Sunday, September 30, 2012

Station mural

Considering its positioning, so near Mount Road, the Chintadripet MRTS station should have been buzzing with people. The planners also had such visions in mind when the station was opened in 1995; it has quite a bit of parking space, as well as many options for commercial space within the station building. But, as it has happened with most of the MRTS' stations, the "build it and they will come" approach did not pan out exactly the way it was forecast. The network itself has suffered from poor interconnectivity and has not been well patronised. 

With the Chennai Metro also coming up, it is hoped that the MRTS will also get a boost; Chintadripet is one of the MRTS stations that is quite close to the Metro and it could become an interchange point. If that were to happen, a lot more people can look up at this mural on the station facade with a smile!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Different inside

The St Thomas Garrison Church has quite a bit in common with the St Clement Danes in the Strand, London. In the first place, both churches are closely connected with the armed forces: the one in Madras was raised to cater to the military establishment between the Mount and Pallavaram and the one in the Strand is now the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. Both buildings have had some restoration done due to aircraft. Luftwaffe bombers gutted St Clements during the London Blitz; the steeple of the Garrison Church had to be reduced in height to enable planes land at the Meenambakkam airport.

Such similarities should not surprise us, because the Garrison Church was designed on the lines of St Clement Danes. However, the replication of the design seems to have been confined to the outside, unless the original was unrecognisably altered during its restoration. A significant difference is that the altar does not have a grand reredos, preferring to keep it simple with a small altarpiece. 

That altarpiece too, was not painted by any famous painter, or even a 'professional' painter. The work of Major John Robinson, it shows Jesus asking Thomas to touch his wounds. On the evidence of this painting, and a lack of any leads towards the Major's martial exploits, he was probably quite a peace-loving military officer!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Get the picture?

Once upon a time, the idly was a truly humble, workmanlike, everyday dish. Fairly simple to cook, and in volumes, it continues to be the staple breakfast at many a south Indian home. But there had to be variants. The Kanchipuram idly was one of the earliest, and that set a trend for place-name idlies, including a Thanjavur idly and the now-ubiquitous Madurai (Murugan) idly

But Kushboo idly? At least the place-name idlies had some differentiators originally, arising from local ingredients being used. And of course, rava idly or stuffed idlies do not tax your imagination. But Kushboo idly? Could it be along the lines of the MLA pesarattu? Or is it like that famous Chiranjeevi dosa one used to get at Chutney's in Hyderabad? The story goes that the actor had tried out the steamed variant of the dosa at his house and had the method perfected before sharing it with Chutney's. 

Of course I have been curious as to the twist that Kushboo has given idly. I suspect there is none, however. And the reviews about this restaurant in Nungambakkam are so dismal that I am not tempted to go there and find out!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pedal power

The big reason for taking this picture was the white-on-blue enamel board. I was hoping to find the word "Madras" under the name of the business; though this one does not have that, it still made for a nice picture of old times. Though I did not realize it when I took the photo, my first cycle, a very nice Raleigh, was bought from this shop 30 years ago. And when that cycle was bought, the shop was being managed by the grandson of the founder. 

Bhogilal Davey had come to Madras from Nadiad in the early years of the 20th century, looking to make a fortune in some way. Among the many businesses he forayed into were food (he ran a restaurant), ghee sales and perfumery before he settled on bicycles. This business was started off in Bunder Street, and moved to this location on Broadway in 1936; obviously, Bhogilal-bhai had hit on to a good thing, importing Raleigh, Humber and Philips bicycles from the UK for sale here. But in 1939, within 7 years of setting up this business, he handed it over to his son. It was the son who gave it the name it still carries. He, after 40 years in the business, handed it over to Suresh Davey, who runs it currently.

Despite it being a holiday, the cycle shop still generates business. Not behind the closed doors, of course, but for the man in front of it, sitting with an old tyre and a bicycle pump!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Many connections

At the very basic level, this bridge connects Blackers Road to Adithanar Salai across the Cooum. Adithanar Salai was earlier known as Harris Road and it would not be out of place to call this one the Harris Bridge; not that it was known as such earlier, but other connects spring from Harris and he has to be introduced sooner than later.

The road was named for George Francis Robert Harris, 3rd Baron Harris, who was the Governor of Madras from 1854 to 1859. If nothing else, his term as Governor saw the massive upheaval of the political landscape after the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. Madras was largely untouched by that rebellion (was the quelling of Vellore Mutiny still fresh in memory?) to the extent that Governor Harris sent almost the entire Presidency army out to lift the siege of Cawnpore. He oversaw the transfer of Madras from the British East India Company to Queen Victoria before his tenure as Governor ended in 1859. In the meanwhile, he is also said to have introduced 'Devil's Pepper', which he brought over from his earlier position as the Governor of Trinidad. There is some speculation about this variety going on to become the Bhut Jolokia

Compared to that culinary connect, it is a much more straightforward connect between this bridge and Mumbai Schools Cricket. Harris Shield, for the winner of the inter-schools cricket tournament in Mumbai is named after Governor Harris' son, George Robert Canning Harris, the 4th Baron Harris. The 4th went on to chair the meeting which launched the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909; it is tempting to think that Master Robert would have learnt the rudiments of his cricket in Madras!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just a reminder

This road sign is almost all that is available today to remind us about what was once a leading insurance company of Madras. Leading not necessarily in terms of business, but in terms of heart, more often than not. 

Prithvi Insurance Company was founded in 1943 by S. Parthasarathy Iyengar. Its main office of business was most likely at Kondi Chetty Street in George Town, where the Prithvi Insurance Building today houses City Branch 1 of the LIC of India. Parthasarathy Iyengar was a deeply religious man and very soon, Prithvi Insurance was being run by T.S. Swaminathan who was one of the first Indians to be admitted to the Institute of Actuaries, London. As with most insurance companies at that time, Prithvi was into both general and life insurance. The general insurance business did very well and turned in profits; the life insurance business was another matter altogether. Prithvi was a large-hearted insurer, going so far as to partially sponsor the cost of hospital stay for policy holders who had been struck with tuberculosis. Prithvi claimed that the losses of the life insurance business should be set off against the profits of the other business lines, a claim that the Income Tax department contested - and it was decided in Prithvi's favour by the Madras High Court, in 1963 and finally upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966, 10 years after Prithvi's businesses were nationalised.

Prithvi also treated its staff very well. The company picked up a large tract of land in Ambattur in the late 1940s and converted that into housing plots for its junior and middle level staff. A house of roughly 400 sft, on a one-ground (2400 sft) plot, was sold for Rs.5,000/-, with a scheme to make that payment through monthly payroll deductions. That area continues to be known as Prithvipakkam, though the original houses are probably long gone. It is quite likely that a similar scheme was used to allow their senior officers to own houses off St Mary's Road; again, a large area of land was bought and carved up into plots. Today, there are two sets of flats for LIC's officers on Prithvi Avenue. Surely at least some of the residents there would remember the Prithvi legacy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

For the dip

Unlike the specially created Vinayaka of a few years ago, this one is quite straightforward, having been made out of the regular clay / plaster of paris. Caught it on Sunday morning just after it had been moved from its pandal on to a bullock cart. The bullock itself was tied up a little away from this group. The band had arrived and was waiting for the signal to start up its noise, which would then accompany the idol and the cart all the way to the beach.

The Sunday after Vinayaka Chathurthi would find many such bullock carts - and pickup trucks, fish-carts as well as smaller private vehicles - bringing idols from different parts of Chennai to be immersed at the Marina or other beaches. It is certainly not on the scale of Mumbai's festivities, but it would still be a good idea to avoid going to the beach that evening.

Unless, of course, you are taking part in the celebrations themselves!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dual role

Despite - more likely because of - having passed this way several times, I had not paid attention to these signboards. Yes, I know that South Boag Road was renamed in 1998. And I discovered a while ago that, while the official memorial to MGR is on the Marina, there is a labour of love off Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Road. 

Both these men were giants of Tamizh cinema; both tried their hands at politics; while MGR went on to serve as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for an unbroken ten-year stretch, Sivaji however did not win any election and had to be content serving a single term as a Member of Parliament, in the Rajya Sabha

Sivaji lived on this road for over forty years. MGR had his official residence at 27, Arcot Road, off this road - but he was rarely here, preferring to stay at his Ramavaram Gardens residence. Maybe he was worried about it becoming too crowded with both of them living close to each other!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bombed picture

I am sure everyone would have heard of the Emden. The word, with slightly differing spellings and pronunciations is unquestioningly thought of as a Tamizh or a Malayalam (maybe even a Telugu) word. Emdan, Yemendan, Yamandan are the variants, indicating a terrifying force that cannot be battled. But those meanings arose from the bombardment of Madras during World War I. Today is the anniversary of the day SMS Emden let its guns loose on the city. 

It wasn't just the big buildings that were hit. Many other places were, as well. 'The Hindu' recently discovered in its archives a set of pictures taken the day after the bombardment. And I recently discovered a picture that was damaged by a shell from the Emden. It has been preserved and maintained by the Royal Madras Yacht Club!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bank by the wayside

The Chennai office of the Reserve Bank of India has the Fort Glacis as its address. But it spurns the security of the fort's walls, preferring to sit just outside. Of course it was a much later creation than the fort; by the time the RBI was set up in 1935, the fort had for long been an administrative centre rather than a trading outpost. 

The building is quite impressive, if you can stop to look at it. The massive door has RBI's logo on it and even the latticework besides the door repeats the design. Most of the time, however, folks just whiz by - and because of the subway, even that view is fairly limited.

Just wondering - is there an underground passage from the bank into the fort?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

National smoke

In the crush of modern day George Town, it is easy to forget that these areas were at one time considered outside the city; that is, when the 'city' was Fort St George. Even later, during the 20th century as well, it was accepted that north of the Fort was the rough and ready industrial Madras, while the genteel folk drift southward. Not that it was really true in those days - north Madras was the go-to place for Carnatic music as well as other performing arts - and it is probably less so today. 

So, it was a surprise to see this sign proclaiming a factory making beedis in the middle of this commercial/residential district, at the end of Coral Merchant Street. Undoubtedly the factory has been shut for a long while, but going by the neon tubing on the signboard, it must have once been a prosperous business. I cannot remember hearing about Spade Clover Beedis; my memory stops with Dinesh and Mangalore Ganesh Beedis. My father tells me that he has heard of the "தா-னா பா-னா பீடி" (TP Beedis) of North Madras, but Spade Clover was a new one on him as well.

Spade Clover was owned by Khan Sahib Mohammed Oomer Sahib; when he died intestate in 1942, his widow Luthfunnissa Begum and Noorullah, his son by an earlier wife, agreed that the business be run jointly while the property suit was being settled. Spade Clover did make beedis in that fashion until November 1946, when Noorullah bought out the other heirs and became the sole owner. There seems to have been some fracas over the taxation of the income from the business during those years and that is the last I have been able to find of the Spade Clover Beedi Factory. The neon lights however show that the business must have been conducted well into the 80s at least, if not beyond that. Maybe my father and I made an error in thinking about North Madras beedis; according to one advertisement (click here), the Spade Clover Beedi was a "National Smoke", which was "of the people, by the people, for the people"!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elevated gardens

The usual reference to this abrupt patch of green along Ebrahim Sahib Street in Royapuram is 'Hanging Gardens'. When the Archeological Survey of India declared it a 'protected monument' sometime in the 1990s, it was not the greenery they were concerned about, but the structure on which the Maadi Poonga (Terrace Garden) had been created. The Garden was first created in 1957, but for a long while during the 1980s and 90s, it had been allowed to run to seed, providing a vantage point for all kinds of shady activities. In the early 2000s, the Corporation of Chennai decided to spruce it up and it is now a pleasant alcove that one can run up to from the usual grime of Ebrahim Sahib Street.

In its original plan, there were no steps to run up on. Not here, not anywhere along the roughly 6km stretch that it extended across. Running somewhat perpendicular to the coast, this was the limit of Madraspattnam of 1770s; a thick wall, which, at that time, was 17 feet high. The idea was to create a bulwark against Tipu Sultan's sorties, even though by the time the wall was completed in 1779, Tipu was a spent force. Sentries - and supplies - were taken to the top of this structure was accessed through ramps, which ran parallel to it at several points. Within half-a-century of its being built, the wall was deemed to be a constraint to the city's expansion and, except for this short stretch, was demolished in phases.

References to the wall still survive; the wall had eight gates and the place where some roads lead out towards the north and west of Chennai are still referred to by the gates that stood there - especially Elephant Gate towards the west!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I very clearly remember when I last saw one of these. When my son asked me why it was referred to as 'dialling', I went into a kind of history-plus-half-baked-engineering explanation. It probably left him more confused than before. At that time, I hadn't seen one of these rotary dial phones for years and I never thought I'd see them again outside a museum. 

This one I saw a few weeks ago, however, was not in a museum. It was in the foyer of a cinema theatre - though in a place where people would not normally wander into. It looked so much in working condition that I was tempted to use it...

...but I did not. So now, here I am, trying to remember when was the last time I actually used one of these!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Departure point

To you and me, in this day and age, this black block of a building would appear foreboding, maybe even an ill-omen. But a century ago, this would have represented excitement, hope and the thrill of setting out to new worlds and civilizations. It is one of the original buildings of the Port of Chennai and used to house the embarkation offices, along with its twin. Together, they would have been terrifying sights for at least one set of travellers: those bound for transport to Kala Pani, that dreaded cellular jail in the Andamans, who would also have set sail from the quay here.

That other half of this building was demolished during a modernisation drive in the 1980s, but for some reason, this one was spared. Sitting on the Western Quay of the harbour, this building appears to have fallen out of regular use. Built with chunks of Pallavaram gneiss, it has stood up to the salty sea air for all these years showing little signs of wear. It could well survive for a few centuries more and can be put to better use than being a storage facility. In its comedown, it today evokes more pity than awe!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Towering across

From across the Harris (now Adithanaar) Road bridge on the east, this building quite catches the eye. It is the WSS Towers; although the developers had tried to name it Harmony Towers, it is WSS that has stuck. WSS retains a bit of the history of the area, so it seems far more appropriate than a bland 'Harmony'. More of that in a bit, but we will stay with the building itself for now. 

Just as this one catches the eye, so would its predecessor have, especially in early 1964. On the site of the WSS Towers used to be the Chitra Theatre, built by K. Viswanathan in 1948. With the Cooum flowing along its east before turning along its southern flank, movie watchers at Chitra would have enjoyed the cool river breeze aplenty. Remember, no airconditioning, open doors and the Cooum itself was a splendid watercourse in those days. In early 1964 - it could have been during Pongal time - the MGR superhit Vettaikaran ('The Hunter') was released at Chitra. The facade of the building was decked up to look like a mountain forest, with MGR ready to leap from a hillside. And, to complete the forest theme, a tiger was placed near the theatre's entrance. Originally, the publicity plan called for the tiger to be tied up in the open, but with the police (?) insisting on safety, the tiger was put inside a cage. 

Chitra did not make the transition to a world of multiplexes. As has been the fate of many of Madras' old movie halls, this one was also turned into a commercial complex. In calling it WSS Towers, the developers were probably paying homage to WS Samy Naick, the first 'native doctor' of the East India Company, who lived on Harris Road in the early 1800s - but that's a story for another day!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Engineer's park

Chennai, or even Madras, does not have much to connect it with this grand old man of Indian industry. Bharat Ratna Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya was born in Mysore and carried out most of his pathbreaking projects in Mysore or for the Nizam of Hyderabad. That kept him away from both Madras city as well as the Madras Presidency.

But the work he did - the automatic floodgates at Khadkavasala, the flood protection system for the city of Hyderabad, and the various public works that he oversaw as the Diwan of the Mysore State - served as models for post-independence India's effort in building 'modern temples'. Sir MV was over 85 when the country became independent, which probably hampered him from being the country's Chief Engineer. Still, his birth anniversary, today, is observed as 'Engineers' Day' in India.

Madras honoured him by naming the tower at Anna Nagar after him. And that remains as his connect to the city - apart from the BA degree he earned from the University of Madras in 1881!

Friday, September 14, 2012


There is a campaign initiated by the Times of India going on in the city. Autorickshaws - always a big stick to beat Chennai with - have apparently been going around without using their fare meters for several years now. The Times of India has been trying to muster support to bring back metered fares for the autorickshaws and to ensure implementation as well. 

It would be great if that can happen. Though there is no data to lean back on, every conversation about Chennai's autos brings in the ownership theme; according to a study in 2010, less than 40% of the drivers own their autos, with the rest taking the vehicle on daily rent. While an owner-driver would clear about Rs.250 a day, the hirer-driver would only take away a fifth of that. Any of these numbers would be chimerical; with almost the entire business running on a cash-and-carry basis, we have to lean back on the sob stories from the drivers. 

Or from the commuters. Of which there is an inexhaustible supply. Most of the time, the 'nice' stories don't make for good news. The regulars know the fares on their normal routes and rarely does one of them complain about being fleeced. Maybe more of them should start putting in their fare data on to this site, which is trying to crowdsource such information. Maybe we should pay more attention to the stated intent of the auto stands, like on this board here. It has a long list of what the drivers would and would not do. But who among us gives them a pat on the back for sticking to the code?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breaking the ice

There is a kind of reassuring permanence to some of the names of Chennai's landmarks. Attempts at renaming them only lead to bestowing another handle, while the older one is also used, equally validly. And so it is with this building, Vivekanandar Illam or Vivekananda House, on the Marina Beach.

There was a temptation to make this post on 9/11: the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda's historic address at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago, in 1893. He stayed at this building for a few days after his return to India and that is the reason for its current official name. But close on the heels of 9/11 comes another anniversary, which is the reason for this building to be constructed in the first place. It was on September 13, 1833 that the first shipment of river ice - about 100 tonnes of it - landed up in Calcutta, from Boston. Business was good enough for a regular ferry service of ice from Massachusetts' rivers into the Presidency towns of the Raj and each of them built storage facilities for the landed ice. 

Of the others, there is no trace these days. Vivekananda's name has ensured that the building stays in good repair and is put to good use. But it still cannot stop the Madrasi from referring to it as 'Ice House'!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No more there

It was an address that once boasted of housing the premier photographers of the Madras Presidency. Towards the end of the 19th century, Wiele & Klein had their studio at 11, Mount Road. As their business prospered, they opened branches in the 'Neilgherries' - at Ooty and Coonoor - and Wiele moved over to the hills. Klein stayed on the plains and lived in the floor above their headquarters. The first World War saw Klein being interred - though born in Madras, his German parentage made him a suspect. Apparently, he was not much disturbed by this treatment. He continued to ply his trade after the war, buying out his senior partner and later taking on Michael Peyerl as his junior partner. The Klein & Peyerl name is quite familiar to many even in today's Chennai.

Klein however sold the building at 11, Mount Road to Venkatapathi Naidu, a descendent of Beri Thimmappa, one of Madras' founding trio. Venkatapathi added on to the building and it was a fancy business address, at the corner of Blackers Road and Mount Road, for quite a long while. By the time this picture was taken in 2009, the premises were quite dilapidated. The owners seemed loath to attempt another round of renovation and refurbishment, preferring instead to tear down the structure.

This photo shows the building in poor light. But if you would like to see how handsome it was during its heyday, go ahead and take a look at the photos here! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leaping horse

A Ferrari it is not. This wooden horse is part of the finery of a chariot that takes the deity around the temple at Thiruninravur. Even at its most frenzied pace, it would take quite a bit of time to go around the track. 

On that day, this chariot was idle; the palanquin was being used for the procession. This one looked rather lonely, parked along the temple wall!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Which way?

No, it is not like platform nine-and-three-quarters at King's Cross. This gatepost is all that remains of what was once Madras' leading multi-screen cinema - the Safire complex. Together with Emerald and Blue Diamond, they formed the Veecumsee Group's entertainment business. It seemed rather apt and I used to think about a karmic connection each time we-went-to-see a movie there.

Correction: the complex was not just a movie palace. I remember playing Atari's Pong there for the first time. Pinball tables: check. Jukebox: check. Bubble elevator: check. It also housed the city's first discotheque. Nine Gems was the place to go if you wanted to groove to the Beatles. The disco did not last for long; it was replaced by a Gujarati / Rajasthani restaurant named Navaratna. Even that became less of an attraction as days went by. Safire was a place for the movies.

Today, Safire is a place for memories. The Veecumsee family members seem to have gone back to focus on their other business - jewellery and resorts, as well as some new economy ventures. They have moved away from the cinema/entertainment sector - probably they are also overawed by the thought of competing with such a larger than life legacy!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The S-bend

Okay, so it is not really the ‘S’ bend. It would have been nice to get the Adayar river to heed the conventions of the Roman script, but the river has its own mind.

Few history textbooks of record it, but the Battle of Adayar was also one of the arms in the S-bend of the city’s history. When the French turned the British out of Fort St George, the Nawab of Carnatic thought he could do the same to the French. Knowing that the French army was only around 2,000, mostly native soldiers, the Nawab thought they would be no match for his force of over 10,000. He did not realize that the spahis (or siphais, or sepoys), trained by the French, fought to a different drummer than that of his force. The Nawab was crushed; European training and discipline trumped native daring and courage. The battle thus finalized a template that would be used by the British to hold the country together for a couple of centuries after that.

There is a different march on the river these days. A decade ago, a picture like this would have shown very few buildings. One hopes they remain the only constructions even in the years to come!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sesquicentennial trio

The High Courts of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras are all celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2012. The High Court of Judicature at Madras is the 'junior-most' among the three; Calcutta (originally the High Court of Judicature at Fort William) was established on July 1, 1862, Bombay on August 14 and Madras on August 15 of the same year. However, it must be remembered that the Supreme Court of Madras - as befitting the first city of the Raj - had been functioning since 1801, before being abolished to make way for the new structure of judiciary. 

In fact, it was a judge of the Madras High Court, Sir Gilbert Stone, who moved to Bombay in 1862 to take charge as the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Judicature at Bombay. But as with many other institutions that were born in Madras, the newer ones grew bigger - The Bombay High Court has a sanctioned strength of 75 judges and Calcutta 63, with Madras bringing up the rear with 60. 

The last of the 3 to observe the valedictory of its sesquicentennial is doing it today. Part of the delay was probably because it was waiting for the President of India to be the chief guest at the function. After all, this is a High Court that has had a lawyer who practiced here go on to become President of India - not to mention the only Indian Governor General as well. It is only fitting that Pranab Mukherjee follows S. Radhakrishnan (at the centenary celebrations) and R. Venkataraman (at the 125th anniversary) to be the chief guest at a significant anniversary celebration here!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lying, waiting

In 1834, the Asiatic Journal reported that, "the cause for extra subscriptions to the Monegar Choultry no longer exists, the poor creatures having been all forwarded to their native places....on the 31st of August, only 1,079 distressed objects remained...". It is hard to imagine that the 'objects' being talked about were actually people; people who had to be sheltered at the Monegar Choultry to help them tide over the famine of 1833-34 that killed nearly 200,000  across Guntur, Nellore, Masulipatnam and Madras. There is nothing to show how many were saved by the kindness of Monegar Choultry, which was arguably the first public charity of the city of Madras.

The Choultry was set up in response to an earlier, even more miserable famine: that of 1781-84, which probably left upwards of a million dead. (One report says 10 million, but that seems too fantastic a figure). The Famine Relief Committee rented a building just outside the North Wall of the city - maybe by design, to keep the destitute outside the city walls, or maybe it was just the only one available - to serve as the soup kitchen of its time. Or maybe it was because there was a village headman - a manaiyakkaran - running a kanji centre nearby; people would know where to go to be cared for. So manaiyakkaran became 'Monegar' and the Choultry grew famous under that name. So famous that, despite being renamed as the 'Raja of Venkatagiri's Choultry', the old name continues to be displayed and referred to all around. 

This building is the oldest - but certainly not from 230 years ago - survivor of the Choultry's history. An even earlier practice, that continues still, is that an inmate's relatives (who probably cared little for him/her during the lifetime) have no claim to the body after his/her death. The cadaver is automatically sent across to the nearby Stanley Medical College's anatomy department. The destitute, in death, trying to ease the burden of the living!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Buzzin' around

The Beehive Foundry was named very appropriately, by all accounts. It supposedly employed between 500 and 600 workmen even during the lean season and the "activity which prevails in a hive of bees is not excelled by the industry which is manifested by the large staff of employees of this company". Contractors to shipping companies, the railways and large builders among others, the Beehive Foundry was set up in this building, which housed Oakes & Co., arguably Madras' first department store. The Beehive Foundry was Oakes' foray into engineering and it grew to be quite successful, with the works going completely electric (from the original steam power) in 1914, subsequent upon their being awarded the contract to outfit the hospital ship Madras that year. 

Suryanarayana Rao, the scion of a Vijayawada-based business family set up business for himself in 1907. His friend C.A.Chettiar joined him a few years later, and the two of them ventured into the steel foundry and fabrication business. It is quite likely that they took over the Beehive Foundry soon after and the group came to be known as the Beehive Kowtha Group.

The foundry has moved to Vijayawada. But the Group continues to have fabrication shops in Chennai, as well as Hyderabad and Vijayawada; and its corporate office stays on at this address: Beehive Buildings, 57, Broadway, Chennai 600108!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bare tower

Less than a generation ago, Velachery was an ignored outpost of Madras, a temple suburb that was poorly connected with the rest of the city. Velachery - the name is supposedly a corruption of the original Vedashreni (the abode of the Vedas) - has two temples that go back several hundred years. And they used to be the major reason for people to go to that part of the city. 

Now, Velachery is the hub of the new-economy; the temples have been largely forgotten. Not because of anything else, but it is just that the population of Velachery has grown exponentially in the last few years and the newcomers have not had the time or the inclination to think about the heritage of their new hometown. But not all is lost. The temples have been sprucing themselves up, in anticipation of new visitors.

One such spruce-up project was probably this gopuram. I am not sure if the Sree Dhandeeswarar Koil had a gopuram here earlier, but this one is surely of very recent origin. Unlike the normal colourful gopurams, this one seems to remain bare - or has it been painted over since I last saw it?!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ship ahoy!

That's what the lookout should be shouting from his perch high above the waterline. But what would the poor chap do when the mast is barely above sea level, with the rest of his ship settled on the ocean's floor? The 'Madras Roads' had always been notoriously tricky to navigate, but surely not so treacherous as to sink ships?

I had thought there were only two ships that had floundered on the ChennaiMadras coast in recent times. The one at the mouth of the Cooum is a hazy memory of stories heard. It ran aground sometime in the late 1960s, but I have not been able to find much evidence of that disaster. The other one I know of is more recent, when a ship ran into the Tiruvottiyur shore in 1994. It remained there, stuck to the shore and I would see it everyday on my way to work. I remember that the locals treated it as a picnic spot; the evenings would see sharbath and cotton-candy sellers do brisk business with the crowds that would turn up to see the big ship up close. (I had had a picture taken there as well. Wonder where that is, now!)

But this was a new one. It was only last week that I learnt that there was a sunken ship just outside the Madras Harbour. All that I have got to know about it is that it was called 'Seven Seas' - or it belonged to a company so named - and that it sank sometime in the mid-1980s. Its mast still shows above the waters, forming a nice perch for the brown-headed gulls (or were they the bridled terns?) to rest between their sorties!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stopped press

It looks like what it is. The signboard of a business that has seen vastly better times, but is now faded, rusting in its own history. "Appar Achchagam" it says, with the preceding words having faded completely away. It may not be much to look at, but it had its day about half-a-century ago.

Appar Achchagam, on Broadway, was the printing arm of the Saiva Siddhantha Works Publishing Society, which was run by Va. Thiruvarangam Pillai, who was a big fan of Maraimalai Adigalar. (Maybe the biggest fan - he married Neelambigai, the Adigalar's daughter). He had been instrumental in bringing Adigalar to Ceylon, and the SSWP Society had published every one of the Adigalar's books. Upon his death, Adigalar bequeathed is collection of over 4000 Tamizh books to the SSWP Society, which, in 1958, opened the Maraimalai Adigal Library on Linghi Chetty Street. Building on that initial corpus, the Library grew to over 35,000 rare books, journals and manuscripts over the next 50 years. Unable to house them, or to maintain the Library itself, the Society turned the entire collection over to the Connemara Library. 

Today, the Society seems to have gone under completely. A handwritten sheet, under this sign, calls on them to deliver vacant possession of the premises by order of the High Court. The heritage of the Adigalar, revered as the father of 'pure Tamizh', seems to have been completely institutionalized, now!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bull elephant

At the corner just after the lighthouse on Kamaraj Salai, you will find this sculpture. It is quite an interesting work, if you pay attention to it. It has been crafted in the style of the ancient Chola sculptors - as seen at Darasuram, near Kumbakonam. Or is it after the Chalukyas, as seen at the Badami caves? 

If you go to the Airavateswara temple at Darasuram, you can see a similar interpretation, but as a bas-relief work. It is in bas-relief at Badami, as well. Both of them show a similar elephant-bull combination. If you look at this sculpture from the left, you will see the bull raising its head; move to the right and you can see the elephant unfurling its trunk.

This work follows the Darasuram/Badami tradition in another way - there is no indication of what this is all about. The pedestal seems to have kept a place for a description or a dedication or whatever. Only that it still remains empty. Go ahead, fill it with your imagination!

Saturday, September 1, 2012


In March every year, the Sri Bhaktavatsala Perumal temple at Thriruninravur conducts its Brahmotsavam. It was coincidental that a bunch of us from the Chennai Photowalk landed up there that day. As we got into one of the roads near the temple, we realised we were just ahead of the palanquin carrying the deity in a ceremonial procession. 

The palanquin would pause on its journey, allowing folks from the nearby houses to come out and make their offerings to the deity. The priests also pause, a little distance away, waiting for the next move. 

For today's 'Theme Day' post; just a few days ago, I had gone ahead with another picture showing 'People Watching' just a few days ago.... so here is one of the 'Priests Watching'!

The theme today for the City Daily Photo group bunch is 'People Watching'. For more pictures of people watching around the world, head over to their Facebook page!