Monday, October 21, 2013

Union office

Once upon a time, WIMCO was an iconic brand, at the very least in the Tiruvottiyur area. It was one of the earliest factories there. The company itself was incorporated in 1923; the factory at Madras used to make matches, which was what the company was known for, so it is likely that its presence at Tiruvottiyur goes back to the first half of the 20th century.

I don't remember much about the factory, even though I had visited it a couple of times. But I remember this building on Tiruvottiyur High Road very well, since I passed it every day for a couple of years or so. WIMCO itself went through a very tough time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with industrial unrest being almost a standard feature of its operations. Almost all the workers at Tiruvottiyur left. Wimco Workers Union was without a raison d'être. The building came to be used for other businesses. 

Once this building goes - as it is bound to, soon, - there will be little left of WIMCO in this place. The last survivors will be the residential area, still called Wimco Nagar, and the suburban railway station of the same name. Wimco will pass into history!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ba-Ba Street?

The area to the west of Mowbray's Road, in the early 19th century, was largely paddy fields. Further down was the 'Sudder Adawlat', native courts of the time; the main building was called Sadr Gardens - whether that was a corruption of 'Sudder' is a debatable point - and probably was the judge's residence. The Sudder Adawlat was abolished by the Indian High Courts Act of 1861, so by the time its most famous resident was born, Sadr Gardens had forgotten its courtly history and was just a comfortable garden house. 

But destiny had a way of re-connecting Sadr Gardens with its legal legacy. One of the most respected judges of the Madras High Court, Justice Basheer Ahmed Syeed, lived at Sadr Gardens for most of his life, certainly from the time he became a judge, in 1950, to his death in 1984. He had professional company in his neighbours; many lawyers spilled over from Mylapore into Alwarpet, on the eastern flank of Mowbray's Road. Among them was Bhashyam Iyengar, a senior lawyer and one who, like Basheer Ahmed, was involved in many public causes. Bhashyam Iyengar had his residence at Champaka Vilas, just south-east of Sadr Gardens.  

By the middle of the twentieth century, the paddy fields had gone. Basheer Ahmed was at the height of his social activism, having served on the committee of the Music Academy and also having set up the South India Education Trust; Bhashyam Iyengar was in the twilight of his life. There was a road, or more probably a path, between Sadr Gardens and Champaka Vilas. It was probably after Bhashyam Iyengar's passing away that this road was named after both these legal giants. Since then, many who see this sign for the first time are left wondering how this confusion of a Muslim name beginning with an obviously Iyengar appellation could have arisen!

Monday, October 14, 2013


It is barely 6 am and the light is wonderful. We are about 30km out of Chennai, on the East Coast Road. The Muttukadu Boat House brings back memories of how a college senior fell into the water just as she was getting off the boat, and how quickly panic gave way to embarrassment on realising that the water was only about waist deep at that time. 

But that was low tide time and it is not to be taken as an excuse to jump into the waters here. Muttukadu was one more of those open stretches of backwaters along the coast, until a boathouse was opened here by the Tamil Nadu Tourism department, about forty years ago. Even then, it had to struggle to keep itself going. The boat rides that would take you under the bridge and then circle back to the pier were thrilling by themselves, but there was nothing more at the spot.

Not that there is much more available now for the typical holidaymaker out for a good time. The boathouse is bigger, some restaurants are nearby and there are different kinds of boats available. This early in the day, however, we were watching the pelicans and the cormorants, as a solitary fisherman punted his way towards the shore. Hope all of them had a good catch!

Sunday, October 13, 2013


At a time when the world was a much larger place, say a couple of millenia ago, a journey from Mylapore to St Thomas Mount was considerably long-haul. Going inland from the beaches of Mylapore, the traveller would most likely find thick groves, and then the scrub jungles. Coming out of those jungles infested with leopards, wolves and snakes, the traveller would be on the banks of the mighty Adyar river, which must be forded if he was to climb up that hillock of St Thomas Mount.

Thomas Didymus, he of the famed doubt, reportedly made this journey quite frequently. And in the course of doing so, he had at least one specific resting spot, according to legend. Hearing about this, the Portugese settlers at San Thome made sure they also took time out at this spot during their pilgrimage from their seashore settlement to the hillock shrine. Over time, they built a little church here in 1650. It continues to be in use although the name has been changed from the original Portugese Descanco Church to Illaippari Madha Kovil.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New word

Over the past few (several?) years, there has been a sustained effort to ensure that the names of stores and businesses are displayed in Tamizh as well as in English. Initially, the stores just transliterated their names into Tamizh, but these days, they have gone beyond, and have been using more specific words: e.g. 'அடுமனை' for 'bakery' and 'வந்போருலகம்' for hardware. 

This was however a new one on me. I had seen the Tamizh word 'குவியம்' written as 'kuviyam' in English, though I did not know what it meant. When I saw this sign, I just had to look it up - and it seemed very nice, to 'mis-spell' it in English, and to make it fit the business of being an optician: 'kuveyeam' means 'focus'!

Friday, October 11, 2013

One more century

There were a lot of coloured flags along the school wall and I was trying to figure out what they were for. A small sign (you can see it too, if you click on the photo to enlarge it and then check between the second and third flags from the right) gave me a clue, even though I could not really believe it.

The Ewart School - it has a much longer official name - started off in 1913 with three students. It was part of the effort by the Church of England to provide girls with proper education, at least as a finishing school. Over its century, Ewart's has had 7 principals - each of them serving for a long enough stretch to leave their imprint on the school.

The school song is a piece by Rudyard Kipling. I was wondering if he wrote it for Ewart's, but no, he did not. And it is not his work 'A School Song', but the closing poem, 'The Children's Song' from 'Puck of Pook's Hill' that has been used here!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Studying development?

If you have ever had questions about how the patterns of rural-to-urban migration have evolved over the years, this is one place you could probably look to for answers. The Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) was founded in 1971 by Dr Malcolm S. Adiseshiah after his retirement as a Deputy Director-General of the UNESCO. The work that he turned out was impressive enough for the government of India to think about making it an institute of national importance. Accordingly, in 1977, MIDS was taken over by the government (both centre and state governments collaborate in its administration now).

Even though its work continues to provide significant inputs to the development agendas of governments at various levels - remember, it does have a national brief - the main body of the MIDS continues to operate in these premises. It was Dr Adiseshiah's house, which the MIDS trust turned over to the government - and it appears to be pretty much the same way it was when it was taken over!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

End point

This pier is just outside and parallel to the eastern boundary of the Bharati Dock. It juts out a long way to the northeast, and helps to form a channel through which ships enter and leave the Port of Chennai. This basically means that you cannot sail a ship in a straight line from Port Blair to enter the Port of Chennai; even though the course of that shipping route is a straight line, your ship will have to turn to the north and then make a U-turn to get into the city's harbour.

The light at this end of the pier is named after the eighth Viceroy of India, Lord Dufferin. Did he contribute to the extension of the port in any way? I don't have an answer to that, but I hope that someone will be able to come up with an explanation of why and how it came to be called the Dufferin Light. The only other nautical connection that I have been able to find is that the first dedicated training ship in India for marine engineering was the RMIS Dufferin! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The things you find

Of course there was curiosity. But no luck in identifying whose it was, for the passport was missing a few pages and there was no information on any of the other pages. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Quiet pond

Tucked away at a corner of the Chennai port is a little waterbody called the Timber Pond. It does not berth any of the ships coming in to the Chennai port, but it serves as the parking spot for private yachts as well as the port tugs

The Royal Madras Yacht Club has its office at the edge of the Timber Pond. First time sailors are let out into the Pond, where traffic is limited and, should the hull capsize, rescue can be quick. The kids in the picture are both out on their first sail all by themselves. They did topple out a couple of times, but kept their heads above water and right the hull. It all seemed so commonplace, that it was difficult to believe they had fallen off into some 40-foot deep waterbody!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Old marker

This stone tells of a tree being planted to mark the centenary of a building’s foundation. That’s a nice, ‘green’ marker, and it tells you that being green is not a new fad. This tree was planted by Lady Willingdon, the then governor’s wife. That should give you some indication of how long ago it was done.

That tree is itself now nearly a century old. Planted in 1923, it was part of the centenary celebrations at St Mathias Church, in Vepery. More of the church itself later!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mixed up?

Once upon a time, the name of this street was a little longer. But with the government deciding that caste names and titles should not be publicly acknowledged, the original name of Kalavai Chetty Street was shortened. And in doing so, they anonymised one of Madras' prominent merchants, Kalavai Chetty. Some of his business partners, who were dubashes of the British East India Company, are remembered - with their full titles - in street names of George Town.

Kalavai Chetty was quite prosperous and lived north of Fort St George. His business dealings took up a lot of time and he was unable to visit the Kachhapeeswarar temple in Kanchipuram as often as he would have liked to. His solution was simple: build a temple in Madras itself. That he did, giving over a part of his lands on what is today Armenian Road. It may not have hurt him much, because at his peak, the leases he held included Tiruvottiyur, Tondiarpet, Vyasarpadi, Purasaiwakkam, Egmore and Nungambakkam. 

The settlement of Chintadripet, where this street is located, was a little after his heyday, although he must still have been around. Maybe he gave up a part of his holdings here for the settlement to come up, and hence a street with his name came up here rather than in George Town. How nice it would have been to have retained his anglicised name, Colloway Chetty, in this street - when the Chetty dropped, that would have got us all mixed up!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Waiting to fall

It must have been a lovely residence in its time, but it is now a bhoot-bangla. Set back from the road, it would be missed by almost everyone walking past. All along Ritherdon Road, the buildings, even old ones appeared to be quite well maintained, so this one came as a surprise. Managed to get this one picture before the watchman there insisted we go away.

Surprisingly, there are several buildings like this one. Left to ruin because there are several claimants to the property, litigating over it. Wonder if any of the neighbourhood kids use this to play in… or is that too dangerous?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Inside, looking out

Was ‘security’ in business complexes always this bad? Of course they used to ask you about why you were coming in, who is it you had to meet, and all of those questions, but it was still a human process. As an employee in one of those complexes – or factories – you had a friendly equation with the security folks, but with the implicit understanding that if you tried funny stuff, he wasn’t going to be your friend.

But the people working in this building on the OMR tell me that the guards make no attempt at being friendly. Even if the same guard has seen you for the past five years, s/he will still have a few questions to ask, and they are not about the weather or your haircut.

Well, maybe they are doing their job, but it makes you feel that you have accomplished something heroic!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Looking up

Well, it is Gandhi Jayanthi. And there are still many who look up to the Mahatma.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Details, details

The Khalas Mahal was once the palace of the Nawab of Arcot, and it has now been taken over by the government to house some of its offices. With that, many parts of the Mahal are now out of bounds, with even the employees not accessing them at all.

This balcony is one such. It was originally built with a lot of flourish, with a fair amount of detail in the wood-work, as well as in the three marble mosaics immediately below it. Unfortunately, not many people who visit these offices have time to look at these details, for they would be dreading other kinds of details the officers might demand of them!

It is the theme day at City Daily Photo and the theme for today is 'Details'. More details at the CDPB Theme Day page