Monday, January 12, 2009

Let there be light

Street lamps have been around in Madras for more than 200 years. The early lamps were oil-fed, and the luminaires had to be designed in a way that allowed the wick to burn steadily, braving the prevailing winds if not stormy conditions. That must have been a large consideration when the lamps were first installed in 1785, because most of Madras' elite lived near the Marina - or at least close enough for the strong sea-breeze causing lamps to go out, if not properly protected.

For the first 75 years or so after their introduction, there were only 200 functioning street lamps in Madras city. But in the next 50 years, as the city grew, the number of street lamps increased over 30-fold. When the first electric lamps were introducted in Madras in 1910, there were 6,500 oil lamps all over the city. One can imagine that it would have led to a certain amount of hue and cry, with the City Lamplighters' Union (had it existed) protesting the new technology depriving members of their livelihood. Maybe the lamplighters were told that even though they needn't use their long-poled wicks to light the street lamps, they still had a job to do in maintaining the new electric lamps, too. For a long while, therefore even electric lamp-posts (like the one in the picture) continued to have the crossbars as a rest for the lamplighter's ladder.

Today, the Corporation of Chennai spends Rs.1.6 crores every month to maintain the 120,007 street lights all over the city (that's what they say!). That number includes lamps like this one, inside the Independence Day Park, which appears to be there more for reasons of antiquity than its functionality!

No comments: