Friday, February 28, 2014

SYMA, not summa

The Srinivas Young Men's Association (SYMA) was formed in 1977. The Association appears to be careful about not mentioning the founders names anywhere. The belief is that the idea is more important than the individuals. The idea, of course was that the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. So a few good men went ahead and created a forum for them to serve their country and fellow-men, starting with their own locality. 

We can imagine there were at least seven of them, since starting such an organization as theirs needs a minimum of seven signatories. They would certainly have been from Triplicane, for that is where SYMA has its office, and also where a majority of their activities are centred around. Also, the addresses for all seventeen of their current office bearers have the PIN code of 600005, which of course is the one for Triplicane.

Triplicane has always been a bustling, ready-to-take-on-anything kind of area, with a fairly high degree of social awareness. Combine that with the several symbols of spirituality around, and you will find a group of people - even youngsters - who carry out socially useful tasks with fervour. Needing to find a name for their organization, the founders looked to the names of God which could used for their venture.  And since the idea was born at Tirumala, they took one of Vishnu's names, thereby making sure the Young Men of the Association were blessed!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where holy stopped

That's the literal translation of Thiruninravur, about 30 km as the train runs from the Chennai Central station. The legend goes that, after a tiff with Vishnu, the Goddess Lakshmi left their celestial abode in a huff. As she stormed about, she spotted this land; with a large lake and forests around, it seemed to be a good place to rest. The rest grew longer, for she was entirely charmed by the beauty of the place. 

Vishnu, in the meantime, had charged Varuna, the God of the oceans, with bringing Lakshmi back. Finding her at this spot, Varuna desired that rather than take her away from this beautiful spot, it would be better for Vishnu to come over here. The Lord did, and Varuna worshipped them as a couple. Since Lakshmi had stopped here, the place took its name from her act. 

This temple has Vishnu as its main deity, in the form of Bhaktavatsala Perumal. The temple is reputed to be over a thousand years old; Thiruninravur seems to have been continuously inhabited for that long. However, it is today a sleepy moffusil town. Nice to visit, but stopping there? Some other time, maybe!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


This is a sight that one might not get to see any more. The stretch of road between Panagal Park and Thanikachalam Road appears to have gained width over the past two or three weeks. And no, there has been no road-widening effort during this time. It is just that a major cause of congestion on this road has been shifted away. 

That's right. Walk along that stretch of Thyagaraya Road today and you will find that the walking is easy. Where even going single file on the pavement was a struggle, folks now walk three or four abreast. Nobody leaps into your face with - pretty much anything under the sun. Clothes, cutlery, lingerie, music, whatever takes your fancy could be found in the pavement shops of Pondy Bazaar. 

Those shops have now moved to a single building, a little closer to Anna Salai. Maybe the aisles in that building mimic the footpath the shops have been used to. However, the casual passers-by have no real reason to walk into that building; it will only become one more of the stores on the street. The charm of walking along and ending up buying a couple of those thingamajigs on impulse will no longer be felt along this shopping street, robbing it of most of its character!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Old car

The first motor car was seen on Madras' roads in 1894 - so the story goes. But that is an unverified statement and the more verifiable date of a motor car being used in Madras is placed as 1901. That car was used by A.J. Yorke, who was a Director of Parry & Co. The motor car must have got him to work before anyone else, even though he lived in Adyar and his office was in 'Town'. By all accounts, Yorke's car was un-numbered, probably pre-dating the need for such registration of vehicles. 

The first registered car in Madras belonged to (later Sir) Francis Spring, who was then with the Madras Railway Board. It was registered with the very original MC-1 number. Of MC-2, there is little information to be found, but the first car registered by a 'native' came in as MC-3. That belonged to the master builder of Madras, Namberumal Chetty. 

This one - MSC 3738 - was seen at another Chettiar's property. This one parked inside AVM Studios and is probably taken out twice a year, during vintage car shows. It is a Vauxhall 14, dating back to 1938. The registration number, however, must have been made later; the MS series of numbers were in use in Madras even in the late '60s, before giving over to the TM series; and I can remember the schoolboy challenge - if the car 'TMS xxxx' sings, it is only because 'MSV xxxx' is making the music!

Monday, February 24, 2014

East tower

For all its presence through this blog (in fact, it had featured in the very first post), the Kapaleeswarar temple at Mylapore has not been written about at all. The main reason for this is quite simple; it is difficult to pack all of the information about this temple into a single post. So here is one about the eastern gopuram (tower) of the temple - one of the two grand gopurams over the entrance to this temple, the other one being over the western entrance. This is the taller one, rising up to a height of about 125 feet, with seven distinct 'floors' above the entryway. Topping off these seven floors is the set of 9 kalasams (pots), gleaming golden in the light of the morning sun. 

Legend is that the kalasams are a combination of lightning conductors and seed vaults. Ancient manuals of temple construction apparently decree the nature of the metals to be used, and the size of the kalasams. It is believed that the kalasams should be filled with grains, sufficient enough to be used as seed-stock should the town / village suffer a severe crop loss. That the grains are non-conductors of electricity kind of negates the whole lightning conductor theory (unless the earthing happens right at the point of contact?), but that could also be the reason why townspeople were exhorted to not build any structure taller than the temple's gopuram

And yet, lightning might sometimes bypass the conductor / arrestor that is intended to attract it. It was on the eve of Madras Day (Aug 22) in 2007 that this gopuram was struck by lightning, the first time since its renovation in 1906. The nasi thalai developed a crack, and a chunk of stone dropped off. One of the idols was also partially damaged. Luckily, nobody was injured in this incident. Special pujas were performed within a day, but the reinforcing of the gopuram took a couple of months - and there have not been any further lightning strikes since!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Multipurpose building

It was intended to be the integrated complex housing the state's legislative assembly, the secretariat and maybe some government department offices as well. But with petty rivalries overtaking any kind of reasonable thinking, the entire building has been 're-purposed' to be inaugurated as a multi-super-speciality hospital.

As somebody mentioned, the architect must have been a super-duper thinker. It doesn't matter what you want to use it for, the building will be able to accommodate it!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

First in co-operation

Frederick Nicholson, Collector of Madras in the late 19th century, had proposed setting up agricultural credit banks to alleviate the problems faced by the farmers. That experiment was successful, and a few years later, the government was attempting to see how that model could be extended to non-agricultural sectors as well. Both these attempts - the agricultural credit banks as well as the extension of such credit facilities to other sectors - were spearheaded by the Madras Presidency, but their impact was across the subcontinent. 

Based on the recommendations of the committee that considered extension of credit societies, The Co-operative Credit Societies Act 1904 was passed in March 1904. Almost as soon as the Act was passed, a group of people in Triplicane registered the first society under that Act. The Triplicane Urban Co-operative Society (TUCS) thus became India's first registered co-operative body. The founders included V.R. Singaravelar and Ambat Sivarama Menon, with VS Srinivasa Sastri taking charge as the first President. 

TUCS continues to be extremely active today. It is run by a Special Officer deputed by the state government, and has over 100,000 individual members. It also has close to 300 institutional members - not including the state government, which is the largest shareholder - and over 50 other co-operative societies as members. Its turnover during the current financial year is expected to cross Rs.200 crores, making it a very decently run organization. The building in the picture is the headquarters of TUCS, inaugurated in 1952. Being the first in the country, TUCS has had a huge role in shaping the progress of the co-operative movement across India - even if that is hidden from many of the citizens!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Eat it up!

I agree, the city is good enough to eat, at times. This one - will it need a lot of preservatives?

Just asking!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reel life

The AVM Studios at Vadapalani has been around for a few decades. Having been founded in Karaikudi in 1946, the studios moved to Madras a couple of years later. Since then, they have been continuously in operation, making it one of the very few such across the world. The others - mainly Hollywood, I guess - have made the sets and the production facilities into money making ventures by themselves, but it is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to find any such 'immortalization' of a movie set in India.

Considering that AVM Productions itself has put out 170-odd films, the space in the studios would not have been sufficient to store bits and pieces of those sets, not to mention the ones created for films by other production houses. Also, Indian movies are not overly dependent on sets, preferring to use other, real-life, locales for large parts of the movie. No grand set remains here for star-struck visitors to ogle at. 

The ones that still stand around - like this corner shop - are allowed to be there because they may come in handy for the next film; unlike many other custom-made sets, props such as these can be re-used with a couple of changes and a coat of paint. But I guess some of them are still up there more because of sheer laziness of having to pull them down!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stop-the-bus Day?

It is a celebration that is, as far as I know, unique to Chennai. When it was begun about a dozen or so years ago, it was conceptualized as a day of gratitude. Students would felicitate the crew of the buses that brought them to college - the bus would have a garland, and would move slowly along the last couple of kilometres before reaching the college. If I remember right, the MTC also earmarked a few buses for the celebration, taking them - and their crew - out of regular service and allowing the students to use them for the special run to celebrate the 'Bus Day'. The police were also on hand to ensure that the slow-moving buses, and the students marching and dancing in front of them, did not hold up traffic too badly.

But then, things began to go out of hand. No college student likes being told what to do, so 'Bus Day' was celebrated whenever the spirit moved the students of a particular college. The celebration spread from being a one-day event to a two-week nuisance. Things got so bad that a public interest writ was filed in the Madras High Court. The Court came down heavily on it and, in 2011, banned all bus day celebrations for ever. The students, however, keep finding some excuse or the other to hijack a bus, maybe for a couple of hours. 

Here is one such scene in progress, sometime towards the end of last month. 23C is the bus that has been held up. It took us about 20 minutes to get past the crowd, thanks to three or four policemen who were doing their best to minimize the general inconvenience. It was the next day I learnt that more policemen had to be called in, and they had to resort to a lathi charge to chase away the mischief makers - most of them were probably not students at all!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Popular post

Facebook is everywhere, isn't it? Here is further proof, if you needed it. 

For one, the Chennai City Traffic Police has its own Facebook page, even though they are still trying to figure out how to put it to best use. Meantime, it serves to take in complaints about haphazard parking, traffic snarls, and for the citizen to post an occasional pat on the back for the cops.

Noticed this sign at a traffic light a few days ago. There haven't been any instances of serious accidents directly linked to Facebook updates yet, but the city's police is not taking any chances, I guess!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Toy story

I do not know the number of dedicated toy shops in Chennai. Not having had a need to look for a toy shop in the past few years, I supposed I am past the stage where such information matters to me. But it came back to hit me when the wife and I found ourselves having to pick up toys for a nephew a couple of days ago. In the past, it has always been Landmark, with the decision being which one of their outlets I should go to. 

But that was before the toy store at Express Avenue had opened. This time around, the Landmark options were ignored in favour of a dedicated store for toys and games. Is it the only one in Chennai? I don't think so - there was something called Toys 'R' Here in Nungambakkam, which could possibly lay claim to having been the first such in Chennai. However, they have had to change their name to Mera Baby Shop - and I have no idea if they have had to change their product portfolio as well.

So here is the one at Express Avenue - Hamley's. That larger than life figure welcomes you to the Lego city on the first floor. Went in thinking we know exactly what to buy for the nephew, but even then, ended up spending over an hour browsing through all those toys out there!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mobile advertising

At first glance, it seemed to be a rather wacky ironing operator, with a tongue-in-cheek description of his work. Of course, the iron used by such vendors are very hot, with most of them depending on charcoal inside the equipment to generate heat. But a second glance throws up the possibility that this person could be one of the amalgamated iron-men of Chennai, going by the localities listed on the bottom of the panel.

That's also a false lead, however. The penny drops, finally. HotMale is a Chennai based clothing brand; a private label that is trying to expand. It is owned by Arihant Retail, which started a store exclusively for menswear in T.Nagar and branded it HotMale. That was in 2002 and over the past decade, HotMale has expanded to Anna Nagar, Wannarapet and Triplicane. The one in Triplicane is the most recent, having been opened sometime in 2012. 

And this is certainly a good way to get the word around the locality, when a new clothing store has been launched. Gets attention from the right set of people, and it is contained in the same ecosystem - do you think they could have done anything more to have made the advertising better?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A brother less

The frontage of this shop, at the end of Ritherdon Road in Vepery, seems to have remained unchanged since the time it was first opened here circa 1920. The business was founded and run by Gajendra Rao, but is now being taken care of by his grandson. 

Until a few years ago, it was run by his grandsons. Not sure of the names of the other, who must have cashed out on his partnership and gone away from Vepery. I remember seeing a post showing the sign on this board reading "M.C. Heroji Rao & Bror". Today, little remains of the Bror. It is a different sign, stating M.C. Heroji Rao's exclusive ownership.

Is there a reason why the doors are still unopened? Or, did I get here too early on a Sunday or something?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ayurveda for everyone

That tiled house in the corner of a Triplicane street once belonged to Gopalacharlu, a renowned ayurvedic practitioner. To merely say his name that way is to lessen the man, because his renown was not just due of his personal expertise in ayurveda. Vaidyaratnam Pandit Deevi Gopalacharlu was also reputed to be a great teacher, borne out by the fact that at least two of his students - Dr K.N. Kesari and Bhishagratna Achanta Lakshmipathi - went on to become famous physicians themselves, with the latter succeeding his mentor as the principal of the ayurvedic college, after Gopalacharlu passed away in 1919.

Pandit Gopalacharlu was born in 1872 at Machilipatnam. He studied ayurveda at Mysore and started his practice at the Theosophical Society's Vaidyasala in Bangalore. After a while, he moved his practice to Madras. In 1898, he started the Ayurvedasramam to take ayurvedic medicines to the masses. It was located somewhere in George Town, because a signboard from around that time (now on sale at ebay) advertising the "Indian Nerve Tonic" also provides the location as "Ayurvedasramam, G.T. Madras". 

That tonic, "Jeevamrutham" was one of the best sellers from the Ayurvedasramam. The Wellcome Library of London, one of the richest troves of medical history, also has images (advertisements?) of three other products: Manasollasini, or The Memory Pills, Abalasanjeevani or The Nectar for Female Diseases, Hysteria, etc. and Narayana Thailum or The Gout, Rheumatism and Paralysis Destroyer. The Ayurvedasramam does not seem to be popular these days - Dr. Desikachaarlu, the Vaidyaratnam's great-great-grandson runs his practice at West Mambalam, a fair distance from George Town. The only indicator of the this house's heritage is a board - you can see it if you open the picture in a new tab and look below the gable - plugging Jeevamrutham!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Witness point

It was in front of this branch of Karnataka Bank, on Thambu Chetty Street, in the early 1980s, that Kanaka the flower-seller would set up her trade in the evenings. Even though the business hours of the branch would have been long over, the flower trade was brisk. Not only the bank staff, as they left for the day, but the various other folks going down Thambu Chetty street would stop and pick up a mozham or five. Like all smart street vendors, Kanaka knew everyone working in the neighbouring offices, their work habits and routines. 

She was therefore a bit surprised when, at about 9 pm on May 20, 1983, she saw Laxmi Raj Shetty, a new and relatively junior employee at the bank (he had joined as a trainee clerk in October 1982 and was confirmed in April 1983) come out alone, lock up the branch and go away. She was even more surprised when she saw him come back after a short while, carrying a suitcase. In to the bank he went, and came out after about half an hour, carrying a couple of bags, the suitcase and a briefcase. Stacking all these on the steps of the bank, he went out to flag an auto, loaded up the luggage into it and went away into the night, ignoring Kanaka's questions about "periya ayya" (senior person). 

The next morning, periya ayya - Gnanasambandam, the bank manager - was found dead in the washroom. Kanaka became a crucial witness in the prosecution of Laxmi Raj Shetty. He was found guilty of murdering Gnanasambandam and robbing about Rs.14 lakhs. The First Additional Sessions Court sentenced him to death, but a High Court bench reduced that to life imprisonment. Not much is known of Laxmi Raj Shetty's life since, but old timers of George Town still recall details of the 'Karnataka Bank Murder Case' as it came to be known!

If you would like more of the details, you can go through the full story here!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Saint from Baghdad

Just where Mount Road forks off to Dams Road, almost on the corner, is this little shrine set in a corner of a sandy patch. It is quite small and appears even smaller by being close to the Makkah Masjid, with its tall minaret dominating the vicinity. The Dargah-e-Hazrat Syed Moosa Shah Khaderi is much older than the Masjid, having been around since the 17th century, by one account. Syed Moosa Shah was a Khaderi mystic, who came to Madras from Baghdad. In course of time, Shah Baghdadi was sought after for his cures, and, after he died, the Dargah was built over his tomb.

Legends grew around the Dargah. One such tells the tale of a British engineer who wanted to demolish the Dargah to widen Mount Road. The workers refused to do anything more after their initial attempts at digging saw blood spurting from the soil. The engineer insisted and was instantly dead. Since then, there have presumably been no attempts to dig around the Dargah, which could be one reason why the sandy patch remains around it.

Despite its size, this is one of the most popular shrines in Chennai. Being right on the main road, it has attracted several prominent Chennai citizens - the most globally recognizable among them being AR Rahman, who visits this Dargah every Thursday - if he is in Chennai!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Model birds

Everyone knows that the CGI of dinosaur movements in the Jurassic Park movies were based on bird movements. Although I do not recall the movie credits ever mentioning what kind of birds were used to provide the model for dino-motion, these here are likely candidates. 

Not that this is a park of any kind. Rather, it is the research station of the TANUVAS - Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University - at Kattupakkam. Not that I understand too much of it, but this research programme has been doing well; essentially the idea is to understand how the birds adapt to local conditions, so that commercial ostrich farming can be viable. That takes a couple of generations. With well over 60% of the ostrich eggs not hatching, it will take a while before you can get to see these take the place of chicken on the menu.

In the meantime, they continue to behave like, well, ostriches. Just because you think they bob their heads about like a velociraptor, you can't blame them for being copy-cats!

Monday, February 10, 2014

For globetrotting backpackers

The idea was born in the early 20th century. Richard Schirrmann, a school teacher in Westphalia proposed the idea of creating economical accommodation for young people after his class and he were forced to bunk in barns, or in village school buildings, when they were out on a school trip. The idea took shape with the first such hostel in his own town, Altena, with a part of the Altena castle being set aside for travelling youth. That was in 1912, and over the next century, the movement has grown to cover about 70 countries. That first youth hostel continues to be operational even today, though you cannot book online.

Almost every state in India has its own youth hostel association, affiliated to the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI). The hostel in Chennai seems quite well provided for; though I don't know anyone who has actually stayed there, the general ambience and upkeep of the place seem to indicate that it does serve the purpose it was meant for quite adequately. On most days, there is little activity around the buildings, but then you will see a bunch of boisterous students having fun at their hostel. 

Globally, Hostelling International is a charity organization and the Indian arm is also registered as non-profit social body. The website of the YHAI says that membership will make you a globetrotter. The very purpose of the Youth Hostels is to provide safe accommodation to backpackers. Put the two together and off you go with the world in your backpack!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Early devotees

Among the top three richest shrines in the world, the Tirupati-Tirumala temple is about 150km away from Chennai. It is visited by about 30,000 people on a normal day, with the number going up to 100,000 on special occasions. To help those pilgrims, the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams has facilitation centres across the country, in every state capital and many other towns. Quite a few of those would have started their journey from Chennai, which is the closest city to the shrine. Chennai therefore is the only location that has two facilitation centres.

This is the one on Venkatnarayana Road, the one that has a temple attached to the information centre. (In fact, the temple has probably become more prominent than the information centre itself). Every morning, a fleet of buses and vans start off to Tirumala from here. With a 4-hour journey ahead, the vehicles have to leave early to complete a day-trip to the shrine. 5am is the usual departure time, and if you have booked your ticket, you are asked to land up here at 4.30am, at which time there is nothing open nearby. 

Even the temple opens only at 5am; the priests come in between 4:30 and 4:50, the security staff then go around opening up the gates and getting ready for the day. By 5:15 or so, the first worshippers would have taken their places and the pujas would have begun. But look closer at the picture (right-click to open in a new tab) and you will see the earliest devotees - the morning jogger and another, at the gate, praying to the closed doors!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

So far away

Arathoon. The first I came across this name was a couple of years ago, at Royapuram, where there is a road named so. Because there were traders and merchants of different nationalities in the north Madras area during the 18th and 19th centuries, it didn't come across as being out of place. There are references to the family of John Arathoon, an Armenian merchant of the early 19th century; maybe he is the one who gave his name to the street? Of course, I have an alternate etymology that 'அறம் + தூண்', meaning 'Pillar of Goodness' will make Arathoon a very solid Tamizh name. Someone from the time of the Chozhas? 

And then I saw this memorial stone in the Luz Church. In the early 19th century, which is when this stone is dated, Royapuram and Luz were probably better connected than they are now; at least the commute would not have taken much longer than current standards. So it is conceivable that C. Arathoon Esq., whoever he may have been, lived in Mylapore and attended to business in Royapuram. Or maybe his widow, Hosanna Arathoon (who is remembered through this plaque), moved near the Luz Church after becoming the "Relict of the Late C. Arathoon Esq"?

The name has an enticingly familiar ring. But not having been able to find much about Arathoon - C, or otherwise, - I wonder if there was more to them than just an Armenian, or Royapuram, connection?

Friday, February 7, 2014


Every school student knows, or should know, that the Muslim League shadowed the Congress during the pre-Independence days, and during the Provincial Assembly elections of 1946 won a quarter of the seats, making it the second largest national party. With Independence and the partition of India, the Muslim League was also splintered. In December 1947, a meeting of the League in Karachi, it was agreed that those members who had opted to stay back in India would constitute the Indian Union Muslim League

Many such members were from south India and therefore it was natural that the first meeting of the IUML would be held in Madras. That was on March 10, 1948 at the Rajaji Hall (then known as Banqueting Hall). The meeting elected Muhammad Ismail, who had been the Leader of the Opposition in the Provincial Assembly of Madras, as the first President of the IUML. Ismail also served on the Constituent Assembly, and in the Rajya Sabha, as a representative of the Madras State. In 1956, after the states were reorganized, Ismail moved to Kerala and won three elections to the Lok Sabha from Manjeri. 

There are two colleges in his honour in Chennai itself. The bridge that gets people out of Fort St George and onto Mount Road reminds us of him. Appropriate, considering that Muhammad Ismail sought to connect different sections of people in his days of public service, both as a politician and as a member of various industry and advisory bodies. Despite all these visible reminders, not many remember Muhammad Ismail today. The colleges, and this bridge are all named after his title, "Quaid-e-Millat"! 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Morning match

So what if we can't get 11 players a side? So what if there is no grass on the playing field? So what if we can't really loft that ball over extra cover? So what if we don't have enough stumps to make wickets at both ends of the pitch?

Cricket on the streets continues to thrive because there is no answer to those questions. Rules are adapted, and sometimes just made up, to account for the nature of the pitch and maybe even the weather. So when there is a 'water hazard' just around where a deep mid-off would be, the rule may be that a shot into that hazard would get just one run. Or maybe half-a-life. It all depends on what the teams agree to.

But this game here is not happening at any old place. This is right beside the Chepauk Palace, kind of within the shadow of the MA Chidambaram Stadium's floodlights. It has been a long time since I've played any kind of cricket - or even watched it seriously - but couldn't help stopping and watching this match for a few minutes!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bird tree

There are some trees that attract birds; the ficus are the ones that come to mind first. The neem (Azadirachta indica), with its bitter bark, leaves and fruits is not the one which you would expect to find a whole lot of birds flocking to.

But when the branches are just overhead and one can hang up the birds to be at eye-level, the neem certainly attracts birds of a completely different feather!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Girl on a horse

Contrary to what most people think, it was not PSY who invented the 'horse dance'. Very long before Gangnam Style became a global craze, many cultures around the world had been using some representation of horses as part of their folk or cultural representation. Or were they? 

In Tamil Nadu, the "Poikkal Kuthirai" (False-legged Horse) dance supposedly finds mention in Silappadhikaram, a work from the 6th (or is it 2nd?) century CE. There is another school of thought which believes it was brought to Thanjavur by the Marathas. And then there is Dr. Murugesan, Professor Emeritus of the Folklore Department of the Tamil University, Thanjavur, who claims that the Poikkal Kuthirai was created by Ramakrishna Naidu, a carpenter of Thiruvaiyaru and that when he performed on his false-legged horse, it was to the accompaniment of the kondalam instrument, performed by Marathi musicians.

Whatever its origins may be, the poikkal kuthirai is indeed a tough act to deliver. The performer is on some form of stilts, even if it is not very high. The body of the horse is constructed around the midriff and even though it is made from lightweight materials - straw, papier máchê, cloth - it still needs to be carried around and manoeuvred during the performance. These girls are coming off after nearly an hour's dancing during the Republic Day parade - they are just waiting to get off the saddle! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Neighbourly lanes

They were all there, in name. Except two, all the others were well known to readers of Tamizh literature. The exceptions were a Bharat Ratna whose funeral in December 2013 was attended by the heads of 89 countries - chances are anyone who can read any language knows him - and the other has been credited with bringing the reading habit back to millions of children around the world. The others were Va Suba Manikkanar, Maa Rasa Manikkar, Kavingar Vaali, Tamizhvaanan, Ma Po Si and Mu Mu Ismail.  

Madiba was the only (real-life) non-Tamizh-literary person to have a lane named after him at the recently concluded Chennai Book Fair. Harry Potter was the only fictional character to have a similar honour. Books can transport you in to imaginary lands; but they are not the only ones. Book fairs can also get you to walk along lanes that mostly do not exist anywhere but in the imagination!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Brothers in books

It was 206 years ago to the day, in 1808, that the Society of the Brothers of St Patrick was founded in Tullow, Ireland. Unlike many of the religious orders that were begun around that time, the Patrician Brothers, as they were called, did not concern themselves with bringing the word of God to the masses. They were rather more concerned about helping people figure out such words for themselves, because its founder, the Rt Rev Dr Daniel Delany believed that it was education which caused hope for the future. His followers took this to heart and established such a good reputation in Ireland, that even the British colonies began to take notice. 

Madras was the first to go beyond just taking notice. The Bishop of Madras invited the Patrician Brothers to take over the orphanage at Kondi Chetty Street and so three of the members were sent over: Bros. Ignatius Price, Paul Hughes and Fintan Parkinson came to Madras in 1875 and in that year itself, they started the St Patrick's School in Armenian Street. But they did not stop with just that one. 

St Michael's Academy is much younger. But it has built up quite a reputation for itself and is today one of the sought after schools in Chennai. Its entrance seems quite cramped, but don't let that fool you. The grounds open up inside and there is quite a bit of space for the children to enjoy their day at school!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

One of many

Tell me, do you know how many entrances are there to get into the Port of Chennai from the landward side? The one that most of Chennai's inhabitants would have seen is, in all probability, the gate near the War Memorial, just after Napier's Bridge. Those who have looked at that entrance closely would have noticed the sign saying "Gate No.10"; not having seen any other gate further south of Gate No. 10, they may very confidently say that the Port of Chennai has 10 entry points.

This one is Gate No.7. There is no obvious sign saying so, but we have always known this to be No.7. To get here, you will have to stay over the RBI Subway when you are northbound on Kamarajar Salai and then turn right to get this view. Your sharp eyes will see that this is actually a double entry - about a 100m beyond the gates, you will notice the boom barriers of a railway crossing. That's because the harbour line runs just inside these gates and it would spoil your day if you did not get across the rails in time. Once you get past both these, and then the security procedures, much of the Port is accessible to you. 

This gate is the one that is used by the public at large, for this is the way to get to the Port offices, the residential areas and the sailing / yachting / angling clubs that have their homes inside the port. The most busy gate for commercial and industrial traffic is however the the one that is at the northernmost end of the port, at Royapuram. Getting back to the initial question - you think there are 10? Ah, but the Royapuram gate is referred to as the Zero Gate, which means you can't be sure of the answer, even now!

Over at the City Daily Photo portal, it is Theme Day today. To see interpretations on the theme "Entry" from around the world, go to this site