Sunday, April 30, 2023

WYSIWY don't get

At the end of the lobby of the Taj Club House, this sign, discreet yet clear, will be of great help to someone who is searching for rest. The sign shows a female figure to the left and a male figure to the right. 

If you are that someone, be warned. You cannot rest yet. If you trust the sign implicitly and rush ahead, you will be headed the wrong way - the hotel has flipped the rooms on you!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Yogi duck

The Indian Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha) is distinguished from its eastern cousin in a rather strange way. Despite being from a communist regime, the Chinese Spot-billed Duck (Anas zonorhyncha) does not have any red colouration on its bill. The Indian fellow, however, has a red path at the base of its bill which clearly distinguishes it from the other one. 

Until 2008 though, both these birds were considered as one species, the Spot-billed Duck. The 'spot' in those days referred to the yellow band which is visible in both species. In some ways it is rather surprising that it took so long for these two birds to be separated out: the powers-that-be of taxonomy are usually prone to changing nomenclature for a different shade of grey. Maybe they missed out the bright red daubed on some bills and not on others.

Or possibly they never saw Apoecilorhyncha do this earlier. Had the ICZN folks seen this duck standing like this, on one leg, they wouldn't have hesitated to add the 'Indian' to its name!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Free school

I have not been able to find out who exactly TP Ramasamy Pillai was, but he seems to have been quite generous to the cause of education. He must have lived on General Collins Road, for there is a house on the road with his name on the gatepost. The house itself is set back from the road, and the large gates open into a driveway up to the house. Rather foreboding, it seemed to me.

The gates of this building are nothing like that; these are smaller, and much more inviting, the way a school ought to be. These are the gates to the Sree Thiruvoteeswarar Free High School, which is run by a Trust of the same name. That Trust was endowed by Ramasamy Pillai. and the school provides fee education to a rather limited number of students. Going by some of the websites aggregating such information, the school has anything from 15 to 37 students enrolled in classes 6 to 12. Those sites also say that the number of teachers range from 2 to 6. That no doubt gives the school a fairly decent teacher:pupil ratio, but with only two (or three) classrooms in the school, how would they accommodate so many grades?

Be that as it may, one hopes that the school, supposedly established in 1947, is able to hold its own in the years ahead!

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Corner house

This house, at the corner of Venkatesa Bakhtan Street and Perambur Barracks Road, looks like it has seen several monsoons.

I have no idea whose house is it, nor anything else about this building. It is just that as I passed by it, I noticed that one side had almost collapsed and seemed to be held in place by a lot of bricks propping the wall up. The rest of the building may soon follow suit. 

Couldn't come away without a picture of this building - I can imagine how grand it would have been, back in the day, dominating this part of the city!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Off season

Summer-time is fruit-time. And there are quite a few fruits on display here. And different varieties  of some of them, too. 

But you can easily tell this photo is not recent. How? 

What kind of a summer fruit display would ignore the National Fruit of India! Tell us now, which is your favourite variety of mango?  

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Tower, towers

It might now be dwarfed by the residential apartments in the background, but this red-brick tower was once the centrepiece of India's first institution to train teachers. 

The absence of any reasonable protection for heritage buildings, especially those owned by the government, has seen many wonderful structures laid waste, and this tower is going the same way, by all appearances! 


Monday, April 24, 2023

Gate puzzle

From the letters you see here, can you make out the name of the establishment that this gate allows entry into? 

Easy enough to guess, so I'm not going to give you any further clues. Leave your answer in the comments and maybe a week from now, I'll update this post with the answer!


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Crowdless corner

Continuing on yesterday's theme, here is a picture of another public space that one would expect to be packed. 

Surprisingly, the foyer of the Chennai Central's has moments of emptiness!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Quiet road

If anyone tells you that Chennai roads are manic, show them this picture! 


Friday, April 21, 2023


One could argue that this is the spot from where Chennai's tryst with regional cuisines really took off. Nair's Mess is older for sure, but tucked away in Triplicane, it catered to a very niche clientele. This location, across the road from the Music Academy was an unorthodox choice by Ravikumar Reddy to set up a non-vegetarian, Andhra-food only restaurant. When it opened on December 14, 1980, the kutcheri season was about to start; it would have been unreasonable to assume that the carnatic music aficionados would make a beeline to eat non-veg food. 

But Amaravathi has thrived. Ravikumar's bet has paid off quite handsomely; Amaravathi has been the font for his firm to open several other specialty restaurants, mainly in the same neighbourhood. Kabul, for the NWF cuisine, Karaikudi for Chettinad stuff and quite a few others. 

Maybe Amaravathi has been un-ambitious by remaining a single-location brand. But maybe because of this, the brand has not been copied by wannabes. So you can be sure that when you get to Amaravathi, you are at the original!

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Old favourite

Namakkal would probably top the list of (hen's) egg-producing districts in the country. The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh contributed to almost a third of India's eggs, but before and after its split, the second spot has been held by Tamil Nadu, with a little over 20 billion eggs a year. When you consider that Namakkal accounts for 80% of this, you might be able to figure out its importance in the egg world. 

On sweets, however, Namakkal would not be the first name that comes to mind. I can't think of any sweet that can claim a Geographical Indication tag for Namakkal, but these folks seem to be staking a claim for kamarkattu to be it. That's my fancy, of course, for they only claim to have originated from Namakkal, from the legacy of Namakkal Sellappa, whose sweets have been around since 1987, according to the founders of this shop.

Kamarkattu is a start-up; keeping with the times, they're bringing old flavours in organic fashion. They give no indication of having been badly hit by the pandemic. Set up in 2018 by Chandru and Carthic, both from Namakkal, Kamarkattu has expanded to five outlets in Chennai. The city seems to be their only market for the moment, but surely Kamarkattu can find takers in many other locations!


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The pillar

It was World Heritage Day yesterday; because I had asked a question about a monument within the city yesterday, I'm posting two pictures today in honour of the day. They are both from West CIT Nagar, where Mambalam meets Saidapet. Towards the end of the 18th century, the Long Tank was very long, and the spillover would flow across Mount Road, looking to connect with the Mylapore Tank on the east. This was very much of an inconvenience to the general public; since 1726, when Coja Petrus Uscan bequeathed a bridge across the Adayar less than a kilometre away, the public had become used to fording that waterway. A new watercourse, even if it was mainly a feature of the monsoons, had to be crossed. 

Cue Adrian Fourbeck, a merchant who was an "old resident of Madras". There is little information about the life of the man himself, but that he was pensioned off as a Gunroom Crewman of Fort St George (with a pension of 1-14-0 pagodas) in 1740. He must have been a shrewd merchant, for by the time he passed away in 1783, he had made enough to bestow his fellow citizens a bridge across the canal. Petrus Uscan's bridge half a century earlier had cost around 30,000 pagodas. Even if Adrian's bridge cost only a tenth of that, it was still a princely sum. 

Fourbeck's legacy was built by the executors of his will, T. Pelling, L. de Fries and P. Bodkin, according to plans made by Lt. Col. Patrick Ross, then Chief Engineer of Fort St. George. Their names, as well as that of the Governor of Fort St. George, Maj. Gen. Sir Archibald Campbell, were inscribed on a four-sided pillar, which marked the bridge's inauguration in 1786. While one side had the entire description in English, the other sides had its translations in Tamizh, Latin and Persian. The foundation stone of the bridge erected by Coja Petrus Uscan is out in the open, part of the Chennai Metro's fencing now. The bridge itself has been replaced by the Maraimalai Adigal bridge of the 1960s. Of Adrian's bridge, nothing remains but the pillar, which is today protected by a wall and fencing, and is inside the State Highways Department's office!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Waiting, lonely

A part of TTK Road, between the KB Dasan Road and Seethammal Road, has been blocked off for vehicular traffic, thanks to the Chennai Metro's construction spree. 

Most businesses along that stretch have seen a drop in their clientele. Access, parking, all of it is difficult and will likely get more so as the construction progresses. 

For now, Ronald McDonald is sitting alone, contemplating life in McDonaldland, I guess!

Monday, April 17, 2023

Construction site

The onset of spring sees a lot of home-building activity across the animal kingdom, and wasps are no exception to this. Within the huge number of insects that are classified as 'wasps', there are vastly differing nest-building behaviours. A large majority of wasp species are solitary, and their dwellings are no more than a hole-in-the-wall (or ground). It is the eusocial wasp species - almost all of them belonging to the Vespidae family - which build elaborate nests with an egg-laying queen and many worker-drones. 

The main raw material for a wasp's nest is some kind of plant fibre, which it chews up to produce a layer of material around an empty space. Further layers are added (there is a fascinating paper on the complexity of nest building, extract here) and sometimes, the honeycomb pattern emerges. More often, the patterns are different, though. It is common enough to see huge honeycombs in the city, but rare to see a large wasp nest. 

These wasps, most likely of the Polistinae sub-family, make rather compact nests. These are usually seen under plant leaves, or on building crevices; I couldn't recall seeing wasp nests on telephone / TV cables. But then, come to think of it, the ones on plants were usually grey-white, and paper-like in texture, whereas the ones attached to buildings were more brown and of a mud-like consistency. Maybe they were made by different species, but for now, it would interesting to track what kind of nest this one will eventually turn out to be!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Wedding finery

At a wedding hall; the ceiling looked quite grand and I couldn't resist taking this picture. For a change, I've managed to get a lot of symmetry on this!


Saturday, April 15, 2023

A pillar

Here is a challenge for all of you. It is going to be World Heritage Day on April 18. On that day, watch out for my tweet at Shantaram on Twitter and answer the question that's going to come up there.

You get the advantage if you figure out where this signboard is. It is very much in Chennai city, in a place that has a very high traffic flow. The traffic is so heavy that hardly anyone notices this sign. 

Go for it!

Friday, April 14, 2023

Name connect

This is the gatepost of a Chennai residence. The name has remained unchanged since it was built in 1919. 

Question is: which person makes a connect between this gatepost and Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who was born on this day in 1891?

ɐᴉpuI ⅎo uoᴉʇnʇᴉʇsuoϽ ǝɥʇ ⅎo ǝǝʇʇᴉɯɯoϽ ƃuᴉʇⅎɐɹᗡ ǝɥʇ ⅎo sɹǝqɯǝɯ ǝɹǝʍ ɥʇoꓭ .ʍɐʅ uɐᴉpuI puɐ suoᴉʇnʇᴉʇsuoɔ s╻pʅɹoʍ ǝɥʇ ⅎo ǝƃpǝʅʍouʞ pǝʅǝʅʅɐɹɐdun uɐ pɐɥ oɥʍ ǝuoǝɯos sɐ ɹɐʞpǝqɯ∀ .ɹᗡ ʎq pǝpɹɐƃǝɹ sɐʍ ʻǝɹǝɥ pǝʌᴉʅ oɥʍ ʻɹǝʎI ʎɯɐʍsɐuɥsᴉɹꓘ ᴉpɐʅʅ∀

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A drain runs through it

The Nandanam Canal is one of the minor storm-water drainways of Chennai city. The total length of these storm-water drains is about 50 km; the Nandanam Canal probably contributes about 2 km to that. In recent years, its length has been slightly truncated because the Chennai Metro diverted a part of it to make way for the underground passage between Saidapet and Nandanam stations. 

We must remember that about a century ago, the entire west side of Mount Road from Anna Flyover to Maraimalai Adigalar Bridge was a large waterbody; so large that the only name they could give it was the "Long Tank". When that was filled up to accommodate Madras' growing need for space, someone forgot to inform the rain Gods of this change of plan. It should therefore be no wonder that the T.Nagar area floods at the slightest of rains. 

This drain is part of a larger system intended to take away some of the floodwaters to the Adyar river. Because they remain dry for the better part of the year, storm-water drains such as these have become filled with effluents and even sewage from residential colonies along their banks.  It certainly cannot be part of anyone's ideal of childhood memories, they way the Nandanam Canal currently is, but it has potential; if only it could be cleaned up, with some spots for children to play along its way, then maybe it will be idyllic, too!

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Who owns?

There is this rather grand-looking entrance on Perambur High Road which gives off an appearance of not having been used for a few decades. On the left, there is a sign which proclaims Imran Husain as being the owner of this property. While there is no evident counter to that sign, the larger sign on the right talks about M Bilal Husain & Co. No mention of Imran there. And on the gatepost, the name is of M. Nazir Husain, adding to the mystery. 

The logo on the gate follows the larger sign. So at some point, this was unquestionably a key part of MBH & Co. The logo references a cattle hide, so some connection with the leather trade. Backing that up is the presence of a MBH & Co in Guindy, which deals with leather goods. It might not be the same MBH we see here, but the balance of probability goes the other way. 

Sadly, there is not much I have been able to learn about MBH the business, or about the individuals whose names are all seen in the picture. I hope the ownership question gets sorted out soon and the firms can go about their business in peace very soon!


Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Small and white

I don't know enough to recognize which Jain sect has established which temple, but I will hazard a guess that both the Shwetambars and the Digambars would have their shrines in white. This one at the corner of Mathala Narayanan Street in Mylapore, however, declares itself to be a Shwetambar temple. 

Vasupujya Swami was the 12th of the Tirthankaras. The 24th, Mahavira lived in the 6th century CE, so Vasupujya could have been the reigning tirthankara of the 2nd or 3rd century CE. 

Once again, if you thought Mylapore was only for maamas and maamis, here is more proof of the multi-religious makeup of the place!


Monday, April 10, 2023

Protein fix

There are some stereotypes that take a long while to go away. One such is the image of the south Indian as a vegetarian. Maybe most will describe themselves as such, for there are relatively still very few who eat meat every day of the week.

Sundays are most often meat days; and stalls like this one in the Saidapet market, make a killing that day. It might not look very hygienic, but this is where a majority of the non-vegetarians would shop. The meat is fresh, and the shopkeepers know what you are looking for. Anything from 100g to a few kilos is easily provided for!


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Walled garden

A house in Mylapore. Even if it looks quite compact from the outside, it is expansive enough to have a garden inside. Would have loved to find out more, but it isn't polite to peep into houses, so just this one photo will have to do!


Saturday, April 8, 2023

Old society

The Madras Mahajana Sabha's building on Anna Salai today seems to reflect an organisation that has always been interested in providing reasonable accommodation for its members (and maybe others) who are visiting the city. But those 8 characters below the building's name should be a clue to the antiquity of the association itself. It is considered a catalyst to the founding of the Indian National Congress, which came up a year after the MMS was established. However, it seems to have been more of a parallel organisation, supporting the Congress when it was proscribed, and fronting for it on occasion. 

The founders of the Madras Mahajana Sabha, M. Veeraraghavachariar, G. Subramania Iyer and Panapakkam Anandacharlu were concerned about the British hold over India and had in their own ways been agitating against the colonisers. Subramania Iyer and Veeraraghavachariar were two of the co-founders of "The Hindu" and therefore the initial office of the Sabha was at the premises of The Hindu

Over the first couple of decades of the 20th century, the Sabha grew closer to the Indian National Congress; today, many of the Sabhas early leaders are described as stalwarts of the Congress. It was convenient to have this kind of a twin identify, for whenever the Congress had to go quiet, the Mahajana Sabha stepped up to fill the breach, at least within the Madras town and other parts of the Madras Presidency. Today, this building is the most visible reminder of the Sabha!

Friday, April 7, 2023

Quiet mosque

When we think about Mylapore, the first images that come to mind are of the traditional maamas  and maamis, along with the temples they visit. We should not forget however that Mylapore has a history of its own, having been known to the Ptolemic world as Millarpha or Meliapore. Therefore it should not be a surprise to learn that Mylapore has within it places of worship belonging to faiths other than Hinduism.

One such is the Jumma Masjid on Kutchery Road, which predates even the much better known Big Mosque of Triplicane. The latter is a late-18th century creation, while the former has been in use since at least 1699, almost a century earlier. Even though some of the walls, and the dome of the mosque has been damaged due to water seepage - and general passage of the years, one assumes, the mosque itself continues to be a hub of action for the area. 

And it would well be a hub these days, as we are well into the month of Ramadan. This photo was taken on a Sunday a few years ago, so it does not give you any sense of the hubbub around this place today!

Thursday, April 6, 2023


Quick - can you tell me which side does this snake have its head? If you are not able to make out, do not worry. You are not alone. There are very many who will give you company in this. 

Called the இருதலை மணியன் (two-headed manian) in Tamizh, the Red Sand Boa uses this feature as an effective means of confusing any threat. By the time the threatening animal realises which end is which, the boa has disappared into a hole in the sand!

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

One in Multan

It was while getting yesterday's post ready that I realised I have not talked about the Ripon Building at all. I have skirted around the theme, including a post about the man the building is named after. 

Will have to satisfy myself with a rather poor picture of the building for now. There is a better one on this blog; that doesn't talk about the building itself, though. Will have to wait another day for the Ripon Building - remember, I'm not going to talk about the one in Multan, though! 

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Colour and tricolour

On my way to the Chennai Central station to take a train out tonight. Got rather excited at seeing the Ripon Building all lit up, but this is all I could get of it on my phone.

Maybe the colours were to mark Mahavir Jayanti, though I would have assumed white to have been the colour of choice in that case. The Ripon Building was fitted out with a 'dynamic lighting' system in June last year. A little over 200 light-units have been placed around the building, each of which could take on various combinations of the primary colours red, green and blue. Had thought of checking out the building on Independence Day last year, but missed that and also this year's Republic Day, both of which would have seen the building decked out in the tricolour. 

Sheer coincidence then, that my scramble to click a picture also got a tricolour painted on the wall of the bridge. I have no idea how I managed to get all of these in one shot!


Monday, April 3, 2023

Paradise lost

The signboard a little distance away said "Eden Gardens"; the street sign corroborated it (well, almost). 

But this is no way to get to that Garden of Eden, I guess. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Eater's Digest - 12

The Nair Mess at Triplicane is over 60 years old. I am unable to indulge in nostalgia for what it was like, because for the longest time, I was not able to make it there for lunch. I have heard innumerable tales of how crowded it would be at lunchtime, and how the food there was to die for. And then, the place went and renovated itself, so there was now an opportunity for a level playing field. 

Still, it took a bunch of schoolmates to push me to get there. The instructions we were told were very clear. Be there by 12:55 pm. If you can't make it in time, then turn back, go away. Nervous about showing up late, we used the map to guide us. The map showed us where to park and how to walk in. But having parked on Walajah Road, it was not easy to get to the place. The map gave up, but our hunger must have showed on our face, for even before we could ask for directions, we were pointed in the right direction. Schoolmates, for a change, did not taunt us for being just that bit late; they had got in and held two seats for us, as we walked in at 12:58. The place was relatively empty, with only 3 or 4 of the 20-odd tables having diners at them.

In the 3-4 minutes it took us to complete our hellos, every table was full up and there was a crowd of people waiting to be seated. And yet, we never felt rushed. There is not much of a menu; you better know what they can serve you at lunch time and you ask for it. The waiters will remind you of several sides that you might like to order to enjoy the experience to the fullest, but they're happy even if you go for just the simple mutton-meal or fish-meal. We did gorge, and some of my foodie friends reminded me that even if the building has been renovated, the menu and the preparation continues to remain the same: a wonderfully flavoured set of dishes that fills you up, but never lets you feel bloated. That's a grand meal, for sure!

Saturday, April 1, 2023


Built between 1951 and 1960, this church, Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, Perambur, was designed as a replica of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Haute Pyrenees in France. The Grotto of Massabielle  is the place in Lourdes where Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year old girl, later to become St Bernadette had 18 visions of Mother Mary between February 11 and July 16, 1858. 

It was around 1935 that the parish priest of Perambur, Fr. Michael Murray had the idea of establishing a shrine of significance in the parish. His zeal in collecting funds for this led the then Archbishop of Madras to put his weight behind the project; it seems to have been his suggestion to the architect Chevalier Davies KSG, that the shrine be modelled on the Lourdes church. There is not much to be found about Chevalier Davies, possibly because his first name has been supplanted by the title, which in my fancy was conferred on him for his work on this shrine. 

Fr. Alfred Mariotta, succeeded Fr. Murray in 1947. He seems to have been cut from a slightly different cloth than his predecessor, for the church's website says that Fr. Mariotta used up as much energy as Fr. Murray, but gave off noticeably less heat. The quiet way in which he worked to get land for this church seems to have mystified everyone. The website says, "..with what process of cajolery, reasoning, bargaining or persuasion he secured the different slices of land, no one will ever know!", but one day, the parishioners woke up to find the land was ready. And then the church was built; it echoes the three spires of the Lourdes Sanctuary, but replaces their sharpness with gentle domes. Like the one at Lourdes, this one too has a lower basilica, the Basilica of the Rosary and an upper basilica, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Lourdes also has an underground basilica, the Basilica of St Pius X - as far as I can see, that wasn't built into the design here!