Saturday, April 9, 2016

Early design

Of course, there are still many parts of Chennai where you can get to see people like her. But make sure you get there early in the morning!

Thursday, April 7, 2016


The advertisement bill catches the eye first. A patch of fluorescent colour on a drab wall in Errabalu Chetty Street, just where it meets Armenian Street. The bill advertises many things, each of which seem to mock the edifice it is pasted on. 

The locked door was certainly new, once. It may well have led into a 3-bedroom house. It is not difficult to imagine a 3-bedroom house with a balcony. There are several early 20th century houses nearby, with balconies overlooking the street. This could have been just one other such.

But really, the brick wall behind the door and the window pane makes a mockery of the door itself. And a ghastly breach of security, one panel of the door has been broken up, providing easy access to the brick wall behind!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Track, field

Because today is the 120th anniversary of the modern Olympic games, here is a picture of a Chennai landmark that was instrumental in the birth of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Although India did not feature in the 1896 games at Athens, there was an 'Indian' who participated in the 1900 games in Paris. And then, for a generation, the Olympic games were of no consequence to the natives of India. It was in 1920 that Sir Dorabji Tata rushed in a team to the Olympic games at Antwerp - four athletes and two wrestlers. Thanks to that effort, Sir Dorabji was inducted into the International Olympic Committee. As a member of the IOC, Sir Dorabji made sure the selections for the 1924 Paris Olympic games were properly conducted, through the first Inter-State Athletic Meet at Delhi. 

The technical inputs for conducting the events was provided by Dr.A.G.Noehren who was then the Director of the YMCA. Thanks to the YMCA's School of Physical Education in Madras, Dr. Noehren knew what went into selecting athletes. The 1924 team had 8 athletes - and three of them were from Madras. It is likely that all of them trained at the Y's School of Physical Education, which has since become the College of Physical Education, with its campus at Nandanam.

The Chennai connection with the Olympics continues. One of the medal winners at the 2012 London games  - Gagan Narang - was born in Chennai, though he was a Hyderabad resident when he won the medal. Interestingly, the current President of the IOA, N. Ramachandran, is a Chennai resident. Maybe this year's Olympic games in Rio will see some medals coming to this city!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Posh place

The city of Madras, as we know, was initially just the space enclosed within the walls of Fort St George. As in any city, there were some parts which were more favoured as residential areas than others. The most favoured portion in the Fort was its south-eastern quarter. It was the furthest point from the Customs House, and so presumably far enough away for the smells of goods to not bother the residents; plus where the sea-breeze would blow through unhindered. 

The two streets in that quarter, running north-south, parallel to each other, are St Thomas Street and Church Street. Church Street is the more eastern of the two and therefore having less of a cachet. St Thomas Street was the favoured residential area, and the nine residences there - four on the eastern side and five along the western flank. These were built sometime in the early years of the 18th century. If you were a resident here, your neighbours would have been Majors, Colonels and members of the Council - and the chaplain of St Mary's Church.

Most of those houses are gone, fallen to ruin. Others are well on their way there. The ASI is gamely trying to do something about preserving these structures. This one - a large building that has its front door on St Thomas Street and its rear verandah on Church Street - would have been used both as a residence as well as a temporary storehouse for bales of cloth or barrels of wine as they were being traded into and out of the country. But today, it is barely able to stand up, a ghostly reminder of the glory that was once the "Snob's Alley" of Madras!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Old books

Looked at one way, he had a long reign. But in 1825, when Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan came to the title of the Nawab of the Carnatic, he was barely a year old and it was his father's brother, Azeem Jah who served as the regent until the young Ghouse came of age, taking over the responsibility in 1842. It could have been a much longer reign, given his youth when he ascended the masnad, but fate cut it short: Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse died in 1855, and having died childless, allowed the British to take over the Carnatic, ending the reign of the nawabs.

It was during Ghouse's reign that Dr. Edward Balfour, a multi-talented surgeon landed in Madras. Dr. Balfour had thrown himself into India; he had translated the Guldasta-e-sukhan, a 14th century work into English and was generally all for progress and integration. At his insistence that the Muslims of Madras needed a library for themselves, the Muhammadan Public Library was set up in 1850. The Nawab made a grant of Rs.700 to the corpus, and a monthly grant of Rs.35 for the library's upkeep. And with Dr. Balfour coaxing people all over the Madras Presidency and beyond, the library opened with nearly a thousand books. Of these, the majority was gifted by well wishers across the country, and shortly after it opened, the library received a gift of 240 books in Arabic from Abbas Pasha, the King of Egypt.

The library faded out in the 1990s, because the building it was housed in went to seed. Thankfully, the secretary of the library, Saba Mustafa, kept the faith and in 2005, the library was re-opened in its current location. So that explains why the building does looks very dapper for its 175 year old occupant!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pointed connection

That is the end of the Port of Chennai. We have seen this earlier, and I had wondered what connected Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava to the city of Madras. Yes, Lord Dufferin was the Viceroy of India between 1884 and 1888, but during his tenure, there does not seem to be any evident connection that he has to the city of Madras. One can stretch it a bit and say that the founding of the Indian National Congress was partly due to this man - even though it was his predecessor, Lord Ripon, who had okayed the proposal by A.O.Hume and others to set up the INC, Lord Dufferin was under some pressure to be the anti-thesis of Lord Ripon, which he seems to have resisted successfully.

Lord Dufferin had come to the public eye much before his career as a diplomat. He had voyaged to Iceland and written about his travels in a series of letters nominally addressed to his mother; these were published as "Letters from High Latitudes", an early example of the comic travelogue. That book seems to have been quite successful (the most recent edition was in 2006!), being translated into French and German as well. That success did not, however, tempt Lord Dufferin to become an author, though his writing as a diplomat continued to be well regarded.

Now, Dufferin Light in the Port of Chennai has nothing to do with either the book, or with the Viceroy - directly. India's first naval training ship, was called the RMIS Dufferin; over 2200 officers were trained on the ship, including the Indian Navy's first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ramdas Katari (Roll No.1, and a man with other Chennai connects, which shall be explored later). Apart from the naval officers, the Dufferin also trained cadets of the merchant navy and many of them were worked in the country's ports. It was as a tribute to their alma mater (and maybe around the time of the decommissioning of the TS Dufferin, in 1972) that they named this the Dufferin Light!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Colour in the court

A courtroom is not the first place that one thinks of when it comes to beauty. But beauty does make an appearance in all kinds of places, and a courtroom is no exception. 

This one is from the Madras High Court. It was a holiday for the Court and therefore it was easier to spot the stained glass on the lunette (I believe that's what it is called) above the door. I think I would have been too captivated by the drama around the door - it leads to the Court Hall - 1, where the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court sits. 

You may also find it difficult to figure out the beauty of the lunette - the corridor is quite well shaded from the sun. And being a holiday, there was only the one tubelight along the way, distracting from the stained glass, as it were. But you don't have to take my word for it. Visit the Court and you will see not only this, but also beautifully tiled ceilings and other stained glasses - including a few over the CJ's seat!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Simple things

No, we haven't had more rains in Chennai. And no, it is not because I have been so traumatized by those rains in December.

It is just that this picture seemed to be just right for today's Theme Day - Simplicity. What can be more simple than this paper boat? And what childhood joy can be more profound than getting wet in a gentle rain, while setting such boats out on their journeys?

Tagore has written about them; Jagajit and Chitra Singh have sung about them - both works highly charged with simple emotions!