Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Outside the Ripon building; more details in a while...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fresh vegetables

This is a sight that's getting rarer by the day. Madras had large spaces for markets like these, dotting every part of the city. They were all built over 50 years ago and some are almost 100 years old. The Thaneer Thurai market is somewhere in between, and would fall somewhere into the 'medium-size' category for such markets. They're the last-but-one link in the traditional chain of getting vegetables from field to table within a day. (The last link? That's here!).

But such spaces in the middle of the city's commercial areas are too valuable to be left to such markets; many of them have given way to shopping malls or to multi-storied buildings. Roughly 40,000 sqft of space in the middle of Mylapore would send any property developer's heart pumping, so it is a wonder this market still survives.

Not for long, apparently. Many of the stalls in the Thaneer Thurai market are empty, having been vacated by legal proceedings. It is said that the space has been bought up by a large retail store and once they manage to have all the remaining vegetable vendors evicted, it will be curtains for the market!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Saint's temple

The man is venerated as a saint, but for all that, few people know that there is a temple dedicated to Thiruvalluvar within the city. And no, I'm not talking about Valluvar Kottam, which everyone knows about, but a 'proper' temple in Mylapore, where Valluvar is believed to have born, lived and died. The caretakers of this temple aver that Valluvar was born under an iluppai (mohwa, botanical name Madhuca - or Bassia - longifolia) tree that was fatally damaged in 1935, after having lived for over 2000 years, in this campus. The stump of that tree has been cemented around for much of its height, with a copper covering shielding the part above.

They also point out a well, claiming it to be the one from which Vasuki, Valluvar's wife, used to draw water for her household. Once, hearing her husband call out to her, she ran into the house, letting go of the rope with a vessel that she was hauling up from the well. Legend has it that the vessel remained in place until Vasuki returned - such was the power of Valluvar's word. Yet, it is said that he had to go to Madurai for his work to be recognized. That may be history or legend, but even today, it is at Kanyakumari - or even at the Kottam - that people pay homage to Valluvar, rather than this temple at his putative birthplace.

Given that the poet-saint's great work had very little to talk about God - or religion of any kind - it is somewhat surprising to see shrines of Hindu deities. Trying to balance both legend and faith, the temple ends up doing justice to neither!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fort station

The Fort railway station on the Beach-Tambaram suburban line is normally very crowded, but not on a Sunday afternoon. The train coming in is almost empty; on a regular day, it would not come in that way, but disgorge a host of people at this station.

But is this what will happen once the Tamil Nadu Secretariat shifts out of Fort St George? Or would the crowd still get off here for the bazaars and the Esplanade? Wait a while, and let's see!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lighten the load

In the days when mechanised transport was the stuff of science fiction, animal power was used for transporting goods. But for the bullock-cart to be used, there had to be some threshold level of goods that needed to be moved. Small loads were left to the coolies - the headloadsmen who would carry more than their own weight on their backs or heads. A break in their travel from point to point would be painful if they had to bend over to lower and lift their loads each time.

Along the roads, therefore, were rough granite structures - two uprights with a crossbar at shoulder height - where the coolies could ease off their loads for a bit. These structures were funded by rich families and were typically erected as memorials for women who had died during pregnancy or childbirth. The word for such a structure - sumaithangi - is simple enough, meaning 'bearer of the load', but has become imbued with so much of emotion that it is used as high praise, or with a sense of deep gratitude.

Combine that with a deity, and you have a winner. Maybe the temple came up close to a sumaithangi, for the labourers to give thanks after having delivered their load safely at George Town. Maybe the temple was always there, and there was a sumaithangi placed near it. Whatever the cause of the name, the Sumaithangi Sriramar temple on Mint Street continues to assure devotees that their burden would be lightened!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Old iron

Workhorse, it must have been. Lasted a long time, too. In service for 89 years, this steam locomotive manufactured in 1903 was one of the first built by Kerr Stuart & Co for railways in India. It was originally made for the Mayurbhanj State Railways (MSR), with the All India Number 691. When the MSR switched over to diesel locomotives, PL691 along with its 3 brother locomotives of the 0-6-4T class were moved from MSR to Parlakimedi Light Railway (PLR), which was also using locomotives of the same class. The PLR, which was being managed by the Bengal Nagpur Railway almost from its inception, became a part of the Indian government's portfolio when BNR was taken over in 1944.

Later, during the process of re-constituting the divisions of the Indian Railways, Locomotive PL691 moved to the South Eastern Railway division in 1955, after spending 3 years with the Eastern Railway. In 1987, PL691 had the honour of being featured on one of the 4 postage stamps released on the occasion of the South Eastern Railway's centenary year celebrations. It continued in service on the Naupada-Gunupur line until 1992, when the line was converted from steam to diesel. After its last run on April 23, 1992, PL691 was brought to Chennai and placed ("plinthed" is the correct term, apparently) in front of the Southern Railway headquarters building.

Four of its contemporaries (Nos. 692, 693, 694 and 697) have also been preserved. All of them have been plinthed outside various offices (then) of the South Eastern Railway: 692 at Puri and the others at Visakhapatnam. PL 691 alone, for some reason, has travelled all the way to Chennai - wonder what connection it had with the forerunners of the Southern Railway!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boys' Town

The concept of a "Boys' Town" was born in 1921 when Fr Edward Flanagan of Omaha, Nebraska, began to work towards building a boys' orphanage as a 'City of Little Men', emphasizing the development of socially useful skills which would help the inmates in making their livelihood once they had to leave the orphanage.

Since then, the model has been adopted by several institutions caring for orphaned children. The term has itself become so generic that there seem to be several Boys' Towns across cities, sometimes even within the same city. This one run by the YMCA near Fort St George is the oldest in Chennai, having had its origins as a Street Boys' Club. It was only in 1947, after the YMCA was given this space to provide accommodation for the children, that the Street Boys' Club came to be called Boys Town.

Today, the Boys Town provides secondary education for over 2000 children, followed by vocational training. That's apart from the orphanage services it provides. Hard to imagine so many of them in such a small space outside the Fort!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pro bono bridge

According to legend, Thomas Didymus - Doubting Thomas, as he is also known - was martyred somewhere on Parangimalai, or the hillock known to us as St Thomas' Mount. That hillock was south of the Adayar river, which made it slightly inconvenient for the Europeans - the Portugese initially, but also the British later - who were predominantly based further north of the river. There were several bridges fording the Adayar, but it was only after Coja Petrus Uscan built the Marmalong bridge connecting Saidapet (though it was not called by that name, most likely) and Little Mount that access to the township of St Thomas' Mount became much more convenient.

Coja Petrus had settled in Madras barely three years before he had this bridge built. He was quite well off, having been involved in trading between Madras and Manila, where he was based before moving to Madras in 1723. The Marmalong bridge cost him 30,000 pagodas (Rs.100,000), not a small amount in 1726. He did not stop with that; he also gave 1,500 pagodas as a corpus towards regular maintenance of the bridge - that gesture goes a long way towards proving that the bridge was truly built "Pro bono publico".

The Marmalong bridge lasted for over 200 years; it was only in the 1960s that the bridge we use today was built - rather, looking at an old photo of Marmalong bridge, it appears that the existing bridge was strengthened and new lanes added on. The bridge itself was then renamed Maraimalai Adigal Palam. I haven't been able to find too many photos of the old bridge, but here's a painting that supposedly has the bridge in the background!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Attack anniversary

Through the 19th century and until the end of World War II, the Indian Ocean was regarded as a 'British Lake'; such was the volume of British maritime traffic crisscrossing this expanse of water. In 1914, when World War I began, the German light cruiser SMS Emden, with Captain Karl von Muller in command was based at Tsingtao (now Qingdao). In late July, she left her base and after receving orders from Admiral Maximilian von Spee, moved into the Indian Ocean in early September to prey upon the British merchant vessels. In a span of just over 2 weeks, the Emden captured seventeen ships and created so much panic not only at sea, where all shipping was stopped, but also on land, with many residents of Madras fleeing inland, fearing an attack on the city.

Their fear was probably heightend by the knowledge that one man on Emden's crew was Dr Cenpakaraman Pillai, an Indian revolutionary who was a fore-runner to Netaji in taking the help of Britain's enemies to fight for Indian independence. It is said that it was with Dr Cenpakaraman's guidance that the Emden hove-to about 3 km out to sea at 9.30 pm, 95 years ago to this day, and opened fire with its guns, targeting the oil tanks of the Burmah Oil Company in the Port of Madras. That objective was met in short order and the Emden then let loose on the High Court building (where the lighthouse continued to flash, unmindful of the ongoing war), the Port itself (a merchant vessel was sunk, killing 5 seamen. It is said that Karl von Muller was upset on hearing of this later, for they were the only civilians killed by a vessel under his command), the National Bank building and of course on Clive's Battery, which was supposed to protect the harbour. The guns of Clive's Battery took over 20 minutes to organize their response. By 10.00 pm, the 'Bombardment of Madras' was over and the Emden had disappeared.

Chennai retains the memory of that bombardment by this plaque at the spot where one of Emden's shells had smashed into the wall of the High Court. And on this day every year, a small group of people - led by Dr. Cenpakaraman Pillai's nephew - gather at this plaque to remember a freedom fighter whose story has been overwhelmed by the horror of the Emden!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What a cat!

Going down Mint Street on the Madras Day Photowalk last month, we were invited by a shop owner to take a look at his regular visitor. This visitor walks in to the shop at the same time every afternoon and spends about fifteen minutes admiring himself in the mirror. He does not have time to even turn and look at the others in the shop. If spoken to, or questioned, he just turns away disdainfully and goes about doing what he came in to do - preen in front of the mirror. No amount of shouting would make him budge before he was ready to leave.

It was just slightly different today. With quite a few new people crowding the shop entrance to watch - and take photos of - his actions, the visitor reluctantly turned away from the mirror to look at them. He even posed for a couple of pictures, very briefly. But then, he turned right back to the mirror and continued to admire himself!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

No more shows

Raghupathy Venkiah was one of the first in Madras to foresee the potential of cinema. Though his first cinema theatre, 'Gaiety', was the third in Madras after Mrs. Klug's 'Bioscope' and Warwick Major's 'Electric Theatre', he lasted much longer in the business. Soon after setting up Gaiety just off Mount Road in 1914, he went to heart of the city and set up 'Crown' next to the Mint, in 1916. These were followed by 'Globe' (later renamed 'Roxy') at Purasawakkam in 1918.

The last of the three had the shortest life; it was shut down sometime in the mid 1990s. That building was used as an exhibition hall for a while, but was pulled down a few years ago. Gaiety has also given way, the empty lot being used for the filming of 'Kanthaswamy' recently. Nothing remains of those two theatres, but the Crown is slightly different. It has also shut down, but it is the only one of the three that still has a part of its facade standing, just fronting the empty lot behind. It will not last many weeks, however.

Wonder if the 'Imperial', the fourth of Raghupathy Venkiah's theatres, is still standing. It is in Madurai, however, so I'll have to wait for someone from that city to let me know!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Almost evergreen

It is such a common sight in Chennai; the raintree has been used to line so many roads in the city, that it comes as a surprise to know it is not native to the region - indeed, it is not native to India, having been brought from Central / South America. From the forests of Mexico, Peru and Brazil, this tree has travelled to all the tropical regions of the world, with each region bestowing it a name (even its scientific name is in some confusion: it is called both Albizia saman as well as Samanea saman): monkey-pod tree, 5-o'clock tree, sleepy-faced tree, french tamarind... but the name 'raintree' was apparently coined in India.

Why 'raintree'? Again, there are several explanations, so take your pick. One, that the tree is host to a species of cicada, and their honey-dew like discharge fall like rain. The tree shuts its leaves when the skies go dark; during the monsoons, therefore, the raindrops fall through to the ground below - that's another explanation for its name. It is unique because most large trees of similar size provide shelter from the rain. The saman does not do so, despite being a contender for 'large tree' awards. It is an uncommon occurance for its leaf-faces to be splattered with rain - this one just got a little late in closing!

Hitachi has used one of the largest raintrees - on the Hawaiian island of Oafu - as part of its corporate identity since the early 1970s and in 2007, agreed to pay $ 4 million over the next 10 years for continued maintenance of that tree. That's indeed a lot of green!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Music Street

Madras of the 19th century was an attractive destination not only for traders and business-people, but also for many others. Among them were the musicians, several of who relocated to Madras. They were then influential in bringing in some of the musical greats, if not to stay in the city, to at least make their visits regular occurances, typically coinciding with one of the many festivals.

One such musician/composer was 'Veena' Kuppier. Although he moved only a short distance to reach George Town from Tiruvottiyur, his hometown, it must have been a significant decision in the early nineteenth century. His patron was Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar, who made Kuppier the samasthana vidwan of Kovur, a village that Kuppier had probably never even visited earlier. Kuppier was not only an expert vainika (veena player), but also a violinist and singer - accomplishments which led him to be called gana chakravarti (emperor of music). It was Kuppier who, on behalf of Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar, persuaded Thyagaraja to visit Madras in 1839. Though the great composer stayed at Sundaresa Mudaliar's town-house on Bunder Street, he did visit Kuppier's house and also sang in praise of the family deity.

All this information was gathered much later. This photo was taken more because the street sign is of a style that was used maybe 50 years or so ago; the name 'Kuppier' sounded odd; familiar, yet foreign. I guess I couldn't have been more mistaken about that!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How's the weather?

A few months ago, there were some reports that the Nungambakkam Regional Meteorological Centre was planning to display weather bulletins in a highly sophisticated fashion at its premises on College Road.

A couple of days ago, I noticed that even this not-so-sophisticated display has been taken down. Granted that Chennai's weather is fairly constant, but we'd still like to know how hot and humid it is!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You can check out any time you like, but...

It does look like a the facade of a nice garden house, with its high-ceilinged verandah on the first floor and the arches almost inviting you to step into the portico. The most famous tenant of this building was probably Veer Savarkar. But this is not a place that you'd try to be invited to - Savarkar was transited through this en route to the infamous Kalapani at Andaman - for, it is was part of the Chennai Central Prison complex, which has now been completely razed to make way for - well, a lot of modernity.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the Chennai prison was a place of leisure; there were only a few buildings like this, which were built to accommodate convalescing prisoners - and the high-profile ones at that. Even that luxury disppeared a few decades ago, when these buildings were converted into study areas on the ground floor and maybe some office spaces on the first floor. Convalescing or not, prisoners had to stay in their cells. Along with all the other buildings of the complex, this one is gone too, and the 11-acre space will soon have a new look.

Replacing the stony blocks of prison cells will be a blood bank attached to the General Hospital, as well as a station of the proposed Chennai Metro. There are a couple of smaller buildings planned, but it seems that a reasonably large part of the space will be given over to a park and some recreational facility - what a change that would be from its previous use!

Some more photos of the former Chennai Central Prison complex are here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who was it

This building itself has many stories about it, but I shall keep those for another day (with a different picture, I promise!). Today it is about one of the signs in the picture, a name that has been in business in Madras since the 1880s: Allbutt & Co., Pharmacists. Despite the name having survived for so long - I seem to remember the shop being open for business even in the early 1990s - little is known of the Allbutt, the man himself.

That doesn't stop me from speculating, however. Though I did not know it before, a search on Google tells me that Allbutt is a hallowed name in medicine; Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt who lived between 1836 and 1925, was not only a skilled physician, but also a medical historian and an inventor. He taught at the University of Cambridge, where he was made a Regius professor in 1892. He wrote his classic on medical history, 'Greek Medicine in Rome' quite late in life, in 1921, but his own place in the history of healthcare was assured when he designed the modern clinical thermometer in 1866.

It is another Allbutt who leads the Google search results for 'Allbutt Madras', however. Dr. Henry A.Allbutt was a member of the Malthusian League. In 1879, at a medical conference in Amsterdam, a lecture by three French physicians convinced him that contraception was not medically harmful. Strengthened with this conviction, he persuaded the Malthusian League to set up a group to spread this information among doctors and was also made the Secretary of that group. Apparently, one of the reasons for his strong committment to birth control was his experiences of problems in India; he was invited to be a Patron of the Hindu Malthusian League in Madras in 1882. Possibly, that gave him added information for his sixpenny booklet, published in 1886, named 'The Wife's Handbook', which included a summarised version of the then major contraceptive methods. The General Medical Council in England found this to be "infamous conduct in a professional respect" and his name was struck off the medical register.

It is highly probable - almost certain - that neither physician had any interest in Allbutt & Co., Pharmacists. But I can't help thinking that someone who was impressed by either Allbutt's work borrowed the name for a shop in Madras!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Town temple - the twin

Although the twin town temples - of Chenna Kesavaperumal and Chenna Malleswarar - cover roughly the same area, it does not appear to be so from their entrances. The entrance to the former is pretty much on the road; being gopuram-less, it is not easy to spot unless you know what you're looking for. The entrance to the latter is tucked into a corner - what you have to do is to go further north on Devaraja Mudali Street, past the entrance to the Chenna Kesavaperumal temple and turn left into NSC Bose Road. Do you see it now?

Ah, you probably missed it amidst all the shops and their signboards and you've probably walked much further down NSC Bose Road than you intended to - so now, turn around and walk east: there! The high wall behind the shops, you see it now, don't you? Where the wall ends is the doorway and now you can go in for your darshan of Chenna Malleswarar.

There is probably an easier way to get in - as both temples share a common tank, I guess one can skirt around the tank and get to one from the other. I have not tried that so far, though!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't read this...

Is this sign meant to reassure the good travellers that an omnipotent power watches over their well-being or is it meant to strike terror into the hard heart of one who has crossed over to the dark side? I think it is the former, but a spin-off is that a criminal reading this will think twice before attempting any funny business at this spot!

Of course you can't spot the cameras - they are secret, you understand?!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fantasy world

It was in 1896 that the Lumiere brothers visited India with their 'cinematographe'. Madras was not on their itinerary; it was Bombay that they favoured, making it the fourth city in their world tour, the other three being London, New York and Buenos Aires. It is said, however, that a firm named Madras Photographic Store advertised a show of 'animated photographs', which would make it the first 'motion picture' show in the city. I have not been able to find any reliable data to back the claim of the Madras Photographic Store, so we must turn elsewhere to find the city's first movie theatre.

Given the fickle nature of the movie industry, it is no surprise that the first cinema in the city is no longer in business. Neither is the second, the Electric Theatre, but at least it remained in business for a couple of years and is sometimes credited as being the first - it helps that the building still exists. The first theatre of Madras was the rather factually named Bioscope, which opened for business in 1911, but closed down within a few months. Not much is known about this theatre, save that it was on Broadway (or Popham's Broadway, as it was then called) and was owned by a Mrs. Klug.

Of Mrs. Klug, too, we hear little else; she is part of Chennai's history, but nobody seems to know who she was or where she went to after her pioneering attempt failed. The only cinema on Broadway - though it boggles the mind that Broadway can actually have a cinema - is the New Broadway Talkies, show in the photograph. That there was an older Broadway Talkies at this site is known - but it is still unknown if that one came up where the Bioscope used to be. That would be a truly filmy ending!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The river link

In one of his forms, Siva had agreed to cushion the Earth from the river Ganga as she came down from the heavens. 'Ganga-mai' is of course the most sacred of rivers and temples in various parts of the country claim that Ganga-mai's waters reach their premises - through un-mappable subterranean channels, is the usual explanation - so as to offer more value to the devotee. One alternative was to have Siva in his form as 'Gangadeeswaran', implying the presence of the holy river.

Supposed to have been built by a Chola king, the Gangadeeswarar temple at Purasaiwakam honours that form of Siva. The story also goes that the spot where waters brought from the Ganga were placed during the consecration of the temple turned into a tank that would never run dry, not even during the times of drought which emptied all other wells of Purasaiwakam.

For a temple that is supposed to have been around for at least a millenium, there is very little information available about it - and I can't think of any explanation as to why it should be so!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Follower, in a way

'Bharathidasan' is probably the smallest of the people whose statues are lined up along the Marina. Not in a physical sense, of course: some of the statues are of folks whose features have been shaped by imagination rather than data, but Bharatidasan suffers from a 'recency effect'. He died in 1964 which means many who have memories of him are still around to try and knock him off his pedestal once in a while.

Born in Pondicherry in 1891 and named Subburathinam by his parents, he came under the influence of Subramania Bharathi while in his teens. Bharathi mentored him in his early days and Subburathinam acknowledged that by changing his name to Bharatidasan (Follower of Bharathi). Mentee struck a slightly different path from mentor, being more fiercely protective of the Tamizh language against external influences as well as being an atheist, involving himself with the Dravidan political movement in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Though he had thrown himself into the independence movement earlier, he did not generate the reverence that his mentor did. Maybe that explains not only his political involvement, but also his search for an identity: he used several pseudonymns even as he continued to write as 'Bharathidasan'

And yet, the fact remains that when the World Tamil Conference was held in Madras in 1968, he was considered worthy of being placed alongside the greats of generations past - something that would probably make his the tallest of the statues along the Marina!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Step lively, now

It feels very nice to imagine oneself thundering across an open field on horseback, not a care in the world, rider and mount in perfect understanding with each other. But like any other skill, horse riding is something that one needs to learn, preferably through a proper course of instruction. Given the city life, any other way of learning to ride is rather improbable, I guess. Chennai has a couple of riding schools, and from whatever I've heard, both of them are equally good.

Which is understandable, given that until a few years ago, there was just the Madras Riding School monopolising the field. It was in 1997 that a couple of people broke away from the MRS and, along with a few others, launched the Chennai Equestrian Academy, which is where this picture was taken. The CEA is located on Rajiv Gandhi Salai (OMR) and is probably convenient for all those folks headed out to work on the IT corridor.

Whatever thoughts I had about learning to ride vaporised when I figured out that it would involve a 4.00 am wake-up time at least twice a week!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Break time

The dining area of Agarwal Bhavan in Sowcarpet is too far away - by a few streets - from this doorway for this to be a backdoor entry. The only other explanation is that this is the main storehouse for provisions needed by the eatery, which accounts for the milk can and the boxes.

Quite likely that it is also the rest area - maybe even the living quarters - for staff of Agarwal Bhavan, who seem to be enjoying their break. Once they go to the restaurant, there is little chance of them enjoying free time until the crowd thins out!

Monday, September 7, 2009

To treat them all

It is hard to believe that a major reason for relocating the military hospital of Fort St George to this site in 1772 was because it had, all around it, open spaces and was therefore considered to be much healthier than its previous location in (today's) Armenian Street. The decision to move was made in 1762, but it took another decade to be operationalized. John Sullivan, a young 'writer' won the tender for constructing the hospital buildings with a quote of 42,000 pagodas, which was almost 10% less than Col. Patrick Ross' outlay of 46,500 pagodas. It appears that the original specification of 1762, to build a hospital capable of receiving and accommodating "500 men and 30 officers" remained unchanged; the construction, though was reportedly designed so as to carry a second storey, when required.

The expansion does not seem to have been required until 1859. By then, the hospital had become truly 'general', with native civilians being admitted for treatment since 1842. (The military handed it over to pure civilian control in 1899). More additions were made through the last quarter of the 19th century; and then, between 1928 and 1938, a complete remodelling and much re-construction was done. With so much of chopping and changing, it is likely that none of the original buildings were still around when the most recent re-construction was done in 2002. That effort tore down all the hospital buildings and replaced them with these twin blocks - glass and concrete, but with the porticos shaped like those of Chola palaces.

While the open spaces around it have long since disappeared, the Government General Hospital's location is still convenient for travellers coming in - in these days of A(H1N1) threat, it may be reassuring to find this, the first hospital of India, waiting at the gates of the Chennai Central!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

No relation

The fascination for white-enamel-on-blue-board continues. Apart from the board, it is also interesting to see what's on it; a five-digit telephone number, which must have been last used sometime in the '70s and an identifier for 'Telegrams' which must have been quite the in thing in the '60s. Obviously, this is a business that has been built, and continues to thrive, on relationships, rather than on its brand.

The one other curious thing about it was the name of the senior partner. For a moment, I wondered if it was the same man who had built many of Madras' buildings between the late 19th and early 20th century. But no, that was a namesake, one who probably had no interest in precious metals, but made stones into precious buildings in his day!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Travelling house

It looks like a bamboo windchime that's been stuck, but it is actually a pretty interesting home. It is built by the larva of the bagworm moths of the family Psychidae - apparently, these cases are more helpful in identifying the exact species of the moth, rather than the full grown insect itself. The larva builds this case out of any natural protective material it can find; other than such tiny twigs, building materials include sand, leaves, or other plant matter. Until the larva is feeding, it moves around, carrying its 'house' with it. Once it is ready to pupate, it fixes the case to the nearest anchor - a branch, wall or rocks - with its silken adhesive.

If you look closely, you'll see some wing-scales peeping through at the bottom of this house; the adult moth will be ready to fly out, maybe in a day or so!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Eater's Digest - 7

Four Seasons restaurant it may not be, but with four restaurants inside this space, it is difficult to make a decision as to what cuisine you'd prefer for the evening. This space however, started off with just 'Kaaraikudi', bringing the cuisine of the Chettinad region to Chennai, sometime in the 1980s. At a time when most specialty restaurants in the city were looking towards north India (or beyond the borders), Kaaraikudi went south and became a hit almost rightaway.

With more space available in the complex, the choices grew. 'The Dhaba' offers you what you think it does - comfort food from the roadside eateries of north India - Punjab, mainly. 'Shogun' satisfies your craving for Chinese and 'Coastline' is fresh seafood - probably the first restaurant I saw where you could choose your food while it is still alive.

But for all the choice, there is no edging out the main deity here. It is Kaaraikudi and if you have any doubts about that, the faux Ayyannars at the entrance will drive them out of your mind!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deserted playgrounds

It is that time of the year again, when all outdoor sports are curtailed. With rains going off and on during the week, sports practice sessions have been cancelled and kids are probably spinning off their energy into other things. Though this school looks deserted, it is only because all the kids are in classes; despite having a multi-purpose playground, there is no enthusiasm to kick or to spike a ball - maybe it is just that it is too early in the day to get wet!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Strange fruit

Was at the Southern Railway headquarters a few days ago when I saw this. The palm itself has been part bonsai-ed, but certainly didn't expect it to be used as a newspaper stand - and the paper is not a local daily, but one in Malayalam from the neighbouring state of Kerala!

Oh, yes - happy Onam, everyone!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Small road

This was the first - and still the only - road on which I could name all the buildings. Not a difficult task, for there are only five of them. The youngest of them is the Kuralagam, about forty years old, housing countless offices of the state government. Coming up north on Muthuswamy Road and turning into the Esplanade Road (which's what this one is called), all the five buildings will be on your left. In order, they are the Raja Annamalai Mandram, the United India Building, the Chennai House (originally the Burmah Shell building), South Indian Chamber of Commerce and finally the Kuralagam.

What of the other side of the road? You will no doubt remember that the British had cleared the area around Fort St George in the middle of the 18th century. This road was at the north-western corner of the Esplanade that was created. Much later, part of the Esplanade was used to house the buildings of the Madras High Court. The walls of the court run almost the full length of the this road, except where there is a bus terminus at the southern end. The court buildings - including the two towers of the Dr. Ambedkar Law College on the right - are accessed through NSC Bose Road.

Now, don't you think remembering all the buildings on this small road is child's play?