it never saw the light of day. 

With that, film shoots at the Vizianagaram Palace came to a stop. It was then that the owners decided to convert it into a hotel. Recalling the property's earlier name, the Admiraly Hotel was opened here, The sign on its wall along Norton Road was originally unhindered by all those electrical equipment; and, it has remained unaltered over the years and looking quite new, even if it is hidden these days. But don't go looking for the hotel - it has long ceased to function and the buildings on the property are now used as office space!



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Screen festival

In 2003, a bunch of cinema lovers in Chennai formed the Indo Cine Appreciation Forum (ICAF) and staged the first Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF). After the first few years, the state government also lent its support to this festival and since 2008, the CIFF has been hosted with 'official' approval. The 12th CIFF started off on December 18 and will close on Christmas Day. 

This year, the CIFF is being played across four screens in the city: at Casino, at the two screens at Woodlands and at one of the INOX's screens and also at the Russian Cultural Centre. A quick look at the screening schedule tells us there are about 30 countries from where films are being screened - they include familiar names like the USA, UK, Russia and also a couple of surprising ones like Ethiopia, Finland and Kazakhstan. All told, over 80 films are packed into the week. 

The photo shows the Woodlands / Symphony cinema. Decked up with flags and buntings, it is evident that it is hosting a festival. Unlike the typical blockbuster release festivals, there are no 80-ft cutouts of stars or big banners announcing a film. The posters are small and you will need to look closely to identify the movies themselves. Woodlands is also hosting an exhibition - a series of photographs of stand-alone cinema halls by a couple of German photographers. Those photos were lovely, reminding us of a time when not only the movies, but the venues screening them were also works of art!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Old news

What look like logs of wood are actually rolled up newspapers. Thousands of them, we are told. The artist is Manish Nai and this is his way of reminding us that there can be beauty in discards, and there are many ways of re-cycling stuff.

Take a look at it, next time you are at the Phoenix Market City. And you might also like to suggest some name for it - the artist has not given it a title!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Headquarters of the force

The straight columns running along the northern and eastern sides of this building symbolize the discipline of its occupants - the Tamil Nadu Police. Like many other buildings along this stretch, this one does not have a specific name; it is referred to as the "DGP's Office" (and very often, also wrongly as the "Commissioner's Office"). 

The foundation stone of this building was laid by Lord Elphinstone, then Governor of Madras, in 1839. It was not intended for the police, or any government organization at the time of its construction. The Freemasons of Madras had had this built as their Masonic Lodge, and it was named the Lodge of Perfect Unanimity. Lord Elphinstone was himself a Freemason, becoming the District Grand Master in 1840 and the Provincial Grand Master in 1841. The Freemasons seem to have used this building until 1856, after which it was closed up for a while. The first Inspector General of the Madras Police, Sir William Rose Robinson used this building as his office in 1865.

Over the past 150 years, this has been the nerve centre of the police operations of the region: the Madras Presidency, the Madras state and now of Tamil Nadu. It was acquired by the government in 1874 - reportedly at a price of Rs.20,000/-, which was far lower than the Rs.25,000/- that it cost the Freemasons to build it!


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Groves

I have known of Palmgrove the hotel, and also of Palm Grove, the army officers' quarters in Fort St George. But I did not know that the army's golf course is also referred to as the Palm Grove Golf Course.

Nor did I know that the army was maintaining an ecological park with the same name nearby!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Four-in-one

In the annexe to the Art Gallery at Chennai, there are a few paintings of the British Governors of Madras. They are not arranged in any particular order and there are four of them put together in one corner of the first floor. 

Here they are, from left to right: Field Marshal George Hay, 8th Marquess of Tweeddale (1842-48), Lord Harris (1854-59), Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier and 1st Baron Ettrick (1866-72) and Robert Bourke, 1st Baron Connemara (1886-90). 

What happened to those who held office in between these gentlemen's regimes? Some of them have their paintings hung at the Fort Museum - and there are probably others whose tenures were eminently forgettable - maybe their paintings have been turned away to face the wall somewhere! 


Monday, December 15, 2014

Old sign

There was a time when people had to be reminded about where they were. This sign must have come up during one of those times. And it still remains there even today, unchanged over all those years - except for a bit of rust around all the edges. 

Just in case they plan to take the sign down, I would like to have part of it. Please?



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Old buildings

The tiled roofs and the quiet yard seems to indicate some stately house. But the arrow signs seem out of place in a house. They direct 2-wheelers and cars to their parking spots. And they also tell us this is not a residence, but a place where a lot of visitors come in. Not all of them would be willing visitors - this is the front yard of the CSI Kalyani Hospital on Radhakrishnan Salai. 

The Kalyani Hospital was built on land donated by Dewan Bahadur Narayanaiyar Subramaniyam, an advocated who converted to Christianity after his retirement. He bequeathed his lands on Radhakrishnan Salai to the Church of South India (CSI). He had but one request, that a hospital be built there, and named after his mother, Kalyani. And so on March 1, 1909, the Kalyani Hospital was opened by Lady White, with 24 beds.

Over the last 105 years, the hospital has grown to over 200 beds, but it continues to stay true to its mission of providing quality healthcare to the less affluent members of society. And in the process it has become one of the enduring landmarks on Radhakrishnan Salai!



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Home, sweet home

In 1910, P.M.A. Muthiah Chettiar, a Nattukottai Chettiar became the first of his clan to decide to settle down in Madras. His choice of location was Purasaiwalkam and he picked up a bungalow called "Natana Vilas". PMA Muthiah Chettiar went on to become one of the Directors of Indian Bank, and on to other great things. 

Muthiah Chettiar sold the house to Annamalai Chettiar and it was then bought by S.S. Rajan, whose descendants own the property now. A few years ago, the owners agreed to have the house re-purposed to accommodate a restaurant. The first one which came up there was called RasamWhile the idea was interesting, it didn't catch the fancy of too many people and was closed within a couple of years. 

Rasam was replaced by "Gokulam Veg Restaurant". That is Sri Krishna Sweets' restaurant brand and for a while, it was doing well. But slowly, the mother brand took over; today 'Natana Vilas' is more a heritage outlet for Sri Krishna Sweets, with the restaurant, by all accounts, being little more than a sign outside. No wonder it is sweet home!



Friday, December 12, 2014

Lingaa

Contrived, yes. 

But I don't have any other picture to mark the birthday of Chennai's Superstar. His latest movie releases in India today and my Facebook timeline is flooded with pictures of the man, and several friends, young and old, either gushing about how they managed to get "FDFS" (First Day First Show) tickets or growling about those who did.

Happy birthday, Rajinikanth! Or maybe the other way around


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stopped in its tracks

In the 19th century, many of the companies operating in India were incorporated in London. It was therefore quite easy for Messers Hutchinson & Co to set up a firm in London to offer services to the people of Madras. Hutchinson's idea was to run electric trams, since there seemed to be a high level of acceptance for horse-drawn trams in the city. And so, in 1892, the Madras Tramways Company was floated on the London Stock Exchange with a capital of £100,000. It took them three years to build the first section of the tramway and it was on May 7, 1895 that the first electric tram started running in the city. But that was the formal launch, for the trams had been making sorties in the pervious weeks, and the public was encouraged to hop on for free rides. In the week before the formal inauguration, pamphlets were distributed, reminding them that they would have to pay for rides at the rate of 6 pies a mile. 

That was not very profitable for the company, and in 1900, M/s Hutchinson sold Madras Tramways Company to The Electric Construction Company (also based in England). Maybe they were also unable to run it well, for we find that in 1904, a new company has been formed to take over the tramways of Madras. That was The Madras Electric Tramways Limited - and they seemed to have either found the secret to profitability or very deep pockets, for they went on an spree of extending the tramlines; 1905, 1911 and 1919 saw new lines being added, and the company was running trams over 16-plus miles, 11 of them double-tracked. But eventually, after the II World War, the company had intractable labour disputes, which went on and on, eventually forcing them to wind up operations on April 11, 1953. They hoped to re-commence, but in the late 1950s, most of the tram-tracks in the city were removed and the trams have never since run in the city. 

With the company owning 110 tramcars at its peak, they needed sheds to be parked in. The main such tramshed was on Poonamallee High Road, at what today is Periyar Thidal, near the office of the Dina Thanthi. The other major shed was on Radhakrishnan Salai, and you can see the shed in this picture. It is today part of the TANGEDCO's facilities. The only city in India where trams continue to run (at least, I think they still do) is Kolkata. But the trams of Calcutta started only in 1902 - seven years after the service in Madras. And that is one of the lesser known 'firsts' that the city of Chennai holds - the first tram services anywhere in India!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Growing city

This signboard, just past the Guindy railway station, was put in place not very long ago - maybe in the past couple of years. With the Chennai Metro track running over it, it is now just another commonplace sign showing directions to some of the further corners of Chennai. But in an earlier avatar, the signboard here was much more significant. On the side we are facing, it was a "Thank you for visiting" message, while the other side was its counterpart, the welcome to the city. In those days, this sign marked the limit of the Corporation of Chennai.

It was in early 2010 that the Corporation flexed itself and gobbled up quite a few of the local bodies - municipalities, panchayats and town panchayats - from the neighbouring districts of Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram. With that expansion, the area under the Corporation of Chennai more than doubled, going from 174sqkm to 426sqkm. 

The earlier "Welcome / Thank You" sign should have now shifted about 30km further down this road - although the Corporation hasn't got around to putting one such up, I guess!




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Knock-out

When the IPL started in 2008, it was expected that the Chennai franchise would be one of the top teams in the league. The success of that model has spawned similar leagues in other sports: hockey, kabbadi, tennis and football. Chennai does not have a team in the kabbadi league; the tennis league is in a different, international format and again, Chennai does not have a team there. Though the city fielded a team in the Premier Hockey League (Chennai Veerans), it does not have one in the Indian Hockey League that replaced the PHL.

That leaves football. There were no great expectations from Chennaiyin FC (Chennai's FC) when the Indian Super League began. The team is owned by three non-Chennaiites - Vita Dani (Dhirubhai Ambani's niece), Abhishek Bachhan and M.S.Dhoni. The last named is an adopted son of the city, being the captain of its IPL cricket team. That was the local connect; even the main sponsor, the Ozone Group, is Bengaluru-headquartered. That did not stop the Chennaiites from putting their weight behind the team. And Chennaiyin FC responded by pulling off some firsts: Balwant Singh became the first Indian player to score in the league, Elano Blumer was the first marquee player in the league to score - and is leading the competition for the Golden Boot. And the team has gone on to top the league (well, there is a match to be played tomorrow, which may see Chennaiyin FC going into second place), but hey, we're into the semis.

The team's logo has caused some debate about what it represents. Whatever the official version be, I think it is just symbolic of what we'd do to the competition. We are just going to நாக் (naak) them out!



Monday, December 8, 2014

High-rise sunrise

The marsh at Pallikaranai is somewhat better protected these days, at least on the southern side of the SH109. The fringes are greener than what they used to be. A small concrete cabin at the eastern end of the marsh indicates the presence of the forest department, even though I have never seen the cabin occupied. 

Haven't gone across to the southern bank of this marsh, though. Apparently there is a walkway into the marsh, as well as an observation tower there. Maybe if you climb up that tower, you can see the sun rise a few seconds earlier!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Form book

I know little about betting. And I know far less about horse racing. Even so, the name "Original Vel Sporting News" is something I would recognize as being the bible for horse racing enthusiasts in Chennai (and apparently in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ooty, and several other places as well). As a child, It was fascinating to peek into this publication for the sheer exoticness of the names of the horses. 

One of the quirks of this publication, which I couldn't figure out in those days, was the fact that none of the races seemed to be happening in Madras. In the days before the internet and mobile phones - in the days when long distance calls meant 'trunk' calls that had to be booked a few hours in advance - they still managed to get bets out on races in Bombay and Hyderabad and other places. And the books detailed the odds on those races. But never for Madras. It could have been because of the strong public sentiment against horse racing - remember the statues on Mount Road

The Original Vel claims to have been established in 1929. A case in the Madras High Court, in 1953, dates its founding to 1936. A record of those court proceedings gives us an idea of what 'Sporting News' could be found in those pages: "The Cricket Test at Delhi" "The Duncan Cup Cricket at Madras" "Five Lucky Charms", "Peter the world-beating athelete" and "Stopping Zatopek"  were some of the articles. But also included were: "The Queen and the Riddle of Minister's summons to Sunday talks at Castle", "Herbert Morrison's attack" and "Hitler's valet held by Reds". Dashed sporting, old chap, but what is it doing in Original Vel? Had such articles continued to find a place in the publication, it would have been fascinating to browse through. But these days, they staple the booklet to discourage flipping through it. And I am not going to pony up 15 bucks to read horse names!


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Door lamp

No, this is not how we usually light up the doorway or the foyers in Chennai. Just that it is the second day of Karthigai, the festival of lights, in this part of the world

May the lights shine bright for everyone through the year! 


Friday, December 5, 2014

Future Factory

It looks like something from a future world. A clutch of oddly-shaped buildings greet you as you reach the end of the road leading to the IT Park developed by SIPCOT at Siruseri. These buildings house the offices of TCS, India's largest software developer. According to TCS, this complex is the largest such in Asia, with over 5 million sft of built-up area. When it was opened in 2010, it had the capacity to house over 22,000 employees. In the years since, the facility has expanded a bit and there are now over 30,000 people working here. 

Spread over 70 acres, TCS' facility is the biggest in the SIPCOT IT Park, which is spread over 1,000 acres. Getting off the Rajiv Gandhi Salai (the Old Mahabalipuram Road), the stretch is kind of bare, because the space just off the OMR has not been developed yet. From the time you make the turn, TCS' buildings catch the eye. Unfortunately, the way in does not provide you the complete view of these buildings. 

The buildings were designed by the Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott and Associates, along with Carlos Ponce de León Architects. CRN Rao Architects provided the onsite support as well as structural and MNE services. In the view from the top, the buildings look like butterflies spreading their wings out. Six such buildings are arranged around a central spine, and the overall effect is something quite out of this world. TCS had, much earlier, had one of its buildings on the OMR designed by a San Jose (USA) based architect, but compared to this one, that facility is like a caterpillar to this butterfly!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Going swimmingly

In 1995, the seventh edition of the South Asian Federation Games was hosted by Chennai - or Madras, as the city was then called. One of the facilities built for the Games was the Aquatic Complex at Velachery. That's how the city got its international 8-lane swimming pool as well as a diving pool. 

At that time, Velachery was kind of outside the city and so it was an exotic location for setting up such a facility. These days, access to this Complex is much better and by all accounts, it is quite crowded - which, of course, is a big complaint for the users. 

That complaint is offset to a large extent by the quality of the coaches. Most of the coaches teaching here are state level coaches and that brings in a lot of traffic. The Complex discourages walk-in swimmers. But if you want to get in here, you can sign up for the 12-day swimming classes - but then, don't complain if you find the pool too crowded!




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Driving school

The back roads of residential Indira Nagar in Adyar are usually traffic-free. They are therefore ideal for those getting on to a two-wheeler for first-time. A nearby driving school takes advantage of its location by having its students ride - or even start off by pushing the two-wheelers along these paths.

All that is nice, but one wishes that the instructor does better than to park his bike right in the middle of the crossroads!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Deep waters

India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), in the waters around its territories, covers almost two-thirds of the country's land area. Although various maritime nations had drawn up bilateral or multilateral treaties about how they would share the resources along their coast, all of those were scrapped when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was concluded in 1982. 

It was probably the adoption of UNCLOS which prompted the Government of India to think about having a dedicated organization to figure out how to reap the benefits of the natural resources available within its EEZ. Marine engineering only scratches the surface of the oceans, and hence in 1993 was born the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), based in Chennai, with its facilities at Pallikaranai. The NIOT carries out programmes for observation of the ocean as well as for the deployment of vessels to carry out deep-sea surveys in the EEZ. 

Since its founding, the NIOT has surveyed over 13,500 sqkm of the EEZ. The whole extent of India's EEZ is about 2,300,000 sqkm (If you think that's a lot, consider Japan's: over 4,479,000 sqkm, or New Zealand's, at about 4,300,000 sqkm). With so much of available area left to cover, the NIOT certainly has its work cut out over the next century or so!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Men at rest

The theme for today - for City Daily Photobloggers around the world - is "Worker". (Somehow, thinking about it reminds me of that song, "Land down under", but that is a different story.) Anyway, turns out I don't have too many pictures of people, let alone people at work. 

And so this one: the dancers and the musicians had been at work, obviously, entertaining visitors to the crafts bazaar at Kalakshetra. Just around the time I got near them, all of them had taken a break - and so gave me a just-past-the-theme picture for today!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Animal Farm

It was the last performance of "Animal Farm", performed by the Madras Players and the Stray Factory, at the Museum Theatre today. Had great seats (for a change) and so had a good time watching the performance!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Magic staffing

Ever wondered where to turn to when you are short of staff? If this sign is to be believed, it is just a matter of mumbling the correct incantations. I guess when you are really in a tight spot, any kind of magic is welcome!


Friday, November 28, 2014

First shot

Movie makers are by and large very superstitious and do not take many chances in the way of their movies being successful. Almost every film starts with a puja, which has become an event in itself these days. It is the done thing to can a shot at the puja. Sometimes that shot may not even make it to the final version of the movie, but it has to be done. 

The AVM Studios had a pillaiyar under a tree, which over the years became the default location for puja shot. Much later, another pillaiyar was also added on. That was in 2005, when AVM Productions split (for the third time in their 55-year history). And so this temple came up; apart from the pillaiyar as 'Selva Vinayagar', there is also a Durga and Murugan with his consorts.

When you enter the studio, this new shrine is the one that you get to see first. The split meant that it would be more convenient for each part of the studio to have a puja spot of its own!


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Playful pundits

These kids are all dressed up to be a part of the procession reciting the nalayira divya prabandham at the chariot festival of Sri Narasimha Swamy at Triplicane. Once the procession started, it was difficult to spot these kids - they were lost in the fringes as the older men took over the vanguard of the procession.

While they were waiting, the boys were doing what every Indian boy would do. Discuss cricket. Demonstrating the art of bowling. And maybe reciting the vedas while doing so; that is not unusual, at least not for Triplicane's cricketers!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Legends are born?

The facade of a building when it was in the final stages of getting ready for occupation. All very Greco-Roman or whatever in its style, but have no clue of what this building is going to be used for. 

Anyone?



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Serenity

The bronze gallery at the Chennai Museum is mainly given over to Hindu deities, but there are some wonderful pieces depicting Buddhist and Jain icons as well. Here is one such, showing the Buddha under the bodhi tree (it has to be the bodhi, isn't it?).

This one is from Nagapattinam and is dated to the 11th century CE. It is not usual for the Buddha to be shown with attendants, so that should make this one also a rare work of art!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Clock from elsewhere

If the design of the tiling on this clock tower seems familiar, it is because we have seen something similar here earlier. This clock tower is built on the fourth floor terrace of the building with the raised-above-road-level guards.  

Those guards seemed unusual, kind of out of place. This clock on this tower is also from a faraway place: Khambhat, in Gujarat. That should give you one more clue about where in Chennai this building is situated!



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grand spectacle

In his career spanning over 40 years, Vittalacharya made movies that brought every kind of fantasy to the cinema screen. Whether it was a story from some by-lane of mythology, or a tale of queens and kingdoms, Vittalacharya's films would bring in all those delectable horrors of poltergeists, talking animals, supernatural beings - every kind of 'special effect' that you could not think of - to the hall and all one had to do was to sit entranced.

Though he was born in Udupi and his films were mainly in Kannada and Telugu, Vittalacharya was based in Madras for most of his life. He did make a few Tamizh films as well, but I don't remember any of them performing better than Jaganmohini. It was originally made in 1951 in Kannada by one of Vittalacharya's partners in their venture 'Mahatma Pictures'. The Telugu version, also dubbed in Tamizh was made by Vittalacharya in 1978 and was a huge hit, running for nearly a year in the theatres. 

This block of flats stand where Jaganmohini's release would have been plotted. Vittalacharya lived and worked out of his house on Saravana Perumal Street in Purasaiwalkam. After his death in 1999, the house was sold and made way for these modern residences to come up. The curved balconies and decorated sunshades have surely been influenced by the touch of the master, who was once known as Mayajaala Mannan!