Sunday, June 4, 2023

Changeover man

You are probably aware that the Corporation of Chennai is the second oldest in the world, having been established in September 1688. The office of its Mayor, would have had an unbroken 335 year streak had it not been for changes in the way the Corporation was structured and run. 

The first break happened thanks to the French. Between 1746 and 1748, when they had control over Fort St George, the Mayoralty of the city was suspended and for some reason, it was not restored until 1753. And then, for long stretches in the early part of the 19th century, the Corporation functioned without a Mayor. For a while, it was the Justice of Peace who played the Mayoral role, before a committee of three Municipal Commissioners collectively did it. The term was changed in 1886, and the head of the Corporation came to be called President. And then it was in 1933 that the title reverted to 'Mayor'. While that has remained the same, the office itself has been suspended twice since. The long stretch between 1973 and 1996 saw the Mayoralty suspended, as it was again for 6 years between 2016 and 2022. 

But this photo is of a statue at the end of Pantheon Road; it shows Mayor Thamarapakkam Sundara Rao Naidu. Even though his tenure was for a year, as was usual during the 1930s-1960s, Sundara Rao's was special. As Mayor between 1946 to 1947, it was he who saw the transition from the British Raj to independent India!


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Shore temple

There are some temples built along the sea coast, but I daresay those on banks of rivers would be more in number. Chennai has a few such, including one that is almost at the mouth of the Cooum. This one is hidden away inside Tholkappiyar Poonga; it appears that there is some arrangement by which worshippers can access it at specific times of the day. 

Angala Parameswari, who is the presiding - and sole - deity here is a kaaval deivam (guardian deity). In this form, the Goddess Parvati had chased down and killed an asura who had taken refuge inside a corpse in a burial ground. Angala Parameswari is therefore depicted with a waist-sash of human bones. 

These days, the Goddess is appeased with a few lemons stabbed on the tines of her trident; and there are at least 5 tridents in front of her sanctum - may those help Her in protecting us all!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Green light

One of those few photographs I have taken which has people in them. 

This is a place that deserves a post of its own; the Chennai Rail Museum at Perambur, where kids can get to ride a toy train. 

You've got the green light. Go!


Thursday, June 1, 2023

Theme Day: Smile

As it always happens on the 1st of the month, it is the Theme Day over at the City Daily Photo bloggers group. 

For June 2023, it is "Smile". I have close to zero pictures of people, let alone those with smiles. 

I hope the crocodilian show of teeth make up for this - smile, everyone :)

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Music, not arms

The Doveton Group of schools in Chennai has under its management 8 schools in the city. The most famous among them is arguably the Doveton Corrie School for Boys in Vepery (though it is not called by that name any longer, if I am correct). The oldest school in this group goes back to 1855, but today, we are looking at a school that began in the centenary year of the Doveton Group of Schools.

In 1955, the Group purchased this piece of land in Choolai from one Howard Oakley. Of Oakley, I have not been able to find much, other than that he was the Patron of the Madras Amateur Photographers Society in 1932, reviving it after the post-War years. Anyway, Oakley seems to have disappeared from Madras after this sale and a Doveton Nursery began functioning here on July 15, 1955. For a long while, it was coasting along, taking in young children in the nursery and kindergarten, going on to include primary schooling as well. It may well be a feeder school to the others in the Doveton Group. It was in 2001 that, for some reason, the name of the school was changed to include Oakley. Today it functions as the Doveton Oakley Nursery and Primary School. 

One of the major activities here seems to be music. In And that brings us to the logo. When I first looked at it as I passed by, I thought it was some kind of cannon; given that John Doveton, the founder of the Group, was a distinguished military officer, the logo did not seem out of place. It was only after discovering the musical bent of this school that I took a closer look at the logo. And realised that clarinets and cymbals might well be mistaken for charging cannons!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Olden view

This building appears to be deserted these days. Even less than ten years ago, it wasn't. There were people living on the first floor, and the ground floor was the office of Garment Cleaners. Yes, that one with the logo of a boy smashing some kind of small cloth on a box, that one.Today, you can make out a very faint outline of that logo on the left of the building, just after that last arch on the ground floor and the sign saying "Showroom" on the right. 

"Marine View", as it was named, must have commanded a magnificent view of the Bay of Bengal from the western side of Santhome High Road when it was built in 1929. But the man who had it built, O. Thanikachalam Chetty, was most probably never a resident here. We see him in 1928, 53 years old and having recently been conferred the title of Diwan Bahadur. That title was an acknowledgement of his life as a public figure, a close confident of Pittie Thyagaraya Chetty, a member of various Boards and Trusts, including the Pachiyappa Trust, and for his service as a Councillor of the Corporation of Madras, of which he had also been the President. But by 1928, his health infirm, Thanikachalam Chetty had moved from Waverley House in Egmore, to a bungalow in Osborne Road, Bangalore Cantt. He appears to have lived there until he passed away on July 21, 1929. 

This house was inherited by one of his sons, and his descendants continued to live here, occupying the first floor, while the ground floor was rented out. And it wasn't always to a laundry business. There was glamour here: Raja Sulochana, the famous actress was a tenant here - that must have been sometime during the 1950s. In the 1970s, this address found the city police commissioner KR Shenoy staying here as a tenant. Now looking all deserted, this will probably succumb to a developer's hammer sooner than later!

Monday, May 29, 2023

Eat chocolate

Every time I pass this restaurant off Cenotaph Road, I am reminded of Marie Antoinette's saying something about bread and cake. Chocolate would probably have been a more vulgar way of distancing from the proletariat. 

It is not for nothing that this anecdote from French history comes to mind on seeing Bread & Chocolate. It was originally set up in Pondicherry before opening its first branch in Chennai in 2020, just after the first (and maybe the second) wave of the pandemic had died down.

Must go here; if it is half as good as its Pondicherry parent, it will be wonderful! 


Sunday, May 28, 2023


Was hoping to watch the final of the IPL 2023 here at the Madras Race Club. It is Chennai Super Kings playing, after all.

Torrential rains dashed that hope. No, Chennai is still sweltering under the kathiri sun, but the match was to be played at Ahmedabad. Waited a while, then shelved the plan, had dinner and came back home. 

The match will be played tomorrow, but no thrill of watching it here now. 


Saturday, May 27, 2023


I think one guess is all you would need for figuring out whose residence lies beyond these gates on Santhome High Road.

Yes, you're correct!

Friday, May 26, 2023

Hero worship

If you are asked to name your favourite hero from India's struggle for freedom, the choice set is quite small; not more than 20 names you can reel off from the top of your head, I daresay. And almost all of them would be well known names pan-India. A Birsa Munda, Pazhassi Raja or Helen Lepcha would probably not make it to that list, unless you are from the same region or state they were from. 

But even in Tamil Nadu, and especially Chennai, which makes demigods of actors, it would have been quite a stretch to expect anyone to name this person as their favourite freedom fighter. But there you have it. A taxi paying homage to a man who is a virtual unknown. Cenpakaraman Pillai was an early proponent of aligning with the enemy's enemy and very likely the man who inspired Netaji. He was born in Thiruvananthapuram and even as a schoolboy was used to shouting "Jai Hind" on the school campus. A combination of circumstances found him being sent to Austria as a companion to a neighbour who was headed there. After completing his studies and working for a while in Germany, Pillai managed to put together a band of Indians who were serious about overthrowing the British with help from the Germans.

This was in the 1910s. And one of the most practical ways he found to terrify the British was to direct the light cruiser SS Emden on how it could threaten Indian cities - including a targeted attack on British infrastructure in Madras. But somehow, he got into quite a bit of trouble with the Germans after World War I, including a spat with Adolf Hitler, which led to his being bundled out of Germany and spending his last days in Italy, forgotten by others involved in the freedom struggle. Now tell me, isn't it amazing that this taxi owner knows of the man who is credited with having first used the phrase "Jai Hind"? I'll bet you did not know that yourself. But today, let us at least observe the 89th anniversary of his passing!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Emptied out

Here is one more stretch of a main road that has been taken over by the Chennai Metro as they build for tomorrow. 

This one is a part of the Arcot Road (now NSK Salai), just after you get down the Kodambakkam Bridge onto the Kodambakkam side.

Now the metro folks have to wait until a bunch of kids start using this as a cricket field; only after that will they start their tunnelling in any seriousness, I guess!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Gold and dust

On one side, the sparkling showroom of Bhima Jewellery; opened in October 2021, it is one more of the many jewellers on Usman Road. If you look a little closer, you can also see the sign of GRT Jewels beyond the old building on the left. 

And that old building? It has a few businesses working out from it, but it looks like it is just waiting for a good price to show up before it gets dressed in finery; if it can't be jewels, it will be silks!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Deal making

There are enough stories about business plans being drawn up on paper napkins, and suchlike wondrous happenings in restaurants and coffee shops. 

But Saravana Bhavan does not seem to be the place to have such conversations. The tables at this restaurant need to be turned over quickly and so long discussions are not encouraged. Most of the time, the presence of hungry wannabe diners standing behind your seat is enough for your to get the message; eat up, leave.

But in this Saravana Bhavan, the declaration is more explicit - "Business Meeting Not Allowed" says the second half of that printed sign. The first part is even more pointed: "Real Estate" is also not allowed. So focus on the food and take your business conversations elsewhere!

Monday, May 22, 2023

What man?

It is quite a nicely done piece, that Spiderman climbing down from the TeaBoy outlet's signage. But what is that he has in his hands? A glass of lassi and a pav-burger? 

Is he chai-man or lassi-man, this Spiderman?

Sunday, May 21, 2023


It is very difficult to reconcile to the fact that the cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) is an exotic species, not native to this country. The scientific name itself should give you a clue; but as a schoolboy, I was introduced to this as the nagapushpam tree, sacred for its connection to Siva. 

Originally from the north-eastern parts of South America (hence guianensis), this tree usually flowers very profusely. Coming to it early in the morning, one can see a couple of hundred flowers strewn around it. The flowers, fallen and on the stem, let off a heady scent. In the absence of nectar, it is the scent that attracts large insects, who must work hard to find the source of the fragrance - in the course of which they fulfil their role as the tree's pollinators.

The fruits are more stern. Hard, round and brown, they have at times been useful as weapons in schoolboys' fights. The fruits take time to, well, be fruitful. They get to maturity anytime between 12-18 months of fruiting. The older the fruit, the harder its shell. They could make good cannonballs at 12 months; at 18, the shell can be used to fashion ladles or small bowls. That would be a better use of it!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Over what?

When you come over the Anna Flyover, from the US Consulate side towards the DMS offices, you can look to your right and check the time. 

The clock faces on this building show the correct time and can easily be seen. Opposite this, the Lebara Tower (LBR Tower?) used to have the time, too; I'm not sure if they are still there, after the building went through some renovation a few years ago. In any cases, those clocks were too high for someone driving to check them.

Is that why this is considered Rajam's Triumph? Who is Rajam, anyway? And why is the "s" in a different colour from the other letters? So many questions. Who has the answers?!

Friday, May 19, 2023


At the departure terminal of Anna International Airport, Chennai. Why would they need this kind of a message? 

Anyway, this is probably the only thing about Chennai that I cannot even begin to defend - our airport - so I will go with any explanation that is given!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Splash of yellow

That Indian Laburnum (Cassia fistula) in full flower is a sight to behold, especially when most other trees on the road are just green. 

Must look for a road with the bright red of gulmohar, or palash. Let me know if you happen to come across any!

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

One more

As we looked back at the way we had come, we found this fellow in the middle of the path, looking at us. His companion had gone a bit ahead and was already in the shadows. How do I describe seeing two of them? 

Reminded me of an old story about a tailor who wanted to order two units of a special kind of pressing iron called the 'goose'. He wrote out an order for 'two geese'. Reading it, he thought that sounded odd, so he changed it to 'two gooses'. This was odd too. So he wrote a new note: 

"Please send one goose. Thank you! 

P.S. please send another one too."

So yes, I saw two mongooses. Two mongeese a mongoose. And I saw another one, too!

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


We have earlier talked about the importance of the muchhandi Vinayagar - the remover of obstacles at every T-junction on Chennai roads. This one is getting decked up for the beginning of the day, or maybe it is a once-a-week re-decoration.

The owner of this property is probably taking a fail-safe option; as you can see, the Vinayagar here is present in both three- and two-dimensions!


Monday, May 15, 2023

Dark clouds

A photo from a year ago. Chennai has been sweltering because of the ripple effect from Cyclone Mocha.

Thinking of everyone affected by the cyclone today. Prayers for them to get back to regular routines soon enough!


Sunday, May 14, 2023

Anniversary question

It was exactly a year ago that I visited this building for the first time. There is nothing in the picture which explicitly states what this building is. But the colour scheme, plus that Black Maria (okay, it is painted blue, but it was a paddy wagon alright) parked on the right should give you enough indication for making a guess. 

Here are some more clues. The original building, the core of which has been retained here, was built in 1842. In 1856, it was repurposed and continued to function as a key office until about 2012-13, after which it was unused for a while. In 2018, a restoration programme was begun, which brought the building to its current shape - and purpose - in 2021. 

So go ahead, make that guess and tell me what this building currently is. And for bonus points, what office was operating from here between 1856 and the early 21st century!

I guess you would have figured out more clues in the labels!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Out of water

Away from their 'natural' habitat, these boat hulls look rather flimsy. Would one really be able to trust these to carry one out into a body of water and get back safely? 

Well, the folks who are rowing members of the Madras Boat Club do. And they seem to to be doing it quite well, too!

Friday, May 12, 2023


There was a time when traffic along the ECR was controlled, not by any human agency, but by these friends of ours. Domesticated buffaloes were a-plenty, and if they decide to amble across the road, the rest of the world had to find a way around them. 

I was told that when the Sheraton property on ECR was being constructed, the most difficult task they had was to herd these animals away from the construction site. But they were not forgotten; these statues of the water buffaloes, though made of metal - balls of metal held together - they seem quite a lifelike replica of the animals displaced by development!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Window wall

We have some idea of what would happen if walls had ears. But what if they had windows? I am talking specifically about the outer walls of a building, the ones that separate the spaces inside and outside. 

Here is an example. This wall is on General Collins Road, Vepery. And it is not a merchant's house or anybody's residence. This belongs to the Presentation Convent. 

I wonder how it would feel for the girls inside class to look out of the window and see the 'free world' outside - or, more likely, to be cooped up inside with the windows shut and imagine what is happening outside through all the noises that would certainly seep in!


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Old gold

When I saw this sign on South Usman Road, I was fairly sure this 'Best Money Gold' is a one-off operation, a place where the neighbours could go over to pawn their jewels for some decent value. Would you be surprised to know they have over 200 branches across south India? They claim they do, and from what I've been able to find out, it is probably true; they have a fair number of branches over Tamil Nadu and Kerala, at least.

None of them has come to my view, but for this outlet. And now I'm curious to find out more. They claim to be part of a group that has been in business for over 90 years. 

I am sure some deeper digging will reveal their tagline - of being #1 in the country - is also true!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Ripe for picking

I did not think that one would find a cotton plant in Chennai, but the Adyar Poonga surprised me.There was just the one shrub, in flower and showing off a few bolls. Was hugely tempted to pick one, but I'm proud that I managed to resist. 

The genus Gossypium, to which cotton belongs, has over 50 species. That was news to me, because I always thought that cotton was sui generis!

Monday, May 8, 2023

Playing everywhere

It is not just in the multiplexes, even the stand-alone screens are showing only one movie these days!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sit easy

I know of a few people who would be very uncomfortable going anywhere near this bench, let alone sitting on it.

Which group do you fall into? Open the image in a separate window to zoom in to, before you answer!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Sea harvest

In a way, this is like the picture of fruits I posted a few days ago. And in a way, these are also 'off-season' right now, because of the 61-day fishing ban from 15 April to 14 June. The idea is to keep the industrial fishing boats away and allow the fish stock to be replenished. I'm not sure how this is actually enforced, because I can't imagine how the fisherfolk will manage without any source of income for two months. The government subsidy - or subsistence allowance - may not be adequate. 

Prices have consequently shot up; fresh catch is up by about 40%. Maybe you'll be better off by temporarily changing your diet from fish to fruit. But do keep in mind that if you were French, you would actually call these fruits de mer!