Thursday, April 30, 2009

A man of many words

Mr. D.Murali is the Deputy Editor of The Hindu Business Line. Given his chosen profession, it is natural that he gets to read a lot and I was prepared for an office with a fair amount of books in it. But what I walked in to was an office where there were a few chairs, a desk and piles of books. They were everywhere - except for the precise area covered by the sweep of the door as it opened. There were a few books under the chairs, too and I'm guessing that there are stacks of them in the covered shelves behind him.

And the books are of all kinds, ranging across accountancy, marketing, technology and some other subjects that seem to have been invented just for the book having to be written. Murali gets - and devours - them all, yet finds time to keep his morning open to meet people over a long conversation. I came across his open diary about a year ago - it seems a good way for anyone to walk into a newspaper's office and talk at length about something that they are passionate about. For Murali, I guess it gives him enough 'deep background' and would certainly keep him updated about diverse topics from a diverse group of people. The lure of a lunch at The Hindu's canteen is too strong to resist!

Back to the books: Murali reads tons of them (literally) every month, writing reviews for those that he has to (as part of his work) or feels like (on his blog). I can't imagine how many he'd be reading, but he says he reviews about 50 books each month, on an average. I'd be happy if I can get through that number over a year's time!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Colourful choice

Only if you are not interested in the coconut water, that is.

Summer fruits are out there and the roadside vendors are doing pretty well for themselves. Sweet lime, musk melon, apples, oranges, pomegranates, all of them worth their juice.

Where are the mangoes, you ask? Well, they have a tendency to heat up the body, so not too many road-side juice stalls serve them - you're better off having them in a milk shake!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Morning cuppa - and then some

Pattiveeranpatti, a panchayat town in Dindigul district, has a population of just under 8,000 people, according to the 2001 census of India. Chances are that almost every one of them is dependent upon coffee for their livelihood. The town has a history of coffee growing going back nearly a hundred-and-fifty years and is one of the coffee hubs of the country - if further proof of its importance in the world of Indian coffee is needed, consider this: of the 22 associations of coffee growers / traders in Tamilnadu that are recognized by the Coffee Board, 7 have their offices in Pattiveeranpatti. By any yardstick, that makes it a force to reckon with in coffee circles.

Pattiveeranpatti's connect with Madras is not a story of brute power, however. P.R.K.Nadar had started off helping missionaries in the Palani hills sell the coffee from their plantations, sometime in the early 20th century. As has happened in several such stories, he decided that he was cut out for larger things and brought along his coffee to Mylapore. Setting up shop to the south of the Kapaleeshwarar temple, he began selling his coffee to the locals. It is common knowledge now that a cup of hot filter coffee early in the morning does put a lot of beans into the body; almost three-quarters of a century ago, this discovery must have electrified the local populace. Demand grew and P.R.K.Nadar - or could it have been his son? - decided it was time to brand their coffee and so was born Leo Coffee - a brand that has instant associations to Madras, to filter coffee and for Madrasis of my generation, to A.R.Rahman; it is said that the music he scored for the Leo Coffee Ad brought him to the notice of Mani Ratnam, beginning a journey that has so far travelled all the way to the Kodak Theatre.

But the firm of PRK Nadar & Sons takes all of that in its stride, for they still retain some of their old-world ways; click on the picture and you will see their sign still reads 'Madras'. Even more interesting - they still display their 5-digit telephone number!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spot the differences

When we hear the word 'cockroach', the image that comes up to mind is a dark brown, slightly elongated creature, looking for all in the world like the fruit of the date palm. Surprisingly, that creature is not native to India. Rather, they came in on the boats from across the Atlantic, for those are the 'classic' American roaches - the ones that are probably common all across the world, as their scientific name, Periplaneta americana would indicate.

The Indian Cockroach, on the other hand, is not all that common. Chances are that, even if you were to see one, you might think it is some kind of a ladybird beetle and would pass along, thinking that you don't often see a ladybird in black and white. But what you have seen is indeed the seven-spotted Indian cockroach, the Therea petiveriana. Now you know how to spot one the next time around!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beat the heat

Now that summer is back - even in Chennai, it does go away for a bit, you know - the heat busters are in great demand. Cold sodas and all that are fine, they will give you some relief, but what you really need is some old-fashioned coolers. Like the water from tender coconuts, or even palm nuts, but the latter are not as commonplace as coconuts, and not too many people know how cooling they can be.

Chennai is sweltering already, even though it is nowhere near the peaks that would come during the agni nakshatram (fire star) phase. The forecast high for that period is 48 degrees. And yes, that is in Celsius - it will take a lot of elaneer (tender coconut water) to cool that off!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Party TV

Well, it is not what you think it is, for sure. Rather, if you thought of it as anything other than a medium of political propaganda, then you surely haven't yet caught on to that part of Chennai's spirit! Kalaingar TV has its offices in the same building that houses the DMK's party headquarters. That would certainly make for some interesting scoops!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Start of the Road

There was a time, until even about 70 years or so ago, when this used to be called 'The Mount Road'. That name came from the British era, but the throughfare existed much before that, passing along the sides of the villages of Chengalpattu, Pallavapuram, Mylapore, Egmore and all the way on to Tiruvottiyur. By the 17th century, this throughfare had also become the path for the Europeans - remember, the Portugese were here much before the British established themselves - to get to the site of St Thomas' martyrdom.

The British viewed the space around St Thomas' Mount as an ideal area for rest and recreation. That it had spiritual connections was an added advantage. The Council at Fort St George purchased a garden house at St Thomas' Mount as early as 1685 and it was put to use for sick and disabled soldiers to recuperate in. With that 'remote' outpost established, traffic from the Fort increased and 'The Road to the Mount' became an important one, leading out from the southwestern gate of the Fort.

Today, that gate is no longer in use. Mount Road comes in, rushing through the commercial areas, opening out just after Pallavan Salai to give the traveller a good view of Sir Thomas Munro seated, saddle-less, and then rushes over the Cooum before stopping abruptly at this point. And then turns away, suddenly losing itself into Muthuswamy Road (to its left) and Flagstaff Road!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

All you might need

Poojas in a temple need a lot of things to be part of the offering. These days, very few people know what items are required, but yet, they just breeze to the temple with the confidence that there would be enough makeshift shops outside selling all the ingredients one might need for a normal, straight-forward pooja.

Flowers are essential, of course. You have a choice of the arali (Nerium indicum), the jasmine (Jasminum auriculatum), the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), the rose (genus: Rosa) and, because this one is close to the Kapaleeshwarar temple, the nagapushpam (Couroupita guianensis) also. And then you have the grasses - I believe that's the darbha grass, used as a purifying agent in sacred rituals. Finally you have the coconuts and the charad - the small earthern lamps, either filled with ghee or as just the shells.

The agarbattis seem to be missing here - or maybe I'm missing something about the poojas to be performed at this temple!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Local office

The greater agglomeration of Chennai has 3 representatives in Parliament. Very conveniently, the 3 constituencies in Chennai are North, Central and South. In the picture is the office of the Member of Parliament for Chennai South. Situated just behind the Pondy Bazaar police station, this building is normally deserted through the day and for most of the week too, especially when the Parliament is in session.

Things haven't changed much, even when election time has come around. Obviously the MP's office is not the place to meet party workers, but was still surprised to see this kind of propriety being maintained. Maybe it was just the time I passed by? Hope not!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The house by the river

By some quirk of history, the Southern Command of the Indian Army is headquartered at Pune, in Maharashtra. Apart from the four southern states, Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat (!!) also come under the Southern Command. It is not only the largest Command geographically, but also the 'senior-most'; the latter arising from the fact that Surat (in Gujarat), the site of the East India Company's first 'factory' in India, falls under this Command.

The two Area Headquarters under the Southern Command are at Mumbai and Chennai. Needless to say, the one at Chennai covers the four southern states - in army shorthand, it is ATNK & K Area. The ranking officer becomes the General Officer Commanding in Chief for the Area HQ. Of course, the GOC-in-C has a very nicely appointed house to live in; across the road is a sign that could well have become gibberish to the civilian had they insisted on putting in the 'GOC-in-C' bit also - it would have read "ATNK & K Area GOC-in-C, Flagstaff House"

That the Flagstaff House is on the banks of the Cooum is certainly a disadvantage, but one that can easily be borne by Maj. Gen. EJ Kochekkan, the current occupant. A lifelong armyman, he's certainly not going to be put off, no matter how many mosquitoes try to raid his residence!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Empty station

Although it is nearly a generation old, the Mass Rapid Transit System is still fairly new in terms of its adoption by the general public. Unlike the Metro systems of New Delhi or Kolkata, Chennai's MRTS decided to use the same rakes that were being used by its existing suburban train system. Maybe folks saw it as being an extension of the existing network, with all of its downsides and the only upside being that the MRTS trains were now servicing areas of the city where people had had no reason to use suburban trains. Whatever the reason be, it is only over the past three or four years that the MRTS has become a transport mode of choice.

The stations too, lack the bustle of those on the older lines. With almost all stations being raised above the ground level, the noise of the streets does not rise up to the platforms; neither does the crowd and the silence of the tunnel-like station seems quite eerie. But I'm told that Tirumailai station is this way only because it is a Sunday; on weekdays, it can do a passable imitation of a busy suburban train station!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Morning papers

Despite the spread of the Internet and a seemingly infinite variety of television channels, the print media still continues to be a major - if not the major - source of news for the Chennaiites. The Registrar of Newspapers for India, on its website, indicates that there are 5,634 titles being published from Chennai, from dailies to annuals. That data is for the year 2005-06, but considering that in that year, 2074 new titles were registered (all over India) and only four ceased publication, it is reasonable to assume that there are close to 6000 titles being published from the city currently. Sure, that count includes titles like 'Zoo Zoo Zinzu', which I have never ever seen (or even heard of, before today), so you can still go ahead with that plan you had to launch an eveninger next week.

Yet, pause. Look through those numbers again and you'll find that there are 69 dailies in English alone. 386 in Tamil. 492 in all, including Gujarati and Marathi titles. Of course, the newspaper reader in Chennai is spoiled for choice, but obviously so many will not be available at your local newsstand. When you go there, you'll have - let's say, about 6 English dailies (and maybe another 4 business dailies in English), 8 in Tamil, maybe 4 in Telugu and a couple each in Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. By that reckoning, the range in this shop seems to be par for the course.

I need to find out more about that Zoo Zoo Zinzu - both the daily and the weekly that are supposedly being published from Chennai!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Election fever

Okay, the parliamentary elections are still a month away, so the noise and the mess of the campaigns are yet to hit the city. These - what does one call them - decorations (?) came up outside the party headquarters of the DMK when their candidate won a by-election at Madurai a few months ago.

Sure, we can expect more colours lining the roads over the next few weeks - but not too many more. Almost every local party makes do with just five colours - white, black, red, yellow and blue. One would have thought that a new party would choose a contrasting colour, just to differentiate... but no, they just don't seem to want to!

Friday, April 17, 2009

From many, to one

Once upon a time, there were just a few houses along Mowbray's Road, with each of them having large grounds around them. The extent of the 'largeness' is not easy to comprehend, but going into the gates of 'The Grove' will give you some sense of it.

The Grove is the also name of a school run by the CP Ramaswamy Iyer Foundation. It is a very apt name, for there are several trees protecting you from the sun in almost all parts of the grounds. The school is not the only building that you see; there are a couple of others, too. Your eyes, however, will be drawn towards this magnificent building; a building that has been around for almost 125 years. Inside, the rooms are a mix of the spacious and the cramped, the latter probably serving as guest rooms or something, for those single male visitors staying over. As you look around this building, you will also learn that sometime in the early 1900s, it was only a part of the property purchased by Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer's father, a part that was most likely set aside for the son. Sir CP added the first floor of this building and made sure that used some very high quality materials - teak from Burma, marble from Venice, ceiling tiles from Belgium - as he renovated The Grove to his liking.

Today, this builidng houses the officers of the Foundation and an art gallery. As you walk out, you will reflect on the fact that the larger property was called The Baobab; the memory of that one tree is only in The Grove of today!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another version

The state emblem is supposedly sacrosanct and should be represented without any modifications (atte copy, as the Chennaiite would say), in the manner prescribed. The state emblem, as you might know by now, is itself based on an ancient design, that of the pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka at Sarnath sometime in the 3rd century BC. It would have been less complicated if the great Emperor had raised just the one pillar; but he is supposed to have erected quite a few (though only 10 have been found) and had also inspired others to raise similar pillars. So much so, the basic design of a tall column topped off with the 'Dharmachakra' and a few animals can be found in several places, not just across India, but also far away, at Wat U Mong, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Therefore, one cannot rake up an argument that the state emblem has been mis-represented; just because there's a lion capital in a public place, it does not automatically become a representation of the state emblem, you see. This is the third Ashoka Pillar I know of in Chennai, after the ones at Ashok Nagar and on the Marina. Of those two, I am fairly sure that only the latter is the state emblem. This one, as well as the Ashok Nagar Pillar, are merely representations of Ashoka's pillars.

But that does not mean you can fool around with Ashoka and his lions - The State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005 will deal with you if you try any such stunts!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Location. And more of it.

Karumuttu Centre is one of those buildings that start off with aspirations of being monuments to the person they are named after. To develop on that start, it painted itself in a way that stood out from the 'half-white' and cream coloured neighbours to its north; to the south, it did not have any worthwhile building to compare itself with for a stretch of around half-a-kilometre and maybe more. The pencil-shaving kind of staircase (is that a fire-escape?) was certainly an oddity, because its neighbours do not have that kind of an external access.

It did attract some of the more swank names, especially a host of foreign airlines, who made it their flagship office in Chennai. But the building failed to capitalize on that good start; the majority of the space there is taken up by offices that are so cheered by the thought of being on Mount Road that nothing else matters to them. It is not as if the construction is bad or the rents exhorbitant; Karumuttu Centre is a perfect example for how the "three most important things in real estate are Location, Location and Location". If only this building had been a couple of spaces to the north, it would have had a long waiting list of people wanting to be housed there. As it is, being just to the left of the Cenotaph Road signal, it is a considerable pain for anyone coming in from Alwarpet or Adyar to get in - a long drive south to make a U-turn is called for. With the kind of traffic around, that is not an exciting prospect for anyone!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An ocean

It is a terrible thing, cerebral palsy is. Any disorder of the nervous system is heart wrenching, but CP is especially so, because, in more than 95% of the cases, the condition strikes before the age of 3. Unable to articulate desires, wants or even needs, the patient has to be helped through his or her entire life. Since CP primarily affects the motor control centres of the cortex, the rest of the brain is in fine shape, which it makes the condition especially challenging for the care givers.

One of the earliest institutions in the city - if not actually the first - to help children with the condition is Vidya Sagar. In fact, it is not aimed only for the children, but for the parents also; many a time, it is the grown-ups who feel more defeated and despondent. The children know of no such thing as 'giving up'. For them, every day is a celebration of life! The challenge is to make sure the children are able to stand up for themselves and can continue to do that through their life.

Far easier said than done, but the team at Vidya Sagar has just begun their work. Their early proteges are now adults and are coping reasonably well in a society where there are but few opportunities for inclusion. The first twenty-four years have established Vidya Sagar as a key resource in Chennai for children with special needs. The next quarter century will show that Chennai can be truly proud of Vidya Sagar and its students!!

Monday, April 13, 2009


For as long as I can remember, Tamil New Year used to be on April 14; at least, even today, if someone were to ask me about it, the spontaneous answer would be "April 14". But last year was a kind of a double whammy. For starters, Tamil New Year was celebrated on April 13 - okay, it was the 1st of Chittirai of Tiruvalluvar Aandu 2039 - in 2008, throwing a few people off track. And then the Government of Tamil Nadu had announced that, thanks to research by over 500 scholars, the Tamil New Year was being changed to the 1st of Thai, beginning 2009.

Having decided that I would
start this blog on Tamil New Year's day, I was kind of prepared to start on April 13, 2008, even though I had been thinking of the next day. Given all the confusion around the dates, here I was, thinking that today would mark the close of the first year of this Chennai Daily Photo blog and I would begin a New Year tomorrow! Thanks to Ramanan for setting me right - so here's a rather 'unthought of' photo to mark the New Year for this blog!!

That's a picture from the top of St. Thomas Mount - right now, it kind of symbolizes to me that there is so much more about Chennai that remains to be said; the first 365 days have only begun the story.

Thank you all, who have dropped by, stayed on, encouraged, humoured or have suffered through this for the last year.
Just you wait, there is more to come!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Artistic asymmetry

When you stand directly in front of what was once the main entrance to this building (that's the middle arch, now partially walled up), you will be struck by the lack of balance between its two sides. Though this perspective does not show it up that prominently, you can still make out the differences between the two sides. Without doubt, it was done deliberately by Robert Fellowes Chisholm, when he designed it almost one hundred and fifty years ago, because it appears to be something that might well have been cutting edge in the 1860s - and this is a building which needed a cutting-edge design.

Founded as a private institution by Dr. Alexander Hunter in 1850, the Madras School of Arts was taken over by the Government within two years. Though Dr. Hunter continued to be in charge, the institution was renamed the Government School of Industrial Arts, with an Industrial department that turned out building material and accesories, while the Artistic department focussed on drawing / painting, engraving and pottery. Over time, the School included other specializations like photography, sculptre and extended into metal-working. Though the Madras School was not the first formal school for art in India, it was a formidable counterpoint to the Bengal School, producing some of the famous artists and sculptors of the time. Rather ironically, its first Indian principal, in 1929, was Devi Prasad Roy Choudury who had studied his art in the Bengal School and then broke away from it. The Madras School has also had its share of break-aways, the most famous being the Cholamandal Artists village, founded by KCS Panicker, a former principal of the College of Arts and Crafts (as it is now known) along with some of his former students.

It is easy to pass by this building, right on Poonamallee High Road, without paying much attention to it. But the next time, look out for a unique feature of this building; the fish-scale roof tiles (you can see them if you click on the photo to enlarge it), which are rarely to be found anywhere these days!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Learning of temple?

Looking at it from across the road, one is sure it is a Jain temple; the distintictive whiteness of soapstone and marble, unique to these temples, is a giveaway. But the entrance throws a googly at you. Though it does say "Shree Jain Prarthana Mandir", it goes on to also describe the Guru Shree Shantivijai Jain College for Women, leaving one confused if it is two-in-one structure.

From what is visible over the walls, there seems little chance of holding classes in what seems to be a multi pillared, open-hall kind of arrangement on the first floor. The students, however are not required to be inside this building, though it was built to encourage them to be more devout. A rather unusual feature of this temple is that it has two chief deities; on the ground floor is Gurudev Yogiraj Shanti Sureshwari. He is in the standard mode, back to a wall, facing all the devotees. On the first floor, the idol of Shree Parshvanathji, the 23rd Thirthankara, is in the middle of the hall, facing all four directions. That seems to be a really unique way of keeping watch on everything that's going around!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shifting sands

From the War Memorial right down to the lighthouse by the Gandhi Statue, the Marina beautification project has been at it for the past year and more. It was supposed to have been completed by end of January this year, but I suspect it still has a bit more to run before one can declare the Marina Beach 'beautified'.

Not that the Marina needed 'beautification' in the manner determined by the Corporation of Chennai. All it needed - and continues to need - is the deployment of public amenities in large quantities, to make sure that there is no litter clogging up the beach. Of course, controlling the indiscriminate spread of makeshift stalls and other commercial ventures on the beach would also go a long way in the beautification.

But, until people realize that there is a beauty in letting things be, machines like these will keep ploughing the sand this way and that to create the artifice; they forget what John Keats said,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that's all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"*

*John Keats, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', lines 49-50

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Measure for measure

On Erabalu Chetty Street, life is all about trading. If it means taking up a part of the road to transact the business of life, so be it.

It doesn't look like much, but those steel strips being weighed are really heavy - you could sense it when they were being lifted on to the scale and later, when they were taken off. I did not get to see the reading, but I'm sure they represented a significant number for the traders taking the weight in the picture.

Significant enough for them to not bother about the lady trying to walk past or the school kid who is hurrying back home. And if I had to hop over the strips to go my way, it is no skin off their back!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Got it covered

As a shopping hotspot, Purasawalkam does not quite have the draw that T.Nagar has, but it can hold its own against almost any other locality for retail shopping. But a few decades ago, Purasai was the place to go to for almost anything; and it was especially favoured for clothing and textiles. Some of the early clothing 'store brands' of Madras were from this area. Glimpses of old glory can still be seen today - clothing stores line both sides along a stretch of Purasawalkam High Road.

In the early 1920s, this building - Venkatarathnam Mahal - would have been one of the many that housed several families. Carrying out their trading activities, these families would have used the ground floor more for their business, with the upper floor being the more private, family quarters. Today, hemmed in by its newer neighbours, it attempts to cover all its shortcomings by the catchy signages and displays at the street level. Upstairs is another story, though!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The good doctor

It was 1957 and the 'Asian Flu' had begun to spread out from China, where it had originated. Memories of the Spanish Flu of 1918 were quite fresh; when a second wave of the Asian Flu began in 1958, it caused general panic in the regions it struck. Madras was not immune to it and hundreds in the city fell ill and the doctors had a field day, trying out all kinds of concoctions on suffering patients. Each of them had his own presciption, in all probably mixed up by a loyal 'compounder', jealously guarded and claiming greater efficacy than that of competitors. It is not surprising that all these doctors raised a hue and cry when, in an interview to a popular weekly, Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar suggested that the tablet 'Elkosin' was probably the best cure for the raging 'flu. They claimed that Dr. Guruswamy had violated medical ethics by naming a specific brand.

Their alarm was well-founded. Dr. Guruswamy had made his reputation by keeping his mouth shut, listening to his patients, relying on 'percussion diagnosis' even where it was not traditionally used. Though well off, he was modest and frugal; and yet, Dr. Guruswamy would never treat anyone, no matter how poor, without a fee, because he was convinced that if anything was free, it was without value. His brilliance in medicine meant that he could not be denied a full professorship at the Madras Medical College - and so he became the first Indian to hold the post of Professor of Medicine, in the early 1920s. This was the man who had been interviewed during the 'flu epidemic and had voiced his opinion on the mode of treatment. According to him, the service of humanity overruled the ethics of the profession in this situation.

Dr Guruswamy died that same year, 78 years old and still capable of rattling the 'modern' doctors of his time. When a bridge was built near where he lived in Kilpauk, there was only name that could be given to it - a name that it continues to bear today!

Monday, April 6, 2009


There was a time when a hugh area in Madras was completely given over to the horses belonging to the Nawabs of Arcot. There were stables there, but those were only to lock the horses into - with the weather being pretty dry most of the time, the horses were often let loose inside the garden, without much fear of their catching a cold or anything. That garden of horses (ghoda-bagh) went on to become the Kodambakkam of modern times.

These stables in the picture do not threaten to go that way, mainly because there seem to be several takers for the services offered by these horses. Of course there is the regular baraat performance, needing the bridegroom to come in on a horse; then there are several themed parties needing the horses and carts to create just the right ambience - whatever it may be. You may have seen them, all spruced up, heading out for an evening's engagement very early in the day. In case you were wondering where these are coming from, look no more, for here's your answer!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Atheist parking

There is a pretty big church in Lettangs Road (or should it be L'etang's Road? Or Letang's Road? Or what?) called Jehovah Shammah. It may be the reason why several buildings on that road have it written on their walls, "Beware of God". Just in case you do not remember, Jehovah Shammah means 'The Lord is There'.

Whoever parked the car right under the sign must be someone completely convinced that the Lord is everwhere, so it doesn't matter. Alternately, it could be an atheist; stretching that logic, it could be an atheist who does not believe in a God that one does not have to fear, or 'beware of', because "... the God I don't believe in is a good God, a merciful God..."*!

* Catch 22, of course, which lets us not believe in just the kind of God we don't want to believe in!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On a clear day, you can see...

Leading out of the northwestern gate of Fort St George is a long road; now a part of NH4, this must have been the most critical road in the early days of the Fort. It runs fair distance through the city and gets out through its western suburbs, heading out to the seat of the Nayaks, the governors of this region, administering the territory on behalf of their rulers. It was from these Nayaks that the grant of land where Fort St George would be built was obtained. More than a decade later, Nawab Mohammed Ali, who had seized control of all these areas from the Raja of Chandragiri, granted the British that town, the administrative headquarters of the Raja.

The road runs a reasonably straight course for most of its 23-km long distance to Poonamallee; but there are some kinks that cannot be straightned out. Like this one, at the junction of Poonamallee High Road and Raja Muthiah Road. Though it looks like it was taken from the middle of the road, it ws done standing on the pavement of Poonamallee High Road. And yes, on a clear day, you can see right up to the walls of the railway track near the Fort station from here... looking down the road from the other side with the sun at your back, you could probably see a long way, maybe all the way down to Poonamallee!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Day Memorial or Memorial Day?

It is generally accepted that Madras came into being on August 22, 1639, when Day and Cogan accepted a grant of land from the Nayaks of Poonamallee. Yet, there are many who bristle at the idea that this great city was a child of foreign parents. They point to the rock-cut caves and stone-age relics of Pallavaram, to the temples at Tiruvottiyur and even to the 'Portugee' settlement at San Thomé - a town that Arab traders of the 10th century CE knew as 'Betumah' - as evidence of thriving habitations long before 1639. Those objections have some level of validity, but it took the British East India Company's efforts to stitch together all of these, and several other villages, to craft the Madras that has evolved into the Chennai of today. Since those efforts began with Day and Cogan, they deserve a place of honour in the city's history.

Unfortunately, there is no record of any memorial to either of the two, or their dubash, Beri Thimappa; an omission that has often been lamented by several of the city's heritage enthusiasts. The name of this building is therefore rather intriguing. Actually, I missed it at the first look, because the signboard saying 'Madras Centenary Telugu Baptist Church' was what caught my eye and I took the picture of the church building. It was only later that I began to ascribe different meanings to the words 'The Day Memorial' on the building.

Could this actually be a forgotten memorial to the city's founder? Or is it commemorative of the founding day? Another trip to Vepery is definitely called for!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rising up

A little over six months after the traffic police shut down one side of Cenotaph Road, construction of the flyover was inaugurated. During that time, the Metrowater folks dug up the road to re-lay their water and sewage pipes, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board has shifted some of the power cables and Chennai Telephones has restrung their phone lines. In the meantime, a couple of landowners went to court challenging a notification acquiring their land. That last bit can be a complete dampener - some projects had been delayed for years together while the courts sorted out why who did what to whom. In this case the challenge seems to be only against the procedures adopted, so chances of work being affected are not very high.

For the moment, Cenotaph Road and the Chamiers Road junction look like badlands. The pilings on the Cenotaph Road side have been completed and ones on Turnbulls Road will begin soon. The pile driver moved across last week - it should have started its work out there a couple of days ago. Work seems to be moving ahead quite rapidly - this one might actually beat the target date for its completion, courts willing!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Golden yellow

Religion is obviously big in India, as it is the world over. Almost every Hindu ritual involves fire, the purifying agent, at least in the form of lamps if not a larger homa kundam. Mostly, such rituals are carried out with mantrams, the chanting of sacred verses. In some systems of worship, stylized representations of the divine powers are drawn using powders of turmeric (ah, that's the yellow connection!), vermillion and other colours.

But the 'yellow' touch does not end there. The lamps shine golden, the flames reflecting off their ridged stems; the oil used to fuel the lamps is golden too, a few shades darker than the bronze of the lamps. The light falling on the flowers highlights the yellows among them; as the ritual concludes, you get slices of bananas, still in their yellow skins. And finally, the deep yellow of the sandalwood paste stays smeared on the forehead long after the lamps die out!

How much more 'Yellow' can we get on this theme day? Click here to view thumbnails for all participants - there are literally hundreds of City Daily Photo blogs going yellow today!