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!

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