Monday, October 3, 2011

Doll display

It coming close to the end of Navaratri; almost all over India, the 9-day worship of the mother Goddess in her various manifestations follows a similar pattern. But it is only in the southern states that the 9-step (or 7-step) display of dolls becomes a prominent feature of this festival. 

Here's a golu from the Kapaleeshwarar temple at Mylapore. Don't fret if you did not see it there yesterday; this picture is from last year's celebrations!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

141, now

Today is one of the few 'National Holidays' in the country. This year, Gandhiji's birth anniversary falling on a Sunday ruled out one of the 'definite' holidays from the calendar. And I didn't get to see Richard Attenborough's Gandhi this year.... maybe Munnabhai's Gandhi made an appearance? 

But then, thanks to Anna Hazare and many others, the Mahatma has been more in the news this year than in most recent years. Maybe it is time to, as an old advertisement said, " the Gandhi in yourself"! 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mystery object

Ah, the greater mystery is about why I got out of the blogging habit for quite a while now. Doesn't matter. Another 1st-of-the-month, another 'Theme Day', another resolution.

This month, the theme for the City Daily Photo community is "Mystery Object". I had a couple of excellent candidates for that, but unfortunately, I had used them before, here and here; so now I've had to rummage through a jumble of images to come up with this one.

All I can tell you is that it is on top of the Thirusoolam hill. What was it used for? I'm not sure, but I guess it was   just a shaded rest / lookout point.... like the chattris on some forts in north-western India. I do hope some of the readers will be able to throw more light on this!

To see other mystery objects, from many other cities around the world, get over to the City Daily Photo portal. You may click here to view thumbnails for all participants

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Under (re)construction

This is not a new building, for sure. The Bharat Insurance Building has been around for as long as I can remember. In fact, it has been around for so long that it is not being used anymore. But do you see those towers in the background, with scaffolding around them? 

That's because they belong to a much, much older era. They were part of the Kardyl Building, which was inaugurated in 1897. In the course of their long life, they have weathered much, but the sheer neglect of the past fifteen years or so pushed them to the brink of ruin. In August 2006, the Madras High Court restrained the Life Insurance Corporation of India, the current owners of the building from "demolition or change in character" of the building, thanks to the efforts of Chennai's minuscule but valiant heritage lobby. Since then, an agreement appears to have been arrived at. There is some restoration activity going on at this building. One hopes that it will go back to the bubbling spirit it had in the days when it housed a soda-water bottling plant and a beer parlour on the premises!

It is 'Theme Day', over at! Go over there to find photos from around the world on the theme 'construction'!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Across the street from the gate of St. Peter's Church at Royapuram, is the Jamia Masjid mosque. The juxtaposition of the two symbols - the mosque's minaret and St. Peter's cross - make for an interesting picture!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dramatic building

Back to those white-on-blue enamel boards. This building has two of them, both indicating institutions that have had a glorious run on the Madras stage. One of those, I shall save for another post, but this one, sadly, seems to have been relegated to a 'bit-part' these days.

The Sukrutha Lakshmi Vilasa Sabha (SLVS) is one-hundred-and-eleven years old this year. It has been operating from this building for sixty-seven of those years. In the early days of its existence, the raison d'etre of this Sabha was to compete with the Suguna Vilasa Sabha (SVS) in staging dramatic performances. Over the years, both organizations have had to struggle for existence. The SVS has fared a little better on that count, having morphed into a social club, while the SLVS seems to have last opened its doors a few years ago.

Maybe it wants to continue its association with the performing arts - that could be the reason why it hasn't moved out of this building, which once housed Madras' first ever cinema!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Temple in the crowd

As NSC Bose Road winds down through Sowcarpet, it gets ever more narrow until you wonder how two vehicles can ever pass each other by. Suddenly, you sense space. The road opens out just a bit and there you see this wall, the red-and-white stripes identifying it as part of a temple. From the peacock placed on the wall, you would guess the temple has to do with Subramanya - and you would be correct.

It is not a large temple, but considering the bustle of the area around it, the space is more than ample. The main deity is seen with his consorts, Valli and Devasena, the former's idol showing four arms - a rather unique representation of this Goddess. 

This temple is probably between 200 and 300 years old, going by the local stories. However, there are also stories that tell of Agastyar - whose image is also somewhere on the temple walls - having prayed to Subramanya in this temple. Well, you can choose what to believe!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

General well-being

The Government General Hospital at Chennai is one of the oldest institutions in the city - and quite likely the oldest functioning hospital in the country. It started off as a small hospital to treat the soldiers of the British East India Company who were routinely falling prey to various tropical maladies. It was Sir Edward Winter, during his first stint as the Agent of Fort St. George, who inaugurated this hospital on November 16, 1664.

It wasn't much of a hospital, initially. being based out of one of the houses in the Fort. And for a few years, it moved around inside the Fort itself, before the general congestion of the Fort and the 'Town' area forced it to look outside. It was only in 1762 that a new site was identified, a little away from the Fort, on the road to Poonamallee. 

None of the buildings from that time was preserved when these new buildings came up in the early 2000s. All the old buildings were taken down and these two blocks replaced them. Supposedly, a couple of plaques from those buildings are preserved somewhere inside this campus - but discovering them may be more difficult than the task Charles Donovan faced in discovering the kala-azar agent in 1903. Even the plaque commemorating that discovery, one of the high points of the hospital's history is also missing!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sinking in

This is one of the smaller roads in the Vepery area. And the mystery behind the name has been guarded very carefully. Maybe one of those reading this post will be able to throw some light on who Letang was. That it will be a person is not to be doubted, for there is a record of a couple of people who were born with that name in Madras between 1850 - 1880. Alfred Otranto Letang was the older one, coming into the world in 1853, while Constance LeTang followed him 26 years later. This road could have been named for either of them - or for their fathers: Peter (Alfred's) or Charles (Constance's). 

Or, it could be Ambrose Pierre Antoine, Chevalier de L'Etang. de L'Etang was stable-master for Marie Antoinette and had to leave France in a hurry after the French Revolution. In 1788, he was in Pondicherry, where he married Therese Blin de Grincourt. He also seems to have been an author, turning his experiences - and those of others - into a volume on farriery in 1795. But this connect seems to be a little far-fetched, for Antoine seems to have gone on to Calcutta....

So, the mystery remains. Can someone solve it, before the story sinks - like the road sign is threatening to?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tower, Anna Nagar

Probably not the one you were thinking of, right? The Masjid Javeed on 3rd Avenue, Anna Nagar, has a minar that is quite eye-catching, especially at twilight!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Outward looking

Before this building came up on Mount Road, the space was the front lawns of Spencer's Hotel. Though they had sold the entire property to M.Ct.M Chidambaram Chettiar's family sometime around 1944, Spencer's continued to run the hotel into the early '50s. Even for many years after, that hotel building continued to be in use, as the training centre of the Indian Overseas Bank, who had by then raised their headquarters building on the hotel gardens. 

The Indian Overseas Bank was the second of the 'local' banks to be established in Madras, in 1937. As was the case with almost every business venture of the time, it began life in George Town. Chidambaram Chettiar realized that with several restrictions on foreign exchange business being placed upon banks after the Great Depression, Indian businessmen trading overseas would welcome an 'Indian' bank for their exchange transactions. And so was born the Indian Overseas Bank - that middle word establishing its market intent and to distinguish it from 'Indian Bank', which predated it. To prove that intent, the bank opened its overseas branches, in Rangoon (now Yangon) and Penang within a few months of opening their first offices in Karaikudi and Madras. 

It was M.Ct.M Chidambaram Chettiar's desire to have a skyscraper on Mount Road that saw him first go to work on the LIC Building, in 1953. But he died in 1954, before the building was completed - and before the insurance business was nationalized in 1956. His sons Pethachi and Muthiah fulfilled their father's wish - the design of this building also drawing inspiration from the UN Headquarters. This building also went into the Government's hands soon after - banking nationalization coming through in the late 1960s. Yet, a statue of M.Ct.M Chidambaram Chettiar's statue stands outside this building, which has been the headquarters of the IOB since 1964. Hopefully it will also participate in the platinum jubilee celebrations on February 10, 2012!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Precious coral

For almost a hundred years, from 1688 to 1786, Anglo-Dutch Jews moved to Madras and played a major role in the trade of precious stones. Strange as it may seem, the 'natives' were fascinated by coral and were willing to trade even diamonds for it. The Jewish traders typically had an arrangement where one brother was a free merchant near Fort St George, another was based in London and a third in Amsterdam. That helped: coral from the Mediterranean, which was much sought after by the people of India, was shipped to Fort St George through London. (In return, the merchants of Leghorn, Naples and other cities on the Mediterranean seem to have been paid in pepper). Diamonds obtained as payment for this coral were sent to Amsterdam for cutting and polishing.

It appears that the Jews played a significant role in moving the centre of the coral trade from Goa (then with the Portugese) to Madras, which would explain their pre-eminence in this trade in the early days of the city. However, with the discovery of diamonds in other parts of the world, their value fell and the trade became less lucrative. Also, there appears to have been a shake-up in 1765 with the bust of a diamond smuggling ring, in which 3 Jewish agents from Madras (and the governor of Madras) were alleged to have been involved. 

The trade was then taken over by the Nagarathars. Whether they continued to trade coral or not, they took up offices in the street vacated by the Jewish traders. By this time, the street was itself so closely associated with the coral trade that it was called Pavazhakkarar Theru - Coral Merchants' Street. It is likely that anyone commencing trading activities there would be dubbed a Pavazhakkarar, whether coral was part of his bill of materials or not. And in keeping with the fascination for red coral, this gift from 'Coral Naiker Madras' to the city's Corporation, has been topped off with bright red paint!

The book "Diamonds and Coral: Anglo-Dutch Jews and Eighteenth-Century Trade", by Gedalia Yogev seems to have some fascinating accounts of the Jews of Madras, going by excerpts found here!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rajah at the choultry

Were he alive today, he'd be getting on to his 170th birthday, which is what the Wikipedia entry on him seems to indicate. Rajah Sir Savalai Ramaswamy Mudaliar, KT CIE has been away from us for over a century, but during his time he was a big enough philanthropist for his name to be seen in several places over Chennai. People miss it because it is in a narrow band on the choultry. They miss it because the initials "R.S.R.M." in Government RSRM Lying-In Hospital in Royapuram means nothing to them. His place of burial in Kilpauk, where he once owned a vast stretch of land, is probably inaccessible now.

This statue, erected by his friends, is probably the only one in the city. The man who was given the title Rajah as a personal distinction - rather than as a hereditary keepsake - keeps a watch over one of his favourite gifts to the city from right inside it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On the bridge

Not as often used as the Central Station or the LIC Building, but this view of the Raja Annamalai Memorial Hall and Rani Seethai Hall is also an instant identification of the city.

From the top of the Gemini flyover...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The other side

Well, you saw the view from the landward side several days ago; here is the Simpson clock from the beach - and Radhakrishnan Salai / Cathedral Road leading away from it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parsi property

Down West Mada Church Road in Royapuram are several indicators of the city's Parsi heritage. The oldest of these indicators is probably this building, which stands on land that, by all accounts, was acquired by Heerjibhai Maneckji Kharas with five other Parsis sometime in the last decade of the 18th century. Just before that century ended, additional land had been leased for 99 years from the British East India Company. In 1858, with the Crown assuming sovereignty, the lands were transferred to the Parsi Panchayat.

In 1900, the Parsi Panchayat was renamed the Madras Parsi Zarthosti Anjuman. The property that had been leased from the British East India Company came to be referred to as Anjuman Bagh. Today, Anjuman Bagh houses within it a dharmsala for travellers, besides about fifteen flats though which the Anjuman provides subsidized housing for deserving senior citizens from the community. 

Though the original property on this road has been fragmented, the Anjuman Bagh continues to be a reminder of how the Parsis had contributed to Madras in large measure!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Just a building

Actually that's all it is. But the Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers is so very inviting. 

This property has seen quite a few name changes over the past 30 years or so that it has been around. It was first the Adayar Gate Hotel, then the Adayar Park; after its management was taken over by the Welcomgroup, it became Park Sheraton. Now, with ITC's brand building effort, it is the ITC Hotel Park Sheraton and Towers

If we conveniently ignore all the dance floors in various old world hotels and clubs of the city, Park Sheraton can claim to have brought the discotheque into the Madras of the late 1970s. The Gatsby was a major USP of the hotel when it opened and the name had enough recall value for it to be reintroduced as Gatsby 2000 in the late 1990s. 

The Gatsby is not this hotel's only connection to New York. What is today known as the Park Central Hotel was, between the 1950s and the 1980s, known as the Park Sheraton New York!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hosting the Academy

It is not the oldest of the music sabhas in the city, but it ranks among the top 3 in that category. For quite a long time, the Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha was the lone ranger; from the time it was founded in 1900, until the Music Academy came into being in 1928, there was no other sabha in Madras. 

The Music Academy's founding - in the wake of a resolution by the All India Congress Committee - led to a mini-rash of similar institutions coming up. Of the ones that followed, only two continue to be active: the Indian Fine Arts Society and the Rasika Ranjani Sabha. The latter, established in 1929 in Mylapore, seems to have enjoyed better facilities in the early days. It had its own concert hall on Sundareswarar Swamy Street. The concert hall was most likely named after the street, and Sundareswarar Hall hosted many of the prominent musicians of the day. In 1958, the Sundareswarar Hall was renovated and the new venue served the RR Sabha for over half-a-century. The current renovation - which should be completed soon (if it hasn't been already), will hopefully see the hall continue to use its current name.

Because that's a name that has hosted the Music Academy itself - before the Academy got its current premises, it conducted its annual conferences at different venues: and among them the Sundareswarar Hall was an early choice!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Looking another way

For almost 40 years, this statue was in the middle of things. Unveiled on January 14, 1969, Kalaivanar's statue looked towards the west, almost as if he was turning his back to the trappings of power - the state legislature and secretariat were to the east. In an era where politics seemed to be the logical next step for a successful movie actor, Nagarcoil Sudalaimuthu Krishnan stayed away from the temptation, preferring to advance his theories of community development through the dialogues and songs from his films. 

The unveiling of his statue on Pongal day of 1969 was the then Chief Minister Aringar Anna's last public function. The event was attended by two others who would go on to become Chief Ministers themselves - Karunanidhi and MGR. And it was during Karunanidhi's most recent tenure that this statue was shifted from the middle of the roads - the junction of G.N.Chetty Road, Dr. Nair Road and Thirumalai Pillai Road - to the northeast corner of that junction. The flyover that came up at that intersection was named Kalaivanar Mempaalam, becoming only the second named flyover in Chennai.

The auditorium named after him - Kalaivanar Arangam - has been demolished; it is good that this statue was spared. Now NSK looks across to Vani Mahal - possibly to the stage that was his first love!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dog days

It is hot enough for even the dogs to seek some shade. This one finds it inside an auto-rickshaw parked outside the Tiruvottiyur temple. After the hike in petrol prices on Sunday, even the LPG auto-rickshaws would be hard pressed for business.

Dog days for everyone, indeed!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The other church

It is natural that when one thinks of St Thomas' Mount and church in the same sentence, the building that comes to mind is the Church of Our Lady of Expectation. That's the one on top of the mount and perhaps the one that's much better known over the world. However, there is one other old church in the vicinity - one that goes by the rather workmanlike name of St Thomas Garrison Church. 

It was built sometime in the 1820s and was intended to serve as a place of worship for the garrisons stationed at St. Thomas' Mount and at Pallavaram. It is not clear why these garrisons could not go up the mount - probably it was difficult for the horses and carriages to climb up that winding path and so they had to have a church right at the foot of the hillock. Over the past two hundred years, this church has seen a lot, as can be gathered from all those memorial tablets inside. 

In the 1950s, when the Meenambakkam airport was getting ready for regular air traffic services, it was found that the spire of the St Thomas Garrison Church was impeding the flight path for aircraft landings. Ever since, it has had to do with this truncated top - the third storey and the spire had to be taken down to ensure aircraft safety!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Of course everyone wants to get together to promote their shared interests. The bigger the business, the more so, I guess. It was probably in this spirit that a few companies got together a little over a hundred years ago to establish the Southern India Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Its website today claims inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi's call for swadeshi, but as likely it was the businessmen of the day banding together to ensure they had a common forum to raise their demands with the British government.

Unlike many such associations or industry bodies, the SICCI has gone on for over a century and continues to be relevant. Very soon after its founding, in 1927, it became one of the founders of the country's apex body for such chambers of commerce - the FICCI. 

For me, it was first one of the buildings on the Esplande - all commerce related information came much later. But it was only a few days ago I realized that it is not the "South India", but the "Southern India" Chamber of Commerce and Industry.... the former is a young upstart!

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Roots of medicine

A shop in Velachery that sells some exotic things. Things that the city dweller needs because he hasn't yet left the village behind him. Things that assure her that her newborn is getting the best of nature. Things that only a "nattu marundhu kadai" can provide.

No, it does not - and should not - translate as "country medicine shop". That's missing the entire point. Like many other phrases, "naatu marundhu kadai" defies neat translation, because of the need for deeper understanding of tradition and culture. These are not really "country", but more like "non-city"; and "marundhu" here is not really medicine, but the ingredients - seeds, fruits, accessories - that are needed for making some traditional recipes. Recipes that are used for "health tonics"..... well, that's the best way of describing "kashayams", isn't it, although "lehyam" is beyond me for now!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Old world

No, this is not from the English countryside, even if the names of the houses in this part of Chennai try to fool you into thinking so. "East View". "Suffolk Lodge". "Starbrena". Even "Whitehall". Tucked away behind the old English Electric (now Areva) factory at Pallavaram is this street, and a few others like it, together making up the Veteran Lines - one of the last few enclaves of the Anglo-Indian community in Chennai.

Veteran Lines started off simply as what it claimed to be. Outside the military cantonment of Pallavaram, but close enough to remind them of the army life, it was a designed as a residential area for military personnel, especially retired ones. The majority of them who moved into the houses were Anglo-Indians, who put their cultural stamp on the area through their dance and music - not to mention their particular turn of speech. I suddenly find myself unable to reproduce it, not having heard it for many many years. It was all around me once, even into the early 1990s. But now it is gone, as have many of the young Anglo-Indians of Madras. They are all away, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada....

....leaving the Veteran Lines to those who are truly veterans. It appears to be rather difficult to find a resident of this area who is younger than 60, but surely, there must be quite a few of them!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A man, a plan

He seems a mythical figure, almost. The fresh garland on the statute in front of the"Kamaraj Memorial House" indicates that he's still revered by some folks, somewhere. Leaders of the Congress Party in Tamil Nadu continuously harp about bringing back the "Kamaraj age", when Tamil Nadu was one of the best administered states in the country, not to mention one of the 'cleanest', as well. That age seems far removed, much more than the 48 years since K.Kamaraj stepped down as the Chief Minister of the state.

And that was probably the last great sacrifice in Indian politics. Though Kamaraj was in his third term as Chief Minister, he still had considerable political clout in New Delhi, enough for Jawaharlal Nehru to take his advice in implementing what has come to be known as the "Kamaraj Plan". On the face of it, the plan was innocuous enough. Kamaraj proposed that senior leaders of the Congress should give up their positions in the government and move back to the party's organizational framework to revitalize the party. Kamaraj himself gave up his Chief Ministership under the plan, as did five other Chief Ministers and six members of the Union Cabinet. Kamaraj himself was almost immediately elected as President of the Congress Party. It was during his tenure that he orchestrated the transition through two Prime Ministers - Lal Bahadur Shastri after Nehru and then, Indira Gandhi after Shastri's untimely demise.

There are differing views on why the "Kamaraj Plan" was developed; some think it was to strengthen Indira Gandhi's position in the Congress Party. Others belive it was to push out Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, the 'Prime Minister' of Jammu & Kashmir, who even though he was not a member of the Congress Party, offered his resignation - which was promptly accepted. Whatever be the compulsions for the Kamaraj Plan of 1963, the state unit of the Congress Party could do with some of Kamaraj's magic!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Who is this Adam?

This lovely, four-storeyed building on NSC Bose Road, just across from the Flower Bazaar police station, has been gracing the neighbourhood for almost 80 years, now. Yet, there is little information about who the building - the writing on it announces it is Adam's Building in 1923 - was named after and what it it is today.

Google maps indicates it is now a lodging house - if you do not trust that, the sign on the ground floor - Vijaya Lodge - will sway even the most sceptical. It seems a pity that there is little information, for the well maintained facade of this building seems to be inviting us to learn more about it.

Another day, another mystery - until the next time at NSC Bose Road, to ask the manager of Vijaya Lodge if heknows anything about the building's history.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Like the Chennai Central or the LIC Building, this bridge is a movie star, too. Unlike them, this did not establish a location, or even indicate that it is part of any city. It was a location of choice for jumping into the river/sea; at low tide, the waters are shallow enough to allow people to walk - if you know the path, of course.

A long time ago, the Tamil Nadu Tourism department showed quite a bit of foresight in setting up a boathouse here. It was fun to take a spin in the backwaters, going up towards the Bay of Bengal and then ducking back under the bridge. It appeared to be a secret, known to only a few people, for the vast majority would rush over the bridge, intent on getting to Mamallapuram or Kovalam, or wherever it is they were going, hardly sparing a glance to the boathouse on their right.

Not any more. There are always vehicles milling around the north end of the bridge, as tourists try to get the best parking spots while they go down for a boat ride. The possiblity of accidents, which were earlier much higher in the water - and there were quite a few fatal ones - are now loaded towards the land. Thankfully, they'd just end up with a few bumps and dings, rather than being life threatening!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Finest store

Why did so many Gujarati traders come down to Madras during the middle of the 19th century? It must have had something to do with their relationship with the English, who had set up their first trading post in the sub-continent at Surat, for sure. Among the later arrivals was Poppat Jamal, who came in to the city as an apprentice to Ibrahim Peer Mohammed & Co., dealers in fine glassware and china. He did well, for when the founders decided to sell out of the business, it was Poppat Jamal they handed it over to, in 1901.

Ever since then, the establishment in Chennai has been called Poppat Jamal & Sons, even though the branches in Kochi, Bengaluru and Vijayawada have been re-branded as Jamal's. It is quite likely the ownership has become fragmented and there are several of these "finest store of its kind in India" in all these cities!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Going ape!

Madras had an early start in the practice of keeping wild animals in captivity. The first zoo in the city was near today's Chennai Central station - though when the zoo was established in the 1850s, the Central station was yet to be built. For a long while, the zoo did not keep pace with emerging thought in the manner of caring for captive animals and its pre-eminence slipped.

It was in 1985 that Madras reclaimed its spot as having one of, if not the best modern zoos in India. The Aringar Anna Zoological Park is spread over nearly 1500 acres and houses about 160 species (Wikipedia tells us that the San Diego Zoo / Safari Park together cover about 2100 acres - but they have packed in more than 800 species there!)

For all the extent of the zoo, the space for animals is slightly cramped. These chimpanzees have a little bit more than most, but even they can get bored of the sameness of the trees and the moat!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Late fishers

The fishermen on the Marina Beach usually set out to see even before the dawn has cracked. At some unearthly hour, when most of the city sleeps, these fisherfolk push their crafts out, riding the waves before starting their outboards and veering away to their favourite fishing spots. By the time the early walkers have finished their constitutional, the boats are back, bringing in their 3-hour worth of catch which one can buy fresh off the boat.

It was already seven o'clock and this boat was just getting ready to cast off. That too, after a short puja. Turns out these people had, for some reason, not been able to go to work for over a week and it was their first day out after that break. Hence the puja and all that. 

By the time they get back, it will be just in time to get your choice straight from the fishing boat into the frying pan!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Suburban justice?

Tiruvottiyur may be within the Chennai postcode area, but for judicial matters, it falls in the Tiruvallur district. Justice in this part of Chennai is dealt with by the District Munsif (for civil matters) and the Judicial Magistrates (for criminal cases). In contrast to the pomp and show of the Madras High Court, the courts of these officials are quite homely. On a Sunday morning, it was not difficult to mistake these gates as being that of a school or something as harmless.

Judicial Magistrates can award sentences that are of less than 1 year's imprisonment (or a Rs.5,000 fine, at max) and the District Munsif has similar limits. The first court in Tiruvottiyur was apparently a sub-court that began functioning in 1965. It was only in 1996 that the sub-court was upgraded to its current status.

There was a news item that said a building for the combined DM / JM courts was inaugurated in November 2008. Though these buildings seem much older, I'm sure there are no other courts in Tiruvottiyur! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Auto fittings

In the 1870s, Simpson established his coach factory at one end of Mount Road. Years later, in 1916, G.U.Cuddon built the "finest automobile showroom in India" a short distance away. With these two establishments setting the bookends for the automobile trade in Madras, some of the roads branching off Mount Road became the support zone, where parts for any vehicle could be procured. They were truly the supports, because the automobile companies were not interested in supplying to the aftermarket. If a car-owner wanted so much as a washer, he had to make a trip to this maze of streets.

None of those streets were more popular than General Patter's Road. More about the origin of that road's name later (hopefully); it is a stretch of about a kilometre, with little but shops selling every kind of part for every kind of automobile ever made. Yes, there was a cinema there somewhere and the office of a political party has become more visible now, but if you tell someone that you're off to "GP Road", you can be sure they will understand your desire to spruce up your vehicle.

And it is service on the street. The men in the photo are not pushing the car out of the traffic or anything like that. They were installing something - a music system? - inside the car and what better place to do it than the middle of GP Road!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Three-leaf clover

Had always assumed that the grade separator at Kathipara was a proper, fully-paid up member of the four-leafed clover interchange club. Not that it was difficult to validate this assumption, but for some reason, never did think about it being anything other.

Even after having taken this picture, I was searching for the fourth leaf; it took me a while to accept there are only three of them. Even as the effect of this bit of news was being absobed, came another bolt from the blue. Apparently, only 4-leaf grade separators can truly be called "clover-leaf intersections". Anything less, and we need to talk about "jughandle intersections" or "par-clo" (for partial cloverleaf).

Anything more, it would be a spaghetti junction, apparently!

A-ha, it is a clover-leaf after all, just that one of the leaves seems to have fallen off.... see comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Next clearance

It has been a long while since I had thought of a post-office. And here I am, thinking letters and mailboxes at least once a day over yesterday and today! Last afternoon, it was because my son wanted to post a letter from Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad: they have a special cancellation for letters posted there and he wanted to send one to his school, just to have the postmark.

Today, it turns out that I have to look for a mailbox again, for a different kind of 'posting' - luckily, I had this picture, taken a couple of years ago, and that's turned out to be useful. This one is on Poonamallee High Road and is serviced by the Flowers Road Post Office - or, to use the technically correct status, the Flowers Road Sub-Office (Delivery).

I hope they will still go ahead and make the next clearance at 10.45 am tomorrow, as the window on the mailbox says!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Here and there

This is a hotel caught in some kind of a time warp. The property itself was developed by R. Velayuthan, whose claim to fame was that he was married to KR Vijaya, a popular actress of the 1970s. Velayuthan invested his wife's earnings into building this hotel, which opened in the late 1970s. Riding on the crest of her popularity, Hotel Sudarshan, as it was then called, became quite a popular hangout, more so with the 'filmi' crowds visiting Chennai.

As with several similar ventures, the promoters were unable to sustain the business and within a decade, Hotel Sudarshan was in the doldrums. Velayuthan managed to find a buyer, the Narangs, who brought it into the fold of their Ambassador brand in 1986. The Narangs for some reason don't seem to be paying as much attention to this property as they should, banking on a regular clientele to support them.

And that clientele does. Not just because the rooms here are far larger than most others in the city. Not just because the service is a little more personalized than that at other hotels. But more so because, as this site for a wedding a couple of weeks ago says, there is an association with things past, an association that will probably take a couple of generations to change!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New route

It is deeply ingrained that when coming in to Chennai by train, one gets off at the Chennai Central station.But over the years, it has become slightly more convenient to get off at the Perambur station and get back home from there. For me, it is no major difference in the distance, but it helps to save quite a bit of time. The twenty minutes or so that a train needs to get from Perambur to Chennai Central is itself quite a good start. Add to that the long walk on the platforms of Chennai Central and you're already building up quite a sizeable chunk of time. With the Murasoli Maran flyover at Perambur getting into action last year, the exuse of traffic congestion has also been taken away.

But for all that, my biggest disappointment about forgeting to get down at Perambur was that the exit from the station was right outside my compartment. If I'd got off there, I would definitely have been saved a 1km walk, not to mention the 25 minute headstart I got on my way back home!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Watch this space

Well, if you keep staring long enough, you might just see that aircraft on the tarmac take off. Though I'm not in it, I am away from Chennai today. This one is coming to you from Bengaluru!

Friday, January 7, 2011


Late in the evening, the folks of George Town have finished their supper and are taking a bit of rest. Can't really say this place goes to sleep, but around the big buildings of NSC Bose Road, activity cools off a bit and moves into the streets off the main road.

One such evening, a few months ago. The Bombay Mutual Building seems to be lit up in colours. Maybe it could do with more lights, but can't think of any other place in Chennai that can double up as Gotham!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bell pull

In November of 1876, Helene Marie Philippine de Chapotine was in Rome, having arrived there through Nantes (where she was born), Toulouse, Madurai (where she was sent to as a novice) and Ooty (where she was driven to because of some differences of opinion within the Madurai Mission). By this time, she was known as Mary of the Passion and on January 6, 1877, Pope Pius IX authorized her to found the Missionaries of Mary. In 1885, this Institute officially became the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

They have a convent - Holy Apostles Convent - and a creche on St Thomas Mount, behind the church. The main building of the convent is at a slightly lower level and is normally not open to the public. Those seeking to enter have to ring a bell - no, not any new electronic device, but by pulling at a twisted bit of metal next to the picture of a church bell.

And yes, please be absolutely quiet when the bell rings!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Bharat Matrimony, based in Chennai, was one of the earliest 'match-making' sites in India, taking 'arranged marriages' into cyberspace. Over time, they spun off sub-sites, to make it easier to find the spouse of your dreams.

And somehow, finding this advertisement for their services in front of a kalyana mandapam seems to be quite appropriate these days!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Open gates

We used to call it the 'Electricity Road', or the 'TNEB Road', because there was a Tamil Nadu Electricity Board office somewhere along this stretch of road. It was probably a private road in those days, with the barriers on the Commander-in-Chief Road (now Ethiraj Salai) / Binny Road side being almost always closed. With the barriers shut, even with their high clearance, it was rather daunting prospect to ride a bike down this road. If they were open, it was always a good excuse.

Over time, we found the barriers were not closed as often as they once were. This road became a familiar path to avoid the traffic along Anna Salai, zipping over from Binny's Road to Dam's Road, bypassing the traffic and the lights. The stench of the Cooum was a relatively small price to pay, for this road runs along the eastern bank of the river where it runs parallel to Mount Road, coming from behind Spencer Plaza.

These days, the barriers never seem to be shut. The road still does not seem to be a thoroughfare - maybe there is still a feeling of impropriety in using it. And the road itself continues to be anonymous. Without any proper name, it shows up as 'Link Road' on most of the maps!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Associations' building

The Thiru Vi-Ka Industrial Estate in Guindy is over fifty years old and this building seems to be from the same era. One of the earliest Industrial Estates in the country, this was the first in Madras. With the emphasis on small-scale industries, this 400-acre piece of land has a large number of such small factories, typically turning out components to be used by larger factories elsewhere.

Not that there are only small units here. Some big names - Ennore Foundries, TVS Electronics, Alcatel-Lucent, among them - have a presence inside the 'Guindy Estate'. Even the Olympia Tech Park on its western edge is an attractive location for the large, new age industries. The overbearing majority of units at the Guindy Estate however are of the single-unit entrepreneur type, somehow managing to clear a profit and trying to keep pace with all those competitive manufacturing practices coming out of China.

Bringing those kind of entrepreneurs together are various associations and industry groupings. The biggest of them here happens to be the IEMA - the Industrial Estate Manufacturers' Association, which is why their name board is the most visible one at street level. Inspite of having a spanking new office at RV Towers, the IEMA continues to operate out of this building, jostling for space with all those other groupings of small scale industries. Looks like they'll run out of nameboard space soon!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

No washing

One of the city buses to school had a route that took it from the very British 'Sterling Road' bus-stop to the rather Anglo-Indian sounding 'Dobby Kana', which was its next halt. Having to get down at the former (if I wanted to go to school, that is), the latter was an enduring mystery. 'Kana' sounded rather like 'khana' (Hindi for 'food') that I used to imagine a huge crowd of dhobis (washermen) sitting down for lunch or something.

Although I've heard tell of how crowded the 'Dobby kana' at Chetpet used to be, I never had a chance to see it. For the Chetpet laundry had shut down even by the early '70s and today, even the bus-stop is called something else. Even the recent movie 'Madrasapattinam', with its washerman hero, seems to be set in the dhobi ghat of Guindy, rather than Chetpet. Even that has disappeared, now.

The last outpost of the Madras washerman seems to be this enclosed area at Pallavaram. I was told that the mornings are when it is a buzz of activity, with the wet clothes swishing through the air in arcs to have the dirt beaten out of them, wrung and then hung out to dry. In the evening, it is almost completely deserted; looks like the few people inside are those washing their own clothes!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best photo ;)

Less than an hour's drive from the centre of the city, we got to see this sight early on a September morning. Clouds, golden lining and all, coming up to burn the mist off the grass. And the birds, having woken up, putting on their displays for us. A great morning's birding!

So here's to all of you - may you get what you seek for this year... leaving enough behind for others who would have need of it too, of course! A very happy New Year's Day to everyone, and wishes for a wonderful time in the year ahead!

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