Wednesday, January 25, 2017

One way to enter

Some of the street names in the city sound downright ridiculous. Why would there be a Lake View Road in West Mambalam, or a Tank Bund Road in Nungambakkam, when there is no sight of any waterbody from either of these streets? Ah, you will say, but there was one, once. And you are correct. The Long Tank was filled in during the early years of the 20th century. In fact, some remnants of it existed until the 1960s (if not into the 1970s), so that is somewhat recent memory. 

But what about taxes on walls or gates for elephants? The story of the wall is quite easily told. Madras - which in the latter half of the 18th century meant the expanse to the north and a bit to the west of Fort St George - was coveted by forces who actively hassled the British, chief of who were the French, and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. To provide a measure of protection to the city, the British decided to build a wall around the city. The northern sector went off well enough, but the Company's plan to levy a tax on the citizens to pay for the western stretch ran into opposition and so the wall remained unfinished on that side. 

It is all very well to build a wall to try and keep people out, but there will always be a need to get in, too. Madras had such needs at seven places; one such, along the western wall, was called Elephant Gate. It is tempting to assume that this was a grand entrance through which caparisoned pachyderms lumbered in procession into the city, walking down the Elephant Gate Road; and that was what I had done. But Love's "Vestiges of Old Madras" indicates that this gate led to an Elephant Garden - now, what could that have been for?

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