Saturday, April 9, 2016

Early design

Of course, there are still many parts of Chennai where you can get to see people like her. But make sure you get there early in the morning!

Thursday, April 7, 2016


The advertisement bill catches the eye first. A patch of fluorescent colour on a drab wall in Errabalu Chetty Street, just where it meets Armenian Street. The bill advertises many things, each of which seem to mock the edifice it is pasted on. 

The locked door was certainly new, once. It may well have led into a 3-bedroom house. It is not difficult to imagine a 3-bedroom house with a balcony. There are several early 20th century houses nearby, with balconies overlooking the street. This could have been just one other such.

But really, the brick wall behind the door and the window pane makes a mockery of the door itself. And a ghastly breach of security, one panel of the door has been broken up, providing easy access to the brick wall behind!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Track, field

Because today is the 120th anniversary of the modern Olympic games, here is a picture of a Chennai landmark that was instrumental in the birth of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Although India did not feature in the 1896 games at Athens, there was an 'Indian' who participated in the 1900 games in Paris. And then, for a generation, the Olympic games were of no consequence to the natives of India. It was in 1920 that Sir Dorabji Tata rushed in a team to the Olympic games at Antwerp - four athletes and two wrestlers. Thanks to that effort, Sir Dorabji was inducted into the International Olympic Committee. As a member of the IOC, Sir Dorabji made sure the selections for the 1924 Paris Olympic games were properly conducted, through the first Inter-State Athletic Meet at Delhi. 

The technical inputs for conducting the events was provided by Dr.A.G.Noehren who was then the Director of the YMCA. Thanks to the YMCA's School of Physical Education in Madras, Dr. Noehren knew what went into selecting athletes. The 1924 team had 8 athletes - and three of them were from Madras. It is likely that all of them trained at the Y's School of Physical Education, which has since become the College of Physical Education, with its campus at Nandanam.

The Chennai connection with the Olympics continues. One of the medal winners at the 2012 London games  - Gagan Narang - was born in Chennai, though he was a Hyderabad resident when he won the medal. Interestingly, the current President of the IOA, N. Ramachandran, is a Chennai resident. Maybe this year's Olympic games in Rio will see some medals coming to this city!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Posh place

The city of Madras, as we know, was initially just the space enclosed within the walls of Fort St George. As in any city, there were some parts which were more favoured as residential areas than others. The most favoured portion in the Fort was its south-eastern quarter. It was the furthest point from the Customs House, and so presumably far enough away for the smells of goods to not bother the residents; plus where the sea-breeze would blow through unhindered. 

The two streets in that quarter, running north-south, parallel to each other, are St Thomas Street and Church Street. Church Street is the more eastern of the two and therefore having less of a cachet. St Thomas Street was the favoured residential area, and the nine residences there - four on the eastern side and five along the western flank. These were built sometime in the early years of the 18th century. If you were a resident here, your neighbours would have been Majors, Colonels and members of the Council - and the chaplain of St Mary's Church.

Most of those houses are gone, fallen to ruin. Others are well on their way there. The ASI is gamely trying to do something about preserving these structures. This one - a large building that has its front door on St Thomas Street and its rear verandah on Church Street - would have been used both as a residence as well as a temporary storehouse for bales of cloth or barrels of wine as they were being traded into and out of the country. But today, it is barely able to stand up, a ghostly reminder of the glory that was once the "Snob's Alley" of Madras!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Old books

Looked at one way, he had a long reign. But in 1825, when Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan came to the title of the Nawab of the Carnatic, he was barely a year old and it was his father's brother, Azeem Jah who served as the regent until the young Ghouse came of age, taking over the responsibility in 1842. It could have been a much longer reign, given his youth when he ascended the masnad, but fate cut it short: Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse died in 1855, and having died childless, allowed the British to take over the Carnatic, ending the reign of the nawabs.

It was during Ghouse's reign that Dr. Edward Balfour, a multi-talented surgeon landed in Madras. Dr. Balfour had thrown himself into India; he had translated the Guldasta-e-sukhan, a 14th century work into English and was generally all for progress and integration. At his insistence that the Muslims of Madras needed a library for themselves, the Muhammadan Public Library was set up in 1850. The Nawab made a grant of Rs.700 to the corpus, and a monthly grant of Rs.35 for the library's upkeep. And with Dr. Balfour coaxing people all over the Madras Presidency and beyond, the library opened with nearly a thousand books. Of these, the majority was gifted by well wishers across the country, and shortly after it opened, the library received a gift of 240 books in Arabic from Abbas Pasha, the King of Egypt.

The library faded out in the 1990s, because the building it was housed in went to seed. Thankfully, the secretary of the library, Saba Mustafa, kept the faith and in 2005, the library was re-opened in its current location. So that explains why the building does looks very dapper for its 175 year old occupant!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pointed connection

That is the end of the Port of Chennai. We have seen this earlier, and I had wondered what connected Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava to the city of Madras. Yes, Lord Dufferin was the Viceroy of India between 1884 and 1888, but during his tenure, there does not seem to be any evident connection that he has to the city of Madras. One can stretch it a bit and say that the founding of the Indian National Congress was partly due to this man - even though it was his predecessor, Lord Ripon, who had okayed the proposal by A.O.Hume and others to set up the INC, Lord Dufferin was under some pressure to be the anti-thesis of Lord Ripon, which he seems to have resisted successfully.

Lord Dufferin had come to the public eye much before his career as a diplomat. He had voyaged to Iceland and written about his travels in a series of letters nominally addressed to his mother; these were published as "Letters from High Latitudes", an early example of the comic travelogue. That book seems to have been quite successful (the most recent edition was in 2006!), being translated into French and German as well. That success did not, however, tempt Lord Dufferin to become an author, though his writing as a diplomat continued to be well regarded.

Now, Dufferin Light in the Port of Chennai has nothing to do with either the book, or with the Viceroy - directly. India's first naval training ship, was called the RMIS Dufferin; over 2200 officers were trained on the ship, including the Indian Navy's first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ramdas Katari (Roll No.1, and a man with other Chennai connects, which shall be explored later). Apart from the naval officers, the Dufferin also trained cadets of the merchant navy and many of them were worked in the country's ports. It was as a tribute to their alma mater (and maybe around the time of the decommissioning of the TS Dufferin, in 1972) that they named this the Dufferin Light!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Colour in the court

A courtroom is not the first place that one thinks of when it comes to beauty. But beauty does make an appearance in all kinds of places, and a courtroom is no exception. 

This one is from the Madras High Court. It was a holiday for the Court and therefore it was easier to spot the stained glass on the lunette (I believe that's what it is called) above the door. I think I would have been too captivated by the drama around the door - it leads to the Court Hall - 1, where the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court sits. 

You may also find it difficult to figure out the beauty of the lunette - the corridor is quite well shaded from the sun. And being a holiday, there was only the one tubelight along the way, distracting from the stained glass, as it were. But you don't have to take my word for it. Visit the Court and you will see not only this, but also beautifully tiled ceilings and other stained glasses - including a few over the CJ's seat!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Simple things

No, we haven't had more rains in Chennai. And no, it is not because I have been so traumatized by those rains in December.

It is just that this picture seemed to be just right for today's Theme Day - Simplicity. What can be more simple than this paper boat? And what childhood joy can be more profound than getting wet in a gentle rain, while setting such boats out on their journeys?

Tagore has written about them; Jagajit and Chitra Singh have sung about them - both works highly charged with simple emotions!  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Train service

The Chennai Metro was inaugurated in June 2015; in the first few months, it was treated more as a fun ride rather than a regular mode of commute. Just when things were settling down came the heavy rains of December; the Chennai Metro came into its own, as the quickest way for people to get to the inter-city bus terminus at Koyambedu. Running high above the flood waters, the Metro's trains were indeed a lifeline for the many who went back to their hometowns, and other cities, to get away from the rain waters.

There were problems - the trains are meant to carry a little over 1200 passengers at one go - and there were about four times that many at the stations during the peak rains. The Chennai Metro did its best to dynamically alter the schedules to accommodate as many as they could. Apart from that, the spike in traffic helped the Chennai Metro figure out how their systems could take the stress.

This picture is from way before the waters, at a time when the Metro was new enough for everyone to be posing in front of its train-sets. At least the selfie-taking couple is wise enough to stay on the right side of the yellow line, unlike the hero who is trying to channel some kind of superhero!

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Tucked away behind a larger building on Mount Road is this squat little building which really seems to have no reason to continue to remain in the business it is in. Anna Theatre has remained much the same since the time it started screening movies, which was, in my best guess, sometime in the 1960s. By that time, both Shanti and the Devi complex were functioning, and there was no reason why a single-screen theatre so close to them would be any threat; especially when it had no signage on the main road itself and seemed to be a place where you would go to watch re-runs after a few years.

But no. Anna Theatre seems to have not only held its own but actually flourished in the years since it began. No threat to the biggies next door, but it has been doing quite well. Possibly, it initially was the place you went to if you could not get tickets for the blockbusters running at Devi or Shanti; over time, it has become one of the screens for releasing new movies as well.

Remaining largely unchanged, with some technology upgrades, Anna Theatre today screens three shows. All of them are the latest releases. And all of them with big name stars. Not bad at all for a theatre that should have gone down anytime in the last couple of decades. But wait - there is a unique feature that this theatre has, supposedly. I haven't been to it and I haven't met anyone with firsthand knowledge of this, but the screen here is in the basement - and that's probably a bigger attraction than the movie itself!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ghostly view

A few days ago, I had a chance to go to one of the buildings at MRC Nagar, right on the beach. The view of the Bay of Bengal was so amazing that not much conversation happened. Couldn't get away without taking a few pictures.

This one shows the mouth of the Adyar as it meets the Bay of Bengal. If you look closely, you can see the 'broken bridge', jutting out from the Besant Nagar shore of the estuary, hopping a bit into the water and then giving up the attempt to get to the MRC Nagar / Foreshore estate side. 

You may remember having seen this broken bridge on this blog earlier. In the time since that post, I have not been able to get any more information on what this bridge was all about. But since then, the legend about the broken bridge being one of the most haunted spots of Chennai has gained ground; if only it were true, this window will have a ring-side view of the hauntings!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Photo of the year

For a couple of generations to come, 2015 in Chennai will be remembered as the year of the floods. In November 2015, rainfall in Chennai was a shade under 105 cm (42 inches); it narrowly failed to beat the record of 109 cm set in November 1918. But it was enough to set up a wet December; the first two days of the month brought 34.5 cm of rain. To find a similar deluge, you'd have to go back to 1901. On those two days, the city was brought to its knees, officially being declared a disaster zone on the evening of December 2. 

This picture is from 3rd December, after the flood waters had been receding from this street through the day. A broken crate stuck in the middle of the road warns people of an open manhole at that spot. This was one of the less-affected areas of the city. In many of Chennai's suburbs, the waters remain, not finding a way to go out.

So, the city looks forward to 2016 being a 'normal' year. Sunshine for 350 days, and sixteen days of rain being spread out from October to December, helping us forget the wet end to 2015. So, a very happy New Year to everyone - may 2016 give of its best to all of us, getting us closer to our dreams!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Amendment connection

It seems to be a convoluted connection, but it seems so fascinating that I had to get it in here. This unpretentious signboard caught my attention only because of its white-on-blue combination. But finding out about The Law Weekly side-tracked me into the background to the First Amendment to India's Constitution. 

The story is essentially this: the Province of Madras, had been at the vanguard of community-based reservations, since passing what has come to be known as the 'First Communal G.O. (G.O.#613, Sep 16, 1921)' in 1921. That Government Order was the basis on which a girl named Champakam Dorairajan was denied admission to a medical college. Claiming that she had been discriminated based on her caste, Champakam took the issue to the Supreme Court, and a full bench agreed that the Communal G.O. was unconstitutional. 

What does that have to do with this board? Well, V.C. Srikumar, the current editor of the journal, who is also the grandson of its founder, was one of the lawyers in the case of 'Champakam Dorairajan vs The State of Madras'!

Monday, August 10, 2015


In the days of the British, a trip to Andamans was usually a one-way ticket to the dreaded Kala-pani, the cellular jail at Port Blair. These days, the dread is reserved for the mode of transport, not the point of arrival. The Andaman & Nicobar Administration (with a well named website - determines the schedules for the three ships that connect Port Blair with 3 points of mainland India: Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Chennai. Those ships are MV Swaraj Deep, MV Campbell Bay and MV Nancowry

Of these, the Nancowry works the hardest. Swaraj Deep and Campbell Bay run two round-trips a month, the former alternating between Kolkata and Chennai and the latter running exclusively to Chennai. The task of connecting all three of these mainland ports to Port Blair is left to the Nancowry. The ship takes three days to run from Port Blair to Chennai and then has to spend four days catching its breath. It was in the dock yesterday, having arrived on Thursday. 

If there is anything that really put you off the idea of a sea-voyage, it is the sight of this rust-bucket. The Nancowry was built in 1992, which makes it close to the average age at which a passenger ship is decommissioned. Surely, no one will shed any tears at this rust-bucket's retirement!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Planter man

The slopes of the hills at Vagamon, in Kerala's Idukki district, were favoured by the British for cultivating tea. Among the several estates there was the Pasuparai Estate, covering a bit over 300 hectares. In 1925, these estates were bought from the British by Alfred Vedam Thomas, who took it as a challenge to prove that an Indian could be as good a planter as any of the Britishers. He must have been good at his work, for the company he founded, AV Thomas & Company has grown to be a diversified group today, with interests in varied sectors.

When young Thomas bought the plantation, it was part of the Madras Presidency and it was natural for the company to be headquartered at the city. Over time, the majority of AVT Group's plantation operations have moved to Kerala; the Group also runs factories for food ingredients and natural extracts in Kochi. The corporate office continues to be in Chennai, making this one of the few 'Malayalee' business groups in the city. 

This bust of AV Thomas is inside a conference hall in the corporate office. 124 years after his birth on this day, he continues to oversee the businesses that carry on in his name!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Keeping time

This post has been in the making for about a year. Knowing that the centenary celebrations  of the Women's Christian College were going to be this year, I had hoped to time this post with the kick-off of those festivities. But 7/7, the date on which the college was founded in 1915, came and went and the blog remained un-updated. And then it had to wait until the next symmetric date came along, didn't it? 

The WCC was established by Eleanor McDougall, who came to India in 1915. There does not appear to have been any reason for her to come to Madras other than to se up a college for women. The plans for the college must have been very much in place; McDougall was possibly the final piece in the jigsaw of setting it up. Within a week the college had its motto ("Lighted to Lighten"), its crest, (with sunflowers, a lit lamp and the motto) and its song. Of these, only the song appears to have been changed in the last century, the rest continuing to be the identity of the college. 

The missing part, in July 1915, was a campus. The college conducted its classes at rented premises for the first year. But even before the anniversary, on July 5, 1916, the college moved to Doveton House, on the banks of the Cooum, where it has remained since. Eleanor McDougall's work is remembered in this clock tower, donated by her brother Charles in 1937, when she was in her final year as the Principal. It stands right outside the Doveton House; having marked time over the past seven decades, it can be forgiven for being a couple of hours ahead of what the time is!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Treachery of images

I learnt a new word during this week. Magritte. Derived from the name of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, it refers to something that is not what it seems. The story is that Magritte painted a pipe, and titled it "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe). He was right of course, for it was only a painting of the pipe and not the pipe itself. 

So, the picture up here today is of a police station. Or is it? Okay, I'm not getting all meta here. The J4 Police Station in Chennai is indeed the one at Kotturpuram, as it says on this board here. But this is not it. This building is somewhere off Cart Track Road in Velachery. The board has been placed there because it is acting - acting as a police station. 

Yes. Part of a movie. More about the movie for another post, but then, isn't every movie a treachery of images? If you've watched the Malayalam Drishyam, or its Tamizh version Papanasam, you will agree with that! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Granny told mother...

The stuff was concocted by William Woodward, a pharmacist in England, sometime in the 1850s. For some reason, the mix of sodium bicarbonate, dill oil, sugar water and a bit of alcohol became a runaway hit with the babies and by 1876 it was so popular that Bill decided to register "Woodward's Gripe Water" as a trademark. His advertising at that time was based on the message that "Granny told mother and mother told me" - a theme that will be familiar to Indians from the TVC that was popular in the 1980s

In India, the brand is licensed by TTK & Company, which is headquartered in Chennai. I was sure this one had gone the way of many other old brands - does any baby even want gripe water any more, when all she has to do is to focus on her mother's iPhone? - when I saw this in a store. Somehow, the solitary bottle of gripe water only served to reinforce the point that the market for gripe water has evaporated. 

Can't help feeling that once this one goes off the shelf, the brand will be done for!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Droning away

When we were planning on making a corporate film, the director told us that he would have a surprise for us. Turned out that the surprise was a drone-cam. The radio controlled drone was designed and fabricated by the director himself, with his brother helping out on the electronics bits. It needed two sets of controls; one to fly the drone itself and the other to manipulate the Go-Pro camera that was its payload. 

As in many other parts of the world, Chennai is grappling with issues around regulating drones. There are some basic controls in place; anyone planning to fly a drone must get the equipment cleared by the DGCA. In addition to that, each time one plans to send the drone into the air, the plans have to be cleared by the city police. The uncertainty around getting the permission from the police was the reason for our director saying that he might surprise us - there was no way he could commit to having a drone-cam for the shoot.

It was quite a curiosity and the crew took turns at trying to pilot the drone. After going up a bit - around 15m or so - they found that the signals from a nearby cellphone tower were interfering with the drone's radio controls. There was a danger that it would crash; but as it came down, the controls were re-established and the drone-cam landed safely. And then, the roles were reversed. Rather than the drone-cam focussing on us, we all pulled out our cellphones and cameras and tried to get a good shot of the drone!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Old world

It is one of the remnants of a time when hotels were supposed to be a "home away from home". Charming, with many of the minor niggles that every home has - paint flaking off from a part of the wall, a drip that can be stopped only by gagging it with a dishcloth, or those ketchup stains on the carpet from that awesome party, which no amount of scrubbing can get rid of. Such things may have been cute a couple of generations ago; unfortunately, Madras Hotel Ashoka is still stuck in that calendar. 

There are a couple of things from that age which are worth staying at this hotel for. One of course is the chance that you get one of the better rooms, with space enough to host a ball. The feeling of space is heightened by the property - the lawns not actually manicured, but kind of spiffed up and the trees channeling the breeze into your room.

And the restaurant. That's something that no one can complain about, not even travellers who might have spotted something that shouldn't have been in their rooms. Madras Hotel Ashoka has positioned the entry to the property in such a way that it is Abhinandan, the restaurant that you are taken directly to. In a way that is okay, for the majority of visitors seem to be Chennai-ites going over for a quick bite or a leisurely lunch!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Not just a token

Chennai has been a relative late-comer to the Metro rail scene, being the sixth or the seventh (depending on whether you consider Gurgaon as being distinct from the Delhi Metro - it actually is) in the country to operate such a service. Since its inauguration on June 29 this year, the Chennai Metro has seen a lot of traffic; the CMRL authorities are still trying to figure out if it is actually commuter traffic, or folks who are taking a joy ride on the Metro.

We were among the latter a couple of weeks ago. I've been used to picking up the small, 1"X 0.3" dull yellow pasteboard tickets on the city's suburban trains that I was looking for something like those when the clerk at the counter, channeling his inner croupier, pushed these tokens towards me. I had heard about these tokens - once anyone enters a station using a token, the system checks if the same token has come out within a given timeframe. If it does not, something like a missing person alert goes out and the passenger is traced. Helps cut down loitering at the stations. 

But then, I kept these tokens away so carefully that I couldn't find them when we got off the train. Searched all my pockets. Nada. So we head over to the help-desk. Too many people there, we are asked to wait. And then, like always, my wife told me where to look for them. Sure enough, there they were. Well, we did not get to find out what happens to a commuter who loses his tokens. And we are glad we didn't!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pitch perfect

Today would have been the last day of the 3rd Ashes test, but as you all know, that was wrapped up a couple of days ago. That's just an excuse for putting up this picture of a cricket pitch. Chennai has several, and this one is inside the IIT Madras, sponsored by Chemplast Sanmar. Chemplast has a long association with cricket, and owns two of the cricket teams playing in the TNCA League - Jolly Rovers and Alwarpet CC - and this ground is where the players practice their stuff.

It is not just those League players, but internationals as well. When the 2011 Cricket World Cup was held in the sub-continent, the IIT-Chemplast Sanmar Ground was the practice ground for the Indian team. The pitch is top-notch and true; it is an absolute pleasure to play on, no matter if you are batsman or a bowler.

It was a wonderful feeling to play at this ground, and to bat on this pitch, a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, the match didn't go too well for my team and I ended up spending a lot more time inside the pavilion; one that was inaugurated in 1998 by the legendary Australian cricketer, Neil Harvey. All said and done, it was wonderful to have been on the same turf as the legend, thinking about others who've also run across this rectangle!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cycling along

Chennai is home to one of the largest producers of bicycles in the country. TI Cycles, part of the Murugappa Group, owns and manufactures some of the biggest cycle brands in India, including Hercules, BSA and Montra. Between them, these brands cover most kinds of bicycles available on the roads today: the stodgy old-world cycle (being pedalled by the man in the picture), the lightweight sporty cycles that the BSA has been known for and the 'specials' - the mountain, road or hybrid bikes, of which the Montra brand is a part.

In the past few years, cycling in Chennai has changed considerably. On a weekend morning, it is quite common to spot a couple of hundred cyclists breezing away along the ECR or along the Marina. They are still a novelty, for the vast majority of the city's cyclists are those who do it for their regular commute, rather than fitness enthusiasts or hobbyists. But the latter groups have been growing exponentially, to the stage where an entrepreneur spotted a niche business.

It is entirely appropriate that Ciclo Cafe should come up on Gandhi Mandapam Road, for the western side of the road hosts a lot of properties belonging to the Murugappa Group. That road is a quiet, leafy stretch and is one of the roads taking you towards the ECR. On their way back, it would certainly tempt those cyclists to stop and un-famish themselves after their long ride. Oh, you thought the bicycle theme was restricted to the man on the cycle? Look closer. The building behind, touted as India's first cycling themed cafe, opened a few months ago and has caught the city's imagination big-time!

Today is 'Theme Day' for the City Daily Photo bloggers. Head over to to see bicycles from all over the world!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Miss me?

Over at the CDP Blogs site, we are celebrating Theme Day today with pictures of what the blogger would miss most about his/her city. The thought of leaving Chennai is too far-fetched for me, and I find it impossible to go further on that road and think about what I would miss about Chennai.

If there has to be something, it would have to be a combination led by this. Early morning on the balcony, with The Hindu and a cup of tea. No, not the filter coffee that everyone thinks all Chennaiites thrive on, and not any other newspaper, for sure. You could argue that The Hindu can be subscribed to anywhere and chai is also available across the world. But nothing can beat the early morning crispness of Chennai; add the chai and The Hindu, and that's an experience utterly unreplicable.

What would the other bloggers miss about their cities? Head over here to find out!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


A few weeks ago at Pallikaranai, I was fooled into thinking that the Forest Department had erected an observation tower, only to find out that it was just a water tank. But this one did not have any such surprises. What looked like rest-stop, with this thatch roof and a bench, was just that. It is the only one on the banks of the Pallikaranai marsh. It must have been the Foresters who had this put up. 

I just hope that there will be a few more such. And that they do not turn it into a lakeside eating joint or something!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Single man stage

If he were alive today, he would have turned 98. It has been 30 years since he died. And yet, he continues to be an inspiring icon for many in the state of Tamil Nadu. There is at least one TV channel which plays songs from his movies 24/7 and breaks up that monotony with a full movie or three.

MGR. Possibly the only politician who won an election, not only for himself, but for his party, by campaigning from a hospital bed half-the-world away!

Friday, January 16, 2015


The last weekend of the Mylapore Festival for this year. The square in front of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple was quite packed with people waiting to listen to the nadaswaram performance. This was only a small part of the over 50 thousand people who passed through the Mylapore Festival. 

Are you planning to be there next year?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hotel house

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the passing away of one of Chennai's culinary 'Gods'. He has been away from this city for longer than he was here, but in the couple of decades that he ran his business in Madras, he established a presence - and a reputation - that has transcended generations and international borders. That 'God' was Kuthethur Seetharama Rao, who began his foray into the food business by setting up Modern Café at Mysore. The success of his first venture emboldened him to strike out to Madras, and the second Modern Café was set up on the Esplanade. Business there was good as well, no doubt helped by the masala dosa that Seetharama Rao has been credited with popularising.

He believed that it was possible to strike a balance between the choultry that the ordinary Indian traveller was expected to put up with and the plush western hotels favoured by the not-so-ordinary folk. From that belief was born Hotel Dasaprakash, which was an iconic landmark of the city. In 1940, Seetharama Rao built a house for himself just a little way away from the hotel, naming it Dasaprasad. Seetharama Rao extended his culinary empire across Mysore, Madras and Ooty. His descendants have taken the brand overseas: the first Dasaprakash in the USA opened at Cerritos, Los Angeles in 1989. The overseas presence is all that remains - Modern Café and Dasaprakash are no more here in India. The Chennai hotel has made way for a residential complex and the hotel in Ooty is now Villa Park.

That house continues to be the seat of Seetharama Rao's family. The building is still Art Deco and the gateposts continue to proclaim this as the residence of the proprietor of Modern Café. The only thing I am wondering about is the spelling of his name: maybe it was too long to fit on the sign, so it has been modified to read "K. Sitarama Rao"!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Institution built

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, engineering had started growing as a professional discipline. India's industrialization needed engineers and by the 1910s, they had also recognized the need to form a professional association. Under the leadership of Sir Thomas Holland, the Director of the Geological Survey of India, the Institution of Engineers (India) was established in 1920, and registered in Madras. In 1935, the IEI was granted a royal charter by King George V.

The headquarters of the Institution of Engineers (India) has been moved to Kolkata. The office of the IEI in Chennai works out of this uniquely designed building on Swami Sivananda Salai. It must have been built during a time when membership of the IEI had a certain cachet. These days, with the advent of private engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, the importance of the IEI appears to have lessened - and the campus here is quite deserted!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Artists and subject

One of the attractions at the Mylapore Festival was the chance to get your portrait sketched. That's normal. There were a few artists who would also make a caricature. All of them had enough patrons; there was a queue waiting to have their portraits - or caricatures - drawn. And then, in the midst of all those artists, was a circle of artists who were doing something that seemed quite odd. All of them were focussed on sketching just one person - what is it that they were doing? Or, who was he?