Friday, November 13, 2009

A Summit, a Peak

You'd probably not notice this building if you're going up Bharathi Salai (Pycrofts Road) on your vehicle, but there's no way you can miss seeing it if you are on foot. It is not the oldest building around, but there's a certain art-deco kind of feel to it, so you want to stop and stare at it a bit. It is definitely worth a stare; apart from the reliefs of Lakshmi (on the left) and Saraswati (on the right), there is a headless figure of Lord Subramanian between them. Topping them all is a bust of Mahatma Gandhi, placed on a globe showing the Indian subcontinent.

Each floor seems to have a name of its own; starting with "Siva Mani" on the ground floor, we move up through "Sri Rama Nilayam" and "Swami's Summit", before reaching the penthouse (if it can be called that), which is named "Gandhi Peak". The house was built sometime in the early 1920s by SP Ayyaswami Mudaliar, a civil engineer who was also an active member of the Indian National Congress. Maybe he had ideas of turning the whole building over to the Congress, because there is a plaque saying "Donor Engineer S.P.Aiyaswami" somewhere on the facade. He didn't do any such thing, however, for his descendents continue to stay in this building, adding to the multitude of signs indicating the many purposes the building has been used for - "Sundaralaya 1926" says one, "Sivaraja Bhavanam 1926", says another; a third says "Professor S.P.Singaravelu Institute". A much newer sign says "S.P.Dhananjaya 149 Bharathi Salai".

But the newest of them all is a plaque on the gate-post, one that does not appear in this picture, which celebrates the 5 days that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stayed in this building, over two visits, in September 1939 and January 1940. Maybe it was between those visits that Netaji firmed up his strategy of aligning with the Axis powers!

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