Thursday, January 19, 2017
Going east on Kutchery Road, you might be surprised by a pair of lions sitting atop gate posts. They may have appeared regal at some time, but now they are crowded out by overgrown peepul shrubs, to the extent that the name on the gate post is part obscured. If you get close, you can make out that the name of the manse is Farhat Bagh.
The twin of this gate post carries the name of its owner: V. Ramadas. It also announces his qualifications: B.A., B.L. If that does not convince you, he has added his professional title: Vakil. That title broadly applies to any lawyer, but Vemavarapu Ramdas Pantulu was a specialist in realty and land rights. He also dabbled in politics, and was one of the featured speakers at the 'First Andhra Conference' in 1913. In the Second Conference the next year, the Farhat Bagh vakil seconded a resolution to carve out the Telugu-speaking areas of the Madras Presidency into a separate province. In that he foreshadowed the Madras Manade movement; he seems to have faded out of politics after that, but reappears as a leading light of the cooperative movement, holding office as President of Indian Co-operative Banks Association between 1927 and 1944. In 1935, he also became the Founding Editor of the Indian Cooperative Review.
He had given over his library and a "...part of home in Mylapore..." to the Institute of Co-operative Research and Service to continue his work. Whether that home was Farhat Bagh, or some other, is a question I am unable to answer right now. There were no signs to indicate any cooperation happening there; but maybe it is just that I cannot recognize those signs!
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Passing this building, one would think it was a house. In some kind of jumbled fashion, it seems to have started as a residence for one family, to which appendages were built when a branch of the family needed their space.
But no. Chhajer Bhavan on Avvai Shanmugham Salai is just one more of the marriage halls of Chennai. This set of buildings has over 20 rooms and according to the Chhajers, can accommodate 70 people. But the more surprising thing about it is the claim that the main hall has space for over 500 people to sit.
Must try and get inside soon to find out how the claustrophobia is taken off one's shoulders!
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
According to mythology, Lord Parasurama had to behead his mother on his father's command. Though she was brought back to life immediately after that, the severed head gave rise to the iconography of the representation of Shakti as Renuka.
In keeping with that tradition, the temple of Renuka Parameshwari depicts the main deity as only the head. There is however, the full-bodied version as well, and also the icons of Kasi Visalakshi along with her consort.
This temple does not go back very far in history; most accounts talk of it as being just a couple of centuries old. During that period, it has acquired a name that it is more commonly known by - Chinnakadai Mariamman - that I was surprised to find it has more formal name!
Monday, January 16, 2017
Yes. That is truly how Kutchery Lane opens into the North Mada Street of the Kapaleeswarar Temple. But as one gets out from this narrowest of lanes, all it takes to get into the temple is to cross the street. That small gopuram is over a door to the temple's administrative office. That door does not open for you or me, it is quite possibly an entrance for only the most privileged of the temple's staff and/or devotees.
For a long while, that was the entrance through with the temple's designated devadasi, would enter the temple. She was an integral part of the temple's rituals, and was accorded a high status in the temple's hierarchy. But over the years, the position of the devadasi was stigmatised, and there were likely enough people within the temple administration who were politicking to cut the devadasis down to size.
It was not just at this temple; all over the Madras Presidency and across India, the desire to abolish the devadasi system led to the passage of legislation such as the Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act in 1947. With that law in their hands, the puritan faction of the temple administrators walked out through the office door, into the Kutchery Lane, to the ex-officio residence of the last of Kapaleeswar devadasis and unceremoniously threw her out into the street. And so ended a tradition, one that gave much of today's Bharatanatyam dance, in obscurity and penury. Would it have been any different had the passage been much broader?
Sunday, January 15, 2017
It took almost two centuries for this "old-boys' club" to come up. The survey school that began in 1794 grew to become the College of Engineering, Guindy, of today. It was only in 1993, however, that some of the alumni decided that they needed a club that is both exclusive and global. Global, because the earliest alumni were not the natives, and also because over time, the native alumni have gone on to be stars around the world.
Exclusive because it is meant for the alumni of the core colleges of the Anna University - the CoEG, of course, as also the Alagappa Chettiar College of Technology, Madras Institute of Technology and the School of Architecture and Planning. That may sound like a lot of institutions, but it must be remembered that the Anna University has over a hundred colleges under it.
The Alumni Club - it does not have to specify what the alumni are of - has the facilities you would expect of any such club: meeting rooms, auditoria, restaurants, library, sports facilities. All of this spread out over a complex on the southern bank of the river Adyar, accessed only through the posh Boat Club area. But hey, an institution whose alumni have gone on to be social reformers, politicians (in India and other countries), cricketers, movie stars should get to do a bit of posh once in a while!
Saturday, January 14, 2017
The Hindu's "LitForLife 2017" kicked off today at the Sir Mutha Venkata Subba Rao Concert Hall. It was quite a full house today, with Dr. Shashi Tharoor on stage; after his session, a large chunk of the crowd followed him outside, to the author pavilion where he was signing copies of his latest book.
On the way back after getting the autograph, spotted this book wall. Couldn't help thinking it would have been better with people - kids, especially - standing up close and reading these. And then, we saw that there were spaces at the Hall where you could sit down and read, and in fact, swap books for the day.
That's nice - look forward to being back there tomorrow!
Friday, January 13, 2017
Sometimes, when you get in early for a weekend movie at the Madras Race Club, you get a wide range of seating options.
Although, with the way these tables are oriented vis-a-vis the screen, at least one person at each table must decide the movie is not worth watching. Maybe there is an opportunity here to design a movie-watching-on-club-lawn table!
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Like many other great personages, this man shed his mortal coils before he turned forty. Born this day in 1863, Vivekananda took "Hinduism" to the centre stage at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1893. It took Vivekananda nearly four years after that speech to return to his native land; he arrived at Colombo on January 15, 1897 and then, traversing the route from Pamban to Madras, arriving in the city on January 20. Though he lectured at Colombo and several other stops on the way, Madras was the focus of this return trip.
The place that he stayed in was then known as Castle Kernan, or alternately the Ice House. It was not meant to be a residence, but then, it was spacious, on the Marina, and could accommodate the hundreds of visitors who wanted to meet this monk seemed to have strengthened their belief in themselves. The Madras Reception Committee said, in its welcome address, "...we come to offer you the love of our hearts and to give expression to our feeling of thankfulness for the services which you, by the grace of God, have been able to render to the great cause of Truth by proclaiming India's ancient and lofty religious ideals." So tumultuous was that reception that Vivekananda's words could not be heard by many of the nearly 10,000 strong crowd that attended. Their consolation was that they could look forward to a few more opportunities to listen to him over the next few days in their city.
Vivekananda stayed in Madras for nine days. The enthusiasm which he generated was reason enough for an enterprising publisher from the city to put together a volume of his lectures. And somewhere in those lectures, he exhorted the young men of the city to build their strength, for a life of religiosity needed a strong body. He said, "First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita." Wonder which of those approaches have gained popularity now!
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Dusk falls at the Kapaleeswarar Temple. The temple gopuram is outlined with lights, which is not unusual. But what is unusual is the stage in front, and the dancers.
We are back at the Mylapore Festival and on the last day of the festival, we caught a version of the mayilattam; the dance of the peacocks, the birds the place is named after!
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
We have seen cheaters at card games, but not like this. Bridging the real and the make-believe, the 3D gallery at the VGP Amusement Complex makes for an interesting half-hour or so of viewing. All the works here - mostly paintings, but there are a few other installations, as well - are fashioned as trompe l'oeils. Paintings that seem to be more than what they are have been around for quite a few centuries, but they continue to intrigue and amaze us.
The trick at this gallery is to make sure you become part of the exhibits. Without the real life interaction, they are quite bland. But almost always there is a crowd milling around; even if you are not amused by the pictures, the reaction of visiting children will certainly leave you with a smile.
Every picture tricks the eye, to twist something that René Magritte might have said. And it is interesting that the Magritte Museum is itself something of a trompe l'oeil!
Monday, January 9, 2017
This must have been one of the original signs erected when a part of Madras was renamed Raja Annamalaipuram, after the passing away of the first Raja of Chettinad. That title was given to him by the British, in 1929, in addition to the knighthood that was awarded to him six years earlier.
In gazette notification announcing his knighthood, he is addressed as "Diwan Bahadur Sathappa Chettiar Ramanathan Chettiar Muthiah Chettiar Annamalai Chettiar Avargal, Banker, Madras". Even de-duping the Chettiars in that leaves a lot of letters to be written; replacing the "Diwan Bahadur" with "Raja" helped, but even then, it would have been quite a task to find a board indicating the name of this locality had anyone insisted on the full title!
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Quick, who was the first woman sheriff of Madras? For all I know, she may have been the only woman sheriff of Chennai ever. That is Padma Vibhushan Mary Clubwala Jadhav, one of the city's most revered social workers and an early member of the Guild of Service, which is arguably the country's oldest voluntary service organization. She was born in Ooty in 1909 and died in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1975. The years in between were mostly spent in Madras, where she became the moving spirit and the visible face of the Guild of Service.
By the time of India's independence, the Guild of Service was an organisation of formidable repute: Rajendra Prasad, India's first President also became the Guild's Patron-in-Chief; over the years, that almost became an ex-officio position. As she tried to move social work from being "time-pass" into a structured, systematic activity. As much as the Guild opened up areas such as refugee rehabilitation, care for the destitute, foundling homes and such like, Mary Clubwala Jadhav also emphasised the need for a feeder system. That was how the Madras School of Social Work came to be established.
Recognition came regularly; in 1935 she was appointed Honorary Presidency Magistrate for Madras, responsible for the Juvenile Court, a position that she held for the rest of her life, being re-appointed 15 times. In 1946, the Government of Madras nominated her to the Legislative Council, which they did again in 1952 and in 1954. In 1956, she was appointed the Sheriff of Madras, thereby becoming the first woman Sheriff of the city, to go with the honour of having been the first woman to be Honorary Presidency Magistrate. When she received that position, in 1935, she was but 26 years old. But that should not be surprising; though the Guild of Service was founded by Mrs Waller (the wife of Bishop Waller), it is said that Mary "joined hands with her" in starting it. The Guild dates its origin to 1923; it is unlikely that a 14-year old could be instrumental in its inception. Even so, given her dedication to the Guild, it is no wonder that she went on to receive the MBE from the British; the Padma Vibhushan came much later, in 1975, the same year that she passed away - still in service!
Saturday, January 7, 2017
When one think of museums in Chennai, the first one to come to mind has to be the Government Museum at Egmore, with its fabled bronze gallery. And then, you might recall that there is a museum within Fort St George. If you are a fan of the railways, then you would probably put the Rail Museum at the top of your list. And you may somewhere, in the back of your mind, imagine that there might be some specialised museums, such as those for Ramanujan, or Vivekananda.
A museum for the Public Works Department may not even make your list. But there is one such, inside the PWD Estate in Chepauk. It is a library-and-museum rolled into one, and commemorates the 150th anniversary of the PWD. That dates the museum to 2008, for it was in 1858 that Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General, consolidated various departments into a single PWD in each of the Presidencies. In Madras, it meant the coming together of three major departments: the Maramath department (works relating to irrigation, buildings, waterways, smaller roads and bridges), the Trunk Roads department and the Engineering department. The remit of the Madras Presidency's PWD spread over Tamil Nadu, Malabar, Andhra and into today's Odisha.
Considering that extent, it is surprising that the PWD has been able to fit in 150 years of its history into this rather small, hexagonal building; maybe they haven't been able to get all that organized enough, which may be the reason why this library-museum is almost unknown. There is little indication of the museum hours; that bundled up figure at the top of the steps may be able to guide us, but for the moment, it is unconcerned with our presence!
Friday, January 6, 2017
If you happen to talk about old Madras to someone who was around during the 1960s and 1970s, they would most probably have a story to tell about how they went boating in the Cooum in those days. Heck, I would spin a tale too, about how I used to see the boathouses along the river, with boats tied up, waiting for a good bunch of people to gather before being taken out for a spin. But somehow, I haven't had, or heard, of any boats on the Adyar river.
It has been a very long time since a boat has been seen on any of Chennai's waterways. Looking out from one of the office buildings in MRC Nagar, overlooking the northward curve of the Adyar river, I noticed what seemed to be a right regular ferry service. On the eastern bank, a spit of land almost fords the river. But it still leaves the river too broad (and likely too deep) to walk across, while also being too narrow to contemplate a kind of permanent connecting structure.
The ferry service - more like a skiff, with a couple of planks thrown together and supported by a crossbeam - can handle only 2 or 3 passengers at a time. But hey, the crossing can be done in less than a minute, and so there not going to be many complaints from those waiting!
Thursday, January 5, 2017
The Vaishnavaite tradition of south India recognises twelve azhwars as being the foremost of Vishnu's devotees. The earliest of them are believed to have lived in the fourth millennium BCE. The azhwars expressed their devotion mainly through poetry; because most of their verses gained popularity during the Bhakti movements of the 7th and 8th centure CE, it is easier to defend the proposition that they lived during that time and not, as legend would have it, almost 5,000 years earlier.
Because there were only twelve azhwars, it is slightly easier to memorise their names, especially when there are sixythree nayanmars on the Shaivite side of the divide. Even so, in trying to mug up those azhwar names, there was a hurdle; not that they were difficult to remember, but the names would bring to mind other, frightening associations. The second and third azhwars were Bhoodathazhwar and Peyyazhwar, both names being synonymous with ghosts and so were accorded even more respect, and at a different level.
Through all that, the idea of the azhwars were remote, that they were not only temporally but also spatially in a different zone. It was something of a shock to see this gate, leading to a shrine, in the busy Arundale Street in Mylapore. The sign on it says "The site of Peyyazhwar's avatar", indicating his birthplace. But the approach and the shrine, appearing to be largely ignored, indicate Peyyazhwar's presence here in a rather ghostly fashion!
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
We have seen a couple of institutions similar to The Triplicane Permanent Fund Limited earlier - in Mylapore and in Purasawalkam. Those are much older; in fact, the TPFL is still in its 'nervous nineties', having been set up only in 1926. It is not even the oldest in Triplicane; that place would probably go to the SMSO Permanent Nidhi Ltd, which is in its 136th year. And that is much bigger in terms of its book size as well.
The TPFL is a very modest institution - its business volume would have been less than Rs.100 crores in the last year. Though it has only six branches, they are well distributed across the city; and hopefully, they would cover all the existing members of the fund. Intra-city migration would have seen a large number of Triplicane-ites moving to other parts of Chennai, but will continue to remain members of this mutual-benefit society.
And that is also the reason why this firm, despite being headquartered in Triplicane, does not have anyone from that locality in its management team!
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
It has been quite a few posts since the last Eater's Digest came up - and because there was a craving for beef last evening, this one had to be today's post. A generation ago, Kalpaka on TTK Road was the place to go for beef - especially the Syrian Beef Fry, as it used to be called. Funnily enough, that name never evoked any association with the middle east, but the very mention called to mind the flavours of Kerala. That's where the Kalpaka Beef Fry was born, from the Syrian Christian kitchens of that state.
Kalpaka was of course a Malayali kitchen. That meant Kerala porottas and aapams for sure, with a bunch of dishes that you could find in pretty much any restaurant. But what was impossible to replicate was the peppery-coconutty combination of the gravies, which has been the signature taste of the Malabar coast. And in the 1990s it was possible on occasion to smuggle in some nice Old Monk to go with the food; the tradition of Malayalees being able to hold their drink was never contradicted at Kalpaka.
These days, you cannot get the Syrian Beef Fry at Kalpaka. The price of political correctness, possibly, has led to the dish appearing as Kalpaka Beef Fry. Must go back to try it, so reassure myself that 20-odd years cannot change the taste of that signature dish from the Suriani kitchens. If you would like to try that for yourself, this may be a good place to start!
Monday, January 2, 2017
All those air-conditioning units sticking out from this building seem to corroborate the claim on the board; yes, see, we indeed have air-conditioning, can't you see us all hanging out together at the A/C Bar? Although there are about 3,000 bars attached to the TASMAC outlets across the state, there are only about 600 of them that are air-conditioned. So that is certainly an attraction for patrons to visit this bar.
But there was a time when no additional words was necessary for patrons to know what "PALS" had to offer. There were few places in the city where one could go to watch cabaret dances. Hotels such as Oceanic or Savera were at the high-end of this scale, but there were others as well, those which did not advertise their shows. Therefore, it was left to the school-boy's (or even college-goer's) imagination to visualise the dances at Pals, or Hotel Arun - the most popular names of that sector.
Today, there are no dance bars in Chennai. Oceanic's buildings have been pulled down. Savera shows no trace of ever having had dances on the premises. Hotel Arun has been built over by the Ampa Skywalk. Other bars have all had their names replaced with TASMAC authorised serial numbers. Maybe even this one does not have a name to it, for the TASMAC board just says 834. But the sign above it certainly recalls a part of Madras that has sadly disappeared, and Chennai has never ever known!
Sunday, January 1, 2017
It is New Year's Day and I'm going to break with the tradition of posting the 'Photo of the Year'* today; I'm going further, to talk about someone who was not merely a dwijan by heritage, but a trijan (if there is such a term), by having had two re-births his career, one that defined his life. That career was born in 1904-5 when a boy of nine performed at a Srikrishna Temple in Palakkad. As the boy grew to adolescence, the voice that had captivated his listeners must have broken in a way that threatened his singing career; there is little detail on how he got past that setback and was re-born into his singing life. Maybe that was how he developed a resonant voice, so striking that he was on occasion referred to as "bronze-voiced".
More serious was the second occasion. That bronze voice, now belonging to a seasoned and respected singer, was in full flow at a concert; at the end, its owner realised that he had lost it. And he then had to endure six months of suspense, during which period various remedies were tried; finally, the voice came back - thanks to the intervention of Sri Guruvayoorappan, his favourite deity. That was his third life, the one in which every paisa that he made from his concerts went directly to the Srikrishna Temple at Guruvayoor. It is beyond today's imagination to think of performing the Udayasthamana Puja there (bookings are no longer being taken because the current list runs for about forty years or something) even once, but he was able to do it sixty-one times.
Much of his recognition came from Madras; it was here, from this house on (then) Palace Road, Santhome, that he taught his disciples. Many of them are famous in their own right - P. Leela, the Jaya-Vijaya twins, TV Gopalakrishnan and KJ Yesudas. It was from the thinnai of this house that their careers began. The house itself was given to him by TG Krishna Iyer, a friend who had composed 155 kritis, collectively known as Lalitha Dasar Krithigal. In October of 1974, he went back to perform at Poozhikunnu Srikrishna Temple at Ottapalam, where he had, 70 years ago, had his debut. After that performance, he just slipped off his mortal coils while performing his sandhyavandanam - going the way he always wished to. Srikrishna was kind to him; and why wouldn't he be, for Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was as close to a saint as any mortal can ever aspire to be!
*The community of City Daily Photographers celebrates Theme Day every month. Go over to this site to see the best pictures from around the world!
Saturday, December 31, 2016
This appears to be the verandah of a summer house, waiting quietly for its inhabitants to saunter through it for lunch in one of the more shaded areas. Not for it the hustle and bustle of people running around in search of - well, whatever it is that they would run in search of. It invites you to sit down, relax and exchange stories about what is going on around the world, and your opinion on those goings-on.
That is what actually goes on behind those heavy wooden doors. There are a few clues out there for you to guess where this is. The picture above the doors: on the left, the original holy cow, Kamadhenu, representing auspiciousness. On the right, the elephant, indicating strength and power. In between the two, grass (for new growth), the lotus (purity and independence), the Indian subcontinent (harking back to the pre-Independence days) and the sun, a source of vital energy. In the centre, the conch reminding everyone that this organisation carries the voice of the people, and is the announcer of vital news.
Yes, this is one of the lobbies in Kasturi Buildings, the home of "The Hindu". In case all those clues were not enough for you to have guessed it, there are portraits of two of the former Managing Directors of Kasturi & Sons: Narasimhan and Kasturi. Maybe it is difficult to be footloose and fancy-free under their stern gaze. In any case, "The Hindu" is not known for its frivolity or frothy reporting - and we are so much the better for it!
Friday, December 30, 2016
In 1742, Johann Philipp Fabricius, a German missionary, arrived in Madras from Tranquebar. Fabricius was the head of the Danish Tranquebar Mission, a Lutheran congregation and he moved to Madras to provide for the Lutherans of Vepery. It was this man who managed to obtain a printing press - which was seized from de Lally's Pondicherry in 1761 - from Governor Pigot after assuring him that the government's printing requirements would be given a higher priority than the Mission's.
Fabricius contributed significantly to the Mission in Madras. He translated a German version of the Bible into Tamizh, besides a Tamizh-English lexicon. For all those contributions, his name was bestowed, in 1898, upon the Lutheran Mission Middle School that had been set up in 1849. From then on called the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Fabricius School, it arguably most famous alumnus is R.K. Narayan, who joined it as a 6-year old in 1912.
Narayan does not seem to have had much fun in this school, though. In his book Swami and Friends, Narayan has the boy-hero attending the Albert Mission School at Malgudi. Swami, however, gets to do things that Narayan would not have dared to: questioning the Scripture Master's scoffing of Hindu deities, or throwing the Headmaster's cane out of the window when it was threatening to come down for a couple of the juiciest. But let us not forget that Swami was a 10-year old doing all this, while Narayan had to deal with such instances much earlier in his life!
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Early morning on the Marina.
Kannagi seems to be directing the sun on where to shine. According to legend, she set the whole city of Madurai on fire when her husband was falsely accused, and punished, in a case of having cheated the queen of her anklet.
That was eons ago. This statue of Kannagi is much more recent, and Chennai is not Madurai, anyway. But is Kannagi the reason why December continues to be so warm?
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
When I was taking this photograph, I did not realize that these gates hid a long driveway into Bedford House. Most of that driveway is hidden by the trees that grow on the grounds, but I can tell you that on your way out, you will find half the route different from what you saw on the way in. Considering that it is owned by a branch of an illustrious family of industrialists and bankers, it should not be surprising that this house is set in a large patch of land, or that there is no way we can see any part of the house from these gates.
The Bedford House has been with the M.Ct. family for just over a century, now. It was in 1915 that M Ct Muthiah Chettiar, who had moved to Madras from the family seat at Kanadukathan, bought this place. There seems to be no indication why the sellers, Mercantile Bank of India, wanted this property off their hands.
They may have to wait a long while for that to happen!
Monday, December 26, 2016
The shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district, has had its share of misfortunes. One such was a deliberate act of desecration and arson in 1950, that left the stone idol severely damaged. A new panchaloha idol was wrought, and before its consecration, it was taken to several parts of the country. During its perambulations, the idol was brought to this temple on Armenian Street - from where, for one reason or another, it could not be taken out for three days. To recall this incident, a shrine to Ayyappa was added within this temple complex, which has Lord Siva as the main deity.
The temple - the Kachhaleeswarar temple - was constructed in the 1720s, funded by the dubash Kalavai Chetty, who was a devotee of Siva in the form of Kachhabeswarar, the one worshipped by a tortoise. According to mythology, the tortoise was Lord Vishnu, who had assumed that form during the churning of the ocean of milk. The tortoise also forms one of Siva's five seats in this temple; on account of having these five seats, the deity is also referred to as Pancha Vaahana Sivan.
In ancient times, there was a federation of castes based on their 'handedness'; those engaged in agriculture and related fields were referred to as the 'right-hand castes', while the metal workers and weavers formed the numerically lesser 'left-hand castes'. These divisions continued into the early 20th century; but in Kalavai Chetty's time, it was common for Madras to be wracked by clashes between these castes. And Kalavai Chetty was himself accused of engineering these clashes; but he is today remembered for this temple, rather than for the divisions he attempted!
Sunday, December 25, 2016
The Wesley Church on Whites Road survived Cyclone Vardah with little damage to the main building. But outside, almost all the trees along its walls have been uprooted; the wall along Westcott Road has given away completely.
The walls will be built again. The trees will be re-planted, and will grow big and strong again. But right now, these are minor inconveniences that worshippers will have had to suffer today. And there will be many of them coming here today. Faith will not be buffeted by a cyclone or two, not when it has survived for 2016 years - merry Christmas, everybody!
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Stepped out of the house at 5:00am today; it is the 89th anniversary of the Music Academy and a few of us were going on a tour of the Academy's many locations before it acquired its own premises - that's the iconic TT Krishnamachari Auditorium on Cathedral Road. That tour had to start from the TTK auditorium and when we got there, we found there was a crowd of about a hundred people waiting.
Many of them had formed some kind of a line, the chairs lined up from the ticket windows to the entrance doors, and beyond. The rest, about 20, were standing in a group a little apart. We quickly figured out where to go, we were to stand with the group. The rest of the crowd, sitting in line, were waiting for the ticket windows to open so they could try and get tickets for the kacheri of the day. And that was going to be Sanjay Subrahmanyan (we have spoken about him before here and here), the Academy's Sangeeta Kalanidhi of 2015-16.
Of course the line would have gotten longer. Not for the music-loving Chennaiite the long queues formed because of demonetisation. We would rather wait in line for a kacheri ticket, and not be perturbed in the least because we were way behind in the line, and tickets were sold out before we were even close to having our chance. Anyway, the good thing was that there was some 'Academy' coffee being handed out to those waiting for tickets - and I managed to snuck some of that!
Friday, December 23, 2016
Have you ever wondered how many different kinds of fauna share the city with you? No, I don't mean those "animal types" on the road - there is only one animal that can display road-rage, anyway. I am talking about other life-forms, and if you are a Chennaiite pondering that question, try this book by Preston Ahimaz - you fill find many more than you thought likely.
And if you are more specific about the kind of life-forms, you will surely be able to find specific books about them. R. Bhanumathi, has written a series of handbooks - on butterflies, dragonflies, birds, etc., It is in Tamizh and I am sure it would have opened up a world of wonder for a few of the thousands of Chennai's children who do not read English.
But somehow, I felt confident enough about this lovely butterfly that I did not have to refer to either book to figure out this is a lemon pansy (precis lemonias)!
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Let us pretend that you were walking along the northern pavement of Sir Thyagaraya Road, Pondy Bazaar, on a busy afternoon. Naturally, you can't see the signs of the shops because they are right overhead. You look at the displays. And then you suddenly find this little shop door with a couple of stools put out in the front. No glass frontage, no mannequins on display. An old timer sits on one of the stools, contentedly looking on at life passing by. The wooden doorframe, set back from the street, has the word "Kerala" written above it. Peeking inside, you are greeted with a row of empty chairs, display racks and shelves, for all the world looking like a reading room of sorts.
Welcome to the oldest salon in Chennai. It has been 76 years since Sankunni Nair hung up his shingle in Madras. Kerala Hairdressers is now managed by Sankunni's grandson Sandeep. It does not have the slick design or the chirpy conversation of a newgen coiffeur. You are considered a regular only if your first visit to this establishment was as a kid hanging on to his dad's hand - or if you bring your son over for his haircut. It is that kind of a place, where time stops to swap stories of the city, where the English and Tamizh newspapers provide the stage for the clientele to dissect the news for its relevance - and irrelevance - to the patrons.
Don't get fooled into thinking you can just walk in here anytime you feel the need to have your tresses trimmed. It just so happened to be a lazy weekday afternoon. If you have to come in on a weekend, or after office hours, you had better be prepared to wait and enrich the buzz of conversation with your observations. Else, it will be a long, lonely wait for you!
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
This building, on a street off TTK Road, is quite unremarkable but for the contrast it provides to its more modern neighbours. But it is also unique in being probably the only house in the neighbourhood that has a flagpole in the front yard. And under that thulasi plant near the flagpole is something that makes this building one of the very few, not just in Chennai but across India, hallowed grounds of independent India.
The building houses the "Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam", that name paying homage to the "two fathers" of Ambujammal, the lady after whom the street is named. Her biological father was S. Srinivasa Iyengar, a highly respected lawyer who in 1920 returned his CIE and resigned his position as Law Member on the Governor's Executive Council in the wake of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Though Srinivasa Iyengar left the Congress owing to his differences with Mohandas Gandhi, he did not in any way thwart his daughter, fired by the vision of the Mahatma, following him ardently, or oppose her claim that Gandhiji was her foster father.
Ambujammal established the Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam in homage to both her fathers. That was the platform for her to throw herself into social work, continuing her contributions from the mid 1920s right into the 1960s, as the Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board from 1961 to 1964. The Nilayam was the place where Gandhiji's followers in Madras would meet and decide ways to further his programmes in the city and the state. Whenever Gandhiji would go on a fast, there would be prayer sessions conducted at the Nilayam. Such a profound connection with the man ended with his assassination in 1948. But wait, the connection continues. You see, a portion of the Mahatma's ashes was brought here and interred under the thulasi plant you see. No wonder then, this is a place of pilgrimage even today for anyone claiming to be a Gandhian!