Monday, September 30, 2013

Mouth of a river

You may have seen the mouth of the Cooum earlier and remember that as a fairly straight-forward affair. The river runs in through the city and empties out into the Bay of Bengal near the northern end of the Marina Beach. On the other hand, the Adayar river splits off into the Adayar Creek, a marshland ecosystem, before merging with the sea. The mouth of the river is therefore less well defined as that of the Cooum and for that reason, it is all the more interesting. 

This view from the Government Music College shows a part of the mouth - the river Adayar appears to narrow down a bit as it passes into the Bay in the distance!

Sunday, September 29, 2013


It was probably too early in the day for the children to be out. And we weren't buying any of those colourful toys that this man was carrying around. The choice was tempting: Spiderman and Mickey Mouse masks, multicoloured toy windmills and those vuvuzela-like contraptions that are guaranteed to give a kid a great time.

But no, we weren't buying any. You will have to wait for the children to arrive, toy-man!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Grand ruin

Once upon a time, this was part of a palace, where lived Khairunnisa Begum, the widow of the last Nawab of the Carnatic, Ghulam Ghouse Khan Bahadur Azam. After her time, the building was given over to a school that was begun by her husband's ancestors and, since her husband had thrown it open to the public at large, is now known by his poetic name as the Madrasa-I-Azam.

When he set it up in 1761, Nawab Muhammed Ali Wallajah intended it for the education of the children of the royal family. His successor, Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah, opened it up to provide education for children of other nobles as well as the officers of his armies. In the last days of the Nawab-dom, the agent to the Nawabs convinced Ghulam Ghouse Khan to open up the Madrasa to the public at large. The date on the top of this building refers to the time the Madrasa 'went public' in the mid-nineteenth century. The school moved to this building, the Umdah Bagh, in 1909. 

The school was handed over to the government sometime after that. Even during the 1970s, the school was sought after, because it taught Urdu, Arabic and Persian. But it went into decline a little after. The school functions from other buildings on the grounds of the Umdah Bagh, but this one is all gone; a hand-lettered sign on the wall cautions visitors against entering the shell!

To see a photo from earlier times, take a look at this.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wheels on wheels

There was a time when these machines were a standard fixture in every house. Mostly they were there as a standby; it was not as if all dresses were home-tailored. They would be used to shorten the elder brother's trousers for the younger, or to let out the waist as the boy expanded. Serious clothes, like those for festivals, were always handed over to the professionals - who would deliver them the night before, after endless haranguing over the delay.

The tailors continue to run their business, even if their clientele has changed a bit. But the home machines are probably less used these days, which is probably why this pay-per-stitch service is popular in some parts of the city.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Diving in

A honey-bee dives right into its plate, at Kalakshetra. Is that pollen stuck on its leg?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Shop off

The Ispahani Centre, on Nungambakkam High Road, is certainly more modern than its (somewhat) namesake in George Town. But for all that, the history of Ispahanis in Madras continues to remain a mystery - at least for me!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Makes your head spin, does it? Looking up at these stairs inside Clive House, you do get a tinge of vertigo. The stairs are to one side of the great hall on the first floor of the building and take you to different levels, up, down and sideways. 

The Great Hall inside Clive House is not much to look at, for it is just that - a big hall. It is when you think about the debates and the arguments that may have taken place there that you realize its significance in shaping the dominion of India. Though originally owned by Shawmier Sultan, an Armenian merchant, the Admiralty House was taken over by the East India Company in 1755. The Great Hall was used not only for meetings but also for banquets and balls. During one of the wars, when St Mary's Church served as a granary, the Great Hall was used for conducting services.

Most of the rooms leading off, and adjacent to the Hall are locked up today. You can troop up and down these stairs, but the only door that you can pass through is the one below that lets you out of the building!

Monday, September 23, 2013

New rates

The new auto-rickshaw fares have had people buzzing on the social media. Most of Chennai's residents have possibly never have had the experience of paying a standardized fare, having had to pay whatever was demanded - or to feel good at having negotiated a rate Rs.10 less than that.

The extent of the fleecing has become obvious with the introduction of the revised fare tables. From the numbers being reported, people have been paying a premium of anything between 30% to 40% over the current rates. All the auto-rickshaws are to have the revised meters fitted in before October 15; since September 15, they are expected to charge by distance, in line with the official rate cards which have been issued to each individual auto. 

No card, no fare. That's the intent. With so much of potential saving, folks should insist on paying by the card. Yes, fuel prices may have increased after these cards were issued. But the impact of those increases on these rates is marginal. So, no misplaced sympathy for the auto-rickshaw drivers. The moment people start showing such 'understanding and sympathy', we will go back to the earlier anarchy!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The new terminal at the Chennai airport has a whole lot of can-be-better items, discussion about each of which can go on for several pages. Maybe because those items relate to the more functional aspects of the terminal, there seems to have been very little said about the aesthetics of such pieces of art around the airport.

Most pieces are quite tolerable; this one of a horse is quite an intricate work. It has over 200 separate pieces that have been put together. Each of the pieces has quite a bit of detailed work on it and it certainly must have been done with a lot of passion. The finished product may not be to everyone's liking, but little can be faulted with the effort that has gone into it.

In the manner of most of the city's public installations (remember the flame and the women?), these pieces also have no descriptions. Shouldn't there be some recognition of the artist and highlights of the work itself? What do you think?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Golden man

Maybe 'Golden Boy' would be more appropriate, considering his background. Chennai has several statues of movie heroes, most of them in public spaces. This one however seems to have been installed by converting a corner of the property he occupied in Mehta Nagar, off Nelson Manickam Road.

You are right, that is Shobhan Babu's statue. In a career across four decades, from 1965 to 1996, he acted in about 120 films. In a majority of them, he played the lone lead hero - and popular lore has it that in almost every one of those films, he romanced more than one heroine. That may not be entirely true, but it certainly burnished his reputation as a glamourous star and kept the producers happy. Shobhan Babu is the only second actor - after Dilip Kumar - to have won three consecutive Filmfare awards for best actor, so there must have been something more to him than just the stardust.

The statue catches your eye, not only because it is at a busy intersection. Trying to recall the other 'golden' statues that I have seen only brings two others to mind - Jagjivan Ram's at Ezhilagam and Sivaji Ganesan's on the Marina. But neither of them is topped off with the black hair that keeps Shobhan Babu's glamour intact!

Friday, September 20, 2013

A journey....

...of a mile must begin with a thousand steps.

If you were a millipede, that's what you would be saying. This one seems to be starting off; at Kalakshetra, about a month ago. Wonder how far it has reached!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Common ground

Once upon a time, there were a group of islands at the point where the Adayar entered the Bay of Bengal. Today, the only reminder of that is the chicken-neck of Greenways Road, just as it reaches Foreshore Estate, which separates two parts of the Adayar Creek. It is not that the place itself is a reminder, for you can well zip along it without having to think about islands; it is just that, by the side of the road, you see a gate in a brick wall, with a sign next to it saying "Quibble Island Cemetery".

This is a cemetery that has not been in use for a little while now. The last entry must have been sometime ago - the closest I can date it is 2005, when Valampuri John was buried here. The first goes back to the late 19th century. The place is guarded and maintained by a caretaker, but I haven't yet been able to go inside and look around. 

It would be interesting to do so. There is reportedly a lot of diversity in the graves; children and ancients, public figures and private citizens. But one particularly notable feature is that this cemetery was used Roman Catholics and Protestants alike.

And before my friend reminds me: the most popular tomb here is reported to be that of the comedian JP Chandrababu - it is said that fans place flowers on his grave even to this day!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Afloat yet

Vinayaga Chaturti was ten days ago; all the idols of the elephant-headed God would have been immersed in the sea by now (including that one made of silver, valued at Rs.20 lakh). 

This one, however, is in one of the lobbies at The Leela Palace in Chennai and doesn't look like it is going to take a swim anytime now.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pure water

The city's second desalination plant, and the country's largest, has been operational since February this year. When running to full capacity, this reverse-osmosis based plant at Nemmeli, on the way to Mamallapuram, will supply 100 million litres of treated water every day. To enable that, it takes in a little over 250 million litres of seawater every day from the Bay of Bengal. 

But wait. Doesn't the desalination plant at Minjur also put out 100 MLD of treated water? So how is this the country's largest? Well, the only explanation is that the position is jointly held by these two plants which together provide roughly one-sixth of the city's current fresh water requirements!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Old station

Take away some of those vehicles in front of the building and this picture can be dated anywhere from the time photography began. The building itself probably pre-dates photography and must have been the same when the first officer took charge here. 

Despite redbrick being the standard colour of official buildings in the British era, the police stations of those times stood out distinctly. I am not sure why I feel so, but I guess it must have been because these were the only single storey structures that had the government redbrick motif. Today, only a few of these original structures remain; most other police stations have been pulled down and rebuilt, with more floors and some approximate abomination of the classic redbrick feel.

The E-2 Royapettah Police Station may go that way soon. But until it does, it commands a unique view at the junction of Gowdia Mutt Road and Thiru Vi Ka High Road. And somewhere behind it was the locality named after masons who worked there - Kallukaranpettai, for stone workers. Maybe to thumb a nose at the police station, Kallukaranpettai became Kolakaranpettai - the locality of murderers!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Poignant music

That one turret reminds you this was once called a castle. James Brodie, an employee of the East India Company, was given a grant of 11 acres along the northern bank of the Adyar river. A quick - and not very authoritative - check of Brodie genealogy takes you back to 1262, starting with a MacBeth, Thane of Dykec. James probably thought of re-creating the legends of his clan and so named his house Brodie Castle.

But he invested it more with the tragedy of MacBeth than the grandeur he intended. James Brodie stayed in the castle for a very short time. There was some misunderstanding with the Company over his private trading activities and he fell on hard times. The Castle was let out to the Company administrators. A boating accident (or was it suicide?) in 1801-2 took Brodie's life. Soon after, the house was bought by the Arbuthnots, who let it out to other prominent citizens of Madras. 

The ill-luck stuck on. 1810 - Rev. Edward Vaughan moved in and lost his wife; 1866 - James McIvor of the Bank of Madras lost his family in a boating accident on the Adyar; 1906 - the Arbuthnots had to sell Brodie Castle after they went bankrupt. 1943 - the river rose into the house and soaked Sir Alfred Henry Lionel Leach, Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. In 1952, Kumaraswami Raja, who was occupying Brodie Castle, suffered a shock electoral defeat in his pocket borough of Srivilliputhur. 

Since 1956, the property has been in the hands of the government, as the Government College of Music, Chennai. Even though it has been renamed Thendral, the earlier name is retained in the eastern-most stretch of RK Mutt Road! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013


If you can make the correct guess about where this sign was found, I shall let you take me there. And I promise to enjoy it ;)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bull temple?

Well, for 'the' bull temple, you will have to go across to Bengaluru, but the thought jumps to mind seeing so many bas-relief Nandis on the wall. This one is however the Kasi Viswanathar temple in West Mambalam. 

Like many other temples in the city, this one also claims a centuries-old antiquity, going back to the 1600s. With the Pandyan kings having brought Kasi to the deep south, the Nayaks probably thought they should also have a version here in Madras and so came up this temple. It is said that there was a large grove of bilwa trees around this place - remember, until the early 20th century, most of today's T.Nagar was a waterbody, the Long Tank abutting the Great Choultry Plain - and it is quite likely the presence of the bilwa grove was a fact. 

With the temple coming up in the bilwa grove, it was referred to as the 'Maha bilwa kshetram', or Mahabilwam - from which, according to some accounts, the name Mambalam originated!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Another park

As has happened with a lot of other agglomerations of manufacturing units, the industrial estate at Ambattur has seen factories being replaced by swank office buildings housing new-age businesses. This space is owned by the Ambattur Clothing Company and was probably used by one of their factories. 

But now, it has the Ambit IT Park, with over a million sqft of space. That makes it one of the sought after addresses of this western suburb, but given that Ambattur itself still remains a lower priority choice (compared to the OMR) for companies, Ambit IT Park does not have the same bustle about it as seen at Tidel Park or at Ascendas.

The other big difference? Unlike at Tidel or even at Ascendas, where trying to get to the food court  involves convincing 4 layers of security, the words "food court" fast-tracks you through into Ambit, because the food court there clearly says they welcome the 'public'!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Late evening

The late evening sun glowing over the flyover on TTK Road.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Less than six months ago, this was the newest mall in Chennai. The line of vehicles to get into the Phoenix MarketCity held up traffic for quite a bit. In those initial days, it took a good 40 minutes of patience before the vehicle got into the mall itself.

In some ways, the mall is still getting ready; shops are still coming up, some of the brands have only their displays up while the store itself is in the works and the footfalls – or tyre-rolls – have kind of tapered off to more reasonable levels.

Had been there in the early days of its opening and then again a couple of months ago. Wonder how all those big name brand stores are doing there, in the midst of all this talk about a poor economy!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Symbolic animal

The State Highway No.78, from Pollachi to Valparai (வால்பாறை, not வாள்பாறை, as I had thought of it earlier), is the best way for a tourist to get to the tea plantations there. The 64km highway starts climbing soon after the Azhiyar dam. It is quite a well maintained road and after a while, one starts seeing the tea plantations, even if they are broken in parts by the shola forests.

To reach the hill-tops, which are at around 1200 metres, the road navigates 40 hairpin bends. We were advised to watch the hairpin bends 7 and 9 very closely. Not much to do with the driving, but for the view. Bend #9 is much more sweeping than the others and there is a little platform abutting the curve, where one gets a panoramic view of the Azhiyar reservoir and the hills around. A board there also talks about possible wild animal sightings there. We were excited about that possibility and were looking forward to Bend #9.

The earlier bend was therefore quite a surprise. As the vehicle slowed down, we saw what we thought were donkeys on the road. With horns? There were a couple of them by the roadside and when we recognized what they were, we had to jump off and take pictures; here is one, of the Nilgiri Tahr, the State Animal of Tamil Nadu!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Peacocks in church

Today's is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This date was described in the Protoevangelium of James, where he names her parents as well: Joachim and Anna. The childless couple was blessed by an angel. The birthday of Mary is celebrated nine months after the Feast of Immaculate Conception, which is on December 8. That Feast is usually thought of as a celebration of the conception of Jesus - but it is not so.

For the day today, here is a picture of the statue of Jesus inside the San Thome Basilica. Notice the peacocks - a nod to the time when Mylapore lived up to its name as the town of peacocks!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

'Snuff said

Trekking in the wet, there is always a chance that the leeches will get you. The best option is get leech socks, but if you have forgotten to bring them along, this is an alternate solution. 

Only problem is that the leech will bite you first; most of the time, you do not feel the bite. Once it has had its fill, it will just drop off; if you try to pull it off in the meantime, its mouthparts might get left behind (unless you slide your finger under it, slowly releasing the suction before flicking it away) on your skin.

If you feel repulsed at the thought of touching the leech, there are several other options - drop salt, light a match near it, soap solution.... and this. Tobacco snuff gets them to drop off quickly. But there is still a danger that the mouthparts may stay - or worse. So, make sure you don't forget those leech socks!

Friday, September 6, 2013


At the hotel that was earlier known as Chola Sheraton; now labelled My Fortune

Thursday, September 5, 2013

City bird

You may have been used to seeing - or hearing about - animals roaming around the city's streets. There are still a few of them, but you will have to be lucky to spot them these days. 

Even harder to spot is this bird. You would not see them on the streets; but the gardens of Kalakshetra have a couple of them, most probably pets. So the next time you get a chance to go inside the campus, watch out for the peafowls!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Musician in hall

A picture of one of the halls at the Government College of Music, Chennai. And quite appropriate that the only person in it is Sanjay Subrahmanyan, the Carnatic vocalist!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Prayer hall

When the good folk of Chennai talk about the mosque at Thousand Lights, the usual image that comes to mind would be something like the one in this post. But that is a much later addition, nowhere as old as this building - the Abbasi Ashur Khana.

This was the hall that was once so wonderous, with its splendid lamps glowing brighter than the noonday sun. And that is why the area around it has taken on one of the names given to this Ashur Khana - the Hall of Thousand Lights. 

Monday, September 2, 2013


I am still not convinced that the dome in the picture is really a part of the main business of the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) in Nungambakkam. It looks a bit like an oddly-shaped water-tank, but being where it is, I must accept that it is very likely to have a scientific purpose. The RMC is, of course, one of the six such across the country; this one covers the four southern states, Pondicherry and Lakshadweep. 

Although the RMC was formally set up only on April 1, 1945, its beginnings go back to 1769. The transit of Venus that year saw a lot of activity, which ultimately ended up, unfortunately, with little to show for it. One of those who must have been deeply affected by this was William Petrie, who was at that time a junior civil servant in Fort St George. By 1786, Petrie was a big shot and had enough money to spare for an iron-and-timber observatory, its instruments and to employ an assistant named John Goldingham. By 1792, when Sir Charles Oakeley was the Governor of Madras, the proposal for an observatory was backed by Micheal Topping, who had made a name himself as the 'most talented and highly qualified all-round surveyor of the East India Company'. Petrie's instruments, and the observatory itself, were moved to a garden house on the banks of the Cooum, with John Goldingham taking charge as the first Astronomer.

That, of course, was the first Observatory in the country. Having been reduced to a mere RMC now cannot take that credit away from it, no matter how the wind blows!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Theme: Pink

Over at the City Daily Photo portal, the theme for September 1 is "Pink". There was nothing much I could find in pink (okay, I didn't try hard enough), because Chennai wears yellow, especially with the Champions League T20 coming up later this month. 

But this old picture came to my rescue, and along with it, a story. Everyone knows this is the Bougainvilla; a plant so common here that it is difficult to believe it is an exotic species, having arrived from South America, possibly through French travellers. I say French, because even in the latter half of the 18th century, the French were optimistic enough about their chances in India - and it was a Frenchman, Philibert Commerçon, who is credited as being the first European to describe these flowers. He was the botanist on board an expedition to circumnavigate the world; it is not unusual that he named the flower after the expedition's leader, Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

But it is also said that the credit for first observing these plants should go to Jeanne Barét. She had sneaked aboard de Bougainville's ship dressed as a man, pretending to be her lover Commerçon's valet. And it was she who had brought these woody vines back from a field trip; Commerçon's contribution was in the naming. Jeanne's disguise was unmasked before the end of the expedition, but she did complete it - and thereby became the first woman to circumnavigate the world!

Hooray for pink!

Interested in more pink stuff? This is where you need to go today!