Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Having said all that, nobody from Chennai with any pretentions of being an athlete can ignore this stadium. With most schools not having enough space to conduct a full-fledged sports meet, this stadium has for long been first choice for such activities. It is almost the default venue for any inter-school, inter-college or inter-university track-and-field competition being held in Chennai. Indeed, for a very long while, it was the only one available for such pursuits. On a rare day when there was no event being held in the stadium, it would be filled with several marginal sportspersons - all those who got into various government and quasi-government institutions on the 'sports quota', needing to put in those hours of practice needed to maintain their 'sports quota' presence.
The red-clay track at this stadium has seen some really serious rivalries over the years, between various schools and colleges in the city. These days, one doesn't get to hear about them - either their 'news value' of such events has lessened or the events themselves have; and I do hope it is only the former!
Monday, September 29, 2008
In 1687, Sir Josiah Child, the Chairman of the Company, succeeded in persuading King James II to issue a Royal Charter creating the Corporation of Madras to administer this new city. Persuasion must have been necessary for, until then, such an institution had not been created anywhere outside Britain and the King would have been reluctant to associate with an experiment happening so far away. But Sir Josiah did succeed and the Charter was issued on December 30, 1687. Yet, it took 9 more months before it could be implemented - the bulk of that period must have been taken up with Elihu Yale negotiating to keep many of his powers. And so, on September 29, 1688, the Corporation of Madras was inaugurated with the Mayor, 12 Aldermen and 29 Burgesses - a considerably mutiracial group they were, comprising Company officers, French, Portugese & Hebrew, as well as 'Gentu' merchants.
The 'experiment' has obviously been successful: the Corporation of Madras became the blueprint for setting up similar institutions in India and elsewhere - another instance of how Madras has been a torchbearer for the world!
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Until about 25-30 years ago, Cooum was pleasant; the tourism department maintained boat houses at various points along the river and they were actually used. Even then, some warning noises were being made. A study in 1975 showed that the number of fish species in the river had dropped to less than half, from 49 in the early fifties, to 21. But nobody cared and the city of Madras continued to pour its filth, sewage and industrial effluents into the Cooum, believing she'd be able to bear all of it and more. Over the past decades, she has given up and is today a stagnant cesspool, an embarrassing reminder of the Chennai-ite's unconcern and a potential health-hazard to anyone who ventures too close to it.
There is hope, however. If you want your voice to be heard in support of reviving the Cooum, please speak up at 'Cooum Subbasin Restoration & Management'; this website is expected to provide updates on the progress of the latest World Bank funded 'IAMWARM' project, specific to the revival of the Cooum. I hope that we will once again see the boat house in this photo filled with people, very soon!
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Nadar: A caste / community in Tamil Nadu, believed to be able to trace their lineage to the ancient Pandya kings. The word itself means 'ruler of the land' and possibly refers to the title given to those who were vassal chieftains of the Pandya rulers.
Virudhunagar: A town in southern Tamil Nadu that is the headquarters of the district with the same name. Just south of Madurai, this region was one of the earliest strongholds of the Nadar community. Given the community's traditional strengths, it is also a trading hub for both agricultural goods as well as products like matches, cement or textiles.
So where does a Nadar from Virudhunagar stay when he has to come to the state capital to trade? This mansion near the Chennai Central railway station may have been built with that facility in mind, but the trader Nadars of today are likely too well off to be using such accommodation. Being close to the station, it is not a favoured haunt for those who have some kind of permanence in the city - mansions in T.Nagar or Triplicane are more ideal. Here, the space is taken up by some of the hundreds of people who come to Madras every day, in the hope of making their mark.
Friday, September 26, 2008
All the more so in Chennai, where the heat continues to remain at fairly high levels even in September. So, even though the festive season is at hand, Spencer's Plaza is still seeing a lot of traffic that comes in just to stay cool and hang around, rather than to tick off any shopping list. The airconditioning at the mall must be overworked with all that crowd; this view from across Binny Road shows many individual airconditioning units working to supplement the mall's cooling tower!
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
But you'd expect the off-peak hours traffic to be saner. And it is, usually. But the lighter traffic also lets the regular drivers relax - and that's what seemed to have happened to this bus driver, too. He was moving too slowly to be real and the van thought it a good idea to cut ahead - it was lucky that the bus driver woke up in time - the 'Hhwooornunk' of his brakes got everyone to turn around - including the two bikes in front, who then demonstrated their interpretation of Brownian motion before speeding away!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
And in those days, you wouldn't dare step away from the shop to watch life go by, because you needed to be sure that your chillies were being done just the way you wanted and that they did not mix with others. Today, even if the shop seems anachronistic, it is good to see it there, offering proof that there are still some really old-fashioned folks in the city!
Monday, September 22, 2008
Yet, the flower had some more mystery for me. It was pointed out to me as a bottle-brush flower and so I googled for bottle brush flowers. Of course there were a lot of results, but none of them matched the flower I had seen. They were close, but not an exact match and that was gnawing away at me. It was only over this weekend that, thanks to Dr. Bhanumathi of the MNS that I learnt that I was way off: the bottle-brush flower belongs to a completely different genus altogether and this one was closer to the touch-me-nots rather than bottle-brushes. In fact, it is sometimes called the sickle-bush and is considered a pest, because it is very hardy and its seeds can lie dormant for up to a year. In some parts of the world, unchecked growth of this plant has caused large tracts of agricultural land to become unfit for cultivation.
After getting to know all that, I guess it is good thing that I haven't seen it too often - I will now be happy for us to enjoy the beauty of this flower in small doses!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
The other option for watching a movie in the open, is to head out to one of the Clubs in the city. Almost all of them have a weekend movie show for members and it is usually a recent film that's screened. For a reluctant movie goer like me, it is a good option to go to the Madras Race Club and catch up on a recent Tamil, Hindi or English movie over a couple of drinks. The movies are shown old style, with at least a couple of changes of the film reels on the projector, when the screen goes blank, and folks use that time to refill their orders of drinks or snacks. When there are friends around, it is nice to continue sitting on the lawn after the movie over a slowish Saturday dinner. Yesterday, it was difficult to resist the temptation to go, for the movie was 'Jaane tu ya jaane na' - we arrived early enough to make sure we got good seats.
A movie here comes with a small drawback, though. The Club is right under one of the landing paths to the Chennai airport. As the aircraft comes from behind the screen, you might not get distracted with its light; but when it roars overhead, you can be sure that you'll miss a couple of words from the dialogue!
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Beginning with the Senate House, the University today occupies several buildings along the Marina. Even though it is very clear what it's name is, there are many who are confused about it - thankfully, the word 'Chennai' does not enter into the confusion. Several people refer to it as Madras University, which probably gets the point across, but is an obvious misnomer - or am I being too exact about it?
It seems to me that the person in charge of putting this fence around one of the University's buildings also had a similar confusion. Luckily for him, he could play it safe and cover both options by just turning a few of the grills around!
Friday, September 19, 2008
But as a collective, the chest-thumping that has gone on about 3 medals is slightly disconcerting. Especially after having seen the berserk behaviour of Indian cricket fans who go to either extreme depending on the team's performance, I shudder to think of what would happen if India were to bring home, say, 30 medals from London 2012. Would the energy be dissipated across the 30 medal winners? Would the celebrations be ten times as riotous? And what would happen if 2016 sees us drop back to 5 medals? The mind boggles.
Maybe the people behind this congratulatory message were also assailed by similar thoughts, which could be one reason why they have chosen to 'singular'ly congratulate the medal winners!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Though it was named 'India House', it was better known as 'Vasan's House', after SS Vasan, a one-time owner. Vasan having been a film director, it seemed a natural progression for the house to be used, after his lifetime, as a set for movies and TV serials. It was over 70 years old and with every shooting schedule, it probably took longer to recover, until it was no longer a viable proposition to be hired out. Its gates were shut after the last unit left sometime at the end of 2004; sale - agreement - construction followed and in 2007, Acropolis opened its doors to host quite a few IT companies.
Its first owner, the entrepreneur C.Rajam used the money from the sale of 'India House' to set up the Madras Institute of Technology; with the latest sale, 'India House' has made way to a Technology Park!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
He translated several ancient Tamizh texts into English, including the Naladiyar and the Thirukkural, but ever a punctilious scholar, many of his works were published when he was well into his 60s, after he was sure that he was a master of the language. And he continued publishing his translations, lexicons and guide books of Tamizh until he turned 80; it is said that he finished his translation of Thiruvachagam on his 80th birthday and with it, considered his "life's literary work" closed. He kept his word and there were no more major writings from him in for the last eight years of his life, though he continued to be an active leader of the church almost until his death in 1908.
That's why you find this statue of Rev. G.U.Pope standing on the Marina, unveiled along with many others in January 1968, to mark the World Tamil Congress in Madras.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It was therefore a challenge to any butcher to sell pork. Buying it in the form of sausages or ham from Spencer's was the chosen mode. As pork gained popularity, other 'cold storage' outlets began to stock it, but even then, it was always the processed meat. The only shop that I have seen selling fresh pork is this one near the Saidapet bus stand on Mount Road. For RGS, the positioning was, and continues to be, important. This shop does not sell any old pig; it is 'white pork' that is sold (and it says so even more explicitly, 'white pig meat', in Tamizh).
This shop came to mind after a question at the Madras Day Quiz - What are the ingredients of Chinnamalai Pork Curry? This shop is close enough to Chinnamalai to have been the bespoke supplier of the main ingredient of that dish!
Monday, September 15, 2008
Safire was the true sparkler, showing grand movies, mainly English, but Hindi and Tamil as well, if the scale of the movie required it. Emerald was the 'janta' theatre, where the regular movies were shown. At a time when Safire's balcony seats were priced at Rs.2.90, Blue Diamond charged Rs.7 for its tickets. And the movies were sometimes unheard of, released in the festival circuit and largely ignored by both the regular movie goers and those discerning, appreciative film audience. For Blue Diamond catered to a completely different segment: the Rs.7 ticket allowed you entry anytime from 9.00 am (yes, AM!) and you could stay in the theatre watching the same film over and over again, until the last show ended around midnight. Without realizing what I was watching, I've been enthralled by Sergei Eisenstein's "Que Viva Mexico", but have also sat (repeatedly) through some horrendous duds. It was fun to go to Blue-D, but it was not something that you'd let parents know about!
The complex was pulled down nearly 15 years ago. Since then, this empty 1-acre lot reflects the emptiness any true Madrasi feels when s/he looks at it - the Safire Complex was such an object of pride and joy that it seems like nothing can ever take its place!
Sunday, September 14, 2008
And then came this hotel, which offered stiff competition to Buhari; 'Bilal' in Arabic means the 'chosen one' and for a while, it probably caused confusion in the southern districts as they tried to figure out how to reconcile this with the biryani at Buhari. It must have been a cushy task, to compare the biryanis of the competitors - I can imagine repeated samplings before the verdict was delivered: "There is no comparision - the biryani served by Buhari and Bilal are far superior to anything found elsewhere!".
Today, Bilal Hotel is no more. New Bilal, a feeble attempt at re-branding, takes shelter under a broader name of New Bilal Hotel and Bakery. Looking neither like a Hotel nor a Bakery, it runs its business from a small portion of the large building that was Bilal Hotel - the other parts have run to seed. A great fall indeed, for the 'chosen one'!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
If there is one thing to commend it for, it is the completely pacifist nature of its operations. Yes, pacifist, for this is not a scion of the Soviet secret service. This KGB is the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, the sales and marketing outlet of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. It is one of those archaic operations that were set up to give life to Mahatma Gandhi's ideas of bringing prosperity to the villages. It is a good place to shop, but for most of the year, the merchandise on display looks so run down that you'd think several times before buying something. During the festival season, there are some things that can become very specific to KGB; the golu dolls, for instance. If you shop for your dolls at the KGB, it seems almost certain that your golu will have a wide variety. Gods stand next to cows; village folk look on as Vyasa dictates the Mahabharata to Ganapathy; cub scouts salute women drawing water from the village well. And a reasonably wide range of national heroes, for those who would like to wear their patriotism on a golu.
Right now, Durga is the centrepiece; the golu is a traditional arrangement of dolls, specific to Tamil Nadu, during the Navarathri festival. There are still a couple of weeks to go before the festival begins on September 30; but the crowd was thick enough for me to have to wait a while to get a clear picture!
Friday, September 12, 2008
This statue was probably unveiled at around the same time as the 3rd Delhi Durbar, sometime in 1912/13. I can only guess at that, because there seems to be no record of the statue having been installed. On the pedestal itself, the inscriptions have faded out, so there is nothing to be gained from getting very close to the statue, either. In some ways, we are lucky that it is still around: it is obviously not getting much attention despite being very close to the seat of government, so the inference is that it is being allowed to go to seed.
It has caught up with the times; I had mentioned (here and here) how some of the newer statues in Chennai don't seem to have any information about them; these days, the King Emperor has also joined that list!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
This picture is of a house on the banks of the River Adayar, as it curves behind the TNGF-Cosmo golf links. It is a rather unusual sight for Chennai; such greenery, right to the water's edge, is normally something one finds in Kerala. The profusion of coconut trees adds to the illusion that this is set in Kerala. There is one significant difference, though. In Kerala, the water-bodies, be they backwaters or rivers, are very rarely still; there is some movement, caused either by the running water itself or by the boatmen who use the waterways.
The Adayar is completely still, almost to the point of appearing stagnant!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
We drive on the left of the road; at least most of the time, we drive on the left-ish side of the road. On a rainy day, especially when the road shoulders start flooding, street wisdom is to take the middle path - chances of some fresh cut ditches on the side of the road are always high and the rain water would obviously hide them. Most drivers therefore prefer to not take the chance of their vehicles getting stuck in a rut and the middle-of-the-road approach becomes commonplace. And we did it too, even though this road we were on was not flooded. As we approached a T-junction, I saw this car coming from our left, while we were to turn right. The picture taken through the windshield is fuzzy for obvious reasons - there was a drizzle going on. Both cars crossed and went our ways without any fuss.
It was only after we crossed that I realized we had had each other on the left as we passed! Both vehicles had taken the path of least distance, rather than go around to each other's right!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
She certainly had done a lot to be entitled to respect. Okay, she continued to use her married name even after separating from her clergyman husband, but that's a minor point; divorce just didn't happen in late 19th century England. She believed in her causes, be they women's rights, workers' rights, state sponsored faith and several others that she adopted as her own. One such cause was that of the Indian National Congress which, in its early years, had no thoughts about seeking independence from the British. Annie Besant who was always a supporter of Irish self-rule, started a similar movement in India, the Home Rule League. In some ways, it was her activities that first prodded the British into making statements about self-government for India.
This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of her death. The majority of her time in India was spent in Adyar, where the headquarters of the Theosophical Society is located and that was where she died. This statue, though, is on the Marina - even if it isn't being cleaned regularly, the garden around it gives it an aura that other statues nearby lack!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Located inside a 650 acre estate, the OTA seems far away from the city, even though it is very much within the limits of the Chennai urban agglomeration. In any case, anything that is off Mount Road has always been considered as being part of the city, so the OTA has been very much a part of Chennai since it was set up. On Sundays, the cadets would head to the shopping arcades and movie halls, in small groups. It used to be very easy to identify them as OTA cadets; grey trousers, black shoes shined to reflect the sky, the crew cuts and the red-and-bluish-grey-and-black striped ties. It seemed unfair that the cadets had to be in their uniforms even on a Sunday movie trip; but none of them seemed to mind it at all. I'm not sure if the rules have been relaxed now, but I have not seen the Sunday uniforms for a while now. Maybe they're less stiff these days.
One of the best features of the OTA campus is the statue in the lounge area of the Cadets' Mess; even with this poor photo, it is possible to identify The Buddha from his posture. At first look, it seemed incongruous, but as one of the officers at the Academy told me, no one desires peace as much as army personnel do - only that they have to be prepared to kill or die for it, if need be!
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Within the campus, the deer walk around unhindered; they do find their way into the living areas, too. At times it might be a problem for the residents. They may look gentle enough, but the more familiar they become with humans, the less nervous they get. Sometimes, they may go so far as to frightening children. With an average weight of about 80 kg, you really don't want to pick an argument with that kind of antler-tipped mass. This one, however, was not too keen on mixing it up with us in any way and moved away quickly.
There are so many of them around the IIT Madras campus, that when the Institute renamed its annual cultural festival, they chose the name 'Saarang' - another name for this spotted deer!
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Where there is demand, there are middlemen. Young men desperate to join the army land up at the big cities every day. For many of them, this visit to the city is their first experience of a world beyond their village. As with any scam, this one too would start small; say Rs.10/- to fill up the form in a way that betters the chance of being selected; and would then go on to a few thousand rupees to guarantee a job as a soldier.
The army tries to warn them - with the Chennai Recruiting Zone covering the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, this warning sign has its message in 4 languages; English, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. One hopes that potential soldiers are not so daring as to chance the possibility of being taken for a ride!
Friday, September 5, 2008
In the days after the flyover was inaugurated, the Madras High Court has been kept busy: each time the Corporation proposed a new location - in one of the side streets - the residents have rushed to the Court, seeking a stay on the move; predictably, no one seems happy with any of the suggestions. Tempers are running high; no one has any solution. Sample this; one day last month, the police helped the Corporation officials enforce the movement of hawkers onto Pinjala Subramanian Street and then warned them not to open for business, fearing the wrath of the residents. The ward councillor too beat a quick retreat when he found that, as the sole representative of authority, he was being targetted by anyone who was agitated.
These bundles remain, seemingly marking a grudging truce - storing okay, selling not - between the residents and the hawkers. And the powers that be continue to ponder over a situation that does not seem to have a satisfactory resolution!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Chennai's autos have earned an especially bad reputation. Visitors to Chennai arriving at the Chennai Central or the airport will be completely thrown off whack by auto drivers who appear to be militantly uni-lingual, speaking Tamizh and refusing to understand any other language. And the rates, of course are doubled or even trebled - if you are a first-time visitor, you could not have imagined a worse way to be introduced to the city. It is not as if the autos in other parts of the city are saintly; only that you have a better chance to haggle over the rates. There cannot be anyone in Chennai who can claim that the overwhelming majority of their experiences with auto drivers has been good; at best, there is a grudging acknowledgement that one can get lucky sometimes. Many efforts have been made to counter the notoriety - regular reports in the papers about honest auto drivers, movies showing them as regular guys, encouraging women auto drivers - but they've not succeeded in any significant way. Chennai's autos are a law unto themselves.
One of the most visible efforts is the introduction of 'Tourist Friendly Autos' - identified by their lighter colour and the tourism related pictures and logos on their body. Begun about 4 months ago with a batch of 39 specially screened (and trained) drivers, this initiative of the Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has grown to include about one hundred autos in Chennai and quite a few in other cities also. The TTDC has a list of the first 39 on their website, but they seem to be quite wary of adding to that list!
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Vinayaka is probably the most prevalent of the deities in the city. There is a belief that if your house is at a T-junction, a small statue of Vinayaka (or even a tile with His image) must be placed in a way that it looks down to the foot of the 'T', so as to deflect any ill-luck that might come up that road. Add to that the numerous clay idols that have made expressly to celebrate the Chathurthi and there is a glut of Ganeshas all over Chennai. There are pujas at each one and if you pause there, you will be given a leaf-plate with some prasad; kozhukattai or modakam, typically, as it is Ganesha's favourite food. And then you can have a bit of suspense as you taste it, because it comes in both sweet and savoury forms.
On Venkatnarayana Road, there is a space just outside the JYM Kalyana Mandapam (Marriage Hall) where a group of devotees build a large Vinayaka every year. When they started the practice, it was a clay-and-papier-mache idol: like any other, only bigger. But for the past few years, the materials have been varied - can you find out how many vegetables it takes to make a Vinayaka?
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
This shortfall has led to a power cut being imposed all across the state. Factories have been asked to declare an additional off-day each week, as a 'power holiday'. Rolling blackouts have been imposed in all areas. The first such power cut regime came into effect in mid-July; within a week, it was withdrawn for most consumers. Since yesterday, the cuts are back with a vengeance - Chennai will have blackouts for 1.5 hours each day; the suburbs of Chennai will be powerless for 3 hours a day. The rest of the state, though has to suffer through 5 hours without electricity. That creates strong resentment against the city dwellers and there are several demands for more 'equitable power cuts'. But with Chennai generating roughly 4.5% of India's GDP (and about 40% of Tamil Nadu's), longer power cuts in the city will have a huge knock-on effect - and a longer recovery time post the crisis.
The picture is of a substation in the city, just after a new transformer was installed a few weeks ago. Maybe this one too needs a good spell of rain for it to start working!
Monday, September 1, 2008
A similar display of unity was what was probably in mind when a city from the USSR became Chennai's first sister city. That was in 1966, when the Mayors of Stalingrad and Madras signed the Protocol of Friendship, establishing their sisterly ties. Since then, both cities have changed their names; Stalingrad is now Volgograd and Madras has moved on to be called Chennai. The second sister took a while in coming - it was in 1984 that Madras established a second sister city partnership. Today, Chennai has four sister cities, the two most recent being Frankfurt, Germany, in 2005 and San Antonio, Texas, USA, in February 2008. It was surprising to read that San Antonio had actually "outgunned Houston in securing a sister city agreement" with Chennai; I can't recall anything significant that has come out of the earlier sister city agreements. In fact, most of the cities appear fairly reticent about their siblings. The Corporation of Chennai website does not have any mention about its sisters; a search of the Alamo city's homepage throws up a couple of press releases about its Indian sister; Volgograd's website remains stuck in the past, continuing to show Karate Thiagarajan as the Mayor of Chennai. Frankfurt is like Chennai - no mention of sister cities on Frankfurt city's website.
Denver, Colorado, USA, where history was made on Thursday, is no exception; the city's website shows a 'City of Madras' Park. But thanks to a friend, I understand that action on the ground need not always get tom-tommed - the photograph that he sent me shows that the sign has been changed as 'City of Chennai Park'. So maybe there is a lot that is being done through the Sister City relationships that we don't get to see - and I hope we'll be able to find out what the benefits have been!
Today is 'Theme Day' for the City Daily Photo folks; there are 147 other 'sister cities' taking part in September's Theme Day. Click here to view thumbnails of all participants. Click'>http://www.citydailyphoto.com/portal/themes_archive.php?tid=7">Click here to view thumbnails for all participants