Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
One of the occupational hazards of being a 'dubash' (from 'dvi' = 'two' and 'basha' = 'language') with the East India Company was having your name twisted around and being anglicized beyond local recognition. Resilient people they were, the dubashes took it all in their stride, comfortably straddling two worlds separated not just by language, but also by customs and cultures.
One such dubash was Alangatha Pillai, who was prominent enough to be one of the first 12 aldermen of the Corporation of Madras - he was named in the Charter itself. Apart from being a dubash, Alangatha Pillai, or Allingall as he was referred to by the British, was also the chief merchant of the British East India Company in Madras, coming to that position in 1680. Even in the days before he became the chief merchant, Alangatha Pillai had built up a good deal of coin with his dubash skills. Like many good folk, Alangatha Pillai deployed some of his earnings to religion. While he was likely generous in his donations to several temples, it is believed that Alangatha Pillai was specially fond of Ekambareswarar, the deity at Kanchipuram. He was a regular visitor to that shrine until the governor (was it Streynsham Master?) put it to him that if he were to build a temple near the Fort, a great deal of travel could be avoided*. Putting that idea to work, Alangatha Pillai had the Ekambareswarar temple built on what was then the Washers' Street.
However, there are other versions which claim that the temple has been in existence for over 500 years now, dating it to a time before the British. In which case, Alangatha Pillai probably financed the temple's renovation, endowing it richly from his personal fortune. Because of his munificence, the temple was marked in the official records as "Allingall's Pagoda"; that name did not catch on and the temple continues to be known as 'Chennai Arulmigu Ekambareswarar Temple'. There is, just as soon as one steps inside the temple, this carving on one of the pillars, showing a devotee. It is believed this represents Alangatha Pillai, the chief devotee at one time!
* A similar story is said about the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kaladipet, but that'll have to wait for another post!
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
At their head is the current Amir-e-Arcot, HH Mohammad Abdul Ali, who is the eighth Prince of Arcot. The first Prince, HH Azim Jah Bahadur, was granted the title in 1868 by Queen Victoria. That was to compensate, in some measure, for the vast properties seized by the British after the last Nawab of Carnatic, Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan, died heirless in 1855. Out of the chaos surrounding the British governement enforcing the 'Doctrine of Lapse', Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse's uncle, who had served as his regent, was created the first Prince of Arcot. Part of that deal was that the family would move from Khalsa (or was it Kalas?) Mahal, where the Nawab's family continued to stay even after it had been taken over in 1859.
Amir Mahal was over 70 years old even at that time and needed a fair amount of renovation. The Royapettah Police Court, which was then functioning in the premises was moved out, and several repairs and modifications made to the buildings before the formal investiture of the title "Prince of Arcot" was made on April 12, 1871. The first Prince, though, never lived at the Amir Mahal - he requested that he be allowed to continue living at Shadi Mahal and so the first occupant was Sir Zahir ud-Daula, who succeeded to the title after his father's death in 1874!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The boat which Macaulay writes about would most likely have been the 'masula boat', but even in those times, catamarans (from 'kattu-maram', meaning 'logs tied together') such as the ones in the photo would have been very much in use. Though motor boats and mechanized trawlers are preferred by many fisherfolk today, those who operate on a smaller scale continue to use these catamarans - of course you can see these boat bringing in the catch of the morning, a commonplace sight every day.
It is not easy to imagine what Macaulay meant when he writes about the fury of the surf at Madras; the hundreds who come to the Marina would imagine it is a different Madras. A different Madras indeed it was five years ago, when the tsunami of 2004 hit the city, taking with it over a hundred lives. The surf was indeed furious that morning - let's hope it does not happen again!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Boag's name did survive for almost fifty years after he left India in the wake of the country's independence. His residence was then taken over by Kysamballi Chengalraya Reddy, the first Chief Minister of Mysore state. K.C. Reddy didn't stay there for very long, for his political ambitions and interests were outside Madras. In 1959, the house was purchased by Sivaji Ganesan, who was by then a very popular movie star. It was probably during the renovation carried out by Sivaji that the building acquired its Art Deco frontage; that renovation took quite a couple of years. When he moved into the house, Sivaji re-named it "Annai Illam" ("Mother's
Abode") - was it because he was also acting in a film of the same name during that time?
In 1995, Sivaji Ganesan was awarded the title of Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur; in 1998, South Boag Road (Theyagaraya Road had cut across Boag Road by then) was renamed 'Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Salai'. Though the actor moved on to a higher stage in 2001, the house continues to be occupied by his sons, who consider it a memorial to their father. Surely, Sivaji's name will live on in the road much longer than that of Sir G T Boag!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The shutters are still locked up, waiting for a formal inauguration. Would they open to allow everyone in? Or is there someone going to watch over the entrance and open it only for those who "really need" to use the elevator? Does anyone use this crossing at all?
Actually the first person who used the new construction was someone who got on top of it last week and threatened to jump off - luckily the Fire Service personnel got him before he leapt!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
It was in 1793 that the "citizens of Madras", as represented by the Council in Madras, sent a letter to the President of the Royal Academy in London, expressing a desire to memorialize the military achievements of General Charles, the 1st Marquess Cornwallis. During his tenure as the Governor General of India between 1786 and 1793, Lord Cornwallis defeated Tipu Sultan in the 3rd Anglo-Mysore War. That was the crowning glory of his military career; a career that might have been consigned to the ashes when he surrendered to George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau after the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Luckily for him, King George III was favourably disposed to him and instead of being left in the cold, he was sent to India as the Governor General, where he redeemed himself in no small way.
And so the request from the Council at Madras, that the Royal Academy send them a statue executed under the "inspection of the Academy". The Academy assigned the task to Thomas Banks; the final sculpture, 14.5 feet tall, showing Cornwallis in all his lordly mien, standing upon a pedestal reached Madras sometime in 1800. One account has it that the statue was erected in Fort St George, while another says its first home was under a cupola at the junction of Mount Road and (today's) Cenotaph Road. That's a fine point, but the statue did spend time at that junction, which was when Cenotaph Road got its name.
The pedestal shows Tipu Sultan giving up his two sons as hostages, to be held until Tipu was able to pay the multi-million pound indemnity to win them back. Many thought this particular depiction was in poor taste (compounded by poor execution - the work on the base of the statue suffers greatly in comparison with the detailing of his Lordship) and that was probably one reason why the statue was moved to the Fort in 1906, overlooking the Parade Ground. In 1925, it was moved to the gates of Bentinck's Building, the then collectorate of Madras. That location was too close to the sea and the salt air did not agree with his Lordship. In 1928, he was moved to the Connemara Library and then, in 1950, he was moved to the newly purposed Fort Museum - and here, he only has room under the stairs!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It is not like the 'wet markets' of Hong Kong or Singapore, but with no blood being spilled here, it doesn't need to be washed. But you'd better watch out for all the dust!
Monday, December 14, 2009
In those glory days, boating was quite common on the Cooum. Although there have been no boats for quite a long while now, skeletons of the boat houses are still around - you can see one on the right, just over the wall. It is rather surprising to see them standing even today!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The first lighthouse at Madras became operational in 1796 and was little more than a lantern with reflectors, housing a dozen coconut-oil burning lamps, placed on top of the Exchange Building (the Fort Museum of today). It was used for almost 50 years, when it was moved to the Esplanade, atop a Doric column built for the specific purpose of serving as a lighthouse. That column, which came into use in 1841, still stands inside the High Court complex, having given up its crown to be housed in the minaret of the Court. The Argand Lamps and reflectors, which began flashing on January 1, 1844, was supplied by Chance Bros., Birmingham and was replaced - rather, improved upon - in 1927 and by all accounts continued to be used until 1977.
So which is Madras' fourth lighthouse? All of you from Chennai would have seen it at the south end of the Marina, but that's subject for another post!
The minaret may not look so tall from this perspective, but an older post shows it standing head and shoulders above its cousins!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Meanwhile, Governor Davidson was succeeded by Sir Archibald Campbell - he wanted his private secretary A.M. Campbell to be in charge of the Post Office, with Robert Mitford as his deputy. That was not acceptable to the Company headquarters, since neither were Company employees; they favoured Burlton as the chief of the Post Office. As often happens, a compromise was struck and on June 1, 1786, the General Post Office opened near the Sea Gate of Fort St George with Mr. Richard Legge Willis as its chief. For the next 70 years, the GPO worked within the Fort. It was only in 1856 that it moved out to Garden House, in Popham's Broadway.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1884, it moved to this building on North Beach Road (now Rajaji Salai). The architect was Robert Fellowes Chisholm, who incorporated elements from Travancore, Bijapur and Gujarati architecture to come up with this building, which continues to be Chennai's General Post Office today. Though a fire in 2003 ravaged the rear of this building, the facade still stands as a striking example of Indo-Saracenic architecture!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The building was then bought by C.R.Srinivasan of the Swadesamitran for the newspaper's offices - their presses were in Royapettah, but perhaps Srinivasan was carried away by the symbolism: taking over 'Victory House' from its British owners reflecting the success of the newspaper's strident calls for 'self-rule'. Maybe he named it 'Victory House' after he bought it, celebrating that success. In any case, the newspaper itself fell away and was almost bankrupt by the mid-1970s.
It was sometime around then that The Swadesamitran Ltd began asking its tenants to move out of the Victory House, claiming that the century-old structure was unsafe for occupation. One of the tenants, who was paying a monthly rent of Rs.7,000/-, offered to buy the 10-ground property for Rs.20 lakhs. The situation became messy, with Swadesamitran going to court for an eviction and the tenant filing a counter-case arguing that Swadesamitran was backing out on their deal merely to raise the price. While I do not know the details of the arguments, or even the final judgement, it is easy to assume that the tenant won the case. Over the years since, that former tenant - VGP & Co. - has converted the entire building into one huge stockpile of consumer electronics and durables. Victory House has lost its earlier charm (you can see the earlier building in this picture, on the right) and has become one more nondescript structure on Mount Road!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
That's good news for a few of the kids from around the place. They have been using the nice, flat surface of the road as a cricket pitch over the past couple of weekends - at least there's some kind of 'driving' going on there!