Monday, June 30, 2014

Well placed

Of course there is little that one can teach Kotler about the importance of Positioning. Even then, it was a bit of surprise to find a copy of his textbook on "Marketing Management" in a bucket of to-be-washed clothes. Stranger so because around the area this was found, there is no management institute. Nor was there anyone around to claim ownership of this book, or the clothes. 

Maybe it is the caretaker of the Kodanda Ramar temple opposite who is storing his worldly possessions here. Must be a man of learning - and discernement!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

From above

I have written earlier about how Madras has a significant presence on the country's aviation map.

Here is a picture from the air, showing the old terminal on the right. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

From here to the stars

What connection does this school quadrangle - that is what it is, obviously - have to the NASA's Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF)? The answer is quite short: Chandra. This is where the Nobel Laureate Subramanyan Chandrasekhar went to a formal school for the first time. Until his father was transferred to Madras (from Lahore), and for a little while after as well, Chandra was privately tutored. It was in 1922 that he was enrolled at the Hindu High School, Triplicane.

The school buildings are just the way they were in Chandra's time. And well before that, too. The buildings were inaugurated in 1898, even though the school, in different forms, had been functioning from much earlier. Chandra finished his schooling in 1925 and then went to college a short distance away - the Presidency College. In those days, college meant 5 years; in the final two years, Chandra "formed a friendship" with a Lalitha Doraiswamy, a college-mate one year his junior. She became his wife in 1936 and remained so throughout her life, being the "central facts" of Chandra's life - something he spoke about in his biographical on the Nobel Prize website

In 1998, three years after his passing away, NASA named its AXAF the "Chandra X-ray Observatory" in his honour. And that is how this quadrangle - where generations since have played, and then gone on to shine in their chosen fields - connects with something out there amidst the stars!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cheap ad

If you had been to Chennai about 8 to 10 years ago, you would have been struck by the number of places carrying this man's advertisements. There was hardly a wall in the city that did not have the words "P. James Magic Show 9841072671" written on it, maybe several times over. Every part of the city carried these black letters, sprayed or painted on to the walls with a black-oxide-and-Fevicol mixture, which keeps the letters stuck on the walls for more  than a couple of monsoons. The city's residents probably did not take notice of them too much, but for a few years, they were the one thing about Chennai most visitors were intrigued by, thanks to their omnipresence.

James is a stage name. The man's real name is V. Kennedy; he took his father's - or was it his grandfather's? - name and made it his brand, one that is so ubiquitous that it featured as a question on one the editions of the Landmark Quiz. Kennedy claims that it took him almost 14 years of painting walls to achieve the kind of brand recognition that he has now.

And yet, I have not come across anyone who has seen a P. James performance. Some speculate that the man has passed on, and it is the junior who runs the show these days. The advertisements also appear to have become thinned down. Maybe there is some truth to it, after all. Like Phantom in the comic strip, P.James could also be immortal!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ocean view

It does seem I am spending too much time behind bars these days. Of the wrong kind. Must do something about that!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Street house

I don't know if you have ever had the experience, but I have sensed two kinds of smells from houses that have been locked up for a long while. One kind is the stink of bat- and rat-droppings, mixed with the sharp staleness of food that has died and gone to hell. Add to that the musty wetness of water that has got to the heart of the timbers and you get the sense of decay the house faces.

There is another kind of locked-house-smell, one that I find extremely agreeable. Even if it has been locked up for long, the smell reminds of sunshine trapped in the rooms, running around trying to get out. Add to it the healthy warm smell of grains that fed everyone in the house and the love and care that was plastered into the walls, and you get that fragrance, which if I could bottle it, would make me a millionaire. 

This house on Sullivan Street in San Thome certainly smelled well. It has not seen residents for quite a few years, obviously. But it was certainly inviting, with two flights of low steps sweeping out like arms ready to embrace visitors, or even any of the passers-by!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


The name of the apartment complex was unique enough to take a second look at. Was it something to do with a religious sect? Or was it in memory of someone important? Turns out it was (is) neither. Zalawad was one of the princely states of Saurashtra. I have not been able to figure out what Zalawad was like. But the history of the integration of Saurashtra, post-independence, makes for interesting reading. 

Apparently, the geography of Saurashtra - or Kathiawar as it was known - makes for interesting reading. The region had fourteen 'salute' states, seventeen non-salute states and 191 other small states. Of the small states, 46 had an area of less than 2 square miles each. The smallest, Vejanoness, had an area of 0.29 sq.m, a population of 206 and an annual income of Rs.500. 

The state of Zalawad seems to have been somewhere in between these minuscule principalities and the salute states. The only map of Zalawad that I have been able to find is in Gujarati, which I cannot read. Maybe some of the neighbours from that region came together to Madras and began to stay together in this part of Vepery, and maybe their families continue to live together in this apartment complex!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stately corner

Time marches on. Once upon a time, this corner building was the place to be seen at. For about 20 years, Hotel d'Angelis was the leading hotel in the city, boasting of running hot water (no, not the type where a boy runs with a bucket), electric fans, cold storage - all of it in the initial years of the 20th century. He also made sure that he pulled out all stops for his guests. Those coming in to Madras by ship or rail could make arrangements to have the 'hotel shuttle' meet them as they disembarked. That motor-bus could also be hired to take them around the city. 

Giacomo d'Angelis, the founder of this hotel, took a very active interest in running it. Despite having a manager ("an expert European manager") to run the hotel, the proprietor personally guaranteed that every need of their guests would be attended to. Such was the reputation they built - and maybe it was also the way the staff had been trained - that even after d'Angelis sold the hotel to Bosotto in 1930, it continued to be the go-to place. When the MCC team under Douglas Jardine visited India for a 3-test series in 1934, they bivouacked at the Hotel d'Angelis - and by all accounts, they had a rocking good time. 

Somehow, the hotel did not continue to keep up with the times. For longer than I can remember, the big signboard on this building had been that of Bata. Recently, that has been removed. Talk is that the building has been marked for demolition. With that, one more reminder of the Madras will disappear. Hopefully, whatever replaces it will preserve the memory of this corner and the Madras that was!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nice place

If it is Chintadripet, it must be all bustle and action. That is the impression people would have about one of the most active sections of Chennai city. But going down a lane in the area, one is surprised by the quiet surroundings. The buildings are all old-world, appearing to be well past their diamond jubilees at least. Large trees, even if they are not so old, provide a lot of green cover not only to the buildings, but to the pedestrians as well.

In the midst of such surroundings, this house - that is what it seemed to be, at first look - does not appear to be out of place. It is only when you see the sign there that you are shaken out of your reverie. Anti-Vice Squad? Here? In such peaceful surroundings? Yes, this is where the Anti-Vice Squad of the Chennai City Police is housed. 

Maybe it should be in the past tense. After the inauguration of a new office for the Chennai Commissionerate, this Squad might have also shifted there. It might be good for them to continue in these surroundings, however; faced with the stench of vice in the course of their work, the police(wo)men could feel refreshed working in such a pleasant neighbourhood!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Main gate

It is not really the main gate, but for most of the workers of Simpson & Co Ltd, these are the gates through which they would enter their workplace. The firm is over 150 years old, having been established sometime in the 1840s. Arnold Wright, writing in 1914 about businesses in Madras, claims the year to be 1840 itself. After 170 years, that is a minor quibble, but more interesting is what Wright says about the range of its products. The firm was set up by A.F. Simpson, a Scotsman who came to Madras to ply his trade as a wheelwright. He expanded into harnesses, saddles, boots - all those things that riders may need - and then into coaches also. In a short span of 5 years, Simpson was able to make a name for his products in Madras city and moved from his initial premises on Poonamallee High Road to Mount Road. 

The products were of quite high quality and Simpson reached out to a clientele beyond Madras. The way he chose to get there was through London; it was, even in the 19th century, a preferred vacation spot for rich and famous Indians. Displaying (and advertising) his coaches at industrial exhibitions in London, he canvassed orders from his target demographic right there and supplied them from his works on Mount Road.

By the early 20th century, Simpson had passed on and the firm was being run by George Underhill Cuddon, who had joined the firm as a clerk in 1891. In 1914, the products, as described by Wright, included "carriages, motor-cars, or billiard-tables". However, sometime in the middle of the 20th century, Simpson & Co Ltd had become more specialized, as a manufacturer of diesel engines for various applications. In the 1980s, they attempted a joint venture with Ford to assemble trucks (or LCVs) but that was not successful. They continue to stick with the engines - and they look set to be doing it for another 170 years and more!

Friday, June 20, 2014

One, or many?

Spread over about 1.5 acres, this specimen of Ficus benghalensis is one of the largest in the country and maybe the oldest one as well. The Great Banyan of Kolkata and the Thimmamma Marrimanu at Anantapur cover a much greater area than this one, but it is very likely that this tree is much older than either of them. The Adyar aalamaram (Adyar banyan), as it is called, is supposedly over 450 years old, which if true would make it about 200 years older than the other giants. 

This tree is part of Huddleston Gardens, the seat of the Theosophical Society in Chennai. If it was to have a street address, it would be listed as Schwarz Avenue. That is because the avenue runs along the southern border of the tree's extent. On the other sides, there are no roads, just more vegetation. A fence marks the boundary; the banyan of course does not respect such confines and its branches have already arched over the road and put down aerial roots.

The main trunk of the tree was brought down by storm winds during a cyclone in 1989. Some effort was made to revive the trunk, but it was futile. The main trunk is gone, but the tree continues to live on. But that has prompted some to opine that the Adyar aalamaram cannot be considered a tree anymore, but should be a 'tree system'. Clearly, they are missing the woods for a tree!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Broken soldier

I will give you a clue. This is supposed to be a Roman soldier. At some point, he was flogging someone or dragging something along. And this is on a hillock close to the Marmalong bridge. 

Give up? Okay, I shall tell you now. It is - or was - part of a tableau in the precincts of the Little Mount Church in Saidapet. There is nothing else near it, so it must have been discarded. Or did he just desert the ranks?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lease of life

The media have been all agog over a heart transplant operation performed in this hospital a couple of days ago. While the coordination between the hospitals involved and the Chennai City Traffic Police was indeed commendable, not much attention has yet been given to the framework that enabled it to come about. In the 20 years since the Transplantation of Human Organs (THO) Act, 1994 was passed, Tamil Nadu has led the country by many a mile in reaping the benefits of this Act. In 2012, over 40% of the donors (and the harvested organs) were from Tamil Nadu, giving it a donation rate of 1.15/million population (Punjab with 0.43 and Kerala with 0.36 were the nearest)

Chennai, of course, has been in the vanguard of this movement. In 1999, five hospitals in the city came together to create the Indian Network for Organ Sharing, under the MOHAN Foundation. The experience with this project was encouraging and the state government came into it in 2008, setting a clear process to support such sharing - the Cadaver Transplant Programme, which has become the point of reference for other states to implement similar programmes. 

Fortis Malar, pictured here, was where the transplant was carried out on Monday evening. But there are other hospitals, both private and government-run, that have carried out similar procedures as a matter of routine. The newsworthiness of Monday's transplant was the traffic management, to ensure that the heart was moved here from the donor hospital in double-quick time. But let us also take a moment to cheer the progress achieved in making such transplants routine!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Crown gopuram

Within the premises of the Ayodhya Mandapam in West Mambalam, there is a sanctum maintained by Sri Rama Samajam. And rising above that is this gopuram, quite clearly different from the others that one comes across in Chennai.

This is supposedly a replication of the crown of Sri Rama. And there is one other structure in Chennai that is topped by such a replica. Any idea which it is?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cornerstone of church

Embedded into the side wall of the Emmanuel Methodist Church is this plaque, declaring that the corner stone was laid on 17th December 1878. The normal visitor would miss it, for it is not along a regular path. The security guard on duty however insisted that it had to be seen and so it was.

What the stone - acknowledged elsewhere by the church as its foundation stone - does not say is the story of how the church started off as a gleam in the eye of William Taylor. Taylor had arrived in India in 1870, after having toured a great number of countries over the previous seven years. He did not come to Madras with the intent of starting a Methodist Church. But he sensed that his approach as an Evangelist was not enough to overcome the lethargy of the local clergy and so decided to set up the Episcopal Church. Such energy was not unusual for Taylor. He had definite views on how churches in Asia and Africa should become self-sustaining and must be treated on par with the churches of the USA. This attitude put him in conflict with the Methodist mission board, who would rather have those recognized as missions, rather than churches. 

The church was renovated at the turn of the millennium. Though originally planned as minor repairs to the roofing, the effort grew to a complete renovation, replacing the original wooden trusses and expanding the seating capacity. It was probably at this time that The corner stone was actually moved around the corner!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Old, but clean

On the crest of this building, there are the letters OMC and a number that seems to be 1929. If they are clues to the history of this building, they are certainly very obtuse ones. The building itself is very regular, appearing to be a square as you come to it from the south and then, suddenly, shows off a hexagonal corner. By itself, that is not unusual. Several constructions from the early part of the 20th century had such corner rooms - Mithila on TTK Road is one that comes to mind. 

But this one is a mystery. There does not seem to be any reference to it in the public domain and I haven't been able to find anyone who has stories to tell about it. For as long as I can remember, it has housed a branch of the Garment Cleaners. And that is probably the proprietor looking out from the first floor window. Strangely, that is the only window that has bars across it.

Any leads to the history of this building are welcome!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Garden house

In the mid 1800-s, the start of the Great Choultry Plain was marked by a large garden, next to St George's Cathedral, belonging to the Madras Horticultural Society. This society was established in 1835 and may quite possibly have been inspired by the one that was established in Calcutta in 1820. Dr Robert Wight, the Scottish botanist who was the driving force behind the Society was certainly a man who got around. The Calcutta Monthly Journal for 1836 describes Dr Wight sending a dissertation on Joomlah Hill Rice to the Secretary of the Agri-Horticultural Society of India; that Journal also describes the General Meeting of the Madras Agricultural and Horticultural Society on October 8, 1836.

Strangely, the Calcutta institution did not take the Madras Society in its fold. There does not seem to be any one reason for this, but it could be due to the Governors of these cities trying to be one-up over the other. The Governor of Madras was the chief patron of the Society and he was probably loath to hand over control to his Calcutta counterpart. The 22-acre space given to the Society was probably well used by Dr Wight to conduct his experiments as well as to document the specimens that were collected from all over south India. Helping him in the documentation were 'native artists' Rungiah and Govindoo. Much of their work was shipped to England. The Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh has the works of Dr Wight and his artists in their collection.

When Cathedral Road was built, the Society's gardens were divided; the part on the south side was comparatively neglected and in 1962 was handed over to Krishna Rao, a restauranteur, who created the first drive-in restaurant in India. The title to the gardens were in dispute for a very long time; finally, sometime in 2008, the courts ruled in favour of the Government, which has now full control of the Agri-Horticultural Society. The drive-in closed in 2008 and was developed into the Semmozhi Poonga. The part on the north side of Cathedral Road continues to be a woodland, with a nursery and this building having the Society's offices (?) inside. But the composition of the Society itself seems to be a mystery - all that is known is that it is run by the state government!

Friday, June 13, 2014


It took R. (Kalki) Krishnamurthy nearly three-and-a-half years to write it. It originally appeared as a serial in Kalki, the magazine that Krishnamurthy was the editor of. The first instalment was published in November 1950; with that, the popularity of the magazine went up. Readers waited eagerly for the next issue and the print run of the magazine needed to be increased, going on to touch 75,000 soon. Family members scrapped with each other to be the first to read the weekly and over about 200 weeks, the story of Arulmozhivarman, later Raja Raja Chozhan. Mixing fact and imagination, Ponniyin Selvan was a masterpiece, establishing historic fiction as a genre in Tamizh.

To celebrate the golden jubilee of the work, Magic Lantern came up with a stage adaptation of the epic. It had a hugely successful run, but it was limited - by design. For Magic Lantern, it was an ambitious production and one they carried off successfully. It was therefore only natural that when SS International Live wanted to create a landmark event, they turned to Ponniyin Selvan, and of course, to Magic Lantern.

It was an enthralling drama. Compressing 2,400 pages of the work into a near-4-hour show is not easy and there were enough in the audience feeling bad that many incidents had been left out. But for someone who has not yet read the work (yes, English translations are available), it was a grand introduction to a story so much part of the popular lore that it is treated as history itself!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The summer has been scorching, alright. It might sound trivial to crib about Chennai's temperatures when Delhi has seen record-breaking temperatures, coupled with power outages. At least Chennai has 24-hour electricity (okay, 23 hours and 13 minutes). 

The temptation to get a cold one is very much there during the mornings. But it is quite rare to get chilled beer at the TASMAC shops. In any case, by the time one gets back home, the cold has disappeared. So, in the bid to get to the stuff sooner, a couple of bottles were placed in the freezer. And then, were forgotten about, until the evening.

Thankfully, they did not explode inside the freezer. (Do they ever? Even reading this experiment does not give me an answer). But there is no way I am going to open them when the beer is one solid, frozen mass. Stuck the bottles in a pan of water to get them to thaw, before junking them. And now, I have to wait a while until I get to watch a "cold bottle of beer perspiring on a hot summer day"!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dispensing health

This is the building where, in 1905, V. Krishnaswami Iyer founded the Venkataramana Ayurveda Dispensary. The name was probably a part-tribute to his father, Venkatarama Iyer, who was a munsif in the Thanjavur district. Krishnaswami grew up there and it was only after he completed his schooling that he came to Madras. He studied at Presidency College (where, unable to follow the British accent of his lecturers, he found it far more entertaining to spend his time on the Marina) and then at the Madras Law College. 

Though he seems to have been academically rather average, he used his keen intelligence and quick wit to build a reputation as a lawyer. He earned quite well, too and was a benefactor to several institutions in the city, even setting up a few himself.

The Ayurveda Dispensary - which was also to serve as a teaching institution - was one of the beneficiaries of Krishnaswami Iyer's generosity. He set aside this building and then endowed the institution with a corpus of Rs.20,000. The dispensary continues to occupy the same space. Some parts of the dispensary / college are elsewhere, but close by. For Krishnaswami Iyer, this was one of the many things that he picked up, did something about and moved on!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Bridge the gap

Once, about a dozen years ago, this bridge made the list of spookiest places in Chennai. Surely you would be spooked too, if you suddenly came upon a bit of concrete stretched over 3 pillars. It was not built in that manner, but for several - maybe 25 or more - years now, it has remained that way, after the original construction was washed away.

The bridge was intended to help fisherfolk have a short-cut between the fishing villages of Srinivasapuram to the north and Olcottkuppam to the south. It is a narrow path, barely enough to take a stout two-wheeler in any one direction at a time. Maybe that was more than enough in the late '60s. 

But then again, maybe it was not. When the bridge was washed away, circa 1977, there was no effort made to replace it. The fisherfolk also did not raise a demand for it, I guess, for it is difficult to imagine such a demand being ignored for so long. These days it remains a favourite spot to watch the sunrise, a quiet place to sit and chat of an evening and most of all, a gap-tooth in the Adyar estuary as the river goes out to the Bay of Bengal!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Eater's Digest - 10

"If you are late, we can't guarantee seats, sir", said the manager when we called ahead to book a table. The restaurant has been generating a lot of buzz in recent weeks and it also happened to be on the way back from work. We had seen the crowds outside and knew that the manager was not putting up airs; we made sure we were well ahead of time.

The outside looks quite like a film set, the way we know jails should look like. Grey facade, with a door that is completely plain except for the iron bands breaking it into large square panels. A barred peephole lets you look inside; the light that comes out reminds you of oily naked incandescent bulbs that do more to emphasize the darkness than provide any light. Forbidding. But we have reservations and we go inside. Much of the restaurant is like any other, tables, seats, lots of noise and light. But we had a request, we needed a cell.

Turns out we had to specify that when booking, but since we were a small group, an empty cell was easily found. We had to wait a little while the 'prisoner' set the table. The 'jailer' was quite attentive and we got to sit quite soon. There! We were at Kaidi Kitchen (Convicts' Kitchen) - a concept that has reached Chennai from Kolkata, where it is headquartered. Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese... and Mongolian. We played it safe and the food did not disappoint. But more than the food, it was the ambience we went for - and that was quite paisa vasool, thanks to kaidi # 108 who served us in cell J2!

Sunday, June 8, 2014


So which way would you like to go today? At the Sheraton Park junction, only a few of the options are listed out. 

And the hotel is not one of them!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

From bars to bazaars

Sometime since December last year, the gates at Puzhal Central Prison have seen a spike in the number of people milling around there. No, there was no rise in crime (or conviction) rates; it was just that a new store had opened inside the prison, with a counter to the outside world as well. That was the first outlet of the "Freedom Prison Bazaar". In the past six months, two other outlets have opened up, one at the CMDA Office in Egmore and this one, the newest, just ahead of the Saidapet Metropolitan Magistrates' Courts

This one came up three months ago and it stocks the entire range of 'Prison Products'. Tamil Nadu has 9 central prisons, three of which are in Chennai - Puzhal 1 and 2  and the Women's Prison, all in the Puzhal Campus. From soap making to music, there is a lot on offer for them to study. And recently, investments have been made in setting up a bakery (Puzhal), power looms (Coimbatore) and handmade paper units (all prisons). These are in addition to the facilities already available for shoemaking (Vellore), garments (Coimbatore) and soaps and detergents (Trichy) 

Traditionally, these products were used inside the prisons and probably within the Prison Department itself. Since last year, they have been made available to the public and the response seems to have been good enough for the department to consider expansion into the High Court and DMS complexes in the next few months. The profits from these stores would be distributed as a fifth each to the prisoners who worked to produce these, to the Prison Staff Welfare Fund and to the Government Account. The remaining 40% would be ploughed back to the 'business' through the Tamil Nadu Prison Department Manufacture of Goods Fund. So go ahead, give a helping hand to rehabilitate the prisoners!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Festival time

In the month of Thai (Jan-Feb), the Kapaleeswarar temple gets decked up for the theppam (float) festival. Spread over three days, the festival sees the main deities being taken around the temple tank in a float that is constructed to resemble a temple sanctum and is decorated with colours and bright lights. The float holds about 30-50 people, including the priests who perform the pujas and recite the thevarams and the vedas.

On the first day, it is the duo of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal who are taken around the tank. The float goes around five times on the first day. No motors, or propulsion systems; devotees walking along the sides of the tank pull the theppam. It is a privilege and there are more than enough people waiting for their turn to help. On the second day and third day, it is Singaravelar who is taken around, seven times on day two and nine times on the final day. The last day coincides with the full moon day of Thai, which was the day when Murugan received the vel (spear) from his mother Parvathi, giving him the name Singaravelar.

The temple and its environs are also brightly lit. Thai is festival time, kicking off with Pongal and going on to several others. The next time you get a chance, get to the temple for this festival. Mylapore goes into an orbit of its own; the city seems so far away! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The prince, a monk

Here is the plaque, as I had promised yesterday. The name 'Bodhidharman' would be familiar to movie fans, through the movie "7ஆம் அறிவு" (Seventh Sense).  The stories about Bodhidharman are many and there is not enough place for them here. Suffice to say that one of the younger sons of a Pallava king, figuring that he wasn't excited by politics or palace intrigues, went away and became a Buddhist monk. His appearance was not that of a conventional bhikshu, for he is described as being bearded, ill-tempered and widely wild-eyed. 

The last, some say, was because Bodhidharman, in a bid to ensure that he did not doze off while meditating, sliced his eyelids away. At the spot where those lids fell grew a bush, and that was the first tea bush, according to legend. Other legends have it that it was this dhyana - that does sound like zen - master who brought the practice of Zen Buddhism, established the Shaolin Temple and in general did so much that practically anything can be traced back to him.

it was quite an unusual choice of a monk that the Theosophical Society has made for its Buddhist temple. Out there, Bodhidharman is around, even if he is not in the main temple itself!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Zen feeling

Until a couple of weeks ago, if someone had asked me about Buddhist temples in Chennai, I would have told you that I had heard of one in Egmore, though I have never been there. But on a Saturday afternoon walk at Besant Nagar I found a second temple, with a small pond in front of it. Maybe it is not correct to call it a temple, for it does not appear to have any space for meditation inside. The Theosophical Society's grounds, where this is located, has a few such monuments: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian and of course, Buddhist.

The pond - a tank, actually - in front of this shrine is a cement bordered rectangle, topped off with granite slabs. It is surprisingly cool even in the afternoon, so no wonder that quite a few visitors had parked themselves on it. Not much of the water is to be seen, because the surface is tessellated with lotus leaves, with the flowers popping up between them. Behind the shrine is a large grove of coconut palms, planted in right regular fashion.

It would have been nice to just sit beside the tank until the sun went down. But a plaque at a corner of the grounds drew me to it. What did that say? Ah, well, you will have to wait until tomorrow's post for that!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Entry barred?

Four times has the tomb of St Thomas been opened, say the records. The fourth time was in 1729, and one of the prominent citizens of Madras, Coja Petrus Uscan, was present at this opening. It was on this occasion that he and other Armenians of Madras donated funds for setting up a chapel in the San Thome area, near the tomb of St Thomas. The original inscription can be seen even today, embedded high up on the building at its southern end. Another inscription, also on the building, shows that the Augustians helped in refurbishing the chapel in 1740.

Today, the chapel is part of the premises of the San Thome Matriculation Higher Secondary School. The Montfort Brothers, who run the school, had taken over the maintenance of the chapel in 1954. Over the years, the chapel's orientation seems to have gone through a 180º turn. The view in the picture is from the southern end, which is where the entrance originally was. With the chapel's eastern wall being right on the road and a building crowding its western flank, one enters this building through the school's grounds - the northern side - these days.

When you look at it as you come up on Santhome High Road, you can't help feeling that it is impossible to enter this chapel. Three centuries ago, it was possibly quite difficult for the Armenian merchants to get a toe-hold into what was predominantly the Portuguese town of San Thome. And that must be why they named their chapel, marking it "In Memory of the Armenian Nation", after St Rita - the patron saint of impossible causes!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Headache relief

Desodharaka Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao Pantulu has made an appearance in this blog earlier, via the park bearing his name. His appearance on earth was a long time ago; he was born in 1867 and after his schooling in Machilipatnam, he moved to Madras for his higher studies. After completing his degree from the Madras Christian College, Nageswara Rao ventured into some kind of business. That was not very successful, because the next few years saw him in Calcutta and then in Bombay, where he was working in some office.

It was in Bombay that Nageswara Rao formulated a balm to relieve headaches. It is said that he worked as an apothecary while in Calcutta; maybe he did and the skill he acquired there helped him to both concoct the balm and to sell it to headache stricken sufferers. He named it after Amrit, the legendary nectar of immortality. Amrutanjan soon became the balm of choice in Bombay, but for some reason that I have not been able to figure out, Nageswara Rao brought the business to Madras. It may have been because of his growing association with the movement to create an Andhra state distinct from the Madras Presidency. Whatever the reason was, the production base of Amrutanjan moved near his home in Mylapore, on Luz Church Road.

The factory has remained there since; one can imagine the whiff of the balm being prepared wafting on the sea breeze down Luz Church Road. That pain balm continues to be the mainstay of Amrutanjan Healthcare Ltd, even though the company has branched off into other products. The gate in the picture leads to the head office of the firm; though the factory is also listed as being at this location, most of the production has moved to a new location outside the city. 

The Wikipedia page has it that Nageswara Rao started off distributing Amrutanjan free at music concerts. If that is true, it doesn't speak well of Bombay's concerts in the late 19th century, does it!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Grand old man

Today, the political movement that he was one of the co-founders of is in abject misery after its performance in the recent national elections. But that is no reason to think any less of Subbaiyar Subramania Iyer, a man of many parts, who was the Vice President of the Theosophical Society during the period 1907-11. The reason to mention that part of his life first is because this statue can be found in the Theosophical Society's grounds at Adyar. There was a later falling out with the Society, to the extent that some of his followers went ahead with a Triplicane offshoot. But that cannot take away the work that Sir Mani Iyer did for the TS.

The 'Sir' was indeed a knighthood, granted for his public services, which began at his birthplace, Madurai, as a government clerk, going on to become the Vice Chairman of the Municipality. Mani Iyer moved to Madras in the 1880s, by which time he had become a lawyer and was soon appointed as Public Prosecutor - the first native to be offered the position. In the meantime, he also helped in founding the Indian National Congress in 1885. Keenly interested in the cause of education, he was also a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Madras; that institution chose him to be the first recipient of an honorary doctorate, when it bestowed the Doctor of Law degree on him in 1908. 

Mani Iyer probably followed the tradition of vanaprastham, going into retreat, for a picture showing him in 'later life' does not carry the turban or the flowing gowns. The statue depicts him at the peak of public life, as a lawyer, an educationist and a theosophist. Interestingly, the statue of Subramania Iyer in the Senate House of the University of Madras shows him in exactly the same manner, quill in one hand, a finger marking the page of a book and the left foot half-raised; the only difference is that it is in contrast to this one, being entirely black!