Friday, March 31, 2023


I would love to have a cuppa, but they ain't open yet!

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Bright prospects

In the full year of the pandemic, Fabindia saw its operative revenue fall by about a third, which still put it above the Rs.1,000 cr mark. Their profits nosedived and the bottomline turned red, though. It was only to be expected, with many of their 309 stores across the country remaining closed for a significant part of the year. But this has been a small setback in the growth of this 62-year old firm. Started by an American, John Bisell, in 1960 as a home-furnishings exporter, Fabindia today retails fabrics, garments, furniture, foods and personal care products. The idea of the firm is to provide a platform for traditional garment (and handicrafts, furniture, foods) makers. They have been doing it successfully enough to contemplate an IPO; given the choppy state of the stock markets today, that IPO which was scheduled to open on February 27 this year, has been pulled back. 

Chennai's first Fabindia store - for a very long time, the only one in the city - was opened on Woods Road sometime in the 1990s. It was in a building that was built sometime in the early 20th century and had an old-world charm, but also the staid feel that goes with some of such spaces. Over the past 10-15 years, many more outlets were opened in Chennai. 

One such was this one at the junction of TTK Road and Eldams Road. It is a 4-storey building completely dedicated to Fabindia and has all its products, including a cafe on the top floor. Sitting up there, it is a decent view of the roads below, and looking on to the CP Ramaswamy Iyer Road flyover. It is also a nice view from below, once the lights come on. With a lot of glass on its facade, we can look right in to the products on display and the chic people shopping there!


Wednesday, March 29, 2023


From the family of crows and magpies, here is one that is endemic to India. The Rufous Tree-pie (Dendrocitta vagabunda) is a noisy bird, but one that is quick to make friends with humans. Like other members of the Crow family (Corvidae) it is extremely adaptable and an opportunistic feeder, which makes it difficult to dislodge.

Though it has a wide variety of calls, the ones we are most often subject to is the plaintive screech; thankfully it has other calls as well. But from this one, which visits our surroundings almost every day, does not deign to speak to us in anything other than its complaining tone!

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!