Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bridge and bridge

The Line 1 of the Chennai Metro is the longer of the initial two lines, but just a little nose. At about 23 km, it is a kilometre longer than its counterpart. It also has more underground stations, ten of them to Line 2's nine. All those 10 underground stations are in the initial stretch of the Line, up to the Saidapet station. Leaving Saidapet, the train begins its ascent, to climb over the Adyar river and go all the way to the airport.

That's the pale stalk - with a gap - you can see to the right of the Maraimalai Adigalar Bridge in the picture. In a way, it will be one more bridge over the Adyar. But it can't rival its neighbour, the one built by Coja Petrus Uscan in 1726!

Friday, May 30, 2014

What street?

There are only two ways to answer that question about what street this is. One is to know your Chennai absolutely inside out, for this street is not on any map. (Even the streets of Fort St George were marked on maps, but this is surely not). The other way is to make sure you follow this blog, for a similar scene has featured here.

Anyway, I am going out in a hurry, for I have to get to a different 'street': Montieth, for an alumni gathering!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Not all there

The entrance to the in-patients sections of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at Kilpauk is rather forbidding, being flanked by two rather high walls and guarded by a gate with spikes sticking out on the top. In contrast, the out-patient services wing seems to almost invite you inside. The gates are wide open, the walls are just about waist-high and there are no security guards or "Visiting Hours" boards up there. 

The out-patient block is relatively new, having come up in 1971. But the IMH itself is over 200 years old, by the official reckoning. IMH's website traces its beginning to an asylum that was caring for 20 patients sometime in 1794. Situated in Purasawakkam, it was under the charge of the East India Company and the asylum was placed under the charge of Valentine Connolly, the company surgeon. As with many other such 'charges' handed over to officers of the East India Company, this was another way to make money. Connolly, when the time came for him to move to England, sold the practice, buildings and all (even though they were not his, but merely leased for 20 years) to Maurice Fitzgerald. Dr. Fitzgerald, in his turn, made money by selling the asylum to Dr. J. Dalton. Dr. Dalton went about enhancing the value of his purchase. He rebuilt some of the premises and expanded them to accommodate over 50 patients. But he probably got too greedy, for when he was looking to flog the place - which, by then, had come to be known as "Dalton's Mad Hospital" - the government medical board took it over. But it continued to be run more as private enterprise than as a state service, until 1860s. 

In 1867, the Madras Presidency sanctioned construction of the Madras Lunatic Asylum. The site identified was Locock's Garden, in what is Kilpauk today. Construction took four years and on May 15, 1871, the Madras Lunatic Asylum started functioning in its new premises, with 145 patients. Since then, it has grown - and assumed various names, in keeping with the sensibilities of the periods - to its current position as a medical institute of significance. Attached to the Madras Medical College, the IMH offers Post-Graduate courses in Psychiatry, and cares for about 1800 patients, making it the second largest such facility in the country. There was a time, in the 1980s, when "Kilpauk case" referred to the target's feeble mind; I haven't heard the phrase for a long while!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Name list

No, this is not a list of police medal holders or anything of that sort. The photo is of Sivaji Ganesan - of course you know that... from Thangapadhakkam, isn't it? - and he is looking over the list of individuals and firms who were key in constructing Shanthi Theatre. It is not just the technical designers and engineers, but also lists out the 'Plaster Decorators' and the plumbers. 

Wonder how many of them are still in the business!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Auto rank

Well, nice to know that transport is available at the gates. Outside the Apollo Clinic on Cenotaph Road, taken from a couple of floors above...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Grounded club

Towards the northern end of the Chennai airport complex, a little beyond the old terminal, there is a small board marking the presence of a club that was a pioneer, even though it has gone to seed in recent times. The board says "Madras Flying Club". The first time the board went up was in 1930, after a bunch of flying enthusiasts received a subsidy from the government of India to set up a flying club.

The Madras Flying Club (MFC) became functional in July 1930, even though the subsidy was available to them in March/April that year. The delay was to ensure that a qualified instructor, as well as an engineer, were in place before flying classes began. Quite appropriately, the first pilot instructor of this club was Flt Lt Hawker, with Hulcop as his first engineer. Even after their arrival, the then governor of Madras, Sir George Frederick Stanley, waited for another month before formally inaugurating the club, as its first 'Patron'. Lady Beatrix Stanley may have had some difficult moments pronouncing the names of the first 2 aircraft of the club as she christened them: "Garuda" and "Pushpaka". Over the years, the MFC had a stellar record, until it started losing its way in the new millenium. 

In January 2012, the only instructor of the MFC retired after he turned 65; since then, the Club has not been able to attract anyone to come on board and take charge. They also have had run-ins with the regulatory authorities, and with all that, activities at the club have come to a standstill. The Airports Authority of India, probably vexed with all the inactivity, has served notice to the MFC to vacate the space it is blocking currently. Hopefully, the one of the first flying clubs in the country will not come crashing, but will find fresh wind beneath their wings soon!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering typewriters

"The Corporation has made a mess of numbers in these parts. Just look for the signs", said Yamuna, in response to my request for directions to her house. We were going there in the evening, because we had missed the earlier editions of "Cheruvannur Diaries Typewriter Tales" at the more 'formal' performance spaces. In a way, it was good that we did, because this show was more intimate, with just about 20 people in the audience. And so Paul Mathew, the army-man turned theatre persona, peppered his audience with questions, inviting them to be part of the show as well.

Produced by Perch, and directed by Rajiv Krishnan, the performance was all about Paul's experiences as a typewriter salesman in Kerala, circa 1985. Not having seen Paul's performances for a long time, it was good to see him in this setting. We had a good time, the audience and the performer and it was a solid one-and-a-half-hours well spent on a Sunday afternoon.

And now, hoping that there can be more such opportunities!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's all a blur

This picture feels the way my thinking is, right now: all of a blur. It has been a long and tiring day, and this picture reflects the absolute dizziness all around. 

Anyway, I hope you folks have a more colourful evening than usual!

Friday, May 23, 2014


Mr. Arun Sundar Thayalan, an IAS Officer of the 2008 batch, was transferred from Madurai to Chennai in December 2013 and took charge as Regional Deputy Commissioner (Central) of the Corporation of Chennai. One of his pet projects has been to reduce people pissing in the open. The earlier toilets, of the pay-and-use variety, were brick and mortar structures, with someone sitting in front of them to levy the toll charges. That model works reasonably well in the residential parts of the city. In other parts, however, even where traffic is heavy, the viability of such toilets seems to have been a problem.

Mr. Thayalan's solution was something that looks like the port-a-loo, but is a lot more stable. Several of them have been installed in different parts of the city (mainly the Central zone, I guess). This one is across the road - Whites Road, that is - from Express Avenue. Can't fault the positioning, for this is one place where people pause to relieve themselves. With this dual toilet booth in place, one hopes that it being used as it is meant to be!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Monk's college

"When you go for your interview, make sure you wear vibuthi"; "Don't wear jeans and flashy shoes if they call you for an interview"; "Best thing is to go in a veshti and half-sleeve shirt". These were bits of gratuitous advice thrown when one was preparing to apply for admission to the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College. That was the kind of stories being spread about one of the older colleges in Chennai. 

When it was inaugurated in 1946 - actually, it was inaugurated twice: the first time by Kailashanandaji Maharaj, then president of the Ramakrishna Mission did the vedic ceremony on June 21, and later, on July 1, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan did the more formal inauguration - the college was run by public spirited citizens. But their zeal was shared by the teachers and students: to kick off a college with four undergraduate programmes and yet have 20 teachers and 339 students on day one is a significant feat. 

The college has since then grown into an institution of stature; its alumni have distinguished themselves in several fields. However, the first connect seems predominantly to chartered accountancy - and the institution seems to still have the branding of samiyar college!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Peninsular feeling

Somehow, Nimmo Street, a quiet back-street that runs parallel to Santhome Main Road, has always seemed very Iberian to me. I have not been able to pin down why. Is it because it is close to the old Portuguese quarters, or is it because the houses appear so clean washed and white? Maybe the trees and the plants in the gardens along this street give it an air of being cool all the time, without squeezing the sun and its light completely out of of the frame. 

Probably it is because there is a school teaching Spanish somewhere along this street.  Or maybe, it is just that Ms Inez Lebo, the Honorary Consul for Spain, lives on this street, with the consulate operating from her residence?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Had got out of all the frequent flyer programmes nearly ten years ago. But in the past two weeks, I have been at the Chennai airport on 8 days. This picture was taken yesterday, after having reached the airport 75 minutes ahead of the departure time. The queues have gotten longer - and Monday mornings are always a bad time to travel out, with people being more grumpy than usual.

Is the increase in passenger traffic because of the second runway at the airport having gone operational? That runway - after having been delayed time and again - was to have been opened sometime last week. That is what I thought, but it does not seem to be reflecting in the flight schedules yet. In the meantime, we continue to take off along the old path!

Monday, May 19, 2014


Okay, I will admit it. I am just trying to make sure I post something today. 

Enjoy the sunflowers!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Long form

As a child, it was fascinating to see stenographers at work. Especially after having seen one of their 'notebooks' one day. Shorthand seemed as close to cryptography that a child could get to. Yet, it wasn't cryptic at all, it merely needed a few months of instruction to be able to both code and decode the system devised by Sir Isaac Pitman. That instruction could be obtained from several 'Commercial Institutes', as they were called in the 1970s and 1980s. Besides Pitman's shorthand, they would teach typewriting (the touch system, where qwerty had its confusion ironed out) and accountancy (entering the same transaction twice over, so as to leave people like me confused about debits and credits). They were all over the place in those days, especially in places where large groups of government employees lived.  

The first such Commercial Institute in Madras was set up in Chintadripet. Not that I have been able to find any backing to support that statement. I am only relying on the information provided by Padmanabhan to The Hindu a few years ago. Padmanabhan is the grandson of P. Srikantaiyer, founder of The Shorthand School, which according to him was the second such institute in Madras. It was begun near Chintadripet, so it may well have been the second in Chintadripet, rather than in all Madras. But then, the need for typists, as well as for stenographers, was most felt at Fort St George; to that extent, the entire supply of the city would have been from these two institutes at/near Chintadripet.

Whatever that may have been, there seems to be no trace of that first institute. The Shorthand School moved to its current location on Kutchery Road in Mylapore in 1933. In 2009, the School celebrated its centenary. It continues to attract a fair number of people interested in learning shorthand, hoping to parlay those skills into a job at some lawyer's chambers. And then there are several who come in to learn typing; with qwerty still being the standard keyboard layout, learning to type is one way to be able to use the computer faster!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Claim to name

It has been Chennai for as long as it has been Madras. There are several legends as to the origin of the city's name and they are too detailed to go into here. One of the more robust claims is that the name 'Madras' originated from the family name "Madeiros". The Madeiros were a prominent Portuguese family in San Thome - and later in Fort St George itself - and they were known as the Madra Family by the locals. 

In any case, if Madras were actually named after this family, it is good that the city has been renamed Chennai. What do you think?!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Orange boom

Yes, there is an orange tinge around most of the country. Election results didn't seem to have caused any celebrations in Chennai. The city has largely been a DMK stronghold, but this time around, that party is in a complete daze; they have been wiped out, without a single seat anywhere in the state.

And yes, the one constituency where state parties did not come in 1st or 2nd saw the BJP winning. So yes, there is a touch of saffron here as well!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Movement memorial

In 1852, the government took over the Madras School of Arts, that had been established by a surgeon, Dr. Alexander Hunter, a couple of years earlier. More than a century later, the second Indian principal of that establishment - which was by now known as College of Arts and Crafts - was instrumental in creating a movement of painters and sculptors that sought to combine modernism with local influences of myth, legend and art heritage. That principal was Kovalezhi Cheerampathoor Sankaran Paniker. His fellow teachers, and several students pursued this artistic ideal and that group became the vanguard of the Madras Movement. 

Many artists of that movement were extremely individualistic and it seems to me something of a miracle that they held together for long enough for their work to come under a 'category'. But they did and their work, recognized as and identified with the Madras Movement is feted around the world. They came together to form the Cholamandalam Artists' Village in the late 1960s, but it was only in the last decade that the artists have ventured to create a Centre for Contemporary Art

Housed within that Centre is the KCS Paniker Museum of the Madras Movement. It has works from almost every significant member of the Movement. Most of Paniker's own works, however, are not here; they are not with the Cholamandalam Artists' Village, either. They are not even anywhere in Chennai, for the Government of Madras (as it was in those days) did not take up Paniker's offer to donate his works to the state; and so they moved away to the Art Gallery at Thiruvananthapuram!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The lion's tail

Well, there are still some of the old gate ornaments around. 

So what if the tail looks new!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Another blue board

White-on-blue boards held their own for a long time, through generations. Almost every business had similar boards, with the differences being only in the font of the letters. And then they suddenly disappeared from the scene; so now, every blue board with white lettering seems to be something of an antique.

This one is not all that old, however. The Madras Kidney Trust was founded in 1990 by Prof. M.S. Amaresan, with the aim of providing affordable medical care for renal conditions. With such an aim, the Trust will certainly need to economize in all areas. However, I don't think it extends to this board. There is a larger and more modern sign above this, with more up-to-date information, including the city's name as well as a phone number that is at least 8-digits.

I can only imagine there is some nostalgic - or superstitious - attachment to this board for it to be retained for so long. From being a ubiquitous signage, it is nice to see this being unique enough to catch the eye these days!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cenotaph by the side

Coming into the city from the airport, the traveller would pass this cenotaph, standing in a fenced-off piece of land just where the Kathipara flyover starts climbing. It is easy enough to miss; the whitewash neither new nor too old. The cupola not ornate at all, its urn finial hardly discernible by the traveller, who is more concerned about the traffic all around. Even those citizens of Chennai who notice it might pause for a moment to think about how this structure survived when the statue of Jawaharlal had to be shifted to make way for the flyover's construction.

The patch of land belongs to the army and the cenotaph - that's what it is - is of an army man. From a long time ago. Lt Col Sam shed his mortal coils this day 194 years ago. He was a member of the Madras Artillery; my guess is that he was with them since the day that force was raised. Major Peter James Begbie, in his 1852 history of the Madras Artillery, indicates that (then) Lieutenant Sam was one of the nine officers wounded in the Battle of Argaum (eh, what's that?). Elsewhere, he is credited with having suggested the best manner of transporting ordnance across the Indian rivers. Going by the plaque on the cenotaph, he was not just an officer, but a gentleman - his martial exploits may therefore have been limited.

In recent years, this cenotaph's popularity experienced a bump up thanks to Lt Col Sam's descendent. Though I am not certain how they are related, the writer William Dalrymple acknowledges Lt Col Sam Dalrymple, CB, as an ancestor - actually one of the several Dalrymples who seem to have made their fortunes in the empire!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wedding day

Weddings happen at the Kapaleeswarar temple also. I did not know that, until today. The space at the southern end, across from Karpagambal's sanctum, is where the action was happening this morning. 

The bride does not seem to be entirely convinced, though!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Woodland shrine

We all know that Chennai has the distinction of being the only city in the world that houses a national park entirely within itself. Quite apart from that, Chennai has a decent amount of green spaces that are unknown to - or rather, taken for granted by, - most of the citizens.

Here is one such. Okay, these folks have rather restrictive timings, they shut down at 4 pm every day, so there is not much to look forward to, getting here after office hours. But during the hours they are open, it is a lovely place to wander around. Much of the space appears to have been allowed to remain wild. There are several plants and trees and the bird life is quite diverse - we even got to see an Asian Paradise Flycatcher flitting around here.

Where is 'here', you ask? It is less than half-a-kilometre from the Gemini Circle. Got it? Yes, you are right, this is on the grounds of the Agri-Horticultural Society. Now you can get your saplings and have a puja done to them before you take them home!

Friday, May 9, 2014

View of the road

Looking northwards from a window of the Apollo Hospital, you get a feeling that things are all oh-so-peaceful. The traffic at 5 o'clock, just before the evening rush hour, seems to be quite reasonable. 

But that is only because the traffic light is holding up the vehicles coming towards us. In a few minutes, this will become jam-packed, with the Cenotaph Road junction siphoning off a set of people and at the same time pouring in an equal volume into Mount Road!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Central, but access?

This is the Central Library of a rather exclusive institution. It started its life along with the institution, in 1959. At that time, it was housed in the Civil Engineering Block. This arrangement is more an indication of how important civil engineering was, than any downplaying of the library's status.

That phase lasted about six years, and since 1965, the Central Library has had its own place in the academic campus. In the new millenium, the facilities received a major upgrade. Apart from all the books, periodicals and journals, users of this library can also access sections of the Library of Congress' online collection. 

Maybe I was too pessimistic about outsiders being allowed to use this library; it is a challenge to get inside the campus of the IIT Madras and I assumed entry into the library would be even more difficult. However, the Librarian here, Dr. Harish Chandra, seems to be inviting everyone to visit and benefit from the printed resources there. Must go look it up sometime soon!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Road and rail

If the grade separator at Kathipara thought that it was on top of everything else, it has had to think again. The Chennai Metro track goes just that little bit over it, heading away from the Alandur station towards the next one on the line, Ekkattuthangal. 

Can't wait to get on to the Metro. The track testing has been done, trial runs have happened and I guess we are just waiting for the station systems to be set up properly now. Would love to get on to one of the test runs - tickets anyone?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The only one

When did the first Sikhs come to Madras? There is obviously no definitive answer to this question, but the community itself believes there has been steady movement in both directions for the most part. The partition of India, however, was an event that sent many Sikh families as far away as they could travel to, to escape the horrors of the event. Madras was one of the farthest points, and quite a number of displaced Sikh families landed up here. On hand to welcome them was Lt Col Gurdial Singh Gill, who was the IG of Prisons in Madras. As a prominent member of the Punjab Association, Lt Col Gill helped in getting the families rehabilitated quickly. 

Madras however had no place of worship for the Sikhs. The Guru Nanak Sat Sangh Sabha was established in 1949, as a place for the Sikhs to gather as a community. In 1951, Maharani Vidyawati Devi, the Rani of Vizianagaram, arranged for some of her land to be given to the Sabha to build a gurudwara on. Enter the Colonel, again. G.S. Gill stepped in to personally supervise the work of constructing an consecrating the gurudwara, even designing the Gurudwara Sahib himself. On April 13, 1953, the first Guru Granth Sahib was installed at this building, making it a revered shrine.

Almost 60 years later, it continues to be only gurudwara in Chennai. The community gathers here on all the holy days. They come from all over the city, for there is really no one enclave that can be thought of as an exclusive Sikh enclave in Chennai. The Sat Sangh Sabha continues to manage this temple - and another one in distant Rameshwaram, as well!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rotten apple?

Being close to the beach is quite often a double-edged sword. Of course, you get to have some amazing views of the sea. The sunrise over the Bay of Bengal along the Marina is a wonderful sight to start your day with. But proximity to the bay brings with it the salt air - one of the most corrosive agents that you could be up against. It would therefore take quite a dedicated and sensitive team to ensure that the building, and the rooms inside are maintained at a high level.

Hotel Manhattan is quite grandly named and its biggest advantage is that a 3-minute walk will see you right on the Marina. However, the glass and aluminium cladding of the facade is deceptive. The side of the building shows some of the plaster peeling off; the reviews on several travel websites are scathing enough to peel off the rest of the building's skin. 

The familiar name lulls many into thinking they are headed for the big apple, or at least something that channelises the core of the apple. Well, it just looks like it is channeling a different borough than what it was named after!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Temple of learning

For many Chennai-ites, it is a reflex action to touch their chest and forehead as they pass a temple. Some slow down their vehicles to do that, and several have specific shrines on their daily route, where they would stop to say their prayers. And then there are occasions or purposes when the daily darshan is not enough, when one has to go to a specific place to pray to that deity who is in charge of the occasion or purpose (think CA Anjaneyar).

It is therefore something of a surprise that the one temple dedicated to Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Learning, is quite un-frequented most of the time. True, it is not a temple in the 'traditional' style, but is rather a large hall with a stage where Saraswati is placed. Maybe it needs a few more decades before it gets the acceptance that can bring the crowds in. Or maybe it is just the way it is named.

Situated on Venkatnarayana Road in T. Nagar, this is the Sringeri Sarada Peetam, run by the Sringeri Mutt. Founded by Adi Shankara in the 9th century, the main deity at the Sringeri Mutt is Saraswati in the form of Devi Sharada. It is in this form that she is worshipped at this temple as well. Maybe if they changed their name to include Saraswati, this would be a place where school children - or, more likely, their parents - would flock to during exam times! 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A different reptile

It is the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), but we have already seen that the Croc Bank allows space to other orders, besides crocodilia, of the class reptilia. One more such order is testudines, which covers tortoises, turtles and terrapins. In fact when you get to the grounds of the Crocodile Bank, about 30km out of Chennai, the first exhibits you get to see are turtles and tortoises, before you see the stars of the show. 

In between, the crocodilian hegemony is broken by these old boys. The Aldabra tortoises are among the longest living animals on the planet. Behind the Galapagos tortoises, these are the largest species of testudines. However, what species they are seems to be a source of intense debate. Aldabrachelys gigantea, says the Wikipedia page; Geochelone gigantea, says the Natural History Museum of the UK. Its history of Linnaean taxonomy begins with it being the Testudo gigantea. At least they have all agreed on the 'gigantea' bit!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Red letter day

May Day celebrations yesterday at the neighbourhood auto-rickshaw stand. Everything is spruced up and ready to take on the bourgeoisie. 

As long as the bourgeoisie is not taken for a ride! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Square of the Polygon

This is one of the newer office buildings in the city. It came up in the last couple of years and is yet to be fully occupied. The developers however did not worry too much about maintaining any connect with what the real estate was being used for earlier and just went ahead in naming it the 'Polygon'. 

The Polygon, at Teynampet/Nandanam, stands on the site of what was once the 'nursery of Madras'. For about half-a-century, since moving to this site in 1952, P.S. Swaminatha Iyer's Soundarya Nursery was the go-to place for saplings of any kind. If you needed flowering plants for your 'front garden' or fruit trees for your 'back garden', Soundarya would supply them; Swaminatha Iyer was known for walking around with a pen-knife all the time. That way, he was able to mix and match cuttings to produce hybrid varieties of hibiscus and bougainvilla. Soundarya Nursery continued that good work even after Swaminatha Iyer died in 1972. It was only more than a generation later that the property changed hands. The Nursery itself has now grown branches, with one at Vettuvankeni and another in Pudupakkam, run by Swaminatha Iyer's youngest son and a grandson.

In the evenings, the Polygon's colour-changing lighting detail provides a relief to the unblinking bright blue of the nearby Apollo Hospital's signage. That is probably the only connect the developers have retained, channelling the colours of all those flowers in the Nursery into the LED lights on the building's facade!

The first of the month, and it is Theme Day for the City Daily Photo group. Take a look at squares from over the world here!