Thursday, October 23, 2014
Going along Raja Muthiah Road - earlier known as Sydenhams Road - you find yourself going past the Ripon Building on your left and then, as you continue northwards, you begin to get glimpses of the Jawarhal Nehru Stadium. Almost all sports are possible in this stadium, with its indoor and outdoor facilities. It also houses the offices of almost all sports associations in the state.
It is therefore not surprising that on the opposite side of the road, one gets to see several 'trophy houses'. With the stadium hosting several competitive events at different levels - you could also have your intra-company sports festival here - there is a demand for some kind of recognition for the winners. Cups, trophies, shields or plaques, the vendors along Raja Muthiah Road will be able to give you what you want.
This building however seems to have taken the idea of trophy house a bit further; rather than the usual depiction of a godly figure - Krishna, Lakshmi or Murugan are the more commonly seen ones - the builder of this house seems to be celebrating sporting success. From its style, I would guess that it pre-dates the stadium - but then, Periamet has been the home of the South Indian Athletic Association for quite a long while, and maybe this house is paying tribute to that tradition, such as it is!
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
If ever colonial administrators could be canonised, Sir Thomas Munro would be first on the list for the people of the Madras Presidency. They came to idolize him as Munrolappa, for the simple reason that, even in his first posting as a lieutenant, Munro concluded that the King was levying a far higher share from the common man than the latter could bear. He argued that a fair tax would ensure higher compliance - and less scope for bribery. Such a line of thinking was not conventional for British officers in the late 18th century and it was no wonder that this man became a favourite of the local populace.
But it was not only about pleasing the locals. Sir Thomas was also highly regarded as a competent administrator and it was on his recommendations that the administrative system of the districts was reorganized to what, by and large, is its current form. His sensitivity towards matters of faith showed up in his actions at Tirupathi and Mantralayam. In Tirupathi, he set a practice of offering pongal to the deity - a practice that continues to this day, with the offering made from a vessel called the Munro gangalam. His decision to waive all taxes from Mantralayam's Sri Raghavendra Swamy Mutt was so surprising that the citizens decided he must have had a vision of the holy saint himself.
Much more than all of these, Sir Thomas Munro held a firm belief that the British could not stay on as rulers for ever. He actively prepared for a transition by placing 'natives' in important positions of administration. He argued that Europeans, especially those who disdained local language and customs, were unfit to dispense justice on local issues. That attitude was probably what helped him become victorious in the Pindari War of 1817. His army was overwhelmingly local and in the words of Lord Canning, "Nine forts were surrendered to him or taken by assault on his way; and at the end of a silent and scarcely observed progress he emerged ... leaving everything secure and tranquil behind him." The tranquility he gave others came to him as well. In his final days, the legend goes that he saw the bangaru toranam, the golden garland made by Anjaneya for Venkateswara - a reward for the purity of his thoughts and deeds!
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Chennai has been seeing non-stop rains since Friday; of course the streets are all flooded and the schools have been closed - and it looks like the rain will continue into the next couple of days as well.
It was probably worse 20 million years ago in this part of the world. During the Mio-Pilocene age, there were severe floods - and probably some volcanic explosions as well. The forests south of modern-day Chennai were washed away and many of the trees ended up around Thiruvakkarai, about 175km away from Chennai. Over the eons, the trees were fossilised and turned to stone. Roughly 200 such fossilised tree-trunks can be seen today at the National Fossil Wood Park in Thiruvakkarai.
One of the chunks was brought over to Madras and placed on display at the Museum. It remains there, open to nature - I guess if it has been weathered over 20 million years, a couple of centuries more or less would not matter. This display, along with the skeleton of a whale, is the first memory I have of the museum's exhibits. Next time you are there, do look out for this - it is quite easy to miss!
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Yesterday, this building would have seen a considerable level of celebrations. Not merely because the General Secretary of the Party was allowed bail by the Supreme Court of India, but also because yesterday was the 43rd anniversary of the party's founding. The AIADMK was formed in 1972 when MGR, the iconic movie-star-turned-politician broke away from the DMK and set out his own party. He picked up the constitution of the DMK and replaced 'President' with 'General Secretary', thereby replicating the organizational structure of the parent party, but for a change in the centralization of power.
Of course, MGR was the founder-General Secretary and held that position until he died in 1987. The party lost its way for a couple of years, when his widow, Janaki Ramachandran tried to run it. In 1989, MGR's protege took on the mantle - including the feminine version of MGR's title - which many believed was hers by right. And since then, through all the ups and downs of politics, she has ruled the party with an iron hand.
It is ironic that this building on Lloyds Road, which has been the headquarters of the AIADMK since 1986, was gifted to the party by a person who was probably its weakest leader - Janaki Ramachandran!
Friday, October 17, 2014
The month of October is special for fans of 'Sivaji' Ganesan, the Nadigar Thilagam (the crown jewel of actors?) of Tamizh cinema. The first of the month is the birth anniversary of Villuppuram Chinnaiahpillai Ganesan, who went on to rule the Tamizh screen for over four decades between the 1950s and 1990s. He had many awards to his credit, including that of Best Actor at Afro-Asian Film Festival in Cairo in 1960 - the first Indian actor to win that award in an international festival.
That career started with the film "Parasakthi", made by AVM Studios in 1952. The script was by Mu Karunanidhi. Questioning the social mores of the day, the film's dialogues were quite fiery; quite a bit into its making, A.V. Meyyappan, the studio owner (and co-producer), as well as Krishnan-Panju, the co-directors, had doubts about the young man who was making his debut in the role of Gunasekaran, the lead character of the film. It was Mrs. Meyyappan and P.A. Perumal of National Pictures, the other co-producer, who backed Ganesan - and the rest, of course is history; not just for Ganesan, but also for the scriptwriter who would go on to become the state's Chief Minister. Parasakthi set the tone for a new kind of film-making.
It was on October 17, 1952 that this landmark of Tamizh cinema was released. 50 years later, this memorial to the movie was inaugurated inside the AVM studios. Apparently, it was initially placed a little way away from its current location, but was later shifted to the spot where Sivaji Ganesan delivered his first shot of the movie. At the bottom of this stand-up plaque, there is another shaped liked a book, listing the names of the people who had worked on the film: writers, lyricists, music director and technicians. The entire monument is topped off with the image of Sivaji delivering the first word of his first shot. Prophetic it was, for what he said was - "Success!"!
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Had heard - vaguely - of the T. Nagar Cooperative Bank earlier, but was not aware of anything about it beyond a name.
Not that I know much more about it now, but at least I know where their head office is. Noticed this new building on Doraiswamy Road, and then realized it was housing a business that has been around for quite some time. Long enough for its address to be registered as 'Madras' on the DICGC's website!
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
One of the yards of the Port of Chennai. Of course it is a sea-port, which is why you can get to see a boat and a ship in this picture. Because some of the berths are just behind the Chennai Beach suburban railway station, you can see a passenger train passing by every once in a way. The port has a railway track running inside for goods trains; and there is one waiting here. There are also the container trucks bringing in the goods to be shipped out
Apart from all these, there is a batch of passenger cars in the yard, waiting to be loaded on to ships. From this distance, I'm unable to make out if they are made by Ford, or by Hyundai - or is there any other car making plant in Chennai that ships out its products through the Port?
Monday, October 13, 2014
Sunday, October 12, 2014
It is difficult to imagine that, 8 years ago, this was a dump yard. Even though it had the grand name of 'River View Park', the Corporation of Chennai had not got around to doing anything about making it a park, as it had done with several of the other public spaces under its control.
In 2006, Nizhal, a not-for-profit organization stepped in to support the Corporation. With the help of several volunteers, the rubble was cleared, saplings were planted, the area was better demarcated. Each round of effort with the volunteers raised the Corporation's confidence - and some funds through contributions - which helped in adding facilities like walking tracks, a wall around the park and staff for its upkeep.
Today, the Kotturpuram Tree Park is a wonderful getaway from the city's sights and sounds. The saplings have grown, through the trees are still not so big as to provide great shade, they are all well on their way. The Friends of the Kotturpuram Tree Park (FKTP) have provided signs with the names of the trees - botanical, as well as the local name. The FKTP also helps with the upkeep and in coordinating the efforts of volunteers, many of who are children from the nearby streets and schools. Nizhal continues to be involved, helping the FKTP and the Corporation figure out how to leverage this showpiece of public-private partnership in the cause of general welfare!
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The Marina Beach is supposedly 13 kilometres long, but that's the entire stretch from the edge of the Port of Chennai, all the way down past Besant Nagar. Somehow, I am unable to consider all of that as one beach, because the shoreline changes its character as it passes through Chennai.
This 4km stretch is most likely the beach that captivated Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff when he visited Madras sometime in the 1870s. He returned to Madras in 1881, this time as its Governor. One of the first things he did was to commence building a promenade along the sandy strip. On its being opened to the public in 1884, he named it the "Marina", from his recollection of the Sicilian beach - apparently an Italian general, when walking along the promenade with the Governor, mentioned to him that the beach reminded him of Palermo.
Since then, the Marina has been graced - and at times disgraced - by several projects. It was one of the key points in the city for public and political rallies. Thilagar Thidal, where Mahatma Gandhi addressed the people on his visits to Madras, is now just a memory. At the northern end, memorials to two former state Chief Ministers got the courts to declare that the beach should not be used for any other such memorials. At the moment, the sandy strip is going through one of its relatively cleaner phases; so, even if you are not able to go along all the 13km, this stretch should be good enough to rejuvenate you!
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Anna Centenary Library probably had the highest point in its young life on July 20, 2011, when the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Chennai. This library was the venue for her interaction with the general public of Chennai, in the 1000-seater hall attached to the library. Both hall and library were opened to the public on September 15, 2010, the 102nd birth anniversary of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai.
A year later, the library was in danger of being shut down. The government in the state had changed and the new power did not think very much about this venture, even though Annadurai was their political mentor - as of their predecessor, too. The new government wanted to convert this into a hospital, and there was quite a bit of support for that proposal, especially from the younger generation. The issue has been referred to the courts, which don't seem to be in any particular hurry to make up their mind on what to do about this facility.
Thus, the library has not been able to realize its potential. Its 375,000 sqft over nine floors houses only 500,000 books. That's a rather poor utilization of space. Membership is - hold your breath - zero. Until the courts decide, the library is not taking any chances in taking on members. For now, it remains a place where one can go and read the books that are available, but can't hope for anything more. Sad!
Monday, October 6, 2014
A visit by any VIP of significance will see the area being cleaned up hurriedly by workers of the Corporation of Chennai. Not only does the garbage get swept up under the bins, but the workers go one step further.
Part of their VIP cleaning equipment is a bucket with its bottom punctured with a pattern. Filling it with kolamavu, the worker walks it along the side of the road, dipping it to touch the road every once a while.
So the VIPs go around and see all these clean streets and repeating kolam patterns. If only they get to see the garbage as it is, maybe they will get to see much more intricate and beautiful kolams as well!
Sunday, October 5, 2014
In the 19th century, when India was still a part of the British Empire, native - Indian - lives were considered 'sub-standard' by life insurance companies. The first insurance company in India, Oriental Life Insurance Company, established in 1818, was almost exclusively meant for European lives. With a lot of pressure being brought to bear on them, Oriental and the other insurance companies which started later began to insure Indians. But, no matter what their standing in society, Indians had to pay far higher premiums for their insurance.
The Bombay Mutual Life Assurance Society was set up in 1870 to combat this prejudice. In that sense, it was the first Indian insurance company. They did not distinguish between native and European lives and therefore managed to carve out a significant market share - apart from prudence, patriotism seemed to have played a major role in helping Bombay Mutual establish itself. In 1953 - the last year for which I have been able to find data for - Bombay Mutual had generated Rs.43,287,250/- worth of new business, with an average sum assured of Rs.2,571.
In 1956, the insurance business was nationalised. By then, Bombay Mutual had already established its presence in Madras, with its headquarters in George Town. Built in the Art Deco style, the building had come up on land that it had acquired from the Madras Christian College, which had by then moved to Tambaram. After insurance nationalisation, the building passed on to the Life Insurance Corporation. Together with its neighbours on NSC Bose Road, the Bombay Mutual Building blends well with its neighbours, showing off the Art Deco heritage of Chennai!
Saturday, October 4, 2014
It is a little after 4 pm, but the sun is still quite warm. It will take a while for the beach to be filled up. So we went up the Madras Lighthouse to see what the view from up above was like. In its original conceptualization, the lighthouse was not meant to be a tourist attraction, so the viewing gallery is not really tourist friendly. It is a narrow strip running along two sides of the tower's triangular (remember, this is the only lighthouse in India with such a shape) cross section, and can hold about 30-40 people at a time.
Of course we weren't allowed all the way up. The focal plane of the lighthouse is ~58m above mean sea level, and the viewing gallery is about 5-8m below that. Standing there, the view is quite boundless; Chennai is a flat city and there are not too many buildings blocking out the view, so with good eyesight (or a fertile imagination), one can see all the way to the city's outskirts. The light from here flashes twice every 10 seconds, but in an irregular manner; each flash lasts for 0.57s and the space between two flashes are staggered as 1.93 and 6.93 seconds. The light itself can be seen at least 22 (and up to 35) nautical miles away.
It will be another hour before the light is switched on. In the meantime, the shadow of the building goes out about 300m into the beach - and provides good shade for several of the early beachgoers, and a merrry-go-round carousel as well!
Friday, October 3, 2014
Jagannath and Parthasarathy are but two manifestations of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. One of them has given a word to the English lexicon. A word that was used by Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre, and by Robert Louis Stevenson to describe Mr. Hyde trampling over a child.
There. Even without the clue, you would have guessed by now that I am talking about 'Juggernaut', which came from a description of the chariot of Puri Jagannath, at the wheels of which, it was claimed, Hindus sacrificed themselves.
These wheels, though, are from the chariot of the Parthasarathy temple at Triplicane. They may not be as big as that of Jagannath; yet, you had better be careful to not get in their way, upon pain of creating a synonym of juggernaut!
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Umapathy Street in West Mambalam is so narrow that two cars have to slow down to a crawl to get past each other without scraping paint. And if a vehicle comes in from a side street - say, J.P. Street - in a little bit of a hurry, it would cause a gridlock that would make Kolkata proud. And it should, too, for this is where a teeny-weeny bit of Kolkata pops its head up in Chennai.
The Madras Kali Bari Temple was inaugurated on February 3, 1981. It does not have the gopurams typical of Tamil Nadu temples, but is a nine-spired tower, in the Navaratna style of Bengali temple architecture. All nine spires are on a single tower, spread over two levels - or three, if you consider the tallest, single spire as a separate level. The other two levels are kind of concentric squares, with a spire at each corner. In that design, the Madras Kali Bari takes inspiration from the Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Kolkata. A magnet for Bengalis of Chennai, the temple is especially crowded during the Durga Puja season, giving the area an additional layer of traffic, and an enhanced Kolkata touch.
Inside, the meditation hall in front of the sanctum has been converted into a puja pandal. On ashtami day today, the pandal was full. There were enough locals in the crowd - but there was very little to be heard of any language other than Bengali. And though there was a separate area housing the Golu, the focus was on Ma Durga!
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
There is a lot of it everywhere you turn to. Movement. A big city like Chennai is always on the move, even if it does not seem like it on most occasions. But even when you are stuck in traffic in Chennai, it is not a full stop. Traffic moves, even if slowly, on such occasions. There are several other places in the world, and even in the country, where traffic comes to a standstill on multiple occasions.
Chennai is far better. Most of the pauses in your journey on the road happen at traffic intersections, where the red light stays on for longer than every motorist thinks is required. One such intersection is this one at the meeting point of Jawaharlal Nehru Salai (that's the NH 45 going inside the city) and Arcot Road. With the Chennai Metro construction also encroaching on the road space, everyone tries to get past this crossing as soon as they can.
And, if the car coming at you flashes lights at you, you had better stay out of the way - he is in too much of a hurry for you to attempt any movement into his path!
Theme Day at the CDP - and you had better get a move on there if you want to see the theme 'Movement' interpreted in cities around the world!
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Going merely by this picture, there is not much to guard around here, but for the flotsam deposited on the banks of the Cooum by the high tide. This building is however the Regional Headquarters (East) of the Indian Coast Guard, a force that is the fourth arm of the country's defence. Tasked with protecting the seas between 5 and 30 nautical miles from the coastline, the Coast Guard does it through their 1,200 officers and over 5,000 personnel, based at 42 stations around the coast.
The RHQ at Chennai is not the largest; its jurisdiction starts from just a little bit on the west coast - the village of Poovar in Kerala to Ichchapuram in Andhra Pradesh. It is handled by two District Headquarters and six Stations, with air support being provided by the base at Chennai and an Air Enclave at Visakhapatnam.
In spite of all that, one wishes the Coast Guard would do something about the junk that is piled up. Not just because of the calls for Swachh Bharat, but also because one of the stated responsibilities of the force is "To preserve & protect the marine environment and control marine pollution"!
Monday, September 29, 2014
Situated within the complex of buildings under the Department of Public Instruction, this building houses what is arguably the first 'lending library' in the country. It was not originally intended to be a library. Started as the Madras Literary Society in 1812, its objective was to be forum - a learned forum to present papers and discuss advances in science, geology, archeology, anthropology and sociology, and then to be a repository for these papers and related collections.
Those papers and collections went on to be the seeds for starting several other institutions such as the University of Madras, the Connemara Library and even the state government's Archeological Department. Even so, it still retains about 80,000 books, which are lent out to the Society's ~200 members. The books are mostly door-delivered; keeping in sync with the institution, most of the members are senior citizens, who are grateful for this service. The library, however, does not lend its older books. Even though the members - at different points, the roster of members included Annie Besant, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Subas Chandra Bose - are very careful about handling the books, the library is careful to circulate only newer books: meaning, ones that were printed after 1950.
It is worth a visit to take a look at some of the older volumes. The oldest is probably a 1619 copy of Aristotle's Opera Omnia. There are of course several stacks of other reference material, going back to the early and middle 20th century. Of course it is a wonderful place for historic research in any of the subjects it specialized in. But if you are a true bibliophile, you must consider volunteering time to help the Society sort and categorize its collections. Otherwise, we might end up continuing to see 'Pride and Prejudice' displayed in the New Arrivals section!
Sunday, September 28, 2014
The festival season is upon us. And very soon, we will have to think about shopping for Deepavali fireworks. Here's an idea. Head out to Bunder Street in George Town, that place where everything can be found and try to strike a deal with the wholesale traders.
Nagoor Crackers may not be the only cracker in town, so make sure you do your research well!
Saturday, September 27, 2014
As a child, he had to support himself from an early age. Barely four when his father died, Viswanathan was a burden to his mother and was forced to fend for himself. No school for him, but as a fetch-and-carry-boy in a cinema theatre somewhere in Kerala lit in him a desire for the silver screen and a love of music. He learnt music - it was the done thing for the lead actor to sing his own songs - thinking of it as the first step to stardom.
It was, but not the kind of stardom he initially dreamt of. He was turned away from his desire of becoming an actor, being advised to focus on his music skills. He was part of a music troupe and then, in combination with a fellow member, went on to become one of the most feted music duo of the 1950s and '60s. Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy was a guarantee of good music, and they delivered several hits, before deciding to go solo.
In that solo phase, Manayangath Subramanian Viswanathan achieved his stardom. In the fashion of the times, when stars were known by their initials rather than names - in the fashion of MGR or NTR - Vishwanathan transformed into MSV; the stardom that he sought was achieved in style. He has become a feature of the south Indian film firmament - and by extension, of popular culture as well. This is his place in the city: Vishwa Keerthi, on Santhome High Road. If you are lucky, you might get to hear a note or few!
Friday, September 26, 2014
Yes, there are several out-of-the-way places within the city itself. One of them is the Nanmangalam Reserve Forest. We have seen parts of this forest before - it is the one where the Great Indian Eagle Owl can be found.
Getting into the forest a couple of weeks ago, we noticed something different from our previous trips inside. There was far less plastic than we were used to seeing. Bowers near the road, which used to have several empty liquor bottles rolling around, were mostly empty and clear. Saplings of teak and other trees had been planted here and there. And then, on our way, we ran into another group, but they were being guided by an Anti-Poaching Watcher of the Forest Department. He demanded to know how we got in to the forest without permission, but wasn't rude about it. Got his boss to talk to us over his cellphone and made us commit to drop by at the Forest Office on our way out.
Though we eventually did go to the Office and make all the required entries in their register, staying around inside the forest dulled our sense of time. So much so that the APW came back cycling to look for us, wondering if we were lost. In a way, we were; by that owl sighting, but also because there were some places like this that we couldn't tear ourselves away from!
Thursday, September 25, 2014
One of the landing approaches to the airport at Meenambakkam takes the aircraft over Guindy. Once upon a long time ago, Guindy used to be thickly forested. It still boasts of one of the smallest national parks in the world (and also one of the few completely contained within a city). Institutions nearby - the IIT Madras and the Raj Bhavan (the governor's residence) retain enough of tree cover for the air passenger to look out and see a green carpet.
Which is suddenly broken by this stretch of grassland. Forming a rough, round-cornered triangle, it has long patches of green and brown. Well, that is one of Chennai city's three golf clubs; this one is run by the Madras Gymkhana, which started off their golf links on Island Grounds before moving to this location sometime around 1887. Even though they have moved inland from their original location, the course is still styled as links.
It is a 6690 yard, par 72 course. Though it was only a 9 hole course when it started off, it graduated through 14 and 16 holes before becoming a full fledged 18-hole course. Given the nature of the terrain - with its scrub jungle pedigree - it was a course where players played off the browns for nearly a century. It was only in the 1980s that the transformation to greens began; as you can see, the browns are not giving up so easily. Despite being small and treeless, it is supposedly a tough course to play on, thanks to the narrow fairways, challenging roughs and swirling winds. If that is not enough, you will also be distracted by horses running around - this is probably the only golf club in the world that is fully ensconced within a horse race track!