Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Here's wishing everyone around the world a happy, prosperous, peaceful, healthy and fulfilling time in 2009!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
With the demand for products like butter being greater from British households (the Indians presumably churned their own), the first plains location for Nilgiri's Dairy Farm was Bangalore, in 1939. By 1945, the store had expanded under Muthusamy's son Chenniappan and was offering a range of products, including ice-creams and confectionery, apart from the flagship dairy and bakery products. With a pasteurising plant in Erode, it was not too difficult to service both Bangalore and Madras, so in the 1960s, Nilgiri's products began to be sold by the Madras Farm Agencies. It would be another two decades before the first full fledged Nilgiri's store was opened in Madras, in 1981.
That store on Radhakrishnan Salai still remains the only Niligiri's run operation in Chennai, along with the Nilgiri's Nest hotel; the other stores in the city are all franchises. Actis, a PE firm took a 51% stake in Niligiri's two years ago to help the chain expand from its current 30-odd stores (in 2006) to about 500 stores by 2011. Not bad for a runner's business-on-the-side!
Monday, December 29, 2008
While that may not be technically correct - the Poonga will be fed by a canal that runs off from the river just where Adyar joins the sea (does that make it a creek?) and will therefore be impacted by the coastal tides, too. In any case, once it is done, the Poonga will have restored this diverse ecosystem, which will in turn motivate similar projects along the Adayar's course, or along other rivers. But the scope of the Poonga is vast, by the standards of conservation projects in Chennai; the first phase, which is the public face of the Poonga, expected to be completed by December 2010, will cover about 58 acres, which is roughly a sixth of the 358 acres around the creek/estuary to be covered under the Ecological Restoration Programme.
For now, all you can see is some very basic information on the flora and fauna of the region; at this time of the year, there are quite a few migratory waterbirds that are nesting on an island just inside. With an opening time of 10 am, the Poonga's promise of visiting a forest and getting back to Chennai by breakfast time seems a tad out of reach just yet!
Sunday, December 28, 2008
With teachers like Ariyakudi Ramanujam Iyer, Papanasam Sivan and Madurai Mani Iyer, Rajam's musical talent blossomed early; at thirteen, he began giving public performances. By the time he finished school, he had not only given several stage performances but had also acted in three movies - the first being 'Seetha Kalyanam', produced by Prabhat Studios of Pune (R.V.Shantaram, one of the founders of Prabhat, was trying to offset the losses incurred by the first Indian colour film, Sairandhri and offered produce a Tamizh film with the same sets and props). Rajam played Rama and his sister Jayalakshmi played the role of Seetha - this casting offended many and they strongly castigated the father, Sundaram Iyer, for allowing his children to play the roles of husband and wife! (Incidentally, that movie also had Sundaram Iyer acting as Janaka, while two more of his children, Saraswathi and Balachander, acted as Urmila and as a child musician in Ravana's court, respectively)
Maybe that was a factor in Rajam moving onto art; he joined the Government of Madras School of Arts and Crafts. With his immense talent, he completed the six year course in four years. He developed his own style, blending his love of music with classical art to give visual form to musical notes, picturing the flow of several ragas and of course, countless portraits of Carnatic music composers and Tamizh poet-saints across the ages. That his work is still very much in demand is evident from the stack of semi-finished paintings on his table!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Everybody knows of the Trinity. No, not the ones of religion, but those of Carnatic music. And if you know of them, I'll bet that even as you read this, you will be seeing them sitting together, Dikshitar with his veena, Thyagarajar and Syama Sastri with their tamburus, the former facing us and the latter showing us his left profile. I'm sure I've won the bet, for that's how most of us, especially those who haven't read up on Carnatic music to any great extent, have known of this trinity. Even on the (separate) postage stamps released to honour these individuals, the images of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri are exactly the same as you'd see on the pictures of the Trinity.
So why is Thyagaraja different? Part of the reason could be due to the growing influence of a versatile gentleman named Rajam. In 1961, when Thyagaraja's stamp was released, he was around 42 years old; while he was well-respected for his music and his art, the latter hadn't reached that stage of universal recognition where everyone knows the painting but has no clue as to the artist! By 1976, when Dikshitar was accorded the honour of a postage stamp, the image was the one that Rajam was also basing his work upon, for that meant quick recognition. In 1985, when the stamp on Syama Sastri was being prepared, Rajam's painting was used as the basis for the stamp (but credit was apparently not given). The story goes that an unknown artist had begun work on a portrait of Sastri, but could only complete it till the neck before composer's death. It was Rajam who gave it a body and, in the 1940s, brought together the three greats when the Music Academy commissioned him to paint the Trinity.
Since then, Rajam has made literally hundreds of the Trinity paintings; last week, when some of us had a chance to visit him at home, he showed us a pile of the same paintings that he was working on, among others. As he sketched an outline for us, it was indeed an honour to see the image of the Trinity coming into shape before our eyes!
Friday, December 26, 2008
But for some reason, the Madras Collectorate was a more workmanlike office; the first building exclusively for the District Collector of Madras was one that was constructed almost a century earlier; it had been built in 1793 for the use of merchants who could not be accommodated inside Fort St George. It was only after some renovations in 1817, when the Supreme Court of Madras moved to it, that the building was named 'Bentinck's Building'. It continued to house the Presidency High Court, after the Supreme Court of Madras was abolished in 1862. In 1892, after the Courts vacated Bentinck's Building to move to their own complex that the building took on the mantle of the Collectorate. It was used as such until the mid-1980s, when they vacated the building for it to be pulled down. The decision to demolish the building was taken in the mid-1970s, but the vanguard of Chennai's heritage movement managed to stave off the act for well over a decade. Once the Collectorate moved out, the building was literally left to rot. However, it didn't cooperate and after about five years of waiting for it to collapse, the official machinery took on that task itself - at it took them more than a year to do it, such was the solidity of Bentinck's Building. The only part of the old complex they left undisturbed was the last cupola that held the wandering statue of Lord Cornwallis.
In its place came up this rather unimaginative and uninspiring block. Even naming it after Comrade M.Singaravelar, that doyen of India's labour movement, has done little to create any feeling of awe, it just looks like an administrative block!
A picture of Bentinck's building can be seen on the Chennai Collectorate webpage.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Unkempt it is, alright. The three clock towers that have been written about earlier were all showing the correct time, even if the one at Doveton could have done with a coat of paint. This one seems to have had a recent paint job done on it, but that does not make up for the lack of functionality. Each face shows a different time; before anyone makes a claim that this clock tower shows international times, let me add that the clock has stopped running, too.
All told, the excitement of seeing the dial on the roadmap wore off very quickly. This is not one of the old world clock towers; the foundation stone at its base was in Tamizh, though the letters are indecipherable. From what can be seen, one would guess this tower to be about 30 to 40 years old; with the older ones working fine, age cannot be an excuse for its almost complete neglect!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
As the pace of the workaday increased, lunch from home became a rare luxury; add to that the Parsn Manere coming up as an office complex for small businesses, many of them were just half the size of a lunch room anyway. That's when there was an explosion of lunch options within half-a-kilometre radius of the Gemini Circle. They included roadside vendors, lunch deliveries, dinky little vehicles with candy-stripe awnings that would drive up, park and unfold their wares at lunch time only. Many of those options, especially the step-out-of-office-to-eat ones, died out quickly. Palimar is one of the survivors from that era of the 1980s.
Of course, the food is not what it used to be. Somehow Palimar seemed to be always opening another restaurant somewhere else; those would be good for a while, but would then shut down rather quickly. With so much of attention focussed on the new locations, the quality at the 'original' Palimar has kept on its downward track, more's the pity!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Long years ago, the villagers of Vedanthangal were intrigued by the huge number of birds that visited them year after year, just after the monsoons. Not fully understanding their migratory patterns, the villagers protected them still, for they realized that the water in the tank was enriched by the birds' droppings, thereby providing natural fertilizer for their fields. Thus, when the British arrived at this location in the early 20th century, drawn by abundant quarry for their game shoots, the villagers protested and made sure the hunters didn't return after the first season. Others did, most notably R.S.P.Bates, who pieced together evidence to show that heronries existed in Vedanthangal as far back as 1798. Thanks to their efforts, the area became India's first bird sanctuary in 1895. More recently, some scholars have postulated that Vedanthangal's history dates back thousands of years; let's just say that the villagers have always known and appreciated the role played by their winter visitors.
The southern edge of the lake, as I've said, is a walkway, built on a high bund bordering the lake. At its easternmost end, the bund falls off and you see this - imagine building a wall to keep the waters in the lake!
The birds of Vedanthangal are too beautiful for my dinky camera to do justice to them. Charlie's blog post on Vedanthangal, at http://10000birds.com/, has some great pictures; the ones I did take are on this Picasa page.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Haven't been able to find any reference to that building anywhere. It used to house the office of the DIG of Police; but that was quite a while earlier, almost 12 years ago. The demolition of Goschen Home does not seem to have troubled anyone in Chennai!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Things can only get better for it, one hopes. With a subway under construction at the Chinna Gate, this road will end up being one that just runs along, without taking you anywhere. If it comes to that, I wonder how all this space would be used!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Cut to the city life. Where do buses go when their useful life is over? Sure, there must be some wrecking yards somewhere that cut, rip, and tear apart the pipes, cast iron and sheet metal that make up the elephants of the city. The images that come to mind of such yards are all from Hollywood movies. I cannot remember having seen a similar yard anywhere in Chennai. But once the scale is recalibrated, it seems likely they are all over the place. More likely that the scrap dealers go to the condemned buses and reduce them to pieces of metal with just a couple of oxy-acetylene torches, than have all the outdated buses come to one place.
There is probably one place, somewhere near Porur, where I've seen a couple of bus 'skeletons' standing around. Seeing this going in the same general direction, I guess that's where the bus graveyard is. Does anyone know for sure?
Friday, December 19, 2008
At the turn of the millenium however, Chennai was completely dry. The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (Metrowater) was simply unable to pump water out of the ground. Various ideas were put forward, including proposals for a giant de-salination plant feeding on the Bay of Bengal. Through all that hot air that circulated, the only means of getting water across to the city was the fleet of tankers that were owned or leased by the Metrowater. Traversing the city from their filling points at various locations in the 16 Metrowater zones, the tankers tried to meet the water needs of the city dwellers; but the long lines of colourful plastic pots, queueing up for the tanker to arrive, just did not seem to be shortening. Today, some of those proposals are being, or have been, implemented. The desalination plants are being built, even if on a less grandiose scale than was originally proposed.
But until those plans are implemented, tankers (like the one in the picture, coming out of the Mylapore - Nandanam distribution point) will remain the lifeline to a majority of Chennai's citizens!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Unless of course, it is a comment on the nature of the bridge work that's in progress...
Take your pick!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Formally, The Music Academy came into being on August 18, 1928, when it was inaugurated by CP Ramaswamy Aiyer. Dr. U.Rama Rau was its Founder-President and so, the office of the Academy began functioning out of his dispensary at 323, Thambu Chetty Street. Mandated to hold annual music conferences and other music conferences whenever convenient, the newly formed academy always struggled to find suitable venues. The first few conferences (annual or otherwise) were held at various parts of Chennai: behind the Ripon Building; at 'Funnels', on General Patters Road, at Woodlands, Royapettah, at the University's Senate House and even at Dr. Rama Rau's dispensary. Tired of such itinerant conferences, TT Krishnamachari and Kasturi Srinivasan worked hard to come up with this permanent complex for the Academy, and are remembered through the names of the auditoria in the complex.
Somewhat surprisingly, it took seven years fom the time the foundation stone was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru to the day when Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar declared it open. Thankfully, the time taken seems to have been worth it!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Of course, we believe that we learn from our mistakes; maybe we learn from the smaller ones - the malls of today are more airy, spacious-looking (and safer?) than the shopping centres of old where shops were crammed in all shapes and sizes, with merchandise spilling out on to walking area too. The larger mistakes? They're probably too large to be seen with the naked eye. The Chennai City Centre seems to be impressive at first look, with its mish-mash of architectural styles and flourishes. I try to avoid going to it though, because the overpowering feeling is of claustrophobia.
That's not something hundreds of other people feel, obviously. The Chennai City Centre should be thankful for that!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
In a dangerous portent of a self-fulfilling prophecy foretold, the state government has excluded Chennai from the list of cities where tourist facilities are proposed to be augmented. Mr. V. Sriram, the writer, has detailed several reasons why Chennai's wonderful tourist attractions are overlooked - and in doing so, has given enough ideas for entrepreneurs to come up with business plans centered on Chennai tourism. One of the points has to do with lack of information at the airport. It may not be what Mr. Sriram had meant, but for a long while, there was not even sign indicating the direction to take towards the city, at the airport. The sign shown here came up only a few years ago.
Behind the sign is the new flyover, allowing vehicles coming into Chennai from the southern districts to go over the traffic that turns into the airport. That vehicle to the left of the sign stood on the flyover for quite a long while, allowing its passenger the chance to see several aircraft taking off and landing - now, that seems to be a new kind of sight-seeing tourist demographic that could be tapped into!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Tamil Nadu was one of the early states to open up engineering education to the private sector, through self-financing colleges; over the past 25 years, the early colleges have moved up to becoming well respected institutions. The newer ones come in knowing fully well that they have to hit the ground running with decent infrastructure, faculty and support services if they hope to succeed. That's a far cry from the early self-financing colleges, some of which had palm-leaf roofed classrooms and no laboratory infrastructure to speak of. The first batches of students were grateful that they had the opportunity to work towards an engineering degree, that they thought nothing of clambering on to the overloaded public transport system to reach their colleges on the outskirts of Madras.
Today, it is a competitive disadvantage for a college not to have its own transport service for students and faculty - the early morning roads see the buses of several colleges zooming away from the city, full of students catching up on their sleep. Luxury for the students? More an indictment of a public transport infrastructure that hasn't kept up with the changing needs!
Friday, December 12, 2008
Noticed this shop a few days ago, but when I passed by it today, the fallen buntings of some political party showed up a nice contrast of colour with the blue and pink...
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Legend has it that Shiva wanted to put an end to a quarrel between Brahma and Vishnu over who was the more powerful of the two. Distracted by a huge pillar of fire, the two of them travel to opposite ends of the pillar - and realize that this is a pillar of fire without beginning or end, the whole of eternity, the Lord Shiva himself. The lamps lit today symbolize that form of Shiva, which is manifest at Thiruvannamalai, as Arunachalam.
This is legend after all. So it needs a counter legend, too; it was on the full moon day of Karthigai that six babies were found floating on the lotus leaves at Saravana Poigai. Parvathi, who found them, joined them together to create her child, Karthikeyan. Whichever be the legend you choose, the small charad / agal vilakku (earthern lamp) in front of the houses remind you that this is the festival of lights, after all!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Who was the 'Pondy' of the bazaar? Was it a contraction of 'Pandian' the dynasty that ruled over Madurai of yore? Was it because the first traders came from Pondicherry - one version has it that a certain Devaraja Mudaliar from Pondicherry built the first shops on Sir Theyagaraya Road and called it Pondy Bazaar? Or, as a school mate averred, long years ago, is it a corruption of the lingerie that's one of the fastest selling items on the pavement?
Some years ago, the state government declared that the original name of this market - 'bazaar' in Hindi, 'angadi' in Tamil - is 'Soundarapandianar Angadi'. Conveniently, they did not mention what Soundarapandianar's claim to fame is, so I'm guessing he must be some party big shot's ancestor!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Today it is the Adyar Bridge; the older Elphinstone bridge just to its east is broken in the middle and cannot even think of holding traffic any longer. It had served the city well, in the 133 years of its life. In 1846, just six years after construction was complete, one of the pillars of the Elphinstone Bridge was swept away by monsoon-fed current of the Adyar. The bridge continued its function without any readily apparent shortcomings.
We wish that the 'new' Thiru Vi Ka bridge remains for at least half the time that its predecessor did!
Monday, December 8, 2008
But in its time it was the lord of the west side of Kodambakkam bridge. It was the landmark; businesses nearby have used its name to further their interests, be it Liberty Park (the hotel) or Liberty Xerox, a photocopy shop tucked away in some recess near the theatre. I know of at least two movies, Jaganmohini and Oru Thalai Raagam that played here for over 25 weeks, in those days when 25 weeks meant 3 (sometimes 4) shows of the same movie, every day, for 25 weeks. Such glory days are well behind it, now. It visibly looks like it can't make the effort to screen a new movie and ekes out an existence by re-running all those hits of decades ago.
I read somewhere once, long ago, that Liberty is the only cinema hall (of good standing) in Asia that projects pictures on to a white wall, rather than onto a screen - don't know how true that was, but it looks like even that wall may be completely sullied, now!
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Apparently, that's not the case. Born as Theerthagiri, he came by his more popular name because of his bravery (Dheeram) in opposing Hyder Ali's tax collectors. The people of the Kongu region (where he was a local chieftain) rallied behind him, declaring that the King of Mysore now had to cross not only the geographical formations of Sivan Malai and Chenni Malai, but also the human Chinna Malai to get to them. It is a different matter that Theerthagiri went on to side with Hyder's son, Tipu Sultan, to fight against the British. For six years after Tipu's death, Theerthagiri continued to undermine British supremacy in the Kongu region, until he was caught and finally hanged in 1805; like that of a few other local chieftains of the time, his story was also used as a rallying cry against British rule.
The positioning of the statue seems strangely appropriate. Not just because it is close to Little Mount, but also because it is right behind a very high-traffic bus stop - recalling the route of his rise to recognition amidst the '80s generation!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The last really serious incident at the Chennai airport was 24 years ago, when a bomb planted by Tamil extremists went off at the airport on the night of August 2-3, 1984, killing 30 people. At that time, it was described as 'an accident'; the nascent Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka was looking for ways to harm and this bomb was to be ferried from Madras to Colombo on an Air Lanka flight and was timed to explode at the Colombo airport. One version has it that the flight was delayed and so the bomb went off at Madras; another version has it that the luggage was misrouted to a London flight and then was not allowed on the plane because they couldn't match it to any passenger, so it remained in Madras airport.
Took this photograph because I spotted the tail of an Air India jet. The police checkpoint was just after this point where we turned left. Looking at the photograph later, I was thinking about how trusting we are - even when we are carrying out all the security checks, we trust that anyone trying stunts would come in, take the left turn and move along the normal road. It certainly wouldn't be too much trouble for a madman to drive straight on from this point and maybe smash through that wall itself!
Friday, December 5, 2008
There were a couple of other shops with brighter stars; missed taking pictures as I passed by, because this one was meant to be. Bright and fancy!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Now that all the construction debris is hidden from view, it is a nice sight for all the corporate types to see - a swank interchange, one arm of which leads you to a set of rather techie looking buildings. And all those traffic holdups as you enter the city, they're now a dim memory of the past!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
In the late 17th century, the task of designing buildings often fell to gunners - maybe because they knew how a building could be destroyed, they could design one that could not be. In any case, William Dixon, the Chief Gunner of Fort St George was assigned to build the church. The money? Since the Company had refused to sanction any finances for such frivolity, construction of the church was funded by subscriptions from the 'locals'. Dixon was a gunner who knew his business, for St Mary's Church was consecrated in 1680, with a four-foot thick, dome shaped roof; one that withstood the cannonballs that de Lally threw at it from Parry's Corner during the siege of Madras in 1758. (The spire was added 200 years after the church was built, in 1884)
But that was much later; within a week of its consecration, the church recorded the first marriage, on November 4, 1680. The groom? A certain Elihu Yale, Esq., who is well known as the benefactor of that great academic institution!
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
With more options for an evening out than just the Marina, the options for push-cart-snacking have also grown. Chennai has also become quietly cosmopolitan, no matter what outsiders might say. Here's proof, if you will: the sundal has ceded a fair amount of space to crunch-munch delicacies imported from other parts of India. Jhal mudi on the push carts was just impossible to come by a few years ago, but now, it looks like Chennai has taken to it with a vengeance.
Writing about sundal and jhal mudi has only served to make me drool - I can't think of what to write any more!