Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Not too many people in Chennai would be concerned about Hurricane Sandy since this morning, I guess. Having gone to bed last night knowing that Sandy had quietened down, attention was once more turned to the local lad who had been pouring all along the south-eastern seaboard of India. Cyclone Nilam is expected to cross the coast this evening. The US Navy's map shows it as passing just south of Chennai. We can certainly look forward to a lot of water today, I guess.

Will the cyclone itself target Chennai? It has been a while since that happened. For years, Chennaiites have been used to hearing how the cyclone of the season was tracking to cross the coast: first the wide range between Nagapattinam and Cuddalore; then, Cuddalore and Chennai, followed by Chennai and Nellore, before making landfall between Nellore and Ongole - or veering off towards Bangladesh. It appeared that Chennai was well protected and we remained thankful, even as we agonized over losses in places far less prepared to face a cyclone.

Nilam will be less violent than Thane was, according to the Met. Office. So maybe there is still a chance that you can take a walk down the Marina as it pours away like this!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quiet house

The Tamizh name for the locality of Chetpet does not inspire confidence; "சேத்துபட்டு " sounds more like a marshy area that one would not like to venture into. The more generally accepted origin of that name is that this pleasant - and at one time scenic - stretch along the western bank of the Cooum was a favourite of the Chettiar community. As they prospered in their trading, they began to move out of the busy George Town area into the bucolic environs of the riverside. Chetpet, it is believed, evolved from 'Chettiar Pettai'.

One of the most prominent among those Chetties was T. Namberumal Chetty, the 'master builder' of later 19th-century Madras. It is said that he had at one time 99 bungalows across Madras, most of them in Chetpet; he believed that the 100th would bring him bad luck. More superstitious than him was the mathematician Ramanujan. When Ramanujan got to know that he was moving to Chetpet from Triplicane, his first response was to say that it was to make him go away "சட்டுப் புட்டு" ("chattu-puttu", meaning very briskly).

Ramanujan was convinced that the move to Chetpet would be good for him. Namberumal Chetty put one of his bungalows, named Crynant at his disposal. Again, the cynic in Ramanujan came to the fore: "என்ன அழுமூஞ்சியா இருக்கு! Cry-nant, that is a bad omen" said he. Namberumal moved him to another of his houses, Gometra, a short distance from Crynant, which was where Ramanujan breathed his last. Gometra is also no more. Crynantin the picture, remains pretty much as it was almost a hundred years ago. The gate post continues to show the name T. Namberumal. Most probably the builder's descendants continue to live in this bungalow!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Auto rebirth

Chennai's auto rickshaws are constantly taking a bad rap, that almost nobody pays any attention to one aspect I believe they are way ahead in. Granted, my data is sketchy, at best. But from what I have seen, these vehicles are maintained quite well; one would not feel repulsed at say, dirt or rust or any such inconvenience inside an auto rickshaw. I have not heard anyone complain about this either, so I believe I am justified in generalising. 

A walk along the West Cooum River Road in Chintadripet would help you swallow that generalised premise. On any day, there would be anywhere between 200 and 300 auto rickshaws along the river side. The shops there specialise in getting the vehicles ready for their 'FC': the Fitness Certificate from the RTO that has to be revalidated at least once in 2 years. Some shops do only frames; others do the engines. There are shops dedicated to decals. Paint jobs. Electricals. In short here is the place to come to if you would like your auto rickshaw to take on a new life.

There are quite likely different ways of taking on 'new life' and I am sure these shops will create such new identities as well. With Pudupet - the hub of stolen motorcycles - just across the river, it is difficult to keep such ideas away. But no, we shall start the week on a positive note - and here's wishing your auto ride today is pleasant!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Six tastes

If a man has been called "அறுசுவை அரசு" (Arusuvai Arasu, meaning the "King of Six Tastes") by the President of India, there has to be something to his cooking. Nataraj Iyer has been at it for over half a century - and recognition from the President had come quite early in that career. It was V.V. Giri who bestowed that title on him sometime in the early '70s. Almost twenty years later, Nataraj Iyer, by then popularly known as 'Arusuvai Natarajan', was named as one of the official caterers to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when R. Venkataraman was the President of India, between 1987 and 1992. 

But you don't have to be the President to taste Arusuvai Natarajan's cooking. All you need to do is to get invited to a wedding that he has contracted to cater for. Being friends with a family that has had Nataraj Iyer cater for all their weddings has ensured I get my share once every few years - and the latest occasion was yesterday. On earlier occasions, I had not got to see the man, but yesterday was special for him as well - he said it was the third generation wedding of the family that he was catering for and he had wanted to be there in person.

The entire ArusuvaiArasu team was present. The food was outstanding. Nataraj Iyer was there, supervising the preparation and the service. He made sure he was leading the service when the groom sat down for breakfast. Not only was he there in the dining area, he was all over the mandapam, making sure that things were going on in clockwork fashion, on occasion even checking on the priest's way of performing a ritual. Of course, nobody - priest or not - was going to argue protocol or process with an eighty-nine year old who has handled over ten thousand such weddings!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sounds of silence

A hundred and five years ago, in these premises known as "Leland's Garden", a school was founded. More about that school will be the subject of a future post; for, it is a completely different institution that currently occupies these premises.

Within five years of its founding, St. Bede's European High School - as it was then known - moved out of its original buildings to make way for a school for the hearing impaired. Of course in those more direct times, it was called a school for the deaf. It was in 1912 that the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society acceded to the persuasions of one of its members. Florence Swainson was allowed to begin a residential school for seven children, calling it the CEZMS School for the Deaf, Mylapore. Maybe the CEZMS felt that it was a passing fancy; it was another 44 years before the school was formally registered. In the meantime, much had changed, including the patronage of the school. It was registered as the Church of South India School for the Deaf. 

The CSI continues to run this school, one of the oldest in the city. It has almost 200 children today and more than half of them are residential scholars. They will be celebrating their centenary year with a lot of joy - even if they may not be able to hear most of it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Large monument

The garrison church at St Thomas Mount has several memorial plaques inside it. As befitting a martial institution, almost all of them remember soldiers who had fallen, in combat or out of it. 

One military man however, seems to have been a favourite with the civilian folks of Madras as well. William Sydenham had joined the Madras Artillery as a cadet in 1768, when he was barely 16 years old. In the following 33 years, he went on to become the Commandant of that Artillery, having served in all campaigns of the First Battalion. He was apparently so smitten with Madras, and with the garrison at the Mount, that he kept coming back to it at every opportunity. 

Not only was he the head of the artillery, he was also Auditor-General of Fort St George. He was promoted to that post (and the rank of Major General) in January 1801, but he did not serve for long. Sydenham died on June 13, 1801. The generosity of the East India Company was large-hearted enough for him to be provided this memorial just behind the garrison church, rather than just a marble marker inside it!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Old view

Have you ever wondered about what Madras would have looked like in the middle of the eighteenth century? If so, all you have to do to satisfy your curiosity is to walk along to the Fort Museum. Apart from all those statues - that of Cornwallis being the most in-your-face - there are quite a few paintings showing various facets of the fort. 

This one seemed especially nice; the ships coming in from the sea appear to be firing their cannons. But the fort itself seems quite unperturbed by this aggression. Notice the gate of the fort. It opens out almost into the sea itself; at high tide, the sea was right there at the gate - even now that eastern gate is also referred to as the Sea Gate. 

Maybe everyone in the fort knew that the 'Madras Roads' would not allow the ships to get close enough to inflict any serious damage!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Throwing some light

Of course you know all about Chennai's lighthouses. But I did not realize until quite recently that the lighthouse on the Marina is still called the Madras Lighthouse, making it one of the few institutions that have not - and hopefully never will - changed over to the Chennai nomenclature. 

It is not just this lighthouse. The stretch of lighthouses along the peninsula, from Kovilthottam in the Kollam district of Kerala on the west coast to the one at Pulicat just north of Chennai falls under the jurisdiction of what is called the Madras District. Says who, you ask? It is the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships, that's who. The Madras District is one of the four that are headed by a Deputy Director General; the others being Jamnagar, Kolkata and Headquarters. 

Kolkata district has had its name changed from the former Calcutta. So too has Bombay, changed to Mumbai. But then, neither of them has a lighthouse named after the city - and that should make Madras stay on for a long while!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mom 'n' pop

It is quite literally the corner shop. And it is one where the shopkeepers stay on the floor above their shop. To top it all, it is called 'Amma Naana', which translates as 'Mother and Father'. If there is one independent retailer who is not quaking at the thought of FDI in retail, it must be this store on Chamiers Road. 

Flashback to a little over 40 years ago. At the turn of the '70s, the shop in the corner was called Fairlands and was operating on rented premises. When they got the chance to occupy a much larget space just next door, Fairlands moved out of the 1200 sqft storefront they were using. The owners of the newly vacated storefront offered it to their son-in-law, V.R. Govindaswamy, who stocked it up with merchandise that would interest residents of the affluent Boat Club area, right behind the store. 

Over the past dozen years or so, Amma Naana has shown that it has hit the bulls-eye with that strategy. Boat Club attracted the professional expatriate who came in to Chennai in the late 90s, with large pockets and a taste for 'world class' products. Amma Naana stocked the brands they were familiar with, either from their home country or those that were known world over; brands that were unavailable in the regular market in India. Long before Starbucks made its India entry (last week), you could buy their Mocha Frappe - and other coffees - from Amma Naana. 

Amma Naana continues to remain independent and single-store. They continue to shut the store down on Sunday afternoons. And it continues to be the go-to place for the fresh-off-the-boat expat in Chennai, to get those familiar packages for her kitchen!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunrise industry?

The post title has been shamelessly stolen from a friend's description. We had gone to try and shoot some birds at Pallikaranai a couple of weeks ago. I had no hopes of getting a picture, but it is always good to go and take a look at the birds. We had stopped at the edge of the marsh and this picture suggested itself; a nice orange sunrise, even though it was quite bright around us at that time, despite a mildly overcast sky.

It was a good walk, but many of the regular birds hadn't reached the marsh yet. It has been gut-wrenching to see the marshland being turned into a vast dumping ground as the city expanded. In the past three or four years, the forest department has been doing its best to contain the damage being caused to the marsh ecosystem. Last week, they got a big boost up, when about 300 hectares were turned over to them; 125 ha coming from the revenue department and 170 ha from the Corporation of Chennai. 

Now, with the plan to declare the Pallikaranai marshland a reserve forest, the growth of such factory sheds in the area will slow down. Not entirely a bad thing, really. How can we enjoy the sunrise industries without being able to appreciate the sunrise over the marsh!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Riders' dream

There is a Harley's Road in Chennai, but it is in danger of losing its identity. The Chennai dealership of Harley-Davidson was opened in late 2011. It has been quite low key (as in, "How come I didn't know about it for so long?!"), but then, the other luxury automobile brands in Chennai - Porsche, Jaguar - have also been low key. Harley has its showroom in Wallace Garden. I am sure this dealership has met its sales targets for the year; there seem to be quite a few Harleys roaring around Chennai. 

Roaring is probably the wrong word to use. This was a company that tried to trademark the sound of its machines. In 1981, Harley-Davidson was 'rescued', after a dozen years of being a division of AMF through a management buy-out led by Vaughn Beals. Soon after that, the company tried to claim that the 'potato-potato-potato' sound of its engines was unique and distinctive. A long and tedious application process was contested at every stage by other motorcycle makers; at the turn of the millenium, the company dropped the application, with a spokesperson saying "...Harley-Davidson owners from around the world ... told me repeatedly that there is nothing like the sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle..."

In India, that sound is spread through the eight dealerships that Harley has. (No, make that nine, for the dealership at Kochi opens today). This one at Chennai is called the Coromandel Harley-Davidson.  I am afraid to go any closer, for I always think of Harley-Davidson as the 'Belle dame sans merci'. I am enthralled enough, as it is!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Park of labour

Once upon a time, this 14-acre park in Chintadripet was where M/s Burghall & Co., maintained their stables. There are a couple of references about the land being taken over, either by Simpson & Co, for expanding their carriage factory, or by the Corporation of Madras, for creating a park on the land. Of Burghall & Co themselves, little is known. There are a few clues in Robert Baikie's book, The Neilgherries, from which one makes out that Burghall & Co., were in the business of providing transit carriages: horse- or bullock-drawn, as you desire. Burghall's establishment seems to have gone belly-up in the mid-19th century, which was the time this park came into being. 

It is possible that the park's creation was the work of both Simpsons and the Corporation of Madras. Maybe it was one of the first instances of the 'Open Space Reservation' at work. Whatever the genesis, Chintadripet's green lung was opened in 1869 and named after Francis Napier, the 10th Lord Napier, who was then Governor of Madras. Maybe because this park was slightly closer to the Fort than Peoples' Park, which was further northwest, it became a staging ground for meetings that were more political than social. 

If I am correct, it was in 1990 that Napier's Park was renamed as the May Day Park. It is said that the first ever May Day rally in India, led by Singaravelar in 1923, was held near the Marina. Napier's Park is near enough, but there is nothing I have found to suggest it was the venue of Singaravelar's historic rally. The focal point for May Day rallies in these times is the Triumph of Labour statue on the Marina. The May Day park does see its share of gatherings, but it is certainly not primus. Could it be because this space to remember workers' rights is maintained by Simpson & Company?!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Eye temple

What does it take to become an 'institution'? A sense of purpose, for starters. And the stick-to-it-iveness to ensure that the zeal does not falter. For Sankara Nethralaya, the first was clear: to bring world class eye care to India. Since 1978, they have been doing just that, and along the way, they have been bestowed with several awards: 'Best Eye Hospital in India', 'Business Superbrand', 'Social Enterprise of the Year', 'Best Managed Charitable Organization' are some of them. 

Is there a contradiction? A 'business superbrand' from a 'charitable organization'? The efficiency with which Sankara Nethralaya is run is vastly different from the majority of charity organizations. True, they are backed by some of the biggest names in India, but that backing has been hard earned and well deserved. Sankara Nethralaya sees about 500,000 patients every year and performs about 40,000 surgeries. Patients come from all over India, as well as from neighbouring countries. In fact, this hospital has had to set up an exclusive, dedicated information centre at the Chennai Central Railway Station, because there are quite a number of people who just get on to a train and come to Chennai, knowing that the Nethralaya would not turn them away merely because they did not think about making an appointment. 

Over the years, the charitable organization has also become reputed for its academic excellence, offering Fellowship programmes in a few opthalmic super-specializations. It has also expanded beyond this campus in Chennai. Apart from a couple of other satellite centres in Chennai, Sankara Nethralaya is now present in Bengaluru, Kolkata, Rameswaram and Tirupathi. The CU Shah Eye Bank, set up in 1979, is a pioneer in driving eye donations across the country (here's the link, if you wish to sign up!). With so much happening at this institution, it truly lives up to its 'Nethralaya' - 'Temple of the Eye' - name!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In your corner

Tucked away inside Turnbull's Road is this small temple. Called the Bala Vinayagar Koil, it is never crowded; visit it a couple of times and the priests will know your name. A couple of visits more and you would be comfortable giving them your horoscope as well. In short, it is throwback to the days when you go to the temple to be part of the community rather than to merely petition the Almighty for a favour or four.

It was therefore a surprise a few months ago when someone told me that there were archanas being performed in this temple for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to win their IPL match. The surprise was magnified when he told me that they were being done on behalf of N. Srinivasan, the owner of CSK. I was amazed that he even knew about this temple, let alone put so much faith on the deity here. 

I believe that CSK is in need of some divine intervention, the way it is playing in the Champions League right now. Maybe someone should do a puja for them here!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birthday cake

Once upon a time, Bosotto had a hotel. He bought it from his fellow Italian, Giacomo d'Angelis and renamed it the Hotel Bosotto Bros. He did no damage to the reputation of the Hotel d'Angelis and the Governor soon had extended the catering contract to cover Bosotto Bros bakery as well. In 1950, Bosotto decided to move back to his native land and the bakery business was sold to B. Muslapa Chowdhry, who was then the supplier of milk and dairy products to Bosotto's. 

For close to the last 100 years, if not more, Bosotto's has been a name to reckon with in the city's bakeries. Resisting the temptation to expand, Muslapa Chowdhry, his successor M. Subramaniam and then his grandson K. Rajkumar, stayed put in this location on Mount Road. There is only one other outlet, on Nungambakkam High Road, but this is where both the showroom and the manufacturing facility were located.

Bosotto's had the highest point of its popularity 51 years ago. In February 1961, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were visiting Madras. It was Prince Andrews' first birthday and Chief Minister Kamaraj had organized a reception for them at Rajaji Hall. The birthday cake? From Bosotto's, of course!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Flying saucers

Because 'Frisbee' is a trademark, this tournament is called the 'Ultimate'. Started four years ago, the Chennai Heat is truly the ultimate in throwing that flat disc around. You may have tossed it around for fun, but for the sixteen teams that took part in this year's edition - the 5th - of the Ultimate tournament, it is serious business. How serious? Well, seven of the competing teams are from parts other than Chennai.

If you thought frisbee was meant for the beach, think again. "Ultimate Soldiers of Punjab" is a team from Ludhiana that has taken part in the competition. At least the "Desert Dreamers" from Rajasthan had a lot of sand to run around on, even if they lacked a shoreline. Wonder how "Dishqiya" (Hyderabad), "Stray Dogs in Sweater" (New Delhi) or "DisCreed" (Coimbatore) practiced for the tournament this year.  

Considering that no team from outside Chennai has won in the last three years (the inaugural edition was won by "Learning to Fly" from Bengaluru), it must have been quite a leap of faith for all those Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru teams to come in this year. They played well, but "Stall7" from Chennai retained the title they won last year. Maybe all those other teams are made up of transplanted Chennaiites who use the matches as an excuse to visit their hometown?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Beach food

Yesterday was the last day of the 'Enjoy Arusuvai Tiruvizha - EAT', a festival of street food. One part of the Besant Nagar beach was cordoned off for the food stalls - there were about 20 stalls, but the organizers were not letting anyone enter the venue before 5.30 pm. Besant Nagar beach is quite crowded every weekend, but yesterday seemed to be much more so. 

The turnout had been quite good on the first two days, apparently. The organizers had brought in 50 chefs from all over the country, so it must have been a pan-Indian street food experience. Good food, priced right - and then it was for a charitable cause. Of course Chennai would have turned up in droves.

I had gone hoping to have a street food dinner. Well, it seemed to me that I should have got here right after lunch!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another town, another temple(s)

Chintadripet - the name evolving from chinna thari pettai (சின்ன தறி பேட்டை), the 'village of small looms' - was one of the earliest 'planned' localities of Madras. As the name suggests, it was also heavily involved in the clothe trade that Madras was founded upon. Whereas the first wave of weavers, dyers, washermen and the like, who were brought in by Beri Thimmappa, were settled to the north of Fort St George grouped by their work or caste, Chintadripet was intended to be a more mixed locality. 

However, there was one aspect of the older locale that was incorporated into the new settlement as well. Audiappa Narayana Chetty ('Vennala Narran Chitty', as the British said) was one of the two dubashes administering the settlement. He brought in the 'Town Temple' concept and replicated the Chenna Kesavaperumal and Chenna Malleswarar in Chintadripet. The idols of both Adhi Kesava Perumal and Adhipureeswarar are installed in this complex - and inside, Adhi Lakshmi has a separate shrine of her own.

Going through the pushing and shoving of the crowds of Chintadripet, you'd little expect to find such an oasis of calm. Most of the structures in the temple are from its origins, in the mid-1700s. The newest one seems to be that green door on the left, to house the temple car; and its date is recorded as 1901. You can be sure of going back in time inside this temple!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On target?

It is probably Chennai's most global project. No, I'm not talking about the building in the background, but the work that's going on in front of it. The Chennai Metro currently has workers from six nations working on the project at various locations around the city. Apart from Indians (of course!), there are Nepalese, Chinese, Russians, South Africans and Germans who are involved in various aspects of building the metro lines. If we also consider the rolling stock being manufactured at Alstom's factory at Sao Paulo, Brazil, rails from France, fastenings from the UK (and China), communication systems from Singapore and signalling systems from Japan, that's quite a lot of languages to be talking in.

Then there are the complexities of Indian languages. Tamizh, Hindi, Oriya, Telugu... those are ones I've heard most often. Despite all the potential for communication breakdowns, the project seems to be moving along smoothly and appears to be on track for a December 2013 launch.

For all that, the technicians don't appear to be stressed about the schedules at all. Seeing them nice and relaxed, as they go about messing with the theodolites and stuff, you can't help wonder if they could actually speed it up a bit and give us the metro rail earlier!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Close of play

The picture is a bit old, taken a couple of years ago. That's because I didn't have any other representing the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA). The TNCA sends out one of the strongest teams for the Ranji Trophy, the domestic cricket championship. The Tamil Nadu team has been in the Ranji finals 11 times, but they have won it only twice. The first time they did it was in 1954-55; the man who led them to the title, Balu Alaganan, was perhaps the epitome of what a cricket player should be.

The 1954-55 season started with Balu Alaganan scoring a century against Travancore-Cochin. But right after, his form deserted him, to the extent that he offered to step down after the semi finals, believing that the best team should play the finals. His team mates, including CD Gopinath and AG Kripal Singh, and the manager, V. Pattabhiraman insisted that he continue to captain the side. Coming in at No.5 in the first innings, Alaganan scored a duck. He dropped himself down to No.9 in the second and with the last batsman, Murugesh, added 71 for the 10th wicket - a partnership that was key to Madras (as the side was then called) beating Holkar by 46 runs. Alaganan said that Murugesh "...gave me the confidence I needed. "Don't take me for a No.11", he said to me"; ever modest, eager to give credit where it was due.

Many boys and young men of the 1970s would have little recollection of Balu Alaganan as a player, but he did build the love of the game in them through his commentary. (Not to mention the kids' grasp of English and its usage). Sitting next to the radio, 'seeing' the grass and the skies and the fielders through Alaganan's descriptions: that was the way to follow the Chepauk test, even if you were inside the stadium. That voice is no more. Balu Alaganan has gone over to play for a different team, but will stay on the hearts of all cricket lovers!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Old wheels

Once upon a time, there were the Matchless, Norton, or Triumph. With the British still looming large over India, these motorcycles were the objects of desire for young men in India. Somehow they died out and were replaced by bikes from Czechoslovakia - the Jawa and the Yezdi, which ruled the hearts of young men despite a bit of a knocking from the 'Bobby' bike - the Rajdoot getting a big leg up thanks to the 1973 movie. And then came the Japs, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki, in the 1980s. Of late, the newcomers have been from across the world - BMW, Harley Davidson, Triumph, Ducati, Hyosung - each of them carving out their niche in the market.

Through all of that, one company has been chugging along. First as the British company, then as an Indian company.  Enfield India practically took over the motorcycling heritage of Royal Enfield. Headquartered in Madras, Enfield had one brand - and what a brand it was! - the Bullet, which was all machismo. When the Japanese 100cc motorcycles landed in India, the 350cc Bullet scoffed: an ad from that time said, "Let the boys have their toys. It takes a man to ride the Bullet". Yet, in what appeared to be a flanking strategy, Enfield India also launched the 50cc Silver Plus and Explorer, keeping two other higher-end brands of the defunct German motorcycle maker Zundapp, Enterprise and Fury, in reserve. 

None of those brands or bikes survive today. Enfield India is now known as Royal Enfield and is a unit of Eicher, which also makes commercial vehicles and autoparts. But Enfield's bikes still look almost the same as they did 70 years ago - compare the new one, decked out for its puja, with the picture of a Bullet of the 1940s from this link!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kid stuff

Quick - how many countries have a dedicated film society for children's films? I don't know the answer, but there must be quite a few, considering that there are festivals of children's films at different venues around the year. India, of course, has the Children's Film Society, India - an organisation that was born very early in the country's life. 

Quick - tell me where the Chennai office of the CFSI functions from? If you are guessing Vadapalani or Kodambakkam, I can understand why, but those answers will not get you any points. You can see the answer if you click on the photo - so you can find out for yourself if you guessed correctly!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Two - or three?

In August 2012, the Port of Chennai handled 158 cargo vessels, slightly less than the average for the current year. As you know, these vessels cannot coast into the harbour, or out of it, without being guided by the harbour tugs. The Chennai Port Trust used to have six tugs at the turn of the millenium, but they now have only five, according to their website

The older tugs among the five are named after freedom fighters. The oldest is 'Nethaji', which has been in service since 1995, followed by 'Singaravelar' (1996) and 'Bharatiyar' (2001). The other two are named after poets: 'Sundaranar' (2002) and 'Sekkizhar' (2003). In the picture are Sundaranar and Nethaji. There does not seem to be much difference between the two, except that Nethaji seems to have slightly duller colours. 

But wait a minute. Aren't there three masts visible in the picture? So which is that third tug?  Looks like it is hidden behind the Nethaji, so we shall have to let that mystery rest a long while!

Monday, October 8, 2012

A different sun

In the days when Mount Road was bordered on its west by the Long Tank, there were a few spots where a lay-by was available for the troops marching from Fort St George out to Cenotaph Road or beyond. One such was in Teynampet; where there today are a lot of timber supply stores, just along the Gemini flyover, were once farriers plying their trade.  Movie theatres were not even in their imagination in those days...

... cut to the 1930s. Enraptured by the magic of the movies, Sundarrao Naidu builds his cinema where farriers once shod horses. He didn't have to look too far to name his theatre;  the first three letters of his name were good enough. And so Sun Theatre came into the movie business in 1941. With the war years on, Sundarrao Naidu opened his theatre to not just movies, but also other performances, which were primarily aimed at generating funds for the War Relief Fund. One of the most well attended performance was that of the stage version of 'Pavazhakodi'. MK Thayagaraja Bhagavathar, who had played the lead in the film a decade earlier, returned to that role on stage. 

Sun Theatre was probably one of many ventures that Sundarrao was involved in, for he was  always an active participant in public life. He was the mayor of Madras when India became independent, in 1947. Though Sundarrao died in 1949, Sun Theatre continued into the early 90s. During that lean phase for the movie industry, the theatre was closed and this commercial complex came up in its place. The Sun brand name - included in the bus stop and directions to almost all establishments nearby - was quite unique for a long while and continues to hold an independent identity even today.  

A side note: Sundarrao's brother, Venugopal took a cue from his brother, and when he built his own theatre, it was called Venus. No, not as a rock around the sun, but by dropping the apostrophe from Venu's!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cathedral of Madras

That is what it was called, back in the day when Madras was a separate diocese from that of Mylapore. The San Thome basilica was the Cathedral of Mylapore; with the amalgamation of the Archdiocese of Madras and the Dicoese of Mylapore in November 1952, the San Thome basilica became the Cathedral of Madras-Mylapore and St. Mary's Cathedral, on Armenian Street, had to be content with the status of a co-cathedral.

The Cathedral gates have the figure 1642 inscribed on them. While it is likely that the church may have been functioning here from that date, it is also argued that the year refers to the setting up of a cemetery here, rather than a church. What seems to be well accepted is that the church was set up by Fr Ephraim de Nevers, a Capuchin. Fr de Nevers' duties were in Fort St George and he was to keep St. Mary's Church there in order. The government permitted Fr. de Nevers to open his second church in 1658, but it took a little longer for the church itself to take shape. 

Whatever be its exact date of origin, it seems to have been well cared for; although missing the pomp and gaiety of a San Thome Church, it is still grand enough to be a commanding presence!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Old sign

There was a time, long ago, when this board would have made sense. Today, cycle rickshaws are restricted to just a a few parts of Chennai: Walltax Road for one, parts of George Town for another. This sign, towards the end of West Cooum River Road, looks quite forlorn. As far as the eye could see, there wasn't a single pedal powered rickshaw anywhere near by!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Different system

India has had a rich tradition of medicinal thought and action. Apart from home grown systems of medicine, the land had little problem in allowing new methods to come in and be practiced along side the older ones. Some of them have grown so big as to threaten the continued existence of the so called traditional systems of medicine.

One such system is Unani. The word originally meant 'Greek' and probably referred to Hippocrates. Though based on his principles, the system evolved quite differently from the 'Western' systems and, as far as I know, is making a spirited last stand in India. One of the reasons for its continued survival must surely be the efforts of the Government of India to prop it up, along with a few other systems. Under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there is a department named AYUSH - that's an acronym for Ayurvada, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy - which funds several research institutes across the country. 

Research in Unani medicine falls under the CCRUM - the Central Council for Research in Unani Medicine. The CCRUM runs over 25 institutions, covering the spectrum of research to drug development. Most of the research is carried out through the seven Regional Research Institutes - of which one is in Chennai. Located on West Mada Church Road in Royapuram, this one seems to taking its research real easy - or maybe it is just that it was a Sunday!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another anniversary

The line of statues along the Marina has Ilango Adigal at the northern end (most articles seem to miss that one out) and this one at the other. It is probably more appropriate to say that it starts with this one of K. Kamaraj, who is one of the few politicians to have given up a ministerial position - that of Chief Minister, no less - to go back to his party's organisational hierarchy. The line starts here, because the road along the beach is named Kamarajar Salai - and he has to be at the head of it.

He was 72 when he died, and kind of picked the wrong day for it. There is no way anyone else can overshadow Gandhiji. Lal Bahadur Shastri was also born on October 2, but he does not even get a token mention these days. Maybe that way, Kamaraj is a little better off. His statue here being quite close to that of the Mahatma helps the high-and-mighty to spare a garland for him, as well, to remember him on the anniversary of his passing away.

I have been wondering: the road along the beach has been around for a long time. What was it called before being named after this great leader? Does anyone know?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Goddess protects

Chhatrapati Shivaji was always known to be a devotee of the Goddess Bhavani; one legend has it that the Goddess gifted him the Chandrahas sword. Shivaji was also in the habit of reconnoitering his enemy's fortifications and strength incognitio. It is most likely that this habit brought him close to Fort St George 335 years ago this night. Since April of 1677, he had been criss-crossing the country around Madras; in fact, on three occasions, he sent emissaries to Fort St George requesting "cordial stones and counter-poisons" and suchlike things. After a couple of passages humouring him, the British turned down Shivaji's request for English engineers. 

Shivaji had at that time gone past Madras to capture Vellore and Gingee. Maybe he kept the refusal in mind when he came back in October, and camped to the north of Fort St George. In the Fort as Governor was Streynsham Master, who had been part of the defence when Shivaji had attacked the Company's factory at Surat in 1670. Probably recalling  his failure to penetrate Master's defences in Surat, Shivaji was trying to learn more about them. In that quest, he likely came across the Kalikambal temple on what is now Thambu Chetty Street - or maybe the temple was in its 'original' spot, closer to the sea in those times. The portrait in the temple commemorates that visit, of which there is no real record.

Kalikambal, the presiding deity of this temple was originally portrayed in a martial, fearsome form. That was replaced by a more benign representation of the goddess. Shivaji's prayers to her may have resulted in her tempering Shivaji's belligerence into pragmatism; he probably figured out it was not worth the effort trying to sack Fort St George and went quietly back to Raigad. In protecting her favourite son, Goddess Kalikambal also ended up protecting the young city of Madras!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Whitened man

Putting his statue out on the Marina will convey the grandeur of his vision, but he did walk the streets like a common man as well. Mohandas Gandhi is not usually brought down to the streets, remaining instead on a pedestal, most of the time doing something: striding or spinning are the common choices.

This statue of the Mahatma may be closer to street level, but it has been positioned just outside the temple at Tiruvottiyur, indicating the normal approach of putting him close to the Gods. This is quite an amateur rendering, sponsored by a political party. (Though if you click on the photo, the enlarged version will show the colour scheme of a different party in his eyes....). And yet, being accessible to many more people, it helps to keep the story of the man alive.

In case you missed it, there is one of Gandhiji's favourite tenets atop the cupola; the three cherub-like figures represent the "see-no-evil, speak-no-evil, hear-no-evil" philosophy that he held dear. Gandhiji had them represented more faithfully as Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru, the three wise monkeys of Japanese lore; but the sculptor probably thought that monkeys may not be appropriate in this case!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silhouettes and reflections

You know it is not a dressing room, that it is not even a room at all. It is not even inside a house. But somehow, the air of domesticity is apparent on this mirror. Is it the Mickey Mouse sticker? The three toothbrushes jammed on top of the mirror? Those daubs of pink? 

Chennai has anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 homeless people. Those are the official numbers, but it is quite likely that the family using this dressing room would not have been included in that count. Walking around George Town, you see them on every street; for all appearances, there are even extended families staying together, occupying their corner of the world, having learnt to shut out the traffic and gawkers around. The Corporation of Chennai has recently announced that it has opened 8 more night shelters for the city's homeless, taking the total to 23; that's just over one-third of the 66 that Chennai requires, according to the Supreme Court Expert Committee's recommendation earlier this year.

Today's theme - for the City Daily Photo community - is 'silhouette'. The mirror does reflect, but silhouette? Well, the word originated from the actions of Étienne de Silhouette, who, as Finance Minister of France sometime in the 1750s, imposed severe austerity on the French, to the extent that his name came to be applied to the 'shadow pictures' that were far cheaper than portraits. Silhouette was also said to have proposed taxing external signs of wealth such as ornate doors and windows..... well, the family here on the corner of Armenian Street and Errabalu Chetty Street need not fear good old Étienne - they are shadows themselves!

If you would like to check out other interpretations of the 'Silhouette' theme, click here!