Friday, July 31, 2009

Hall of lights

The place where this building stands has been in use as a prayer hall or more specifically, an Assembly Hall for Shi'a muslims to gather for prayers during the month of Muharram, for over two hundred years now. The first structure in the wedge between Peters Road and Mount Road was constructed by Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah, the Nawab of Walajah. The date of its construction is vague, with some accounts putting it as between 1795 and 1801, others dating it to 1810 and yet others contending that it does not appear in any map of Madras until 1816. But they all agree that the Assembly Hall was a grand structure, large enough to need more than a thousand oil-lamps to light it up.

More buildings were added later, the first being a proper mosque for the faithful; if I'm correct, that was a flat-topped structure, with a couple of minarets on the sides. The domes and minarets in the photo were added much later, sometime in the 1970s and show a strong west Asian influence.

Though named Majeed Dowlah in its first appearance on a map of Madras (in 1816), the unique feature of its assembly hall gave it the name it is known by today - the Thousand Lights Mosque. Indeed there are many who believe that it is not the mosque that gave this area of Chennai the name 'Thousand Lights'; they belive that the locality was always called Thousand Lights and the mosque is called so only for fixing its location easily!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Saw a news item today about MF Hussain dreaming of returning to India; it is sad that an old man (he is 94 now) is being denied the simple pleasure - his basic right - to visit his country, thanks to some fringe elements and he has to 'dream' about something that every one of us takes for granted.

The news item reminded me of this photograph of a Hussain, from the collection of Sara Abraham, a Chennai-based collector. Hussain didn't title this one Pieta; in fact, I don't think he titled it at all, because many of the paintings in this (rare) exhibition of her private collection were personal gifts to Sara, rather than something she acquired from the market. MF Hussain had sent over two new paintings for Sara's 80th birthday last year - at least there are way for his works to come back here, even if it is difficult for the man himself!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oscar winner

I guess I'd have to wait for a while if I wanted to put up a picture of the man himself. He may not be the first Indian to win an Oscar, but he's certainly the first from Chennai. And the city had gone to town almost through the whole month of March, feting him at one stage or another.

The cheer has died down a bit, but will surely pick up again once the big budget 'Raavana' he is currently working on is released later this year. That would be his 105th movie; but right from Yodha, his first, A.R.Rahman has captivated millions of his fans. Some look to him for inspiration, like the folks who had put up this hoarding!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More than meets the eye

The building itself looks quite old; certainly goes back somewhere between 80 and 100 years, with its first floor verandah and the sloping roof with the central gable reflecting the style of those times. Rather uniquely for buildings of that vintage, this one has been painted white, rather than the brick-red that one normally associates with these buildings.

Lawrence & Mayo is older, still. Over 130 years old, the firm was set up by these two gentlemen, who had by then set up their stores over Europe and parts of Asia, too. Lawrence & Mayo in India today employes over 450 people in their branches across 11 cities in India. Though the brand is known in the public eye for their spectacle lenses and frames, they are diversified into various other kinds of equipment, including those for surveying and material testing.

Though I can't swear to it, it seems to me that this branch has remained in its current location for a long while, now. Even though it is old, it is not the first Lawrence & Mayo showroom in the country - that honour goes to Kolkata - but it looks like it must have been among the earliest of them!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Faith based

Well, that's what a lot of movies were, in the olden days. All the legends came alive in black & white and then later in Technicolour; but here's a hoarding that places a lot of demand on your faith. The writing in Tamizh, at the top of the hoarding says, "Do you want to be a millionaire! If you buy this movie, you will be a millionaire!"

Now, that's really asking for some faith!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Forgotten gate

We normally keep complaining about how progress and modernisation has stripped away nature and greenery in the cities. But here's one example of how progress has rendered a certain highway obsolete and turned it back to a quiet path shaded by lots of green.

Today's Fort St George sees a tremendous amount of activity on its eastern side, with the secretariat, the Fort Museum and other offices being accessed from what were once upon a time the North and South Sea Gates. In the olden days, however, these gates were the minor entrances; even the long eastern wall of the Fort is not as thick as the ones on the other four sides. At the apex of this pentagon was St George's bastion, with walls thick enough to house a eating-place inside them. St George's bastion is flanked by the St George's Ravelin on the north and the Wallajah Ravelin on the south; the gates are also named after the ravelins. Wallajah Gate can still directly access Mount Road, as it has always been doing. St George's Gate - the most important one in those days, because it led directly out towards Poonamallee and the Nayaks - is today little used because the direct road has been cut off by railway tracks; even if you want to walk in that way, there are policemen who have instructions not to let anyone come in this way!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

By George! Again!!

Rather than the statue itself, it is the plaque on its pedestal that has come up. Up on this pedestal is King Goerge V, standing tall, sceptre in hand and facing east, looking towards the Madras High Court and beyond to the Port. In 1913, when the public of Madras wanted to put up this statue, the entire cost was picked up by one man - Govindoss Chathoorbhoojadoss, who was appointed Sheriff of Madras in 1914, the same year this statue was unveiled.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Hub

Any Chennaiite wondering about the relevance of George Town in these modern times must spend an hour or so at the Broadway bus terminus. That it is a crowded, bustling bus depot goes without saying. That you can hear some fifteen different languages being spoken should also not come as a surprise. But the sheer number of Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses coming through is overwhelming. In the 15 minutes or so that I spent there on a Sunday afternoon, I counted 18 buses going out; considering that it was a non-business day and non-peak hour, it is not far-fetched to estimate that at least 1,500 buses would pass through this terminus every day.

That makes Broadway the largest of MTC's hubs; and remember, this is after the wholesale vegetable market having been shifted away from the George Town area and after the inter-state bus terminus also having been moved away to the other corner of the city. Despite those moves, George Town continues to be a hub for commercial activity; also, its proximity to the Madras High Court, the District Collectorate, the Port of Chennai and several other government and private institutions ensures that every resident of Chennai will have to pass through it one day or the other.

If only those changes hadn't been made, Broadway would have been absolutely unmanageable today. So, if you think you're in the most happening place in the city, come here, stay a while and think again!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Southward bound

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, when most of the roads are empty, the Anna Flyover sees a ghost traffic jam. And that only on the south-bound roads. Thought migratory season was over, everyone go back north!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying doctor

Unlike Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar, his contemporary, Dr. Sarukkai Rangachari often treated his patients for free. In fact, there are stories about how he gave a poor fisherwoman Rs.100 to take care of herself and her newborn child, and also how he once gave a boy a coin a day when he was down with typhoid. (That boy went on to become a famous neurosurgeon, incidentally). That kind of generosity coupled with 'rare medical skill and boundless humanity' made sure his clinic 'Kingston', on Poonamallee High Road was always full of patients. He would start his day at 4 am, performing varied surgeries until 11 am, followed by the in- and out-patient clinics, after which he would make house calls. Often, his lunch was had in his car, a luxury he defended by saying that he practically lived in the vehicle, and so allowed himself the privilege of making it a nice home.

One of his students, Lt Col Dr C.R. Krishnaswami, recalls that Dr. Rangachari was blessed with a wonderful constitution, that "from 1906, when he started, till his death in 1934, it was continuous, strenuous work of up to 18 hours a day for Dr. S. Rangachari." That constitution could not, however, stand up to the rigours he placed upon it during the typhoid breakout of 1934. Fighting hard against the sweep of the epidemic, Dr. Rangachari pushed himself to even longer hours, reaching out to more patients than anyone else thought possible. And so, when the disease struck the doctor, he succumbed to it, passing away at the height of his powers and popularity. The public of Madras subscribed to a statue in honour of this surgeon, which was unveiled by Lord Erskine, Governor of Madras, in 1939. That statue still stands near the exit gate of the General Hospital, shaded by a cupola, a couple of hundred meters away from that of Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar.

There was another significant difference between the two contemporaries; where Dr. Guruswamy was frugal, Dr. Rangachari was outwardly lavish - apart from using a Rolls Royce to travel within the city, he had his own private aircraft (in the early 1920s) to make house calls in cities other than Madras!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Once upon a time, the Elephant Gate Bridge Road - whatever it might have been called then - was an important entrance to Madras. Though the direction still remains important, the road has handed over pre-eminence to the rail, more because that side of the city has become extremely crowded, with narrow, congested streets unsuited for heavy vehicles.

It should therefore not be so surprising to find what looks like a railway carriage jumping out on to the road, as you take the last turn on Elephant Gate Bridge Road. It is indeed the sliced-off side of a railway carriage, now put to use as a sign for the Southern Railways' Train Care Centre at the Basin Bridge depot. That Centre is over a century old and must have seen quite a few carriages pass through - wonder which one of them will leap up as the next signboard!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flower women

Why would you need to get to these ladies before setting out to San Francisco? Well, if you'd listened to the 1960s song by Scott Mckenzie, you'll remember that he had asked you to be sure to wear some flowers in your hair! It's something folks in south India have known for a long time, that flowers in your hair will make you a different person - the fragrance apart, there are numerous medicinal benefits they are supposed to bring along.

Time was when 3 mozhams (mozham = distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow; depending upon how naive you are, the elbow can either be its crook or the outside) were the norm for a woman to wear in her hair. These days, it seems like one mozham provides enough flower power for 10 ladies to jazz up their hair-dos, not that too many of the ladies seem to be wanting such jazz.

And yet, such sights are quite common around Chennai streets. To hedge their bets, though, many of the flower sellers stay close to a temple - if not for self, the flowers can be used for a higher power!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On location

Apart from the centuries-old temple there, Thirusoolam is famous for being the location of several 'climax scenes' from Tamizh films between the 60s and the 80s. It was kind of mandatory that, towards the end of the movie, the entire cast would drive up - or run up - the hill for the final confrontation between the hero and the villain.

In those days it would have been quite simple to complete the shooting, once the unit managed to make it to the location. It would have been quite deserted and the crew could go about their work with little disturbance.

These days it is slightly more complicated. Apart from the movie folks, Thirusoolam has become a destination of choice for shooting TV serials and ad films also. The right to rent out shooting spots in the area is auctioned out - and unless you've paid your dues, you have no chance of getting on location!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shopping for peas?

It is not just the sundal, but several other kinds of peas that are roasted, fried, boiled or otherwise prepared to be munched on. So much so, a shop specialising in peas of every kind can find enough business for it to run successfully!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Official craft

I am not sure if this was originally intended to house a government institution, or if that institution moved in there later. Whichever the order, this building, housing the headquarters of 'Poompuhar' - the brand name of the Tamilnadu Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd - seems quite different from others of similar vintage along Mount Road.

Where most of the others - think Higginbothams, the State Bank of India building, the Gove Building, P.Orr and Sons - seem to show off their architectural splendour, the Poompuhar building seems to revel in its straight, box like lines. Despite all that, it is easy to make out this building is also one that has seen a lot of history go down the Mount Road!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

George the second

That's not true, really. This is actually King Edward VII, father of King George V, the King Emperor. I did not realize that there are quite a few statues of this man the two kings, father and son, around Chennai - this is the second one such statue featuring on this blog (hence the title of this post! - the first one, of King George V, is here). I'm not sure if there is any significance to the placement of these statues, but it would be a reasonable guess that they were distributed in such a way that no matter what road one took to or from Fort St George, one would have to pass under the gaze of one of the monarchs!

Goofed pretty badly on this one! For some reason, I took it for granted that the statue here is also that of King George V; even though I learnt about my error a while ago, was too lazy to get here and correct it, until now! (March 6, 2010)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pop temple

This temple at Thiruverkadu (literally "holy forest of roots"), about 5 km outside Chennai was one more of those old, poorly maintained temples until about 35 years ago. It has been around for a few centuries, it was serving the spiritual requirements of the local people. It is not the only temple at Thiruverkadu, but it is by far the oldest and the biggest.

This temple is dedicated to Karumariamman, one of the many manifestations of Amman, the mother goddess of south India (actually a deity popular in areas with strong Tamizh influence, including Singapore and Malaysia) and is therefore more favoured by womenfolk. The legends around this deity at Thiruverkadu date back almost a thousand years and were strung together in the 1975 Tamizh movie "Devi Sri Karumariamman" - one that went on to become a rather smash hit, and thus cemented its leading lady, KR Vijaya, as the face of the goddess. Grateful for her success, the actress became a regular visitor to the temple, joining hundreds of others who had their faith awakened thanks to the movie.

Today, this temple is the hub of all economic and commercial activity in Thirverkadu; it would only be a mild exaggeration to say that every resident of the locality depends on the temple for his/her livelihood, directly or indirectly!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ye olde shopfronte!

If this shop had been open for business, I'd probably have passed it by, with just a stray thought about how sturdy and long-lasting those old enamel-on-blue boards (that's how I always think of them, even if they are just painted, like this one is) are. I am sure this board is also of quite an age, not just because of the font; the spelling, too, reflects an era where it was common to write the name as 'Singaraveloo' rather than the 'Singaravelu' spelling that has been in more common use for the past 60 years or so.

The closed shop, however, had another very interesting point-of-purchase material on its door. Yes, I'm talking about that black-brown-white sheet of metal nailed to the door. WJ Bush & Co. was a firm founded by William John Bush in 1851 and is supposed to be England's first large scale manufacturer of flavours and essences. Given the spread of the British empire, WJ Bush & Co had a large distribution network and was also acting as an agent for similar products, most likely with a view to offer a complete range of flavours, essences, brewing chemicals, essential oils, food colouring, perfumes and the like, all centered around food processing. Given that WJ Bush & Co merged with two other companies to create Bush Boake Allen in 1966 (the company was sold to International Flavors and Fragrances in 2000), that metal sheet is over 40 years old.

It is fascinating to imagine this shopfront being much the same for the last 40 years and more, oblivious to the changes around it as it continues to supply 'aerated water requisites' and other items needed to make soda water!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Should they come back?

That bright yellow vehicle has all but disappeared from the streets of Chennai. What was once a strongly preferred mode of transport has been relegated to a few corners around the city. The reasons for its fading away are many. For some, the idea of having another human take you around with his physical effort seems to be abhorrent; it is far too slow to match the pace of modern man; even with the shade up, it is too hot to travel in - or, it is just that it seems to be socially infra dig.

Maybe all of them are valid, but there are other, equally valid points for continuing to use these cycle-rickshaws: they are non-polluting, they can be used far more effectively for short-hauls than any motorized option, they provide employment for many who are unskilled... all of it going to show that the 'man-powered-carriage'(*) can still find a niche for itself in this crowded city.

These rickshaws are filling one such niche. They are waiting, close to the Chennai Central railway station, for folks who cannot afford any other means of getting to the closest lodge after a long and tiring journey. In many cases, these newcomers to the city have wrenched themselves away from their native lands with all their possessions and this is the best way for them to soak the atmosphere of a new city, while they seek out the most economical lodgings. In the meantime, there is also a proposal somewhere in the works to have a bunch of cycle rickshaws traverse the Marina, as an attraction for the well heeled tourist who wants the 'experience' of travelling by the rickshaw!

(*) 'Rickshaw' is derived from the Japanese word jinrikisha: 'jin' - a man, 'riki' - to power and 'sha' - carriage. Apparently the term was popularized by Rudyard Kipling during the late 19th century. Didn't know that, until now!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Colourful wall

It apparently happened in January this year, but it was only a few days ago that I noticed it. Going past the normally bureaucratic-gray western wall of the US Consulate at Chennai, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. But no, there it was, in glorious colour. Only that my initial impression of random graffiti on the consulate wall was not entirely correct.

It is graffiti alright, and according to Andrew Simkin, the US Consul General for south India, it is the first time that a US Consulate's wall, anywhere in the world, has been allowed to display graffiti. This work, 115 feet long and 4 feet wide, shows lots of hands being held, doves flying, trees, books and a very noticeable combination of the Indian and US national flags. The entire painting project was coordinated by the well known art director Thota Tharani on behalf of the NalandaWay Foundation and executed by 30 children who had been rescued from trafficking / bonded labour.

Surely the cheer on this wall can be replicated in other government-gray buildings the world over - and possibly change the drabness of bureaucracy everywhere!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Connecting hide and search

Many a Madrasi would have wondered about why Google's new browser was named so, when Chrome was unveiled. But she would have also taken it in her stride, for she has for a while been puzzled by why a company making leather products should be called 'Durable Chrome Factory', making it sound more like a manufacturer of kitchen utensils rather than footwear and luggage.

In the middle of the 19th century, it was discovered that treating animal skins with chromium sulfate makes for leather that is not only softer and stretchier than vegetable tanned leather but is also much more durable. By 1884, this process had been refined enough for it to be the method of choice for tanning leather. As a lad of 16, G.A.Chambers cut his teeth on the chrome tanning process in London; coming to Madras ten years later, in 1894, he spent the better part of the next decade of his life in the leather export trade, first as assistant and then as manager. During this time, he tried to get the local industry to adopt the chromium tanning process, but neither business nor government was interested in that approach. So, in 1903, he rented a small factory just south of Pallavaram and adopted the process he had tried to popularize. By a combination of circumstances, he became involved at both ends - production and export - of the leather trade, the latter in partnership with others, under the name of Chambers & Co., while the former was solely his; and the name he chose for that business was The Chrome Leather Company.

That Chambers was successful enough for the area around his factory to become known as Chromepet is easily guessable. But not so easy to figure out is what happened to The Chrome Leather Company, which was run by his daughter, Ida, well into the 1960s. My guess is that, after Ida, the company was taken over by someone who has been keen on the business, but not so savvy about the heritage of the organization that was taken over - surely it is reasonable to assume that Durable Chrome Factory, has its origins in G.A.Chamber's company, even if Google's latest product does not give us much to work with?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Stowaway's legacy

There is no way to verify a claim that Abel Joshua Higginbotham was offloaded on the Madras roads by an irate captain who discovered him to be a stowaway on his ship. Given the later indications of Abel Joshua being a man of education and refinement, it is somewhat unlikely that the stowaway story is entirely true: maybe it was only made up to heighten the romance of a penniless youth seeking his fortune in India, because that seems to be how he began, as librarian in the Wesleyan Book Depository. When that venture was in danger of shutting down, Higginbotham bought up the business, renamed it after himself, and began operating from a site close to this building.

Though the building displays the year 1844, it is somewhat misleading. 1844 was indeed when Higginbotham's was established, making it the oldest bookstore in India. But this building itself came up only 60 years later, to commemorate the firm's diamond jubilee. Beginning life as a kind of catalogue-book-store (tell us the book you want, we'll find it for you), reflecting its founder's librarian origins, Higginbotham's ventured into printing and publishing too, before coming back to its knitting and staying with retailing books. Sometime in the early part of the 20th century, Abel's son C.H.Higginbotham took over the business and expanded its reach all over south India, by setting up bookstores at almost every station on the South Indian Railway. These bookstores can still be seen, making Higginbotham's a familiar name to millions outside Madras.

This 105-year old building was renovated in the late 1980s; that renovation retained much of the original detailing, including the sweeping staircase that takes you to the first floor. The firm's current owners, the Amalgamations Group (remember Simpson's) are quite conscious of the building's heritage. That's good reason to believe you can come back next century and see this legacy still standing proud on Mount Road!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

City's defence

There was indeed a time when there were a couple of redoubts along Mount Road, to protect the travellers from vagabonds and highwaymen. Those days went out at least a century ago and over time, the redoubts have also been forgotten.

While they look reasonably real enough, it is a fair bet these guns haven't seen active service. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Make your own

Except for those 'No Parking' signs, the rest of the stuff is for sale. You can choose to create a temple in your own dwelling with these, or you can use them as props. That's your choice, of course!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fresh meat

Weekend mornings normally see large queues in front of the highly fragmented meat shops like this one, where one can pick up as little as 100 g of meat, literally fresh off the block. There are obviously several hundreds of such shops in Chennai, some of them opening only on select days - and each of them manages to get by with its niche clientele. The weekends are busy days for obvious reasons; with almost no school allowing students to bring in non-vegetarian food, children can only enjoy that at home - and in many households, that means during lunch time.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has prescribed minimum standards for intake of food varieties based on the Recommended Daily Allowance for different minerals and essential nutirents. The debate on the correlation between consumption and the extent of RDA met rages on, but in the absence of any other standard measure, consumption figures are used for determining nutritional standards across the country.

The ICMR has recommended that per-capita consumption of meat should be 0.75 kg / month; no state in India is anywhere close to that figure. At 0.35 kg / month, however, the consumption of meat in urban areas of Tamil Nadu is the second highest in the country, behind Jammu & Kashmir (way behind - J&K comes in at 0.56 kg/m). The figure in rural areas is much less, and the ranking drops sharply: stretching that a little bit, it might be true that Chennai has the highest consumption of meat in any city in the country!

Monday, July 6, 2009

You get what you see

If this picture makes you drool, you are a true Madrasi. Even though it is nothing more than boiled peanuts and a few strips of semi-ripe mangoes, the memories that a Madrasi associates with the thenga-manga-pattani-sundal are far too numerous to mention.

Unlike the earlier jhal-mudi seller, this vendor is slightly more traditional. Only that he is at Eliots Beach and not at the Marina, the birthplace of the sundal. And no, you won't be successful at getting a true Madrasi to think that sundal could have been thought of anyplace else!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Collectors' item

The forecourt is on similar lines to that of the Casino, but this one pre-dates the Casino by quite a few years. Unlike the Casino, the 'Electric Theatre', built by Reginald Eyre and Warwick Major had a very short run; it screened its first silent film in 1913 and fell silent for the last time in 1915. It is said that its drapes were in blue and red, tricked out with silver stars. Major and Eyre did not pay too much attention to the social aspects of going to the movies; the foyer was very narrow, with almost the entire building being used up as the screening hall. It appears this plan left very little space for the patrons to mingle and critique the film.

That alone may not have been the cause for the 'Electric Theatre' to close shop. Maybe the name did not lend itself to a feeling of joy - and that must have been sharply accentuated when 'Gaiety' opened in 1914, just behind the Electric Theatre. Major and Eyre did try to make up - was it they who pioneered the concept of differential pricing, for they created 5 classes of seating, including one for women in the purdah, sheltered from the others. Well, the division could more likely have been to reflect the society's caste system at that time, so that might have been a gambit to recover from an early error of mingled seats. But you can't fault them for bringing in the best caterer in Madras at the time - that's right, the Hotel d'Angelis - to run an open air bar and cafe in the garden besides the building.

None of it seemed to help the partners keep the business going. In 1915, they sold the building to the Government, to be developed as the Mount Road Main Post Office. Luckily, the Post Office has retained the building in its original shape and style - and you can even go in to get a double dose of history, looking at the old postage stamps and then looking up to see if you can spot the place where the electric lamp used for projection, which gave the theatre its name, was placed!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Summer showers...

...are back!

Sharp, concentrated but thankfully very brief, these showers are a by-product of the South West monsoon. They bring down the temperature, hold up everyone on the streets; if you're wise you will not leave the strorefront you're holed up in. Chennai residents will know these showers last only a few minutes so it is worth waiting it out rather than get drenched and look foolish for the rest of the day.

There're still a couple of months to go before Chennai's monsoon sets in, but any Chennai resident will be glad to have showers of this kind every day - the heat is still ruling at fairly high levels!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Old fashioned

Early morning, by the side of a road just outside Chennai. Farmers here continue to use these tools - the hoe and the ploughshare - for their small landholdings. The oxen were taking a break from the ploughing, grazing nearby.

The city will catch up with them very soon. Too soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quite amusing

New Delhi is often touted as having had the first amusement park - Appu Ghar - in the country, but Chennai can stake a reasonably valid claim to that fame, too. I shall keep the story of VGP's Golden Beach for another day, but it did give rise to many other such amusement parks in the city. Several of them have gone under, but there are still about three or four which continue to draw in the crowds.

Queen's Land (in whatever way it is spelt, they're themselves not sure of it) is a fairly recent entrant, having opened only in 2004. It has a great first mover advantage in location, being on the NH4 - most of the others are on the East Coast Road. One can see the cable cars from the road a short while before seeing the park's signboard; it is quite tempting to stop the vehicle and get on to a couple of rides - though I don't think too many people do that. Planned visits are more the norm than not.

I've never been to this park, but I have been rather amused by their website, which says " is a place really worth spending your valuable time with. Every one will accept the fact being the valuable money that is being spent by our valuable visitors had fetched more value."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Russian Century

For a bunch of kids who grew up in the Madras of the '70s and early '80s, New Century Book House was a place where one could get some excellent books. The only condition was that one should not be too choosy about the author or the characters, for almost all the books at NCBH were translations of Russian works. I should say 'Soviet' works, for those were the days when India's 'non-alignment' meant a special friendship with the USSR: the books from the Soviet lands must have been heavily subsidized, for none of them cost more than Rs.10. Even in those days, it was quite a bargain.

And so there was a huge collection built up. 'Tales from the North Sea', Tolstoy's 'Stories for Children', 'The Fire Bird' - these are some of the books that I can see on my shelf even today, as I write this. There were others, very many that are packed away in cartons because they have become dog-eared over several years of being read by different generations. Names such as Vanya, Kostya, Shurik, Lyka and Nyura became very familiar from all the stories they appeared in. But it was not all 'story-books'; Vygodsky's 'Mathematical Handbook' was a completely different perspective from what the schools taught us. Ya. Perelman's 'Mathematics can be Fun' is still captivating enough for my son to pore over.

USSR has been gone a long time now and the 'special friendship' has moved shores. The NCBH too does not stock those Soviet titles any more. I hope they are doing well, but they have moved across the road from where their rather roomy bookshop used to be, to a slightly hole-in-the-wall location - the only bright thing appears to be their signboard!