Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Behind the wall

The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (the Sisters of the Good Shepherd) was founded in 1835 by St. Mary Euphrasia, (born Rose Virginie Pelletier) who believed that education should bring out the best in every aspect of humans. In the 33 years between her founding the Congregation and her death, St. Mary managed to also establish 110 convents in 35 countries, which has now expanded to 72 countries.

The Sisters set up their schools in many places. One such was in Madras, almost 100 years ago. Given that the Nungambakkam area was not a crowded space, it is possible that the school continues to operate from the same space it was founded in. For some time, it must have been a co-educational school; in the 1920s, there would not have been enough girls going to school to make it viable. By the 1960s/70s, however, Good Shepherd had become a girls-only school. We used to go past the school's walls on the way to our school, quite a distance away. Those days, the walls seemed to be 100-foot high, but I guess they'd have at best been 20-foot tall. At that height, it was impossible to find out what was going on behind those high walls. On the few occasions when we were allowed permission to enter Good Shepherd, it seemed to be the same as our school. But we were sure there was more hidden.

Not any longer, I guess. Going past the Good Shepherd a couple of months ago (the walls are considerable shorter than they then were), I found I could look right through to the grounds of the school. That relentless Chennai Metro has taken over a portion of the school grounds; the Sterling Road station on the proposed Purple Line (Madhavaram to SIPCOT) is to be built underground here. Thankfully for the children of the Good Shepherd school, their playground has been spared; one of the smaller buildings on the edge has been brought down. The girls can continue to enjoy their playtime - I'm sure the walls will come up again, soon!

Monday, March 27, 2023

Celebrate the stage

Today is the World Theatre Day, a day of celebration for those who see the value and importance of theatre as an art form. These celebrations were instituted in 1962, but celebration of theatre has been going on in this venue since at least 1906. That was the year when Suguna Vilas Sabha staged their play Kaadalar Kangal here. Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the founder of Suguna Vilas Sabha and a pioneer of Tamizh theatre, introduced the 'evening show' to the Madras audience here. That was quite a change from the then prevalent practice of having plays between late night and early dawn; the revised timings attracted the 'family audience' which Sambandha Mudaliar's works catered to.

But those were not the only ones. Shakespeare (how can one forget the bard on this day!) would have found it difficult to follow the dialogues in Jwalita Ramanan or Vannipurathu Vanigan even as he recognised their plots. For the actors got on stage to speak in Tamizh; and Jwalita (Juliet), Ramanan (Romeo), Shylock, the vanigan (merchant) of Vannipuram made their way into the populace of Madras. 

It might look very unlike a drama theatre now; but as it gets restored fully, one hopes this stage at the Victoria Public Hall will be able to host a show or three on one of the World Theatre Days this decade!


Sunday, March 26, 2023

Home away

Between September and November of 2018, two facilities were opened in Chennai. They were named after two other states and symbolised a 'home' which residents of those states could expect to find when they visit Chennai. I expect this was necessary because Chennai has long been vilified - without much basis - as being unwelcoming of people from other parts of the country. 

Even ignoring that aspect, it is good to see the Odisha Bhawan and Assam Bhawan, close to each other on the Velachery-Tambaram Road. The feel of similarly named buildings in Delhi is very different. Meant as liaison offices for the governments of various states in the national capital, they reek of officialdom and power. These bhawans appear rather different, more down to earth and accessible by the regular residents of the states during their visits to Chennai. 

While they do have some rooms / suites meant for dignitaries, one could request for transit residence at Assam Bhawan by emailing the resident commissioner. And for the Odisha Bhawan, you could email them; what is even more interesting is that the Odisha Bhawan puts out the list of people who have been allotted accommodation on a regular basis! 


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Another show

Back on stage for another show (of Lakshmikanthan) with The Madras Players. Today was the first time many of us were performing in this auditorium. This one did not have a second curtain that the play required, so a jury-rigged one was put in place. 

With the lights on the other side, we found that we could take pictures of the hall getting filled up. It was another full house tonight!

Friday, March 24, 2023

White label

The phrase "white label" is used for a product that is exactly the same, except for the brand that goes on the white, or blank label. When it comes to performance spaces, however, the term for such a space that is not identified directly by a sabha or troupe is black box. 

Medai, in Alwarpet, is one such performance space. Black box spaces are sparsely decorated (if at all), configurable and offer a very intimate interaction with the audience. The space itself is painted entirely black. There is seating for about 70-80 people. When these people come in to watch a performance, they get to see this on the wall going up to the black box. And then they realise that there is more at work here rather than anywhere else!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

New age space

Back in the day when Perungudi was way beyond Madras city, there was a factory here manufacturing paints. The Tata Group had acquired this through Forbes Gokak taking over the shareholding of the parent company Goodlass Nerolac sometime in the mid 1970s. By 1999, the Tatas had relinquished their entire holdings to Kansai Paints of Japan. This factory in Perungudi was not really high priority for Kansai and by 2013, manufacturing activities were shut down, and a voluntary retirement scheme had provided a reasonable severance package to those workers who remained. 

Within a couple of years, the land on which the factory stood, a little over 15 acres, had been acquired by the Brigade Group, which began developing that as a mixed use space: about 18 lakh sft of office space, conference / exhibition centres, hotel and residential towers. With this plan, it became a part of the WTCA and so the Brigade World Trade Center became one of the 37 WTCs in India (incidentally, India has 4 more WTCs than China, and the maximum number in Asia). 

Only the office space has been completed; the rest of the complex is still under construction. It is somehow fitting that the WTC will further enhance the status of OMR as the place to be for new-age / tech firms. In the days of Nerolac, this part of Chennai was seen as a place for industrial light-weights; big guns like Ashok Leyland, Enfield, Ennore Foundries were at the other end of the city. Now, north Chennai is not a go-to place for tech firms, but if a tech firm doesn't have offices on OMR, well, it runs the risk of being thought of as a non-serious player in the industry!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Port view

Was supposed to visit the Dare House today for a meeting. With the ODI between Australia and India happening at Chennai today, the traffic arrangements would have meant a roundabout route and having to spend more time on the road than usual.

Luckily, we agreed to have the meeting over video-conference. Which meant that I could not look out of the windows of the Dare House to the Chennai Port today. This photo from a couple of years ago, from the terrace of Dare House, will have to substitute!

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Airguns, anyone

Not on the normal shopping list, but there have to be a few places where one can get guns in Chennai, right? 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Non-carbon dating

Found this gatepost a few days ago and I was wondering how old Mr. Neelakantan could possibly be. The first clue was the old name of the city is still very prominent on this, which means that we can fix the lower bound of his age at 47; the city was renamed in 1996, which means this would have been made at least 27 years ago. Even assuming that Mr. Neelakantan joined them as the Assistant Cashier fresh out of college, he would have been 20 that year, so it is simple enough to fix the lower bound. 

What about the other end? That gets a bit more complicated. We know that the Grindlay's Bank has a long history. It was established in 1828 as Leslie & Grindlay, was known as Grindlay, Christian & Matthews in 1839 before settling for Grindlay & Co for a long stretch between 1843 and 1924 when it became Grindlay & Co Ltd. In 1947, changed again to Grindlay's Bank Ltd. We shall let it wait there for a couple of minutes while we look to Calcutta of 1863 and the birth of the Calcutta City Banking Corporation. Look away for a few months, well, a couple of years; it is 1866 and the firm is now National Bank of India, headquartered in London and expanding out to China and East Africa. Cut to 1948 and the Grindlay's Bank Ltd is being acquired by the National Bank of India, which is over thrice as large as Grindlay's. 

It took another 11 years before the two entities merged their operations. With that, we can say that the upper bound could be figured by imagining the 20 year old Mr. Neelakantan being the first to join the newly minted National & Grindlay's Bank Ltd in 1959, that year. Which would make him 84 years old this year. But wait, I have one more clue to be used. The gatepost says "Madras 1" and I will assume this refers to the PIN code for George Town. The PIN codes were introduced throughout the country in 1972 (though there was some limited use of area codes earlier) and now I have Mr. Neelakantan pegged at being 71 years old!

Okay, I'm ignoring the "Lloyds Branch" bit there. I couldn't find any reference to a Lloyds Branch in Madras, but Grindlay's had a Lloyds Branch in Chowringhee, Calcutta. Mr. Neelakantan could have retired from there, which was why he had that on his gatepost...

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Sudden turn

In the 1930s and early 1940s, CN Lakshmikanthan was the man who made the who's who of Madras society nervous. Movie stars, prominent socialites, industrialists, even politicians and lawyers were not spared his attention. As a journalist running a film weekly Cinema Thoothu (and later when Cinema Thoothu was banned, Hindu Nesan), Lakshmikanthan had almost perfected the art of extorting money with the thread of publishing scandalous stories about his targets. Most of them paid up, but there were some who were repeated frustrated by him. 

Things came to a head on the morning of November 8, 1944. Lakshmikanthan was returning home after a visit to his lawyer. He had the hand-rickshaw go through the General Collins Road route back home. This road had a blind turn around which his assailants lay in wait. Two of them stabbed Lakshmikanthan while two other kept watch. It appeared that Lakshmikanthan knew the assailants, event though he did not specify who they were to his lawyer, who arranged for him to be taken to the General Hospital right away. Being made of sterner stuff, Lakshmikanthan decided to file a complaint with the Vepery Police Station before going to the General Hospital.

The wounds were more serious than he realised, or maybe more wounds were inflicted on him. He died early the following morning; a trial for his murder put two famous actors and several others behind bars for a few years before they were determined to be innocent, or at least the beneficiaries of reasonable doubt. If only the walls and the trees on General Collins Road, which would well have been there even 79 years, ago could talk! The mystery of who killed Lakshmikanthan wouldn't have become the sensation it has grown to be through all these decades!


Saturday, March 18, 2023


Not for us the food courts; we need to walk around trying out different dishes from multiple cuisines. But most visits to the KC Food Street end up in shawarmas or kababs. 

The "KC" in the name is the abbreviation for Kandanchavadi, which is where this food street is!


Friday, March 17, 2023

Royal devotee

The Vaishnavite tradition of south India has 12 Azhwars, saints whose poetic works were laced with ecstatic devotion to Vishnu. It is believed that these Azhwars are human manifestations - avatars, if you will - of various people or objects beloved of Vishnu. Traditionally, Azhwars are thought to have lived between the 5th and the 3rd century BCE, but the spoilsport of science puts their works as having emerged between the 8th and 9th century CE. 

One such Azhwar was born into a royal family of Cheraman Perumal lineage and ruled as Sthanu Ravi Varma between 844 and 870 CE. Abdicating his kingdom after that long reign, during which his devotion to Vishnu was clearly evident, he composed Perumal Tirumozhi in Tamizh and Mukundamala in Sanskrit. 

This building is a shrine to Venkatesa Perumal, and it was established by the Srimath Kulasekara Azhwar Sabha. Maybe they did not want wild speculation about when the Sabha was formed, and that is why the name board of this Sabha, wedged under the centre gable, says clearly they have been around since 1904!


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Biryani, anyone?

Who was it that had the idea of serving food in a bucket? Not just any food, biryani in particular. Who thought of it first? I am sure it started off as a convenient way of sending out the stuff in bulk, but in the past few years, it has become a thing. However, from what I have been able to figure out, with my limited research, is that the north Indian biryanis don't lend themselves to be parcelled into plastic buckets and carted around; it is only the south Indian variety that gets delivered and eaten by the bucket-load.

Before all of you howl about the best way to eat the best biryani, do remember that it is now a dish that has broken all kinds of norms. Each outlet decides the best combination for their biryani and goes for that, unmindful of what regional version it evokes. And there are hundreds of such outlets in Chennai alone. In 2020, Zomato delivered 22 biryanis every minute; in 2021 they went up to 180 biryanis a minute, and their rival Swiggy claimed that 115 biryanis were ordered every minute. Those are all-India figures, but Chennai's standalone should be pretty much in the same range, I guess. 

And then there are the self-delivering brands, who supplement the Zomato / Swiggy orders with their own delivery teams. One such is the SS Hyderabad Biryani, which started operations in Broadway in 1998 and now has over 25 branches in Chennai, and a few in other cities, besides. Here are a few of their delivery vehicles lined up in front of one of their outlets - exhorting folks to share their biryani; of course, it would be difficult for one person to finish a bucketful of it!


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Mixing sound

The Multi-track Recording Studio at the facilities of Prasar Bharati's Chennai station has seen all the big names that you can think of in the entertainment industry. All of them would have performed here at some point - mostly the entry / early stage of their careers.

A view from the control room that looks out to the stage; artistes and technicians are testing out the state stuff before the audience enters the room!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Different pattern

Pulicat is the second largest lagoon in the country, after the Chlika Lake. The 759 sqkm covered by the lake is mostly in Andhra Pradesh, with roughly 4% falling under Tamil Nadu. That part has the southernmost part of the lagoon, where it opens to the Bay of Bengal. Close to the mouth of the lagoon, there are a few sand bars which are quite easily accessed - even on foot if one is very adventurous. 

To get to this sandbar, though, we took a boat. Looking out to the east, it was a great sight of the open ocean. And with the waves lapping from both the north and the south, they form an argyle-like pattern around the sand-bar we were on.

Quite different from the waves we get to see on the city beaches!


Monday, March 13, 2023


Through the frame of a rooftop trellis, the four crosses of the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health appear much closer than they are!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Building shell

Tell me, does the building look like it has been the subject of some kind of attack? A few weeks ago, when the wall in front had also been smashed down, it was even more evocative of a war zone than it now is. You can probably notice that the interiors are empty, there is just the shell of a building now. 

Not to worry. This is most likely some long-due renovations being carried out on this building. There is some new construction coming up as well, a little further along, and closer to the wall. Shouldn't there be some kind of a set-back from the wall? Well, that might apply in Chennai, but you see, this is not Chennai, at least not the other side of the wall. 

Any guesses as to what this building is? No, I'm not telling, not here! 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Means, marks

At almost every T-junction in the city, there will be some form of Vinayagar looking out towards the road / path which forms the stem of the T. Someone once told me that it is because having this kind of junction invites trouble / evil eye / whatever coming straight down to the junction of the T and having a powerful deity there will frustrate the evilness barrelling down in a straight line. And who better than Vinayagar, the destroyer of obstacles?

This one is near the Bala Vidya Mandir in Adayar. Most of the 'muchandi Vinayagar's, as the icons at such junctions are called are just an alcove on the wall. This is obviously much more well developed. As I was passing by this morning, I noticed a young lad in his school uniform praying very deeply; apart from being Vinayagar, this is also Ganapathi, the divine amanuensis, so it is good for schoolkids to have Him on their side when they're facing exams. 

But because it was a schoolboy, I mis-read the name of this deity. The red board says it is "Marga Sahaya Vinayagar" or the one who helps you on your path, the means to your end. I was quick to read it as being the students' friend: "Mark-a Sahaya Vinayagar" - the one who helps you get marks! 

Friday, March 10, 2023


Its foundation stone was laid in 1971 and it was inaugurated on July 1, 1973. It was the first 'flyover' in Madras, and for a long time, it remained the only flyover in the city. And now, close to the Golden Jubilee of its opening, the Anna Flyover is going through some kind of a makeover. 

The idea seems to be to open up the space quite a bit. Earlier, most of the space below the arms of the flyover were closed; apparently they were used to warehouse... well, something that was important enough. It seems to have been ages since such stocking has been given up, so the authorities decided that the walls should go, and there should be other attractions in the space. 

What those attratctions are, we will have to wait and see. I am guessing we won't have to wait long. The Golden Jubilee of its inauguration, on July 1, will be a good day to unveil the new attractions under this flyover!


Thursday, March 9, 2023

Diamonds are for... rent

India is the second largest jewellery consumer in the world. I daresay Chennai contributes a lot to that ranking. And it is said that a huge reason for buying gold is the Great Indian Wedding, no matter what state it is in, or what the faith of the bride and groom is. Apart from being guarded and handed down from generation to generation, gold jewellery is also made to order for the bride-to-be. That was somehow a key feature of the wedding, that there would be a lot of gold on the bride. (And a bit on the groom as well, maybe!)

It is therefore unimaginable that jewellery could be rented for a couple of days, to deck up the bride on her wedding day and having it brought back to the store for a fraction of the cost that an individual needs to spend. But here it is, in living colour. 

The Old Prabhu Jewellers of Mylapore established their business in 1978. They were operating out of this address for a very long time. I haven't been in the vicinity of this business for a couple of years, but I think it still remains at this place. As is de rigueur these days, they conduct their business on the internet, and here is where you can find them! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


It is Holi! 

Trying to take a picture of people playing holi, splashing and spraying colours on each other was quite a challenge today. I saw a few people outside The Park, wearing once-white t-shirts in different shades of pink, green and yellow. There was no way I was going to go near them, not in my white shirt. 

I thought I'd have to give up the idea of posting today's colours, but the better half came to my rescue. She had a few pictures of the kids (and some adults too!) in our apartment complex playing holi in the evening. They seem to have had some great fun!


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Degrees for everyone

The Tamil Nadu Open University (TNOU) was established as a statutory body in 2002 to provide education in a highly flexible fashion to members of disadvantaged communities. In the twenty years since it first started classes, there have been over 100,000 graduates from this university. Wtih 8 Faculties, from Arts to Languages to Extension Education, this University currently has ~18,000 students on its rolls.

The key for this university is its mission to bridge the digital divide and build 'anytime anywhere' learning environments. All learning is online and there is very little need to come over for classes or to meet the professors. 

I am not sure how successful the University is when measured by the standard indices. But for the 16,000+ students currently enrolled, it does personify a way forward in this word for thousands of students who count on the TNOA!

Monday, March 6, 2023

Other side

Looking through earlier posts on this blog about the Chennai Metro, it is amazing how quickly time has passed. A dozen years ago that an entrance at this spot would have taken you into the Poultry Research Station (PRS) of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences University (TANUVAS). The cackling of quails and chickens gave way to the noise of pile drivers, earth moving equipment and then of construction. 

In the six months since the inauguration of the Chennai Metro's headquarters, the offices seem to be rather sparsely occupied. Which is fine; my balcony looks out on to the other side of this building complex, and I am in no hurry to see big groups of office-goers gathering under it. 

All the more so considering that about 15 years ago, this was what I could see from my balcony. No hope of the 'lucky days' I had in those times!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Making music

A live orchestra at work, recording the background music for a feature film. This happened at a studio in Vadapalani. From the outside, it looks like any other building on the street, but the inside is very different - multiple spaces for recording music, voice, etc. Had a good time watching the music director and the sound engineer working together on getting the whole thing going. 

Can't say anything more about it for now!

Saturday, March 4, 2023


If you rummage through them, you could probably find all the heroes of your childhood here!

Friday, March 3, 2023

Orange line starts

There's frentic activity going on at the point where Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai meets Kamaraj Salai. Seeing the boards of the Chennai Metro there, the first thought was that the metro line would be running along the beachline. 

But no. There is some part of the (proposed) yellow line that would run close to the beach for a very short stretch. That is near the existing suburban station of Chennai Beach, and it turns west quite soon. And that has no direct connection with  the work going on here. What is happening here is going to be a terminus of the orange line. From this, the Lighthouse terminus, the orange line would run all the way to Poonamallee Bypass. That is quite a distance, cutting through the city in a east-west line.

It will take a few years, but don't forget you saw this place before the metro station came up here!

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Top view

Okay, not really much to see here. Out for dinner at Above Sea Level, the rooftop restaurant of The Raintree on St Mary's Road. And the details of whatever landmarks there may be are too fuzzy to make out clearly. It might be the Moopanar Flyover out there. That is the Crowne Plaza, for sure. The others - your call is as good as mine.

Or maybe, wait. You may not be able to make out stuff on earth, but if you open the picture in a new tab, you will see something out of world: the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter!

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


They say it is an experiment, but we know how that is going to go. On Sunday, the voice of Kavitha Murugesan, piped through the public address system for the last time at the Chennai Central. I did not realise it at the time I was making the post two days ago, but quietness is now a theme at this station. It is the first time in the country that a railway station has stopped announcements about the arrivals and departures of trains. 

With most people already figuring out the information about platforms, arrival and departure times through apps on their phones, the voiceover information had become irrelevant over the years. Chennai has just got ahead of all the other railway stations in doing away with that relevance. Maybe the General Manager of the Southern Railway decided that this station should behave more like an airport. 

And so Kavitha Murugesan, the lecturer / dubbing artiste from Erode, whose voice was the one guiding travellers to their platforms, matching them with the trains they are meant to take, will no longer be heard here!


Update: On March 4, the Railways decided that they need to bring Kavitha back. The lack of announcements was causing a problem, mainly to those visually impaired, so they've been brought back. Chennai Central continues to make noise!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Triple diamond gift

You would have seen it in that 1906 photograph of Mylapore. Seeing it over a century later, it looks different, yet the same. The real challenge these days is more in being able to see it, for the area around Kapaleeshwarar Temple is not the open field it was over a hundred years ago. The low wall behind the coconut trees in that photograph is gone, as are the trees (I think). That wall marked the boundary of the temple tank; today, entrance to the tank is zealously guarded, with a fence keeping everyone well beyond the periphery of the tank.

Also missing is the structure in the foreground (right) of the photograph. Even in the early 70s, that structure was a common sight in some parts of the city. It is a sumaithangi, the load-bearer, which travellers could use to rest their loads on. It makes eminent sense that something useful for travellers needs to be placed next to such a structure. You will notice that the photo shows a man sitting under what seems to be a water fountain; of course the first thing a traveller would do after placing his bundle of belongings on the sumaithangi would be to drink deep. And placing such a fountain under a canopy will ensure that travellers bless the far-sighted benefactor.

To find out who this benefactor is, you will have to peer intently above the arches; you might be able to make out the statement "Diamond Jubilee Gift - P. Subramania Iyer - 22 June 1897". That was the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne. While the occasion was marked by several performances and installations, a water dispenser in some form seems to have been a favourite. It is fortunate that Subramania Iyer's interpretation of that for Mylapore had the canopy added to it. Apart from providing shade, the canopy is all that remains of the gift, with the water fountain having run dry long ago and completely removed from this structure!

Monday, February 27, 2023

Quiet place

I doubt if that is the phrase you would use to describe the vicinity of the Chennai Central railway station. With more than a plentitude of letters in its official name: Puratchi Thalaivar Dr Dr. M.G. Ramachandran Central Railway Station, it only follows that even the vicinity would be crowded with people and vehicles jostling to get into or away from a major gateway to the city. 

This must have been a synchroised lull in the arrival and departure of all forms of transport. No editing has been done on this picture, it is the way the scene was. For a few seconds, at least, the spot around Chennai Central was as peaceful as a desert island!

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Across the road

This is not a spot from which one can usually take pictures. The Victoria Public Hall is under renovation (that's one thing that does not seem to change over the years) and there are restrictions on public entry into that building. We had managed to get permission to go in and walk along demarcated areas; one such was the verandah on the first floor. 

It is nice to see the lawns outside and think of the possibilities of how this can be a great public performance venue once the renovation is complete. 

Are you able to identify the building across the road n this picture? If you have guessed it to be Siddique Sarai, you are absolutely correct!


Saturday, February 25, 2023

Music under rain trees

The stage is set for an evening of music. It is not often one gets to listen to an eclectic mix of Meera's bhajans, baul singers, a kora performer from The Gambia, devrishes from Turkey and qawwali singers all on one evening. It made sense to get in early and grab the best seats in the house for this performance a couple of weeks ago. 

The 'house' for performances of Ruhaniyat, an annual multi-city music festival, is more often than not an open space rather than an auditorium. The acoustics tend to get a little messy due to that, but the slow darkness enveloping the stage adds to the mysticism of the event. Sounds of nature - parakeets getting back home at twilight - mix with the music. After the first couple of times that aircraft passing overhead distracted us, that buzz disappeared. Ruhaniyat was quite a performance indeed. 

When the organisers started this of this festival in 2001, they were apparently told that it would not be well received in Chennai, probably because of the stereotyped image of the city's fascination for Margazhi season. Thankfully, they were not dissuaded and Ruhaniyat has now become a part of Chennai's annual music calendar; an extension of the Margazhi season, or maybe a counterpoint to it, to savour both better. For me, it was nice to see a programme conceptualised by Banyan Tree Events being held under the rain trees of the Madras Race Club!

Friday, February 24, 2023

King of mythology

Were he alive today, Kuppuswamy would have been celebrating his 95th birthday. But no one would have referred to him by that name, for he achieved fame in Madras as Nagarajan. That was the name given to him when he was working with Avvai Shanmugam's drama company in the late 1930s. He did well on stage, including in sthreepart (playing a woman). He also started writing plays and in 1953, he shifted to the world of movies, adapting his play Nalvar for the screen. It was during an interview with a magazine that he revealed his 'original' name, and that he was the son of Paramasivam of Akkammapettai (near Salem). From then on, he was A.P. Nagarajan. 

Tamizh cinema of the 50s and 60s was crowded with 'social' movies, a reflection of the shift from ancient themes to challenges of the modern day human. It was A.P. Nagarajan who brought the spotlight back on to 'mythologicals'. His first film as an independent producer, 'Navarathri' (also Sivaji Ganesan's 100th film) in 1964, was a big hit. Yet, that year's blockbuster was 'Karnan', BR Pantulu's magnum opus, with an ensemble cast that included Sivaji, NTR, Savithri, Muthuraman, Ashokan and Devika. That reminded APN of his initial success with mythology - Sampoorna Ramayanam in 1958, for which he had written the screenplay. He now decided to focus on that genre as a producer, too. The movies that he brought out after 1965 were all hits, and many continue to be household names today. Saraswathi Sabatham, Kandhan Karunai, Thiruvarutchelvar, Thirumal Perumai, Agasthiyar, Thirumalai Deivam, Karaikaal Ammayaar and Sri Krishna Leela. During these years he also made Thillana Mohanambal and Raja Raja Chozhan, both of which were hugely successful, even if they were not mythologicals. 

AP Nagarajan's house on Chittaranjan Road has now been converted into a jumble of multi-purpose spaces. It has offices, a restaurant, a training centre, and Medai, a performance space. It is in the foyer of Medai that one can see this 'shrine' to APN; some of the awards he won, and a few pictures with national leaders of the day. While there is a memento of the runaway success of his 1965 film, I believe it should have been displayed more prominently, for in my mind, it was Thiruvilayadal that has had the most impact on the pop-culture of the state, with its dialogues being riffed on even to this day! (check out here and here for a couple of those. And this one with corporate overtones!)


Thursday, February 23, 2023

There still?

I have in my archives, several photographs of buildings or other things that I mean to gather more information about. And then when I look at them, I realize that far too many years have gone by; is that building standing even now? Such a one is this picture of a building on Broadway, taken in 2010. If you click on the picture to open it in a new tab, and blow it up, you will see that it says "1930 Sarafaly Mansion". For the last 13 years, I have been trying to find out more but I don't think I will have any further details than I already have, so here goes. 

The partnership firm Mohamedaly Sarafaly and Company has been in existence for nearly two centuries. The founding partner, Mohamed Ali Shaikh Sarafaly was originally from Sidhpur in Gujarat (which, by the way, seems to be a fascinating town in itself), and had ventured far and wide to establish his trading business. He appears to have spent a considerable length of time in Ethiopia, being awarded the 'Star of Ethiopia, II Order' by emperor Haile Selassie I, in addition to the award of an MBE (Member of the British Empire). 

I am absolutely speculating here: the firm of Mohamedaly Sarafaly carried out a lot of business from Madras as well. Like many of those who found success here, they must have set up more permanent indicators of their benevolence and societal awareness. This Sarafaly Mansion must have been one such. A search on Google throws up references to a lot of litigation involving Mohamedaly Sarafaly and Company, mostly against the Income Tax Department. It is quite likely that all of these assets are in the current state of limbo thanks to those cases, going back to the 1960s. I also discover that find that Abdullabhoy M Bhagat, Partner of Mohmaedaly Sarafaly, is yet to claim dividend for 2019-20 from Sicagen, according to their report from August 2022. Does anyone have more - and correct - details to offer? 


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Travel pangs

It is not just armies, but travellers too, who march on their stomachs. There was a time when the choices of food when taking a train out of Chennai Central would be: a) goop from vendor A or b) goop from vendor B. 

I believe goop has disappeared now. And the options have increased. Adyar Ananda Bhavan will itself give you a decent choice of food, and with the biriyani joint above it, one would not want for choice of non-vegetarian fare, either. 

What's your favourite food on a train journey? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Slithering climber

The local name for this beauty is "Komberi mookan", which roughly translates as 'Branch-climbing-sharp-nosed-one', but thankfully, the English name is slightly easier on the tongue. The Common Bronzeback Tree Snake (Dendrelaphis tristis) is a great climber and prefers to hang out on the branches of a tree or a tall shrub rather than on the ground. 

It is a common enough snake, and not at all venomous. Of course, if it does bite you, it would hurt quite a bit, but you won't have to run around looking for anti-venin. You are well advised to go to a doctor, though and let her know what bit you. 

The distinctive identifying feature of this snake is the bronze line running along the centre of its body. It is not too clear in this picture, but you can see where it starts, right at the top of the head. The best defence is to make sure you don't disturb this fella to the extent that chomps its jaws on you!


Monday, February 20, 2023

Classic workplace

Monday morning and a great majority of folks would be getting ready to go back to their workplaces after the weekend break. A little over 2,000 such folk are employed by this firm, Rane Madras Limited, part of the Rane Group. Not all of them would be entering this gate on the Velachery Road, because this is only one of the 5 units of this company. I will wager that even those who do take only a cursory glance at this sign at the gate; they have been seeing it for years, and very little would have changed about it during that time. 

Rane Madras Limited is the flagship of the Rane Group. It was in 2005 that this company became a subsidiary of Rane Holdings Limited, and then became a public listed company. The 'original' Rane (Madras) Limited was set up in 1929; it needed the city's name in it because there was a Rane family of Bombay who were also shareholders in this venture. We shall keep the story of the group's history for another day, because for now, I would like you to take a look at this sign. 

It is fairly obvious that a change in the city's name does not need every institution which has 'Madras' in its name to modify that to 'Chennai'. Continuing to call this firm Rane (Madras) Limited is therefore the right thing to do. And yes, all the signs have to be in Tamizh as well, so that is fine, too. In 1978, the Tamil Nadu government had simplified the script to standardize the ligatures of some syllables. The new - in 1978 - way of writing "Madras" was மெட்ராஸ்; but in this sign, you can see that it is written as மதறஸ் (with a twist, that I'm unable to replicate, on the second letter, to signify ), the way it would probably be spelt in Tamizh of Singapore, Sri Lanka or Mauritius!

Sunday, February 19, 2023


It is a lazy Sunday today, so I will let you relax with this view towards a beach from a hotel along the ECR, a bit of a way from Chennai! 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Mind your language

This is a throwback to the 1960s, or if you remember your history, to the 1930s. The first anti-Hindi agitations in Madras happened in 1937, when the provincial government of the Madras Presidency decided to make Hindi a compulsory subject in the schools. As long as the government was run by the Indian National Congress (with Rajaji as the Premier of Madras), the policy remained in place, and the agitations against it continued without a break until 1940. After  the provincial governments resigned in 1939, protesting against Britain declaring war on behalf of India, the compulsory Hindi teaching policy was withdrawn. 

The Constitution of India had set out a 15-year period during which English would be one of the Official Languages of the Union of India; a period during which Hindi would be strengthened to become the sole such language. As that 15-year deadline approached, there were protests in several non-Hindi speaking states, but none had the vehemence of protests in Madras. And so, despite the Official Languages Act of 1963 indicating that English may continue to be used for an indefinite period, the protests against Hindi continued. More about that for another day.

Recent attempts at making Hindi acceptable across all non-Hindi-speaking states have been met with suspicion. And so this slogan on a bridge in Chennai; I hope that the politicians are sensible enough to understand that we as a nation have thrived because of our diversity!


Friday, February 17, 2023

Junked jalopy

Chennai ranks 15th in the list of metropolitan areas by population density. At ~25,500 people per square kilometre, one would think it is impossible to have privacy anywhere in the city.

It is also kind of obvious that any large city will have spaces where, without any official demarcation, junk piles up. Garbage, yes, but also where stuff is just left and forgotten about. 

Chennai does have places where one can sit and contemplate quietly, without any fellow citizen intruding into those thoughts. There are similarly some nooks in the city where you can leave a vehicle to nature's mercies and it will not be noticed by passers-by. This one, right on Mount Road should be impossible to miss; and yet, it is, unless you are walking slowly and peering behind the patchy foliage by the roadside!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Ambedkar's model?

Does the statue look familiar? To most of us, it might, even though we might not have heard about the man himself. Though he was born in St Thomas Mount, in 1883, his name referred to another part of Madras; Mylai Chinna Thambi Pillai Rajah (MC Rajah) was quite a way away from the Mylapore that is part of his name. He studied at the Wesley School and at the Madras Christian College, before starting off as a teacher in 1906. Keenly aware of the way in which the Dalits had been segregated and oppressed, he was vociferous in his demands for their empowerment. Recognising his work, the Government of Madras chose him for the Provincial Legislative Council in 1919, as their nominee to represent the Adi Dravidars. Early in the term, Rajah convinced the British to remove the terms "parayan" and "panchaman", substituting them with Adi Dravider. 

That gave him a further boost as a champion of the Dalits. In 1928, when the first national association for the Dalits - the All India Depressed Classes Association - was formed, Rajah was  invited to be its first President, with a certain Bhimrao as the Vice President. Rajah had initially (in 1930) supported the idea of a separate electorate for the Dalits; but in what was probably a strategic blunder, he went ahead and forged and agreement with the Hindu Mahasabha, to have the Dalits be represented on the basis of a joint electorate, with province-wise seat reservation for the Dalits. Maybe it was too early for this idea, but it paved the way for the Poona Pact between Ambedkar and Gandhi, which was along similar lines. There was a time when Rajah was the national leader of the Dalits; but somewhere along the way the British sidelined him, nominating Rettamalai Srinivasan along with Ambedkar as the Dalit representatives to the Round Table Conferences in 1930-31. Rajah continued to be an active champion of the depressed classes until his death in 1943. Rettamalai Srinivasan passed away in 1945. And then the field was clear for Ambedkar to be the sole champion of the Dalits. 

This building at the Nandanam-Saidapet border was set up in 1944 by one of Rajah's followers, as a hostel for Adi Dravida students coming to study in Chennai. Over the years, its hospitality had been abused to an extent that, in 2019, a clean-up of the facility found that there were 80 non-student residents - and 13 of them had criminal cases against them. That clean-up has put this hostel back on track to providing much needed support for the underprivileged students from the depressed classes trying to make their mark in life!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

King of the hill

Rajasthan has a little over a hundred forts and Maharashtra has over 350. Compared to these states, Tamil Nadu does not have much to offer by way of forts, with around 30 such. There are a few that can be visited as a day trip from Chennai; this is one such, even if the 250 km distance is a bit of a stretch for a day trip.

The Ranjankudi Fort was built in the 17th century by a jagirdar of the Nawab of the Carnatic. An oblong structure, it is encircled by a moat (now largely dry) and has fortifications built at 3 different levels. The lowermost is the basic ramparts of the fort and enclosed within it is a large space called pettai which was supposedly the setting for open markets / fairs and also for battles. One such battle was the 1751 Battle of Vallikondah; though it was fought in the fort, it is named for a village in the vicinity. Unsurprisingly, it was a battle between the French and the British, a small piece in the conflicts between them across the globe. The French lost this one; even though they had captured the Ranjankudi Fort, they were unable to access the Kottai medu, the uppermost tier above the pettai. That's where the Nawabs had their private residential quarters - and a swimming pool as well.

This was a strategic location in those times; Trichinopoly was a large city and if one could take control of Ranjankudi, it could be the base from which Trichy could be threatened. This was the main reason for this fort coming up on a hillock where there were only shrines to Siva and Hanuman earlier. The locals have it that there is still a lot of treasure - well, artefacts, at least - to be found inside the fort walls, where they have been stashed away by soldiers and generals who never returned. Maybe that's a story to be made viral, to attract greater numbers to this fort!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Valentine foundation

115 years ago, an act of love by the Maharanee of Rewa, was set in stone in Mylapore. Although it was actually founded almost half-a-century earlier, in 1869 by the Maharaja of Vizianagaram, the school was probably going through a tough period in the early part of the 20th century. Or maybe it was just that they wanted to expand the school and make the founder anonymous. Maybe it was just to formalise an arrangement that was started in 1869. 

Whatever the reason may have been, this foundation stone is 115 years old today. I don't think they would have celebrated Valentine's Day in those times (nor did they seek out cows to hug on this day, I don't think so). 

But gifts of love of this kind should be more than welcome even today!