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!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Consort temple

The street is named after the first of the Pandavas. Yudhishthiran, the just, the one who held on to the truth irrespective of consequences, is also known as Dharmarajan, the just king. So when one comes across a street named Dharmaraja Temple Street in Saidapet, the first impression is that there must be a temple to this deeply honest ruler somewhere nearby.

The name-board at the entrance of this temple also appears to bear this out. Dharmaraja's name is prefaced by Draupadi's, but it still indicates that the temple is of her husband. However, that is not the case. Draupadi has pride of place here, as the main goddess. Yudhishthiran finds a place on the wall, along with his brothers. 

It is not a very well-known temple, even though it has supposedly been here for over 300 years. That is not very easy to believe (have to verify this independently), but it has been here for over 70 years, at the least. If only we could only have this restored to a state that reflects the glory of its presiding deity - that would be really something!

Sunday, February 12, 2023


There is a ministry in the Central Government of India named the Ministry of Ayush. Of the 5 letters in that name, two were not very well known systems of 'alternatlive medicine' in the India of the 1940s. Yoga was esoteric, and homeopathy was a highly niche practice. So, when Vaidya Ratna Captain G.Srinivasamurthy, Professor Dr.C.Dwarakanath, Dr.Y.Suryanarayana Rao, Ayurvedacharya and D.M.Visweswara Sastry got together to set up a common pharmacy store for the country's traditional systems of medicine, they restricted it to Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. 

The idea was to have a centralised facility to manufacture the lehyams, churnams, bhasmams and kashayams required by these systems. Between 1944 (when it was started functioning, on September 12) and today, the IMPCOPS (Indian Medical Practitioners’ Co-operative Pharmacy and Stores Ltd.) has grown almost 50-fold in membership to the 17,000 Registered Medical Practitioners on its books today. Back then, when IMPCOPS set up its manufacturing facility in Adayar, it was away from the main city, in sylvan surroundings. And it continues to stay that way; a long stretch on the LB Road where there was nothing but the IMPCOPS gate set in the wall. 

That was a rather inconspicuous gate until a few years ago. Under its current President Dr. Kannan, the IMPCOPS decided to get a facelift done, starting with its gate. These days, as you drive down LB Road, you cannot miss this structure. And besides this place, there is a factory in Tadepalle in Andhra, and hospitals in multiple locations across Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. So the next time you want some 'Indian' medicine, maybe this is the place you should look to!

Saturday, February 11, 2023


Across the sub-continent, this bird is feted in song and poetry. Thus, there was an ambience of mystery around it. Its loud call (of the male) is so strong and clear that it attracted the attention of the ancients; Aristotle has written about it, as have writers from Vedic times in India. Both of them knew about a specific behaviour of the Asian Koel - brood parasitism - which sits ill with the poetic celebration of these birds. 

This picture was taken in Chennai, for the bird is common pretty much all over the country. For all the hoary knowledge of the bird, and its frequent appearances in song and poems, often as a songbird, as a harbinger of spring, there is only one state of India that has chosen to have this as its state bird.

That is Puducherry; it is somehow entirely apt that this post is being written in Puducherry, where I am today!


Friday, February 10, 2023

Shelter, dark

At six o'clock in the morning, not too many people wanting to take a bus. The shelter at the Saidapet bus stand is a big one and has quite a few bays. But it looks like there is still a lot of time for the crowd to build up! 

Thursday, February 9, 2023


SPR City's "Market of India" says that its aim is to recreate the magic of some of Chennai's traditional market-places by adopting their practices while doing business in a much more spacious and modern setting. This is a good thing in theory; but we know that unless there is some kind of a regulatory push, such a setting will not be favoured by the traditional traders of GP Road or Ritchie Street. We've seen that happen with Kotwal Chavadi, or more recently with the pavement vendors on Pondy Bazaar.

It is likely SPR City recognizes this as well. They have tried to cast present day Ritchie Street or Sowcarpet as being cramped and dingy through the dioramas they have created in the central arena of the marketplace. 

Here is one which - I believe - is trying to bring a feel of current-day GP Road. Holds your attention for a moment, but then, as with most now-regulated public places in India, the first question that comes to mind is: where are the people?!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Escape reality

Tamil Nadu's Department of Prisons had set itself a hugely challenging target of collecting 100,000 books this year for inmates across the 130 prisons in the state. This is part of a larger drive to rehabilitate prisoners and it needs the support of book lovers across the state. It would be quite easy to get, say 500 copies of books from a publisher trying to dump them, but the Department's goal is to have members of the public donate books they have found useful - that way, it would impact the prisoners positively. 

As far as I can tell, they have already collected about 35,000 books. These will go to the prison libraries once they've been validated for their content - and also to make sure there are no rock hammers hidden inside them, I would imagine. 

So, if you have books to donate (preferably Tamizh, but any language is fine), do call +91 44-28521306 or +91 44 28521512. They'll guide you on where you can drop of the books. If you have a lot of them to donate, they may even come by to pick them up. But make sure you keep your translation of Le Comte de Monte Cristo away!


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Dangerous bottles

In the 1970s and '80s, these bottles were to be found everywhere. Get a bit of CO2 into flavoured (usually rose or lemon) water, get a marble to stop up the bottle and there, you have a drink. All you had to do was to figure out how to 'open' the bottle - pop the marble stopper out of its place and let it roll around the neck of the bottle while throwing your head back to pour the fizzy liquid down your gullet.

The bottles were also prized as a street-fighting weapon. The most elaborate use of it that I have seen was when some threw two of these bottles, one right after the other above a restive crowd. It is indescribable; two bottles filled with CO2 bumping into each other about 10-12 feet up in the air. The resulting shrapnel of glass is quite dangerous for anyone in the path.

These days, the panneer soda / goli soda bottle is available only at a few places. The drink is gentrified, and horrors - available in plastic bottles or metal cans. That may be a 'better' way to drink the soda, but what will you do when you need a new weapon on the street! 

Monday, February 6, 2023


Well, we know that the Chennai Metro currently operates 2 lines: Green and Blue. We also know that they've been at different places around the city for Phase 2 of the Chennai Metro. That should add another three lines, and 128 stations (to the existing 32) by the end of 2026. 

Even then, it seems to be a bit of a mystery why their headquarters building in Nandanam is named "MetroS". With the last letter being of a larger font size, there must be something more to it than merely thumping their chest about there being many lines. 

Any ideas? Will be glad to have this mystery cleared up!

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Fruit delivery

Yes, right, this is not done. Parked on the right - the wrong - side of the road, parked against the incline, parked. 

But early on a Sunday morning, they must have thought it is far easier to get this consignment of fruits unloaded this way. 

Don't try this, not on any account, not any day!


Saturday, February 4, 2023

Local music

Despite being one of, if not the oldest extant language in the world, Tamizh has been finding acceptance as a 'musical' language only in the past few decades. Despite evidence going back to the 6th-8th century CE indicating a very robust Tamizh music heritage from Silapathikaram, Divyaprabhandam and similar works, even as staunch a Tamizh poet as Bharatiyar wrote of "Sundara Telunginil paatisathu" (composing songs in melodious Telugu). So it is not a surprise that the classical music scene of the 1930s Madras was made up of overwhelmingly Telugu compositions, with Tamizh songs being relegated to the tukkada (sundries) section. 

Some prominent folks of Madras (and other cities) decided to do something about this. They coalesced the call for pure Tamizh music by setting up the Tamil Isai Sangam in 1943. Raja Sir Annamalai  Chettiar had convened the first Tamil Isai conference in Chidambaram in 1941, and backed efforts for similar conferences in other cities as well. Others who joined him in setting up the Sangam were RK Shunmukham Chettiar, Rao Bahadur VS Thyagaraja Mudaliar of Tiruvarur, Dewan Bahadur CS Ruthnasabapathy Mudaliar of Coimbatore and others from other cities of the Madras Presidency. 

The world of classical music was split; there were singers who were ambivalent about it, such as Musiri and Semmangudi; Kalki Krishnamurthy wrote in favour; TT Krishnamachari Iyengar and TL Venkatarama Iyer backed the Music Academy and Telugu compositions. It was the support of the ladies: singers like DK Pattammal, MS Subbulakshmi and KB Sundarambal supported Tamizh. Over time, the vociferous arguments died down and today, it is perfectly okay for Sanjay Subrahmanyan to do an exclusive "Tamizhum Naanum" event; and when he performs at the Raja Annamalai Mandram, these doors will need to be far larger to allow the audience to go through!

Of course, the Raja Annamalai Mandram has other entrances, too. This is just the one at the front!

Friday, February 3, 2023

Nation builder

What first caught the eye was the proclamation on the pedestal: "A National Leader...". Usually such bombastic terms are used for local politicians, so it was a surprise seeing these words for a statue inside the YMCA campus at Nandanam. But a quick search shows that Puthenpurayil Mathew Joseph is indeed a national leader for his work in the field of physical education, and he was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1967. 

It seems to have been quite by chance that he got into that field. It was not that Joseph needed to be told about the benefits of exercise and sports; he was very much into it, even as a young chemist in Madras' leather industry of the 1920s. His daily sport and exercise routine at the George Town YMCA was what caught the attention of Harry Crowe Buck, who had founded the YMCA College of Physical Education in 1920. Buck persuaded the young Joseph that there was a future in sports and had him complete his course at the College. Joseph then went to Madurai as the Physical Education Director of the American College there. Buck encouraged Joseph to study further, and helped him receive a scholarship to study at Springfield College, Mass., USA where he met James Naismith (the 'inventor' of basketball). 

Coming back to India in the early 1930s, James joined Buck to teach at the YMCA-CPE, but moved out to become the first Principal of the Government College of Physical Education at Bombay. As India became independent, James, now back in Madras as the Principal of the YMCA-CPE, was tapped to be part of the drafting committee for the National Plan for Physical Education. Part of that plan was to set up institutions to train instructors and coaches; and in 1957, James left Chennai again, to go to Gwalior as the first Principal of the Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education, and stayed on there till his retirement in 1967. His love for sport and fitness must have been instrumental in his having a long life; he passed away in 1999, when he was 95 years old (I must get back to that strange coincidence of the dates!). The one person who beat him at that was his wife, who passed away in 2013, when she was 105!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

A riot in Madras

In 1884, the Malappuram Special Police was raised as a special paramilitary force to deal with social unrest in the (north) Malabar region. After successfully quelling a gang of fanatics, the force was made permanent in 1897. By 1921 the force had a sanctioned strength of 6 British Officers, 8 Subedars, 16 Jamadars, 60 Havildars and 600 Constables, making up six companies. By then, the Malappuram Special Police had been successful in blunting the guerrilla tactics of the Moplah rebels not only in Malappuram, but also in other parts of Malabar where the Moplah Rebellion had spread. The force was now renamed the Malabar Special Police (MSP); in 1922, a sizeable part of the MSP was moved to Madras, to deal with uprisings in that part of the Presidency. 

And that was how Jamadar TP Kumaran Nair, who had joined the MSP circa 1924, came to be in Madras in 1931, when news of Bhagat Singh's execution reached the city. There were protests all around India and in Madras, a large gathering, exclusively of women, began their protest on the Marina Beach, singing Vande Mataram and waving black flags as well as the forbidden 'national flag'. This was the kind of situation the MSP was famed for breaking up. Jamadar Kumaran Nair was tasked with lathicharging the protestors. As he marched his platoon close to them, he was struck with a sudden and stark realisation that beating unarmed, peaceful protesters, and women at that, was not what he had joined the MSP for. He refused to carry out his 'duty' and the British officer on the spot had him arrested and carted away, to be sacked from the force later.

So begins the book "Swaraj Spy". Written by Kumaran Nair's grand-nephew Vijay Balan, it is not truly fiction, but a reconstruction of how Kumaran Nair went on to become part of the Indian National Army, to be an instructor at a secret espionage school set up by them. Sadly, Kumaran Nair's story is of sacrifice. Having heard Vijay Balan talk about the book at an event last evening at the CP Arts Centre, I am looking forward to reading the story - one that promises to be a grand lesson in history, as well! 

Vijay Balan is the bearded gentleman in the picture. Talking to him is Pradeep Chakravarthy, who we have met earlier on this blog. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Empty seats

That's what the inside of a cinema hall looks like after the movie when everyone - well, almost everyone - has left. 

This was in the early days of the PVR Heritage RSL, the PVR Playhouse, on the ECR. It opened sometime in 2021, possibly after the first wave of Covid was past. It looked like the PVR Playhouse is the only business in the whole building. There were indications that other outlets would be opening there soon, but then, it did not seem like a multiplex in a mall; it was more like the screens are the only reason why anyone would come in, and all other outlets would depend on these crowds.

But then, none of those other outlets were open. The 10 screens are on the first floor, and one had to walk past a whole host of "Coming Soon" boards - and no, those were not for the movies, but for the food court and the play areas. The movie we went for did not have much of a crowd, so it was easy to take this picture after the show ended. I hope we won't have this luxury the next time around there!