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'!

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