Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
One of the occupational hazards of being a 'dubash' (from 'dvi' = 'two' and 'basha' = 'language') with the East India Company was having your name twisted around and being anglicized beyond local recognition. Resilient people they were, the dubashes took it all in their stride, comfortably straddling two worlds separated not just by language, but also by customs and cultures.
One such dubash was Alangatha Pillai, who was prominent enough to be one of the first 12 aldermen of the Corporation of Madras - he was named in the Charter itself. Apart from being a dubash, Alangatha Pillai, or Allingall as he was referred to by the British, was also the chief merchant of the British East India Company in Madras, coming to that position in 1680. Even in the days before he became the chief merchant, Alangatha Pillai had built up a good deal of coin with his dubash skills. Like many good folk, Alangatha Pillai deployed some of his earnings to religion. While he was likely generous in his donations to several temples, it is believed that Alangatha Pillai was specially fond of Ekambareswarar, the deity at Kanchipuram. He was a regular visitor to that shrine until the governor (was it Streynsham Master?) put it to him that if he were to build a temple near the Fort, a great deal of travel could be avoided*. Putting that idea to work, Alangatha Pillai had the Ekambareswarar temple built on what was then the Washers' Street.
However, there are other versions which claim that the temple has been in existence for over 500 years now, dating it to a time before the British. In which case, Alangatha Pillai probably financed the temple's renovation, endowing it richly from his personal fortune. Because of his munificence, the temple was marked in the official records as "Allingall's Pagoda"; that name did not catch on and the temple continues to be known as 'Chennai Arulmigu Ekambareswarar Temple'. There is, just as soon as one steps inside the temple, this carving on one of the pillars, showing a devotee. It is believed this represents Alangatha Pillai, the chief devotee at one time!
* A similar story is said about the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kaladipet, but that'll have to wait for another post!
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
At their head is the current Amir-e-Arcot, HH Mohammad Abdul Ali, who is the eighth Prince of Arcot. The first Prince, HH Azim Jah Bahadur, was granted the title in 1868 by Queen Victoria. That was to compensate, in some measure, for the vast properties seized by the British after the last Nawab of Carnatic, Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan, died heirless in 1855. Out of the chaos surrounding the British governement enforcing the 'Doctrine of Lapse', Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse's uncle, who had served as his regent, was created the first Prince of Arcot. Part of that deal was that the family would move from Khalsa (or was it Kalas?) Mahal, where the Nawab's family continued to stay even after it had been taken over in 1859.
Amir Mahal was over 70 years old even at that time and needed a fair amount of renovation. The Royapettah Police Court, which was then functioning in the premises was moved out, and several repairs and modifications made to the buildings before the formal investiture of the title "Prince of Arcot" was made on April 12, 1871. The first Prince, though, never lived at the Amir Mahal - he requested that he be allowed to continue living at Shadi Mahal and so the first occupant was Sir Zahir ud-Daula, who succeeded to the title after his father's death in 1874!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
The boat which Macaulay writes about would most likely have been the 'masula boat', but even in those times, catamarans (from 'kattu-maram', meaning 'logs tied together') such as the ones in the photo would have been very much in use. Though motor boats and mechanized trawlers are preferred by many fisherfolk today, those who operate on a smaller scale continue to use these catamarans - of course you can see these boat bringing in the catch of the morning, a commonplace sight every day.
It is not easy to imagine what Macaulay meant when he writes about the fury of the surf at Madras; the hundreds who come to the Marina would imagine it is a different Madras. A different Madras indeed it was five years ago, when the tsunami of 2004 hit the city, taking with it over a hundred lives. The surf was indeed furious that morning - let's hope it does not happen again!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Boag's name did survive for almost fifty years after he left India in the wake of the country's independence. His residence was then taken over by Kysamballi Chengalraya Reddy, the first Chief Minister of Mysore state. K.C. Reddy didn't stay there for very long, for his political ambitions and interests were outside Madras. In 1959, the house was purchased by Sivaji Ganesan, who was by then a very popular movie star. It was probably during the renovation carried out by Sivaji that the building acquired its Art Deco frontage; that renovation took quite a couple of years. When he moved into the house, Sivaji re-named it "Annai Illam" ("Mother's
Abode") - was it because he was also acting in a film of the same name during that time?
In 1995, Sivaji Ganesan was awarded the title of Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur; in 1998, South Boag Road (Theyagaraya Road had cut across Boag Road by then) was renamed 'Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Salai'. Though the actor moved on to a higher stage in 2001, the house continues to be occupied by his sons, who consider it a memorial to their father. Surely, Sivaji's name will live on in the road much longer than that of Sir G T Boag!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
The shutters are still locked up, waiting for a formal inauguration. Would they open to allow everyone in? Or is there someone going to watch over the entrance and open it only for those who "really need" to use the elevator? Does anyone use this crossing at all?
Actually the first person who used the new construction was someone who got on top of it last week and threatened to jump off - luckily the Fire Service personnel got him before he leapt!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
It was in 1793 that the "citizens of Madras", as represented by the Council in Madras, sent a letter to the President of the Royal Academy in London, expressing a desire to memorialize the military achievements of General Charles, the 1st Marquess Cornwallis. During his tenure as the Governor General of India between 1786 and 1793, Lord Cornwallis defeated Tipu Sultan in the 3rd Anglo-Mysore War. That was the crowning glory of his military career; a career that might have been consigned to the ashes when he surrendered to George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau after the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Luckily for him, King George III was favourably disposed to him and instead of being left in the cold, he was sent to India as the Governor General, where he redeemed himself in no small way.
And so the request from the Council at Madras, that the Royal Academy send them a statue executed under the "inspection of the Academy". The Academy assigned the task to Thomas Banks; the final sculpture, 14.5 feet tall, showing Cornwallis in all his lordly mien, standing upon a pedestal reached Madras sometime in 1800. One account has it that the statue was erected in Fort St George, while another says its first home was under a cupola at the junction of Mount Road and (today's) Cenotaph Road. That's a fine point, but the statue did spend time at that junction, which was when Cenotaph Road got its name.
The pedestal shows Tipu Sultan giving up his two sons as hostages, to be held until Tipu was able to pay the multi-million pound indemnity to win them back. Many thought this particular depiction was in poor taste (compounded by poor execution - the work on the base of the statue suffers greatly in comparison with the detailing of his Lordship) and that was probably one reason why the statue was moved to the Fort in 1906, overlooking the Parade Ground. In 1925, it was moved to the gates of Bentinck's Building, the then collectorate of Madras. That location was too close to the sea and the salt air did not agree with his Lordship. In 1928, he was moved to the Connemara Library and then, in 1950, he was moved to the newly purposed Fort Museum - and here, he only has room under the stairs!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It is not like the 'wet markets' of Hong Kong or Singapore, but with no blood being spilled here, it doesn't need to be washed. But you'd better watch out for all the dust!
Monday, December 14, 2009
In those glory days, boating was quite common on the Cooum. Although there have been no boats for quite a long while now, skeletons of the boat houses are still around - you can see one on the right, just over the wall. It is rather surprising to see them standing even today!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The first lighthouse at Madras became operational in 1796 and was little more than a lantern with reflectors, housing a dozen coconut-oil burning lamps, placed on top of the Exchange Building (the Fort Museum of today). It was used for almost 50 years, when it was moved to the Esplanade, atop a Doric column built for the specific purpose of serving as a lighthouse. That column, which came into use in 1841, still stands inside the High Court complex, having given up its crown to be housed in the minaret of the Court. The Argand Lamps and reflectors, which began flashing on January 1, 1844, was supplied by Chance Bros., Birmingham and was replaced - rather, improved upon - in 1927 and by all accounts continued to be used until 1977.
So which is Madras' fourth lighthouse? All of you from Chennai would have seen it at the south end of the Marina, but that's subject for another post!
The minaret may not look so tall from this perspective, but an older post shows it standing head and shoulders above its cousins!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Meanwhile, Governor Davidson was succeeded by Sir Archibald Campbell - he wanted his private secretary A.M. Campbell to be in charge of the Post Office, with Robert Mitford as his deputy. That was not acceptable to the Company headquarters, since neither were Company employees; they favoured Burlton as the chief of the Post Office. As often happens, a compromise was struck and on June 1, 1786, the General Post Office opened near the Sea Gate of Fort St George with Mr. Richard Legge Willis as its chief. For the next 70 years, the GPO worked within the Fort. It was only in 1856 that it moved out to Garden House, in Popham's Broadway.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1884, it moved to this building on North Beach Road (now Rajaji Salai). The architect was Robert Fellowes Chisholm, who incorporated elements from Travancore, Bijapur and Gujarati architecture to come up with this building, which continues to be Chennai's General Post Office today. Though a fire in 2003 ravaged the rear of this building, the facade still stands as a striking example of Indo-Saracenic architecture!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The building was then bought by C.R.Srinivasan of the Swadesamitran for the newspaper's offices - their presses were in Royapettah, but perhaps Srinivasan was carried away by the symbolism: taking over 'Victory House' from its British owners reflecting the success of the newspaper's strident calls for 'self-rule'. Maybe he named it 'Victory House' after he bought it, celebrating that success. In any case, the newspaper itself fell away and was almost bankrupt by the mid-1970s.
It was sometime around then that The Swadesamitran Ltd began asking its tenants to move out of the Victory House, claiming that the century-old structure was unsafe for occupation. One of the tenants, who was paying a monthly rent of Rs.7,000/-, offered to buy the 10-ground property for Rs.20 lakhs. The situation became messy, with Swadesamitran going to court for an eviction and the tenant filing a counter-case arguing that Swadesamitran was backing out on their deal merely to raise the price. While I do not know the details of the arguments, or even the final judgement, it is easy to assume that the tenant won the case. Over the years since, that former tenant - VGP & Co. - has converted the entire building into one huge stockpile of consumer electronics and durables. Victory House has lost its earlier charm (you can see the earlier building in this picture, on the right) and has become one more nondescript structure on Mount Road!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
That's good news for a few of the kids from around the place. They have been using the nice, flat surface of the road as a cricket pitch over the past couple of weekends - at least there's some kind of 'driving' going on there!
Friday, November 20, 2009
There are few places better than Rathna Cafe in Triplicane where the sambar vada can be enjoyed in all its glory. They even leave behind a long-handled sambar pan (design patent pending, I'm sure) so that one isn't embarassed by having to ask for repeat servings of the sambar.
Enough said. The tongue drools!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The only one of its kind in the country, the NCUFP was set up to help researchers understand what happens in structures - physical, chemical or biological - during certain processes which take place in infinestimally small slices of time. The mind boggles so much at the mere description of such time-slices: nano-, pico- and femto-seconds, the last named being equal to 1 X 10^-15 of a second, that it is unable to imagine anything which can happen within that time. Apparently a lot of things do happen, enough to keep 4 full-time faculty members (and 2 Emeritus Professors in addition) busy guiding the 15 or so students doing their doctoral research in - well, some highly specialized areas. Typically, their research is around chemical processes, which usually take a few hundred femtoseconds to be completed.
The femtosecond, however is not the smallest unit of time that has been observed until now; that distinction goes to the attosecond, which is 1 X 10^-18 of a second (or a thousandth of a femtosecond). But even the attosecond is not the theoretical smallest unit of time. For the theoretical scientist, that would be Planck Time, which is the time taken for light in a vacuum to travel one unit of Planck Length (the smallest distance about which anything can be known, theoretically); the equivalent of 5.39 X 10^-44 seconds.
You certainly need more than just sharp eyes to spot the action at that speed - and here's Chennai using those eyes for all of us, all over the world!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
It is also likely that he spent a vast majority of those years in Madras. A story tells of him, then a young Ensign beginning his career, looking out through a window of the Exchange House in Fort St George when he was tricked into believing that the House was on fire. Upon which Conway jumped out of the window and broke his leg, no doubt providing a lot of merriment to his brother Ensigns. From those early days in Madras, he went on to become the Adjutant General of Madras, a position he held for 28 years, under eight Commanders-in-Chief. During his service he covered almost every military campaign in south India, apart from seeing action in the Mahrattah War and serving on the Military Finance Committee at Calcutta. Unlucky with promotions, he remained a rung lower than his contemporaries, a circumstance that some attributed to his unrelenting discipline and rigid integrity (it is said that he died without leaving behind a shilling - for a British officer in early 19th century Madras, that's saying something!). Those qualities also gave him an unmatched understanding of "every thing relating to the dress, drill, appearance and discipline of an army".
Technically, he was the Brigadier at Hyderabad when he died. However, he hadn't yet formally assumed that post, for he died of cholera at Guntoor, en route to taking charge at Hyderabad; which is why this statue (by Turnouth) credits him as Adjutant General. Though he was absolutely strict as a disciplinarian, unwilling to distingush the human from the organization, he was held in high regard by the men who were under his command - and that's why, in small letters, right on top of the pedestal, it says "The Soldiers' Friend"!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Those advertisements could be seen everywhere - especially along the walls of houses and barns in the 'mofussil' areas. Showing a husband, wife and two children and the slogan "We two, ours two" (or local variants thereof), the ads would also have a large inverted red triangle. That triangle went on to become the generic logo of family planning programmes not just in India but also in several other countries. The man who is credited with coming up with that logo, Dharmendra Kumar (Deep) Tyagi, died childless at 41, before he could see the amazing recall his design provided the programmes. But his memory lives on in the name of one of the largest organizations providing subsidized condoms to many parts of the world - DKT International, founded in 1989 by Phil Harvey, who had worked with Deep Tyagi in the 1960s.
DKT International today is a key supplier to NACO; apart from the condoms, DKT International also provides support on distribution of contraceptive products, and for various community sensitising programmes across the country. Somehow, they seem to have got one thing wrong: red may have been the right colour for the inverted triangle, but when you want people to use something, shouldn't you be choosing a colour that invites them to go ahead?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Maybe it hasn't changed ever since the company was formed sometime in the late 1930s. Sir Alexander MacDougall and W.W.Ladden, the then Chairman and Managing Director respectively of Simpson & Co., decided that Simpson's be controlled by a holding company and hence set up Amalgamations. Also with them as the only other shareholder/Directors of Amalgamations were P.Reid and S.Anantharamakrishnan; the latter, referred to as "J", was possibly the only 'native' Director of Simpson & Co. until then. Over the years, many other companies were formed or were brought into the Amalgamations fold. Today, there are almost 40 companies in the Group, spanning all kinds of businesses from tea to tractors, but mainly around automobile and auto-component businesses.
In the 70-odd years that it has been around, the Amalgamations Group has never sought to build a brand for itself. Like most of the companies in the Group - actually, like many a Chennai-headquartered company - it has been a silent achiever over the decades!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
But look closely and on the top right corner of the gate, you can make out the intertwined letters "MSMR". That's what the building was originally meant for, the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railways. Though the MSMR is no more (it was merged with the South Indian Railways and Mysore State Railways to form the Southern Railways in 1951), the letters still live on here. Now, isn't this a gate that has stood the test of time!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Each floor seems to have a name of its own; starting with "Siva Mani" on the ground floor, we move up through "Sri Rama Nilayam" and "Swami's Summit", before reaching the penthouse (if it can be called that), which is named "Gandhi Peak". The house was built sometime in the early 1920s by SP Ayyaswami Mudaliar, a civil engineer who was also an active member of the Indian National Congress. Maybe he had ideas of turning the whole building over to the Congress, because there is a plaque saying "Donor Engineer S.P.Aiyaswami" somewhere on the facade. He didn't do any such thing, however, for his descendents continue to stay in this building, adding to the multitude of signs indicating the many purposes the building has been used for - "Sundaralaya 1926" says one, "Sivaraja Bhavanam 1926", says another; a third says "Professor S.P.Singaravelu Institute". A much newer sign says "S.P.Dhananjaya 149 Bharathi Salai".
But the newest of them all is a plaque on the gate-post, one that does not appear in this picture, which celebrates the 5 days that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stayed in this building, over two visits, in September 1939 and January 1940. Maybe it was between those visits that Netaji firmed up his strategy of aligning with the Axis powers!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The Irula tribe gets its name from the Tamizh word 'irul', meaning darkness. It is not important whether the word signified their complexion (they are supposedly descended from Negrito stock) or the timing of their chief occupation, for they would be active during nights, hunting rats and snakes. The latter catered to the demand of the global skin trade, ending up as shoes or bags with high fashion labels. The tribespeople were famed for their ability to track and catch any snake, especially the poisonous king cobras and the Russell's vipers, which were numerous in the regions around Madras. It is estimated that the entire population of the Irula tribe - about 250,000 people today - has always been concentrated around Chennai, and was entirely dependent on catching and skinning snakes to make a living.
The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, while being a boon in general, struck a body blow to the Irulas' livelihood by making it illegal to hunt wild animals. And then in 1976, export of snake skins was banned under the Act. Many Irulas were forced to turn to other occupations, which they promptly made a hash of. Even after a couple of generations, the Irulas are uncomfortable in the mainstream, though a majority of them are now part of it. A small group, however, formed the ISCICS in 1978 under the guidance of Romulus Whitaker, the man behind the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. The ISCICS members (about 500 of them now) continue to catch snakes, especially poisonous ones. But there is a difference; they catch them live, tag them, house them for about a month, during which time they are milked for their venom once a week. At the end of the month, the snake is released in the wild and they are not brought in again for at least 3 months.
The members of the ISCICS have been scrupulously following the processes for capturing, milking and releasing the snakes. They also have some space within the Crocodile Bank for demonstrating the venom milking and to speak about the snake species around Chennai. With all these efforts, they earn enough to live with the modern-day norms without sacrificing their ancestral skills - now, how's that for sustainability!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The flower has medicinal properties. Which also means that it is poisonous, if the dosage is exceeded or otherwise improperly administered. Seeing some of us carrying this flower with us, the locals ran up to ask us to drop the flower and to make sure we washed our hands well: it is indeed that poisonous, they insisted. Though it is the root that is the most poisonous (most medicinal), the leaves and the flower can also cause acute discomfort all along the digestive system, so why take a chance?
Because of its medicinal value, the plant is apparently becoming scarce. I don't think it is very easy to spot one in Chennai. In fact, I saw this one in the Thattekad forest in Kerala!
Friday, November 6, 2009
Have slipped out of the 'Daily' habit on this blog, but you have my word that it is only for a short while.
Regular service will resume on November 11, 2009, God willing.
Good habits should not be broken, so please do keep visiting, and keep those comments coming!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
But why am I thinking obelisks today? There is no connection between those indomitable Gauls who turn 50 today and the city of Chennai, save for the three years that Madras was under French rule. Yet, on behalf of all the Asterix / Obelix fans of Chennai, Bon Anniversaire!
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The city's demand for 'block-ice' is large enough to sustain several ice factories; the exact number can only be a matter of conjecture, for there are many run clandestinely, providing smaller sizes than the industrial norms of 50-kg and 140-kg blocks. What we see on the streets are obviously far smaller, with a 50-kg block probably taking care of the needs of about 10 to 20 'juice centres'. These blocks typically come from the factories of south Chennai, for they are the ones catering to demand from hotels, clubs, hospitals and the like. The ice factories of north Chennai on the other hand deal almost exclusively with the fishing industry: both seagoing and land-based. Boats that go out to sea carry on them 5 tonnes of ice for a week-long trip; the chilling plants on shore need large volumes of ice while they process the daily catch. By one estimate, the city consumes over 100 tonnes of 'industrial ice' every month.
Wonder where they will get all the water they need, if the rains continue to stay away!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Then came Cho's stage play "Madras by Night". Cho makes his entrance asking the question "Jaambajaar Jaggu theriyuma unakku, Jaambajaar Jaggu?" ("Do you know Jaambajaar Jaggu?"). Cho plays a police constable in Madras of the '60s, forever dropping names of rowdies that he has encountered (here's a clip: Jaggu's name drops in the 2nd minute). With that, the name took off and though no one has ever seen him to this day, Jaggu continues to be a menace-laden character, appearing most recently as the villain in the children's book "Trash", published in 2001.
So, when I see the Zambazar Police Station, it is difficult for me to think of anything else but a police constable in the '60s, wearing starched khaki shorts ("...with pockets large enough to hide a monkey", as a school teacher once said), trying to show off - no matter that Zam Bazar has much more than Jaggu to offer us!
Monday, October 26, 2009
All other things being equal, the shops provide the distinction between the two residences. On the right is Joseph Store, a general store offering all kinds of provisions; on the left is Sri Vinayaka Auto Works. Maybe the residents thought this differentiation wasn't good enough, so they painted their portions - including the grills and bannisters - in different colours!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
One explanation is that they are migrating from the hills to the plains. Maybe they are moving to avoid the cold, maybe to find food. The movements of butterflies seem to be more mysterious than those of birds and much more difficult to study. Yet, almost anyone in Chennai with even a casual interest in nature would have (and several have, indeed) observed the more-than-usual number of butterflies this season. In some places - by the Thiru Vi Ka bridge, for instance - the air is thick with these and other butterflies; birds swoop and swerve, trying to catch them. If more motorists were nature enthusiasts, traffic on the bridge would have come to a standstill!
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Bringing the hoardings down signalled the end of the huge, originally hand-painted but recently digitally-crafted cinema advertisements which were very much part of Chennai. And now, the bare walls would take away another slice of kitschy art: political graffiti. The limited set of colours used by earlier political artists (colours of the parties flags) had given way to bright, multicoloured works a while ago. It was felt that bare walls would make the stretch of road seem dull, so the Corporation kind of let loose a set of artists on those walls. The first stretch to be done was a stretch near the YMCA, Nandanam.
With a variety of themes - buildings and structures of Tamil Nadu, sculptures and cultural heritage being a few - and a good dose of imaginary imagery thrown in, the paintings seem rather unconnected, if one spends the time to look at them. But for the most part, one is whizzing by in a hurry to get someplace and the overall effect is that a riot of colour is passing one by!
Thursday, October 22, 2009
This is in Mylapore, very much part of Old Madras and yet, quite different from the streets of George Town. Indeed, these areas were populated much before George Town was. Predominantly revolving around religious activity, these bustle on these streets had God, rather than Mammon, in mind. These are streets where a new face is spotted quickly, and the residents wonder what the stranger is doing, walking their paths. Of course, they are not all that insular, what with many vehicles trying to take a quicker route to their destination through these back roads. But the pedestrian still invites curious glances.
Many of the buildings are over half-a-century old, but several have been refurbished and expanded to keep pace with modern day requirements. The building on the corner, however, seems to be just the way it always was!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
For starters, he made land ownership easier, bringing in reforms that allowed freehold titles to be bought. He is also credited with conceptualizing the People's Park; a 116-acre garden spread which had over 5 miles of road inside it, meandering around 11 ponds, a bandstand, tennis courts, a public bath and a very basic zoo. It is for this that he is remembered: the plaques say "...to whom Madras is indebted for The Peoples Park".
But there's a lot more that Trevelyan needs to be remembered for. When he was governor of Madras, his council and he disagreed with a proposal for taxation drawn up by the Financial Member of the Legislative Council for India. And he made his disagreement public, by sending an open telegram to Calcutta and later, by releasing (or allowing the release of) the minutes of a Council meeting where the opposition was recorded. Though he was censured and recalled to England for this action, he was vindicated and returned to India in 1862 as the Financial Member! In the interim, he crafted the principles which guided the creation of the Indian Civil Service. With so much to his credit, one guesses that the city's gratitude stemmed from something more than Trevelyan's civic sensibility!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
It has now been almost a month since the first phase of the Ampa Skywalk has been opened; after nearly 4 years of waiting, folks are probably waiting for all the shops, the multiplex screens and the food court to come up before passing judgement on whether this is good enough to be a hip hangout. Big attraction - a walkway inside the mall, 80 feet above ground, which you will have to cross to watch movies at the PVR Cinemas (which I believe are yet to open).
It hasn't yet become so popular as to cause traffic pile-ups. Or did I pass by at the wrong time of the day?
Monday, October 19, 2009
For maybe just a couple of days in the year, the waters of the Cooum would be racing to the Bay of Bengal. That happens when (and if) the storm water drains do their job during the monsoons. There are 16 canals which collect the runoff from those drains and pour it into the Cooum (and to the other waterways of Chennai - the Adayar River and the Otteri Nullah), en route to the Bay of Bengal. Works well in theory; but with Chennai being quite a flat city, any blockage of the drains will cause the city to flood up.
One of the largest potential blockage points has been the silting - and sedimenting - of the Cooum's mouth. Though it is sometimes cleared up during the monsoon by the sea, most of the time, the waves deposit sediments which clog up the mouth. October is normally the month when the authorities clear up the mouth - and other passages. Let's hope they do it well enough for us to have a flood-less monsoon!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Time was when Deepavali was a morning event in Chennai; kids would leap out of bed at some unearthly, dark hour of the morning and try to find that thin line between taking long enough over the ganga snanam to satisfy the elders, without taking so much time that the neighbouring children become the first to set off the crackers. By some near-divine coordination, almost every household would be ready for the fire-crackers at around the same time, and folks would greet each other with "Yenna, sir, ganga snanam aacha? Happy Deepavali!".
But the sound of the crackers has become politically incorrect. The lights of the fireworks have become more attractive. Deepavali seems to have become more of an evening festival, at least publicly. I'm sure there are enough households that continue to keep the ganga snanam tradition going, even if slightly more privately than before!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Probably getting the whole issue confused, John Foulds, who was head of the Indian Broadcasting Company (All India Radio's predecessor)'s Western music section in the 1930s wrote that since the harmonium is incapable of producing microtones and because it cannot be adjusted mid-performance, it is inappropriate for Indian music. A few years later, Lionel Felden, Controller of Broadcasting for the IBC banned the harmonium from the IBC's studios in March 1940. It was only in 1971 that the ban was repealed, but the harmonium player continues to be accorded a secondary status - solo performances are not allowed on AIR even today, apparently.
But no musician can do without one. Even in this age of the 'electronic sruti box', harmonium makers like Kannan here continue to hand-craft instruments for students and maestros!
Monday, October 12, 2009
This ZP-4 locomotive, manufactured by the Nippon Sharyo Seizo Kaisha in 1950 entered service on the Bangarpet-Bangalore line only in 1955. In 1980, the Bangalore-Yelahanka line was dismantled for gauge conversion. With that, this locomotive saw the end of its service and it was brought over to Madras, to be plinthed in front of the Southern Railway headquarters.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
But don't be fooled into thinking you can jump in and dance around in the pen. Jaws III is a mean chappie. Believed to be the biggest ever captive salt water crocodile, he has been giving folks at the MCBT a peculiar headache. They just haven't been able to find a female large enough for him to mate with. Two attempts in recent years met with horrific results: Jaws III just grabbed the little lady by her waist, tossed her into the air and chomped her down. Probably the keepers didn't realise what had happened, because they brought in another lady, who met with the same fate. The third attempt wasn't a complete disaster, for there was a mesh separating them. Business did not result, in any event.
C. porosus live to a hundred, in the wild. In captivity, they can potentially live for longer. Jaws III still has time to find the love of his life. Know anyone?
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The result was the Koothambalam in the Kalakshetra complex. Designed and built with the help of D.Appukuttan Nair, who had also built the Koothambalam at Kerala Kalamandalm, the building can accommodate 750 - of which 50 will have to sit on the floor directly in front of the stage. The stage itself is raised only a foot-and-a-half from the rest of the floor, allowing the audience to clearly observe the footwork of the dancers. The building has walls of wooden slats, which allows the breeze to blow through, along with sounds from the outside.
This is a view of the Koothambalam - also called the Bharata Kalakshetra Auditorium - from the rear. The front is graced by Rukmini Devi's statue - and her spirit certainly pervades every rafter of the Koothambalam!
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Somehow, this view of the Nungambakkam burial-and-cremation ground seemed rather serene. I seem to remember that whenever I looked out at this from the train, there was some smoke coming out of the chimney; this was the first time in a long while that the crematorium seemed to be at rest.
This is one of the bruial grounds run by the Corporation of Chennai. Their website lists the other 34, as also 38 private ones. From what little I know about the procedures, the place where the death certificate is issued determines which one of the Corporation's grounds can be used. There is possibly no such restriction for the private ones, but many of them are denominational and therefore, well, private. There are 4 crematoria maintained by the Corporation which do not have any geographical restrictions; these are the electric crematoria at Anna Nagar, Kannamapet and Besant Nagar and the gasified one at Washermanpet.
The draft Master Plan for Chennai's development had proposed to convert at least 20 of the existing crematoria to gasified ones. That will no doubt reduce the amount of firewood used for the purpose. It will also do away with the smoke from the chimneys - maybe this one has been modified already!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
What's a festival without some decorations? Sure, there are a whole lot of 'ready-made', re-usable stuff available, but they somehow lack the charm of the just-made thoranams. One is used to seeing them fashioned from mango leaves - they'd last for days, the slightly thick leaves changing from their dark green to brownish, just before they are replaced by a new bunch of the festoons.
But for a change, here are thoranams made from tender leaves of the coconut palm - the kurutholai. The fronds are taken down before they are fully grown, so as to take full advantage of their flexibility. These are just one of the many designs that the kurutholai can be made into (here is another), but being tender, the festoons don't last for more than a day!