Monday, December 31, 2012

Grand hotel

The most recent entrant into Chennai's list of luxury hotels, the ITC Grand Chola is indeed quite grand. Spread out over 7 acres in the middle of Chennai, it is truly a spectacle. Inside the building, too, are grand spaces, where everyone wants to be photographed.

As if the lights from the buildings weren't enough, the car had to appear just as the photo was taken - at least it didn't run me over!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chasing birds

It was the sixth edition of the annual Chennai Bird Race today; there is no way I would be able to take a halfway decent bird picture with my dinky camera, so you'll have to be satisfied with this one - you can see the entrance near the top. It is the abandoned nest of a subird.

This was taken at the Nanmangalam forest. We did see about 35 bird species there, but not the poster boy of the place, the Great Indian Horned Owl. Disappointed!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Here's another from the Pulicat Lake. He's standing close to the shore, and the net is attached to a cord that has been fastened at his wrist. The pouch tied to his belt serves to store the fish he catches. As you can figure out, he's not hoping to bag any big ones!

Friday, December 28, 2012


Pulicat Lake straddles the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Just over 100km away from Chennai, it is easily accessed from the city. People flock there to watch the flamingoes, which come in every year to these backwaters - which is what Pulicat Lake actually is.

Several boatmen are willing take you out to watch the flamingoes, adding to their regular fishing income. Almost the entire stretch is quite shallow, so the boats are actually punted across the lake. And in some places, such as this, the boatman gets down and pushes the boat across!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New shrine

Going by the antiquity of Chennai's temples, this one is quite new. Supposedly around 150 years old, the Kodanda Ramar temple was established by a group of ascetics from Bhadrachalam in current day Andhra Pradesh. They set up the temple the way they knew how: similar to the temple of Sri Rama in their hometown. In that representation, it is Lord Rama's coronation - and that grand event was depicted in the main shrine of this temple.

However, the temple fell into disrepair rather quickly. The power of the deity was yet considered formidable; so much so that a resident of the neighbourhood was advised to pray to Him as the last resort. Venkayalu Kuppiah Chettiar was tormented by a disease that doctors of early 20th-century Madras could not find a cure for. All seemed lost, until Kuppiah, an avowed atheist, heeded his friends' advise and reached out to Lord Rama of West Mambalam, his neighbourhood. In return for the miraculous cure that was effected, Kuppiah Chettiar renovated the temple, and installed an idol of Sri Rama with his bow, the Kodandam. With that installation in the late 1920s, the temple came to be known by its current name.

The street is named after the temple; also nearby is the street named after Venkayalu Kuppiah Chettiar - although with changing social mores, it is now listed merely as Kuppiah (Ch) Street!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Flag waver

He seems to be an anachronism in these high-tech days. It is only when one gets away from the cities that the standing of a railway station master can be truly gauged. In the small stations along the country's rail network, the master is truly one. In the larger ones - towns, cities - the 'Station Master' designation is being replaced by something called 'Station Manager'. Maybe replaced is not the right word, for there are some stations where both officials are working. 

According to the All India Station Masters' Association, the country has 35,770 railwaymen who we notice as our train passes the station; they stand there, waving a red or a green flag. Nice job, being friendly to the trains that pass along. Of course there is more to it, but especially in a rustic station, where time runs slow, such flag waving is possibly the high point of the station master's day.

But an MRTS station like Velachery - shown in the picture - is somewhere in between. The frequency of trains is not so high that the station master keeps popping in and out, and not so low that he can sack out between trains. For a moment, I thought this particular station master was confused about which flag to wave!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tech park

The second big IT park promoted by the Tamilnadu Industrial Development Corporation was the ITPC - the International Tech Park, Chennai. But very few refer to this facility by that name, preferring to address it by the name of TIDCO's partner for this venture: Ascendas. 

Covering approximately 2 million squarefeet of built up space, ITPC is located close to TIDEL Park, TIDCO's earlier venture. Unlike TIDEL, which is one building with four towers, Ascendas has three separate units: Pinnacle, Crest and Zenith. Again unlike TIDEL, the buildings of Ascendas are close to the road - which makes it feel like just another office building. It lacks the sense of awe that TIDEL invokes in a first-time visitor.

For all that, Ascendas is still a swanky address for a new-age company. At least to that extent, it has gone ahead of its bigger brother, the TIDEL Park!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Club by the road

Established in 1873, the Cosmopolitan Club was set up primarily because the gentlemen of Madras were stifled in their "social intercourse with European gentlemen" because of the 'Europeans Only' policy of the Madras Club. The Cosmopolitan had as its objective the furthering of this exchange between European and Indian gentlemen of Madras. 

From its earliest days, the Cosmopolitan has been functioning from this location on Mount Road. Though it had its first establishment in Moore's Garden, it moved to Mount Road very early and has continued to remain there. 

Subsequently, it acquired the Travancore Pavilion at Nandanam, further down the Mount Road. That is now the Golf Annexe of the Cosmopolitan Club, boasting of one of Chennai's three 18-hole golf courses. The fairway on one of the holes runs parallel to the road - though it would take quite a bit of effort to send a ball into the traffic, it is not unheard of!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What crowd?

If I told you this photo was taken almost directly opposite Chennai Central station, you would probably call me crazy. It is one of the quietest spots you can find on that stretch of Poonamallee High Road; chances are, however, that you've rushed past this building without thinking of what lies inside.

The Ramasamy Mudeliar Choultry has a pretty big yard, once you get inside the gate. It was also the place where the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses used to start from (wonder where they are, now?). And inside is the (probably) only statue of the man who gave a lot to the city where he made his fortune.

Go inside, see it for yourself. And be happy that even in the middle of all the rush, Chennai still has oases of Silence and slow Time!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shook up

These arches, at the southern entrance to Chennai's first planned locality, came up almost twenty years after the locality itself did. Having re-named Nadukkarai as "Anna Nagar", in a bid to attract folks to the place, it was kind of odd that the locality did not have anything specific to remember CN Annadurai by. 

That was fixed in 1984-85. Annadurai was born in 1909, so 1984 was the celebration of his platinum jubilee year. The man himself had passed away in 1969; yet, there was a lot of fanfare around him. These arches were built as a part of the platinum jubilee celebrations. 

A couple of months ago, these were to be brought down - at least temporarily, so as to clear the space for construction of a flyover on Poonamallee High Road. Demolition began towards the end of August. However, a week went buy without much progress in bringing down the structure. And then, on September 5,  the demolition of of these arches was brought to a halt by the Chief Minister! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Leaving town

Was away from Chennai for a couple of days. Travelled out on the Chennai-Tada Highway, which is the first leg of the NH 5. The NH 5, connecting Chennai to Kolkata, is one of the highways that form the 'Golden Quadrilateral' - the project connecting Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi.

Though referred to as the Chennai - Kolkata highway, the NH5 technically ends at Balasore, Odisha. The road to Kolkata, beyond Balasore, has 2 stretches; one, as NH 60 to Kharagpur and then from Kharagpur to Kolkata as NH6.

This part of the NH5, from Chennai to Tada has been built by L&T Infrastructure, who also continue to operate and maintain it - and of course, they have to levy a toll for that! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking to lodge?

Ah, well, you could do better than Sri Ramakrishna Nivas on Woods Road. But then, you could do a lot worse, too!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First school

The modest entrance does not do justice to what is the country's first institutionalized school for the fine arts. Though there were groups of artists following a particular style and sensibility of painting and sculpture practicing in different parts of India, they were more like guilds than educational institutions. It was in Madras that the first formal teaching institution for the fine arts, the Madras School of Arts, was established in 1850. 

Unlike many other institutions that came up in those days, this has moved only once. It began life as a private institution, set up by Dr. Alexander Hunter, who thought of it as a commercial venture, and instruction was more about imitating ethnic products to be shipped out to Europe. Finding it difficult to maintain the quality of instruction because of its 'private' status, Hunter agreed to stay on as the Principal and allowed the government to take over the school. Renaming it Government School of Industrial Arts, the authorities moved it away from Popham's Broadway to its current location on Poonamallee High Road

The Madras School has been a pioneer, especially in recognizing that fine arts went beyond painting and sculpture. Photography, as a course of instruction, was introduced as early as 1855; the work done by the students has been collected into 17 volumes of photographs of Madras and its surroundings. These are still available in the college library - but you would have a hard time identifying even one of them in its current location!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thrice born

The first building at this site was a cinema named 'Globe'. It was one of the earliest theatres on Mount Road and enjoyed a pretty good run for a few decades. In the late 1970s, it was shut down and, after  a couple of years, was re-opened as the Alankar Theatre. In between, just before it shut down, it went through a re-branding, calling itself 'New Globe'.

Even its makeover into Alankar did not stop the plunge. Alankar became one of the earliest theatres on Mount Road to transform itself completely. Forsaking the silver screen, the owners went on to build a commercial complex. In naming it Prince Kushal Towers, they were probably recalling a time when this was part of Khushaldoss Chaturbujdoss' estate along Mount Road!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rear entrance

As you go east on Avvai Shanmugam Salai (earlier known as Lloyds Road), you will most probably miss this unused gate on your right. The gate is a break in a long walled stretch; most of the people I polled assumed the wall had something to do with the American Consulate - a wrong, but reasonable, guess. 

If you get through this gate, you would find yourself on the grounds of the St. George's Cathedral. Though, from this point, you would be closer to the cemetery than the cathedral itself. Tempted? Don't be, because it is far easier to walk in through the main gate of the cathedral on - where else! - Cathedral Road!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


That was the first thought on seeing this beauty at the Kattupakkam Livestock Research Station  of the TANUVAS. Lord Emsworth's favourite person in the world was his pig; the Empress of Blandings, supposedly a Berkshire pig. Now, Berkshire pigs are black, but I had always thought of the Empress as a pink pig - thanks to the illustrator's influence. Also, Emsworth's magical manse was set in Shropshire and this pig in the picture traces its ancestry to Yorkshire, rather than to the former county.

Kattupakkam LRS has had a fair amount of success in being able to produce a domestic strain of the original Large White Yorkshire. Over the past decade, the station has been offering seed-stock to pig farmers. Quite likely that this lady has several of her progeny all over the state!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Start harbour

By some estimates, 90% of the losses in goods between England and Madras occurred on the final stretch between the merchantman riding anchor on the Madras Roads and the sands of Madras. The boatmen of the masula boats bringing in the goods were notorious for knocking off quite a bit of their cargo. This was a situation that had gone on for literally hundreds of years, from the time of Francis Day until the foundation stone for the Madras Harbour Works was laid on December 15, 1875. 

The need for a harbour was felt very early on in Madras' life. But what with one thing or another, plans kept being made and dropped - including one proposed by a certain Warren Hastings, when he was the Export Warehouse Keeper of Madras. That was in 1770. Three-quarters of a century later, a plan for a thousand-foot pier to push out to the Madras Roads was put forward. It was approved in 1857 and finally the pier was open for business in 1861. Between 1868 and 1871, the pier was damaged by severe storms; a new plan made in 1873 thought of the harbour as a closed system, protected by a breakwater jutting out to sea. And so it was that construction began, with the Prince of Wales (later to be King George V) laying the commencement memorial stone on this date in 1875. 

It took about 5 years for the harbour to come up and it was operational in 1881. Unfortunately, the November rain and storms that year was so severe that the new harbour was almost completely destroyed, and had to be rebuilt from scratch. That, however, is another story! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Framji Hall

This is a picture taken from the gate of Framji Hall, on West Madha Church Road at Royapuram. Framji is not an unusual name among the Parsi community; in fact, among the first group of five Parsis to arrive in Madras during the late 18th century was Framji Edulji Rudibaina, a merchant. This group of traders, along with the two priests who came with them, settled in Royapuram. With their success came more of their brethren and that part of Royapuram where they were concentrated came to be known as Anjuman Bagh.

But it took almost a century before the Parsis organized themselves. The first Parsi Panchayat of Madras - to be renamed Madras Parsi Zarthoshti Anjuman in 1900 - was set up in 1876. That founding panchayat had Edulji Dinshaw Panday at its head, as President. The Secretary was Sorabji Framji. The latter went on to head the Anjuman and was also a key mover for setting up a Dar-e-Meher, the fire temple of the Parsis. 

It is likely this is named after Sorabji, rather than the first Framji of Madras. Though called a Hall, it seems more residence than meeting place. Was it Sorabji's house that has now become a reminder of how Royapuram used to be?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Baby croc

Those were the days when Steve Irwin was a big hero. The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust had this small enclosure where you could hold a baby croc in your hands. It was fun to hold them, but I doubt the croc was amused!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy Rajinikanth, birthday

You wouldn't have missed it in Chennai. It was supposedly the first time in over a decade that the SuperStar had stayed in the city on his birthday. He normally spends it in the Himalayas or somewhere similarly far away from the fanmobs.

The picture here is from 2008, when his movie "Kuselan" released. Of all the hoardings there, only one is for the movie itself. The others are from his fan clubs, showing off their prime satellite status.

Possibly the 12-12-12 sequence tempted him to remain in Chennai for his birthday this year. Not many knew that, apparently. A friend from out of town told me that his auto driver offered to take him past Rajini's house and as they passed it, was complaining that Thalaivar does not let his fans celebrate his birthday with him. If only he had known!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fast foto

Running out of pictures, and time. Random pictures of Chennai will come to my rescue, as one does here. The eatery has cornered the market, with the hotel and the fast food joint. It is tucked away at Iyya Mudali Street, Chintadripet.

As this picture uploads, I realize the sign to its left is also quite interesting. It seems to promise that Venkateswaraswami will get anything for you - as long as it is either 'ஏ' or 'ஷட்'!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Highway traffic

Tamil Nadu has about 61,500km of roads running across the state. Of them, roughly 9,200km are designated as state highways. There are not many that were conceptualized as highways and constructed accordingly; most of them are roads that were in existence and were given the title because of their importance. 

State Highway 109 was not one of those. There are stretches where SH109 has taken over existing paths, but more than half of it was specifically laid to connect the suburb of Pallikaranai with Thoraipakkam. In doing so, it cuts through the Pallikaranai Marsh, which has now been designated a reserve forest. 

Getting on to this stretch of SH109 early in the day, one is bound to spot many of Chennai's bird watchers. On both sides of the road, there are literally thousands of birds to be seen and that brings both amateur and professional ornithologists in sizeable flocks. But this place also attracts folks with a different passion: a fairly smooth and straight road, with minimal traffic, is the ideal stretch for the power vehicles to vroom away. In a 20 minute span, we saw a couple of Audis, a Porsche and a Harley open up their valves and fly away!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Charity church

Although the board outside says it is the home of the "Missionaries of Charity", this church seems to be tucked away into relative ignorance besides its neighbour, the St. Peter's Church at Royapuram. 

There is a little mystery around this. The Missionaries of Charity started their Chennai operations only in 1965. But the date on this building says "1895-1900". There must be something more to it - but what?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What about the spelling?

This is a restaurant that my father remembers from a long, long time ago. Maybe it is not the same restaurant, because he sets it as being on Mount Road, close to the LIC Building and this  Kwality Restaurant is on Montieth Road. The memory comes from the way its name is spelt, so the location is not so important.

About four decades ago, he had popped across from his place of work for a chai and probably a smoke as well. The restaurant was not crowded and he saw someone a few tables away. He looked familiar, but it took a while for dad to place him. And when he did, he rushed across to shake hands with Sir Vidia - then just plain Mr. Naipaul.

After chatting a bit about "A House for Mr. Biswas", "A Flag on the Island" and "In a Free State", dad ventured to ask him about the food. He is still wondering about Mr. Naipaul's reply:  "As good as the spelling"!

Friday, December 7, 2012

View from third man

Did you get here because you were frustrated by England grinding India at Kolkata? Now that you got here, do you recognize where 'here' is?

It is not a legendary ground, but I have a lot of memories. Designed more for a football or a hockey match, the 'B' Ground at Loyola College is used for cricket matches of lesser importance. Like the one happening in the picture, which has the Chennai-based alumni of India's best B-Schools - the IIMs and XLRI - play each other annually. 

The average age of players in this tournament would be in the high 40s. But yet, this bunch of players would surely have done better against the Poms!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Much before Double-Seven came up as a cola brand, long before Maggi's 'instant' noodles flooded the market, there was a firm in Madras that had been there and done that. Maybe even gone a step further.

Sree Ganesh Ram Foods came into being in 1954. It was an offshoot of Hotel Sri Rama Bhavan, started in 1936 by an Iyer-duo: RSN and RSG. Maybe 7 was their 'lucky number' and they went at it thrice over, putting the 777 brand on the pickles and masalas they packed. Food processing technology being what it was in those days, there were not too many branded products in the market. SGR Foods, with their 777 brand went into products other than pickles. One such product lines was the food mixes, which they branded 'Dhideer' (that's Tamizh for 'instant'). That brand was a cult hit - everything became 'Dhideer', even if it had nothing to do with SGR Foods. 

Today, SGR Foods churns out roughly 2,000 tonnes of processed foods, spanning eight categories and nearly 150 variants. Not all of them go under the SGR brands; it appears that private label contracts are booming. SGR Foods is looking to raise funds to triple(!) their production capacity. Why wouldn't you invest?!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Track and field

Not often that you get a chance to see the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium from the train. On a weekday, the carriage would be so crowded that one would not even be able to breathe deeply for fear of pushing a couple of people out on to the tracks. 

On a Sunday morning, it was nice to get this view as the train pulled out of Chennai Central. Would have been nice to get a view of those tracks inside the stadium, as well!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ispahani complex

Uh-oh! Were you looking for something about the Ispahani Centre in Nungambakkam? That's a johnny-come-latey, having been around only for about ten years or so. This building, in Begum Ispahani's name, has been around for a whole lot longer. 

The name itself is supposedly Persian in origin. Given where this is located, it is more likely that this branch of Ispahanis merely passed through Iran on their way to Madras from Armenia a couple of centuries ago!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Corner shrine

This one is a little more 'advanced' than the Nandi of Flagstaff Road. The offerings are more elaborate and it has a roof over its head. Give it another 5 years and there will be claims of this having been 'always here', making life difficult for pedestrians if they choose to use the footpath.

The Supreme Court had directed - in 2009 - that unauthorized construction of any place of worship on public land should be permitted to remain. Does not seem to have made much of an impact!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Title list

Of the close to 300 films he starred in, about 60 went on to become 100-day runs. Even those that did not had something to be remembered by. Except for a period in the 1980s when he was going through that limbo between clinging on to 'youth' roles and settling into the elder statesman roles, Sivaji Ganesan's movies were all very interesting to watch. 

The entire list is shown here on a wall at Shanthi Theatre, Sivaji's own exhibition venture. It may be tempting to think that the theatre would have flogged his movies with or without an audience, just to set records. But this was during a period where Sivaji was the king of the box office - and his films were not shown at Shanthi alone. 

On 18 occasions, a Sivaji picture was released against another Sivaji picture. Quite a few times, both of them did well. It might be a bit difficult to read them off this list, though!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the street

It is indeed a secretive place. I haven't seen anyone go in or come out of this "Russian House" on Cenotaph Road. It is quite a large compound, but the Russian consulate is not located here - that's on Santhome High Road. 

Most likely, this is the Consul's residence. But he must certainly go in and out a couple of times a day at least, shouldn't he? Or is there a more cloak and dagger explanation? Anyone??

The theme day for December 1 is "My Street".... and this one is close enough. To see streets from different parts of the world, click here: City Daily Photo Blogs' Theme Day

Friday, November 30, 2012

Water clubs

There they are, some visitors to the Royal Madras Yacht Club, getting into the boats for a spin around the harbour. The club itself operates out of the building in the background. 

If you visit the RMYC and get into the first floor of that building, you are bound to see a bunch of fishing rods and other angling gear stored there. That's because the Anglers' Club, India uses the building as their base!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Most often, if you are headed south along the Marina, you would go down Santhome High Road to get to your destination. But if you are a bit late in the morning - I guess after 9 am - you will be turned away at the light house and told to go along the road that starts off at Nochhikuppam, goes through Doomingkuppam and gets back to the Santhome High Road at Pattinapakkam. It is not a very scenic drive, despite being on the beach and having the Bay of Bengal right next to the road. 

But it takes you to a different Chennai. One where the fishermen still get out before the dawn cracks and get back in time for you to buy fresh catch for your lunch, or if you wish, a late breakfast. If you are running late, driving on this road - very grandly labelled "Foreshore Estate Promenade" on the map - think about those who have finished their first shift of work and have brought their boats back to park on the beach!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prayer hall

As far as its history as a part of Madras goes, West Mambalam does not have much; there were probably a few villages on the western side of the Long Tank, but little remains of them today. It was only after the Long Tank was filled during the 1910s that this area came into its own.  

Given that vintage of its surroundings, this 58-year old hall is a venerable institution. It had its beginnings during the Rama Navami celebrations in the year 1954. K. Subramania Iyer felt that the good folks of West Mambalam deserved their own celebrations rather than having to run across to those in neighbouring areas. Spurred on by his friend Srinivasa Rao, they approached Vepathur Venkatarama Iyer who shelled out Rs.25 as his donation; buoyed by this, 'KS' and Rao sought contributions from other residents of the area. With a princely sum of Rs.242, the first Rama Navami celebrations at West Mambalam were conducted for nine days in a thatched shed on Bhaktavatsalam Street. 

Vepathur Venkatarama Iyer continued to support this fledgling effort, when KS and Rao, now with a few others helping them, wanted to create a permanent hall for the celebrations. It was Iyer's support that helped them secure the 10,000 sft space on which this hall stands today. Dedicated to the Lord Rama, it was named the Ayodha Ashwamedha Maha Mandapam. Drop those two words in the middle and anyone will show you the way to the focal landmark of today's West Mambalam!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Brand launch

Was at a book launch this evening, at the Landmark store in Chennai Citi Centre. It wasn't one of your regular books - this was about how 'SuperStar' has evolved to be a brand and about what product brands can learn from the 'SuperStar'. Titled 'Grand Brand Rajini', it connects different aspects of the man to the field of Brand Management.

On stage (right) are the two authors, PC Bala Subramanian and Ram N. Ramakrishnan. With the mike is the chief guest, a star in his own right, is Balki, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of Lowe Lintas (India). Balki was pointing out how 'SuperStar' has becoming a brand by staying true to himself and thereby true to what his 'consumers' expected from him. 

That view was echoed by the fourth person on stage - Lata Rajinikanth, who talked about how the 'SuperStar' was as a person. Anecdotes that only burnished the shine of the 'SuperStar'. With such a launch, I'm sure the book will be a grand success!

Monday, November 26, 2012


How many mobile phone towers does Chennai city have? Surely somebody must be keeping an exact count, but the closest estimate seems to be "around 5,000". Apparently, their number is unregulated, probably because it doesn't involve digging up roads or "pulling cables". 

The statuette at the corner of Ayodha Mandapam's frontage shows a different form of wireless communication than provided by the tower in the background. The cables in front of it are of course universal to Chennai's streets.

From September, there has been a spurt in the number of mobile phone towers - thanks to the DoT's order to reduce the radiation from each tower to a tenth of what it used to be. Has that helped in getting calls through? Or do we rely on having to trumpet our message across?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Misty morning

It was not the earliest of mornings; much of the city was up and about already. But it is a Sunday, so there is that extra round of gossip when collecting the milk, catching up with the neighbour's newspaper, and suchlike things happening even as the clock was getting to 7am.

It is a great time to be in Chennai. Crisp mornings, not so hot days and early evenings. The rain staying away is not good, but it comes with the blessing of dry streets. 

View from Brindavan Street, towards the subway that takes you to the heart of Chennai's shopping.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chintadripet church

That was the functional name accorded to the church that was set up in 1843 in Chintadripet. Situated on Arunachala Mudali Street, this church was ministered to by a succession of family members for over a hundred years. All of them are descendants of Cuddalore Arumugam, who in 1733 became the first Indian to be ordained a Protestant pastor, taking on the name S. Aaron. Aaron's great grandson, Rev. William Thomas Sathianadhan was assigned to the Chintadripet Church in 1863. By that time, the church had constructed its building - something that happened in 1847 itself. It was expanded in 1880 and then again in 1912. 

It was Rev. Sathianadhan who renamed it the Zion Church; after his time, his son in law, Rev. W.D. Clarke took over as pastor and the family connection continued through his son and grandson. The last Clarke, of the fourth generation, served as the pastor until 1972. 

Apart from the pastors, the other long-running association this church has is a pipe-organ, which was brought from England in 1895. Renovated in 2006, it continues to add music to the church choir to this day!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mixed message

On noticing this sign, one is reminded of a post that has been circulating for a while, claiming that if the first and last letters are correct, the jumbling up of other letters does not  make it difficult for us to understand what is being said. 

The urban dictionary has a word to describe it: typoglycemia (and a wikipedia entry as well). But even that contrived word does not describe what has happened with the sign here. Even if you cannot read Tamizh, you would have been able to figure out that the last two characters replace the 'tre' (or the 'ter', if you prefer); they are the Tamizh letters which are phonetically congruent. 

Maybe the painter realized that he had run out of space and had to make do with one character less - how would you label this kind of a 'spelling'!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Inside the Chennai Port. Those who have been to the world's large ports - Rotterdam, Singapore, Shanghai talk about how dirty the Port of Chennai is. But going back there after over 20 years, I found it cleaner than it was in my memory. 

If a picture like this had been taken in the 1990s, the water would have had a thick coating of oil on it - that would have made the picture more colourful, but I'm sure we'd prefer it this way!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

70 mm

Of course the old time Madrasis will not be able to recognize this space. About 50 years ago, there was a different building that came up at this spot - the Anand theatre. It has given way to a shopping complex, just like many other exhibitors from that era. 

G. Umapathy, wanted to make a splash with his new theatre in 1964. And so he brought in the latest in technology; the 70mm movie. It was the first 70mm screen in Madras, beating Safire to the reel on that count. And the two of them vied with each other in bringing the best of the Hollywood to Madras. 

Sadly, neither Safire nor Anand survives today. One hopes that Mr. Umapathy's family retains some part of the history is incorporated in the shopping complex that is coming up....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Standing tall

It was at one time the tallest building in India. Conceived as the headquarters of his business ventures, M. Ct. M Chidambaram Chettiar spared no effort in getting the best architects to design it. Even though the original architects - Brown & Moulin of London - went off the project after construction had started, LM Chitale, who was later to be known as one of Chennai's best architects, took over supervision of the building's completion. 

Based on the design of the UN Secretariat building in New York city, this building also marked a transition in Madras' construction technology. Into the 1950s, bricks and lime were the material of choice even for large commercial or office buildings. This one was the first to use concrete columns, paving the way for larger buildings to come up in other parts of the country. Chidambaram Chettiar did not live to see the building in use; he passed away in 1954. And when the insurance business was nationalized in 1956, the planned original occupants - United India Insurance, New Guardian Life Assurance, Travancore Rayons and Indian Overseas Bank - gave way to the new behemoth, the Life Insurance Corporation of India. 

No longer the tallest building even in Chennai, the LIC building is still a grand structure. A few months ago, there was a scare that the tunnelling for the Chennai Metro is causing cracks in the edifice. But that is nothing for a building that was shut for well over a year in 1975-76, after a devastating fire rendered access to any part of this building dangerous!                                  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nosing ahead

The Chennai airport has been at the receiving end of poor reviews, almost all of which are well justified. The airport is pretty much at the limit of its capacities in all forms. And rather than go in for a completely new airport - as was done at Bengaluru or at Hyderabad, Chennai opted for the revamp route. 

Ever since the first terminal was opened sixty years ago, Chennai has been reluctant to let the airport move out from this location. The original terminal - seen in the background - was referred to as the Meenambakkam airport, because that was the nearest suburban railway station. When the new terminal was built in 1985, it was no longer Meenambakkam; the railways in fact built a new station at Thirusoolam, between Meenambakkam and Pallavaram to cater to the airport goers. But try telling a Chennaiite that it should be called the Thirusoolam airport and you will be left feeling that the coals of Hades would be a refreshing, cool change.

The expansion is to be completed in 2013-14. And if current projections hold, that would be bursting at the seams by 2016-17. The TN Vision Plan for 2023 envisages a completely new airport, near Sriperumbudur, about 50km away. Even when that happens, we will still call it the Meenambakkam airport, I'm sure!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Old house

Chintadripet was one of the earliest 'planned settlements' of Madras. It was in 1734 that the Company took over a garden (and quite a garden it must have been) belonging to Sunku Rama Chetty, who was until 1731 the Chief Merchant of Fort St George. That land was given to him in 1719 by Governor Joseph Collet, but in the years that followed, Sunku Rama Chetty's arrogance to the Company's European merchants led to his downfall. Not only was he dismissed from his post in 1731, Governor Morton Pitt took over his garden with the intent of creating a settlement for weavers. 

By 1735, the 'Village of Small Looms' ("Chinna-thari-pettai" சின்ன தறி பேட்டைwas up and weaving. Apart from the Audikesava Perumal temple, there is probably no other structure that dates back to the early days of the village. But walking down the roads of Chintadripet today, you still get to see many old houses - like this one, which is surely from the turn of the 20th century. 

This picture was taken during a photowalk a couple of months ago. A fellow photo-walker's post says the lady sitting on the thinnai was waiting for her daughter-in-law to bring her her 2nd cup of coffee!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

East-west connection?

Senegal, on the west coast of Africa, is one of the few African countries that has never had a Coup-d'Etat in its post-colonial history. Over the past 52 years, Senegal has seen peaceful transition of power from one President to the next. In 2012, despite (or maybe because of) the constitution being amended to allow him to contest for a third term, Abdoulaye Wade lost to Macky Sall. 

Senegal has had strong trade connections with India. In fact, India accounts for well over a quarter of Senegal's international trade. Therefore it is not surprising that apart from its embassy in New Delhi, Senegal also has an Honorary Consul in India - and that person is in Chennai. Somehow it is fitting that it is a person running a logistics services firm who has been chosen; Mr. Ashok Thakkar has been Senegal's Honorary Consul for a few years now. 

The next time you are thinking about a trip to west Africa, you know where you need to head to first: McNichol's Road in Chetpet, which is where you will see this sign. Or actually, maybe not. You don't go to the Consul's house on business, you're better off going to his office in Royapuram!

Friday, November 16, 2012

And a trophy

The 2nd Viscount Goschen's tenure as Governor of Madras was quite a mixed bag, but there is not much that I have been able to find about his administrative abilities. He probably did quite well, because his name pops up at all kinds of places. If it was the public library yesterday, it is this trophy today.

Called the Goschen Cup, it was presented to the Madras Sailing Club in 1928. You can see it today if you are nice to folks at the Royal Madras Yacht Club (which is what the Madras Sailing Club has morphed into). It is not normally on display - it was out because of the Madras Day celebrations in August. 

Will request someone from the RMYC to give us more information on what this Cup is for.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reading hall

Tamil Nadu's Directorate of Public Libraries manages over 4,000 libraries in the state. Of those, very few can claim to have a longer history than that of the Goschen Library in Chintadripet. INTACH's guide to Madras' buildings dates it to the end of the 19th century, but it is more possible that it was actually founded in 1927 - the 2nd Viscount Goschen took up his position as Governor of Madras only in 1924. Of course, both may be correct; the building could have served as a public meeting place before being re-purposed as a library, in which case, we should also know something of its original name.

That's not difficult, for there is something on the facade; as far as it an be made out from the picture, it is something like "P. V... Chetty's Hall". It would be far easier to read it on the building itself. So, it is possible that the public hall was taken over to establish The Goschen Library. In its heyday, it had over 15,000 books. Today, like many other public libraries, it serves as a quite place for those wishing to read the daily newspapers; anything more substantial may be expecting too much from the vast majority of the 4,000 libraries in the state. 

It was too early for visitors - the library opens at 8 am, shuts for lunch at 12.30 pm and then, after a siesta, functions again between 4 pm and 8 pm. One of these days, one must get into this library during the working hours and try to figure out how many of those 15,000 books remain!