Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stop, rain?

Somehow, the rains this year seem to be following a different drummer. Apart from one day last week, when it poured over the city throughout the day, the rains have been behaving more like Singapore than anything else. Sharp showers, pouring down intensely for fifteen minutes, followed by bright sunshine. Makes it rather schizophrenic, at times.

But this was last week. Skies greyer than what they said and the drizzle kept at it right through. Bad enough for the motorcyclists to have to ride in the rain, but worse when they have to stop for the lights. And at the Tidel Park signal, that's a long - and wet - wait!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Godess' abode

When this building was constructed, there was a proposal to name it after the 'lead founder' of the Sabha it houses. But Chittoor V. Nagaiah, a leading character actor of the 1940s was humble enough to veto such thoughts and insisted that the hall be named after Saraswati, the Goddess of music and learning. Over the years, 'Vani Mahal' has become so recognizable a landmark that it overshadows the Sabha's name in the non-musically inclined Madrasi.

The Sabha's name was itself seems to have been a cheeky gesture at Mylapore; the story goes that Nagaiah was seized with the idea of forming this Sabha after seeing a group of people huddled under a bus-stop, braving the rain to go for a kacheri at Mylapore. Maybe Nagaiah was so fond of where he lived, that he could not imagine the place without a Sabha when there appeared to be so many rasikas; gathering together a few of his influential friends, he led the founding of the Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha - the name as much paying tribute to one of Carnatic music's holy trinity as reinforcing its roots in Thyagaraya Nagar (which, incidentally, was named after Sir Pitty Theagaraya Chetty).

The Sabha was founded in 1944; in quick time, it became so popular that it had to find its own space, having to move out of the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha's premises. Thanks to T.A. Rangachari, who sold them 10 grounds on G.N. Chetty Road for a song, the Sabha was able to raise its auditorium in quick time, constructed by V. Ganapathy Iyer. Inaugurated by Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, Vani Mahal became a much sought after venue - and over time, it has seen many talented performers take their bows. The most famous among those who had their debut on the Vani Mahal stage are Nagesh (though I seem to recall Mohan Raman averring that it was at Gokhale Hall) and Waheeda Rehman.

The original auditorium was knocked down a few years ago and in its place came up three very well equipped halls. But despite that, it is the original building that is honoured today, as Vani Mahal celebrates its 65th anniversary!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Palace on the road

The railwaymen never tire of putting their railway-ness in your face every chance they get. With a long history and quite a bit of rolling stock having stopped rolling, they have a lot of spare parts and scrap to fabricate such decorations as these. 

This is the entrance to the ICF Guest House at Pilkington Road, Perambur. From the outside, it looks quite swank; guess it must be for the top locos of the Indian Railways!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Temple time

There is a story around how this temple was built by a Pakistani. How true is that story? I haven't heard it from any authentic source, if only because this temple predates the Pakistan nation by a couple of hundred years. Apparently there was someone from Lahore who was the man behind the construction of this temple, but the legend goes that the temple is about 200 years old.

The Bairagi Mutt is itself probably only slightly older. Although there are many shrines inside this complex, but the most prominent one is that of Lord Venkateswara and hence the name. As with quite a few other temples, while it is commonly called Bairagi Mutt, the full name of this temple is "Arulmigu Thiruvengadamudayan Venkatesa Perumal Thirukkoil". 

Bairagi Mutt will do, I guess!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Connecting tower

How could a palace be split into two? Maybe that was troubling Robert Chisholm, as he viewed the two blocks of the Chepauk Palace, built over a century before Chisholm set his eyes on it. But even with the separation, it would have been a grand sight, two large, low buildings set in a vast area of almost 120 acres, bordered on the east by the beach. On the west, it was stretched to what is today's Bell's Road; the Cooum on the north limited its spread and to the south, Pycroft's Road marked its boundary. 

The Chepauk Palace was built in the 1760s, as a residence for the Nawab of the Carnatic. At that time, it was Mohammed Ali Khan Wallajah, a favourite of the British, who was therefore given the privilege of being housed close to Fort St George. The two buildings that the palace was divided into were the Humayun Mahal and the Khalsa Mahal. To the north, the Humayun Mahal was abutted by the Diwan-e-Khana hall. Until 1855, the Nawabs of the Carnatic lived in the Chepauk Palace; that year, it was taken over by the government, citing the Doctrine of Lapse, when the last Nawab of the Carnatic, Ghulam Mohammed Ghouse, died heirless. In the 1870s, when Chisholm got his hands on these buildings, they were being used as government offices. Chisholm's additions included some rooms and verandahs to Humayun Mahal and a grand entrance with a tall tower rising over it.

That tower is the most visible part of Chepauk Palace these days. When the Ezhilagam and other assorted buildings came up along Rajaji Salai, they blocked the magnificent view of the palace from the beach. Even the tower comes into view only from some angles: with the Chepauk Palace now completely taken over by government offices, the visitors are more concerned about getting their work done than about the heritage of this tower!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Closed shop

From the looks of it, this building has been locked up for years. And it is probably not going to open anytime soon. The coop it housed also seems to have moved on; in all likelihood, it is operating from a different address these days. Other signs - "Grocery"; "Tailoring" - on the outer walls give it quite an old-time feel and the dirt and dust around the doors confirmed their having remained shut for quite a while. Maybe there is some litigation around this particular building, for there doesn't seem to be any other reason for it to remain unused.

The X-331 Railway Employees Cooperative Stores Ltd appears to be functioning still, like I had said. Evidence is their inclusion - with a contemporary telephone number - in a list of member stores of the Chennai District Co-Operative Union. But then, that's a list which says "Talk Workers" for "Dock Workers" and "Basin Breech" for "Basin Bridge"!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Foreign language

Granted, Komal Exports needs to have its signs in multiple languages. But Runic?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Premiere show

Just over a year ago, I had written about Madras' second cinema theatre. The first, by all accounts remained untraceable. Now, it appears that the city's first cinema hall is standing, still. The Broadway of the early 20th century was as much a bustling business district as it is a hundred years later. It was on this road that a certain Mrs Klug decided to try her hand at running a movie hall; rather a permanent movie hall. In the early days of motion pictures in India, the pictures as well as their exhibition spaces were both mobile, so the establishment of a fixed venue was in itself a novelty.

Very factually named, "Mrs. Klug's Biosocope" - "The Broadway Bioscope" or "The Bioscope" - opened for business sometime early in 1911. Although the permanency aspect was highlighted only much later, the crowds were eager to take in this new form of entertainment. The leading newspaper of those days - Madras Times - played a large role in establishing the 'permanency' of the exhibition hall, for that is essentially what it was. But was there ever a "Mrs. Klug"? Or was it some genius marketer, who used a nom de screen to convince folks that movies were something so respectable that a married woman could run it single-handedly? Considering that the Bioscope ran 'continuous shows' (something that Chennai has missed ever since Blue Diamond was razed) from 6pm to 11pm every day - last show starting at 9pm - it may well have been a way to assure potential moviegoers that they were getting into a respectable establishment! We may never know that, for Mrs. Klug's last show was sometime in October 1911 and there has been no news of her since.

Many of Chennai's history buffs have been unable to find the exact location of where Mrs. Klug had her Bioscope. A few months ago, Dr. Stephen Hughes, in an article in "The Hindu", points to enough evidence for it to have been operating from the first floor of this building, which is even today home to some long-standing institutions. Now, let us hope the structure does not crumble under the added weight of being the location of India's first ever permanent movie hall!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Morning hunter

I had always assumed that raptors - birds of prey - were large creatures, their wide wings allowing them to glide up on high. Little did I know, until about a couple of years ago, that one of the most common raptors in this part of the world is the Shikra (Accipiter badius). Although the name is derived from the Hindi (shikra or shikara), it now seems to be largely accepted as the standard. Though some call it the Little Banded Goshawk, the IUCN's Red List indicates its common name in English as Shikra, so that's what it is, for me!

Interestingly, there is another bird species that derives its (scientific) name from the same Hindi root. The Red-Headed Falcon, which is also somewhat common throughout India, was given the scientific name Falco chicquera!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Famous food

The sign seems to be out to confuse you. Yes, of course that's a sardar welcoming you in, but the board says "Vellore". Check as many times as you like, but you'll not find any evidence of Vellore being anywhere near the land of the five rivers. And yet, that's what the sign goes on to imply. Also, I am sure there are sardars who are pure vegetarians, but I haven't come across one in all these years.

Eliminating the impossibles, this is what I'm left with. Sardar landed up in Vellore many many moons ago. Vellore, in case you didn't know, is a major clearing house for kuska - that is biriyani without pieces of anything. That probably drove home the point that vegetarianism is good business; and so sardar mixed the exotic "Punjabi Dhaba" with the blandness of Vellore cuisine, added in the "Gyan Vaishnav" for good measure and voila! Vellore Punjabi Dhaba became famous.

Actually, it became famous enough that it brought the Vellore Gyan Vaishnav brand to Chennai. Famous enough for the Chennai branch to be inaugurated by Amitabh Bachhan. For all that, it remains fairly rooted to the essence of the dhaba: simple food, quick service, easy on the wallet. No wonder that the sardar from Vellore has hundreds, maybe thousands, of die-hard fans in Chennai!

Monday, November 8, 2010

White man!

Well, I give up. He has lent his name to one of the better-known roads in Chennai (and also to a locality in Choolai), but I haven't been able to get much information about this man. It is said that he was the first Commissioner of the Corporation of Madras from the ICS - that steel frame of the Raj - but even with that lead, there does not seem to be much information available about this man.

Even his statue, in the main corridor of Ripon Building, where he once had his office, has been painted over so many times that his features have become rather difficult to discern. Just like the man himself, the statue also seems to blend into the wall - only the railing stops you from ignoring it altogether. Complete whitewash, I say!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Latest lighthouse

Somehow, one has always thought of lighthouses as being cylindrical structures. Even though the Doric column which served as Madras' second lighthouse (the first was just a collection of lamps on top the Exchange building in Fort St George) is a dodecagon, it approximated a cylinder enough to be forgiven its twelve sides. The third lighthouse was once again on top of a building that was meant for other purposes; the fourth - and current lighthouse of Chennai, however, has the least number of sides needed for an enclosed structure.

When this lighthouse became operational on January 10, 1977, the range of the beam was increased from 24 miles to 28. At a height of 57m, it is decidedly middle-of-the-range for lighthouse heights (the Jeddah Light, at 133m is supposedly the tallest), so there is nothing particularly great about that. What distinguishes the 'Madras Light' - apart from its triangular building - is that it is the only lighthouse in India (and one of the few in the world) to have an elevator in the building!

For the trivia buffs - the only lighthouse in the USA with an elevator is the one at Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Interestingly, that is also a triangular building!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Prancing horse

At first glance it seemed to be a racecar gone off the tracks. The prancing horse logo is so much a part of the famous Ferrari brand that it takes a couple of moments before we can adjust to its presence on the polar opposite of a racecar - and one that has obviously not moved an inch for quite a few years, now. But the 'rampant horse' has been a symbol of many things - products, places, maybe even people - through the ages. It was obvious this one had no connection with fast cars.

In fact, this logo appears to pre-date Enzo Ferrari's firm by a few decades. It was in 1865 that Thomas Aveling and Richard Porter built the first steam engine of their partnership. Having set up the business in Rochester, Kent, Aveling & Porter borrowed both the logo and the motto of that county for themselves. The word "Invicta" (undefeated) was placed under Kent's 'White Horse rampant' to make up the logo of Aveling & Porter, one that had remained more or less unchanged through a few changes in the company's ownership.

Although this one cannot claim any great antiquity, it is still somehow fitting that it lies abandoned in the middle of railway territory. It is believed that Aveling & Porter supplied quite a few of the steam rollers required to clear terrain before rails could be laid. And this machine, standing on Constable Road, Perambur seems to be in sympathy with the buildings of Aveling & Porter, the last of which was brought down earlier this year!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Deepavali!

Leading up to Deepavali, we repeat the same thing every year - "the fireworks seem quieter"; "this is more about shopping" and those famous last words: "I'll go easy on the sweets this year". And then, on the day itself, all is forgotten.

So, here's to the festival of lights. This year, the 'north Indian' and 'south Indian' versions coincide on the same day. Whether it is the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya or the celebration of Lord Krishna's victory over Narakasura, Deepavali is the celebration of lights, fireworks, prosperity, sweets.... joy all around.

May this Deepavali open up a new chapter of brightness in all our lives!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fish market

On the pavements at Velachery, brisk business is happening of a Sunday morning. It is easy to forget that the city's origins were, in all likelihood, a series of fishing hamlets along this part of the Coromandel coast. The hamlets may have all been connected by the city which sprung up around them, but that has in no way diminished their fondness for fish!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Seating space

Along the roads near the garrison at St Thomas Mount, the sidewalks are raised fairly high above the road level. Although that makes life difficult for the pedestrians, it must be quite a useful level for anyone sitting on these benches and watching the world go by.

Apart from its vantage-point appearance, the bench is also quite beautiful - wrought iron, from many decades ago, by the looks of it, with a fresh lick of bright yellow paint, makes a nice contrast to both the red of the sidewalk tiles and the green of the trees and shrubs around!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Public Transport

The regular buses of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) do have a theoretical limit on their capacity. They can seat 25 and, in theory, there is space for 48 people to stand. Don't forget the driver and the conductor who are included in the total capacity of 75 people in the bus. 

A report from 2009 says that the MTC needs nearly 4,400 buses to meet the demand, but the number of buses on the roads are just 2,990. That was a report for purchasing buses under the JNNURM scheme, on the basis of which 1,000 buses were sanctioned for Chennai last year. Many of them have been inducted into the MTC's fleet, but yet, the crowds continue to struggle to enter the buses. Peak hour occupancy in the buses is probably in the range of 150% - and that probably does not include those hanging on outside!

No, it is not a fascination for buses that sees two pictures of them in succession.... it is just that today is 'Theme Day' for City Daily Photo blogs and the theme for today is Public Transportation. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants