Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Early morning on NSC Bose Road. One of those rare occasions when this road appears peaceful. Usually it is a cataract of humans, vehicles and a few animals as well. What with the Madras High Court on one side and Chennai's serious trading locality of George Town on the other, this road can't be anything but busy. Okay, it was a Sunday, and the traders of George Town were probably having a lie-in!
Monday, April 28, 2014
This statue of Gandhi was unveiled on the eve of Independence Day, 48 years ago. I am not sure if this was placed at some other, prominent location earlier. Maybe the gardens of the Agri-Horticultural Society were themselves a prominent location in the 1960s.
Anyway, there it is today, showing the sun-dappled Mahatma striding out from a bush. There is a vase on the base of the statue, but nobody seems to have cared enough to place flowers in it!
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Even though the last major news agency moved out almost a decade ago, Fleet Street continues to evoke images of the print media, just as Harley Street reminds us about physicians. Are there any similar streets in Chennai? I am not really sure, but Iyya Mudali Street in Chintadripet comes very close.
Around the temples of Mylapore or Triplicane, it is possible to find several shops that sell a variety of garlands. However, those are just sales outlets. At Iyya Mudali Street, the packed garlands are intended to be despatched elsewhere. You may be able to place an order here, but I doubt if spot sales to walk-in customers are encouraged. The garlands - most of them with some proportion of sandalwood - have been crafted for specific occasions. Almost any commemorative occasion needs the chief guest and a few other dignitaries to be garlanded - and off to Iyya Mudali Street go the organizers.
There are quite a few other traditional items that are crafted in the shops that line the entrance to this street. Remember the thombais? And the temple umbrellas? Well, you can take a safe bet they were made right here in Chintadripet!
Saturday, April 26, 2014
You may not be able to make out what the numbers mean, but that's nothing to be worried about. Even as great a mathematician as G.H. Hardy, who specialized in number theory, was not a numbers man. In that way, he was unlike Srinivasa Ramanujan, for whom numbers were his "personal friends". There is a story about Hardy visiting a very ill Ramanujan at Putney; getting into the room, Hardy mentioned that he had travelled in taxicab number 1729, which seemed to him a "rather dull number". Ramanujan, however, was instantly animated. "No, no, not at all", he said. "It is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways".
Since then, such numbers have been known as 'Taxicab Numbers'; you can head out here to see some of them, as well as a picture of.... well, something like taxicab number 1729. The story however is just one more example of how the man was completely un-fathomable, even for those who knew what he was talking about. What could he have achieved if he had lived longer than he actually did?
Ramanujan passed into immortality this day in 1920. And yet, there are many who still don't know about him, or what he did. We go past all these mentions about the greatest mathematician of modern India with reverence, because it is too taxing to try and figure out what was it that he did. This day is marked with special events by the Ramanujan museum in Chennai. I haven't been there yet, but for today, this bust of Ramanujan at the IIT Madras should remind us of his memory!
Friday, April 25, 2014
Until the previous elections in Tamil Nadu, a voter could express her displeasure at the available candidates by stamping on multiple names in the ballot paper. There was also another option, under Section 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, for a voter to shun the ballot altogether, and record his decision in a separate form. Very few people actually knew about Section 49-O, and almost none of those would call for a form to record their dissent. Why should they, when they could have fun stamping across multiple names?
With electronic voting machines (EVM) replacing ballot papers, that fun was curtailed. The EVM would accept only one press of the button - and that, with a beep. Dissent wasn't possible through the EVM, and asking for the form clearly violated the principle of a secret ballot. The Supreme Court of India agreed with that contention and accepted the Election Commission's request to include "None of the Above" as a standard option on all the EVMs.
And so there it was: the one candidate who is contesting across all constituencies in the country this year. NOTA. Would this candidate win anywhere? Well, even if there is a majority opting for NOTA, it is the top-grossing human who would still go on to win!
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Vythinatha Iyer, possibly in a spurt of teenage rebellion, converted to Christianity when he was 17. He took on the name John, but used it only as a prefix. John Vythinatha Iyer certainly would have made people pause and wonder.
But no, I am not talking about the clash of religious identities, here. The memorial stone at the Zion Church in Chintadripet talks about his serving the Government as well as working for the Church. That's not a feat many could have managed!
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
It may be sacrilegious to talk about French cuisine and fast food in the same breath, but that's what bistros were, apparently. Urban legend has it that Russian soldiers in Paris during the early 19th century called out "bystro", indicating their desire to be served quickly. And so, those kitchens which put out simple fare, priced to suit the purses of the frontline soldiers, came to be called bistros.
One thing is for sure. L'Amandier, which opened a few months ago on Chamiers Road, has got the 'simple' and 'economical' parts of the (alleged) bistro definition right. In keeping with the Parisian theme, they have a few tables outside, but given the Chennai weather, those may remain empty most of the time. Inside, however, it is pleasant, the food is simple, eminently gorge-able, and the people are nice.
Do they serve wine, like bistros are expected to? Ah, now you're being too greedy. Enjoy the food - and be happy with the fruit juices you get!
Monday, April 21, 2014
There were about 50 people in the store. More than half of them were in their tweens or teens. Of the remaining, almost nine-tenths were in their mid thirties, or younger. From the conversations, it seemed that almost everyone had moved into Chennai sometime in the past five years or so. The layout was different, too. That half of the store where books used to be displayed - the 'original' Landmark - was off bounds. There were no books there, anymore. Those left over fitted into six display racks. The toys, VCDs and game cartridges filled up the rest of the space. And the shoppers were busy raiding. 50% off, and that's got the bargain hunters in.
The old timers were staying away. There was one other shopper who engaged the store manager in conversation. "I was here on the first day you opened, you know", he said. The manager nodded, with a semi-polite half-smile. Of course he wasn't there when it opened. That was a long time ago. The store manager must have been eligible for a half-ticket at Safire when Hemu Ramaiah set up this store. She made sure that once you get down the steps and past the door on the right, you could transport yourself to a different world - or worlds. It didn't feel like half-a-basement at all. One could sit there all day and browse - yes, browse. In the days before Netscape Navigator, Hemu's Landmark would take you all over the wide world.
Landmark was then a break from the past, but now, a throwback to another era. No bookstore before it tolerated anyone - school and college kids the least of all - flipping through their books. And here was the staff practically shoving a book into your hands and telling you to take your time reading it. It is difficult to believe that for 19 of the 26 years it has been around, the store has been competing against the Internet. The memories of those first seven years were strong enough for many to turn up again and again at the first Landmark store, now spread across the entire basement of Apex Plaza. Indra Nooyi, it is said, used to make it a point to spend a couple of hours here every time she visited Madras/Chennai. She was only one of the many non-residents - Madrasis or otherwise - for whom the Nungambakkam Landmark was the place to visit. And browse. And browse.
The first time I bought a set of greeting cards from Landmark, I did not realize that I was taking the first step to losing the bookstore of my college days. Greeting cards were followed by other stationery items. Then came CDs. Toys. Games. Suddenly, books seemed to be an "also there" item. And then the Tatas bought the chain, in 2005. India's best bookstore, born of passion, boosted by the quiz, sustained by the loyalty of its Madras customers (who spread the word about it to their friends in Pune, Bengaluru and other places) had now completely transformed into a 'business'. The staff didn't know their books. (Or even music, or toys, for that matter). But they still let
customers visitors browse through the books, and the Nungambakkam store was the best place to do that.
Now it is gone. When the bargain hunters have cleared it out ("50% off!!" "Everything must go!!!"), I shall also be gone. I did not intend to walk into the store yesterday, but I did. And I picked up a few books, at random. I only had a vague idea of what I was doing, because memories of 26 years obscured the actions of the day. My eyes were moist; I could not look at the girl at the billing counter, who asked me if I had a loyalty card. "I am turning it in today", I thought. I suddenly felt very old. Good bye, Landmark. You've taken my youth with you.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
In the 1960s, when K.C.S. Panicker started what came to be known as the 'Madras Movement', he also recognized that the artists of the Movement needed to be able to sustain themselves without having to sacrifice the leisure to pursue their art. And so was born, in 1966, the Cholamandalam Artists' Village. It was indeed a village, where the inhabitants turned out art products, which were then marketed to provide them a livelihood. Over the years, the Village has thrived; it is one of the very few artists' communes across the world that has remained successful across generations.
In 2009, the Village inaugurated its showpiece to the world. The Cholamandalam Centre for Contemporary Art displays several works by the vanguard of the Madras Movement. The redbrick building houses paintings and sculptures; and there are many more sculptures and installations in the grounds as well. In fact, some of them have blended right in with the environment that you are surprised at what turns up. (Remember the sleeping cat? And one installation, being under a Ficus, has the ariel roots finding pathways through its grooves, now)
More about the Madras Movement later. The ban on taking pictures of the displays inside means that one has to find other ways to show what is there. But hey, if you are up early today, go for a drive on the East Coast Road. And on the way back, stop at the Centre - they open at 10am, so you can also stop here on your way to brunch along the ECR. So now, you have no excuses left for staying away from here!
Saturday, April 19, 2014
When a person starts birding, many long believed 'truths' turn out to be not so true. One of them is about owls. Most of us think of them as night birds; they may be mostly nocturnal, but there are many of them who are quite active during the day. Though first-timers might find it unbelievable, it is quite common to see owls during the daytime, even in the middle of the city.
One of the common species of owl is the Spotted Owlet (Athene brama). It is a small bird, and is unfazed by the presence of humans nearby. You can spot them on the IIT Madras campus, on the golf course at the Cosmopolitan Club and several other places that are overrun with people. The two of them in this picture - can you spot them? - are at the TANUVAS' Research Station at Kattupakkam, on the outskirts of Chennai.
Athene brama usually nests in holes - that should be enough of a clue for you to click through the picture and spot the Owlets!
Friday, April 18, 2014
It was in 1847 that a 17 year old "high-caste" boy at Palayamkottai converted to Christianity and was baptized as William Thomas Satthianadhan. The 'William' most probably was to honour William Cruickshank, the headmaster of the Anglican school who was instrumental in the conversion. W.T. Satthianadhan, with the zeal of the converted, went on to complete his studies in Divinity and Theology. Starting off with the Christian Missionary Society's school in 'Tinnevelly', he moved through a couple of other postings before being appointed as the pastor of the church at Chintadripet.
He served there for thirty years, during which time the church was renamed as the Zion Church and he oversaw its expansion in 1880. After his passing in 1892, his son-in-law Rev W.D. Clarke took over. Within a couple of years, he had constructed a multi purpose hall next to the Zion Church and named it for his father-in-law.
After nearly 130 years, that hall is in good shape. At least, it looks to be so from the outside - I am not sure if it continues to be used for any of the purposes it was intended to serve!
Thursday, April 17, 2014
From the sixth floor of Acropolis, looking out to the south-east, there is little by way of construction to break the green cover. Chennai's skyscrapers - such as they are - can be found in other parts of the city. The Mylapore area is not where high-rises are.
In the foreground is another view of that church built without any wood - that seems to be the biggest break in the city's green!
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Down the Madurantakam way, there is a story about a British Collector from the late 18th century - or maybe the last years of the 19th century - time does not matter much in such moffusils. You can catch up on the details of the story later; suffice to say that after the Collector had a vision of Rama and Lakshmana guarding the lake from overflowing, the temple there came to be known as Eri katha Ramar (the Rama who protected the lake).
It is possible that the experience led to several such temples for Rama, espcially near large lakes that are prone to overflowing. One such is the lake at Thiruninravur. Quite a large lake, it caters to the needs of the farmers in the region. Maybe after hearing about the legend of Madurantakam, the folks at Thiruninravur thought they would also invoke the blessings of Lord Rama by building a temple to him near the lake.
Since then, this shrine has also taken on the title of Eri katha Ramar - only that it seems so forlon that it might actually neglect to even guard itself against the rise in river water!!
If you are still interested in the Madurantakam story, here are two sites that you can get it from: Link 1 and Link 2
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Legend has it that the 63 Nayanmars, the minstrels whose songs of Siva are so uplifting that the Nayanmars themselves are considered near-divine, have sung specifically about 275 of Siva's temples. These 275 are considered to be paadal petra sthalams and are considered a notch above the vaippu sthalams, which are those shrines that were 'mentioned' in the Nayanmars' compositions. Of of the 275, three are in Chennai - Tiruvottiyur, Mylapore and then this one at Thiruvanmiyur.
The locality the temple is in takes its name from Valmiki, but it is said that one of the reasons for him to be here was to recover from some illness; it was a blessing from Siva, in the form of Marundeeswarar who cured Valmiki. The form itself was assumed to cure Surya (the Sun God) and Chandra (the Moon God), as well as the sage Agastyar - and it was the last who named this form Marundeeswarar - the Lord of Medicines!
Saturday, April 12, 2014
They say that in Kerala, the only orderly lines you can see are the queues in front of the 'beverages' outlets. Looking for a Chennai equivalent, the closest I can think of is the queue of visa applicants outside the US consulate. In the past couple of years, the consulate has split the processing; things like fingerprinting and some basic document verification happens at a satellite centre on Cenotaph Road.
And yes, the queue there is as orderly as those at beverage outlets!
Friday, April 11, 2014
Mahabalipuram is not far off and it is a good drive; along the East Coast Road, the signs talk about a 'Scenic Drive' - and the toll booth also welcomes you to the "ECR Scenic Beachway". If you are a passenger, good for you, you can enjoy the view.
But if you are the driver, you had better keep your eyes on the road. Not only is there a lot of traffic on the road, there will likely be a lot of it moving across the road as well!
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Vaithamanithi Mudumbai Kothainayaki was a writer far ahead of her time, but that story will have to keep for another post. She was also one of the few women who were active in the freedom movement. In the 1920s, whenever there was a meeting of the Congress, VaiMuKo, as she was known, would be the one to sing the invocation song, and many other patriotic verses as well. On one such occasion, Mahatma Gandhi was on stage; after the meeting, he told her something to the effect that both "..Mother India and you are shackled; she is in chains, and you, in gold!" That changed her - she swapped her silks for khadi, broke her shackles and became much more active in the freedom movement.
After Gandhiji was cremated, his ashes were mingled with the "waters of India". After that ceremony in Madras, VaiMuKo decided that she would do her bit to preserve his memory. With her good friend Saraswati Bai, she set up the "Mahatmaji Seva Sangam" in March 1948. The Sangam was primarily involved in helping destitute women and children, with the money coming from well wishers, as well as some of the proceeds from VaiMuKo's writings and stage performances of her stories.
In 1953, the Sangam moved to this building on North Tank Street, Triplicane. The facade has the seal of the Sangam, showing Gandhi on his Dandi march. VaiMuKo passed on in 1960, but the Sangam went on for a bit longer and was still plodding along in the new millenium as well. But now, it seems to have become completely inactive, with the building itself showing no sign having been visited by anyone for a long time. VaiMuKo herself has been forgotten, so it should be no surprise that her reverence for Gandhiji is not remembered, either!
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Well, there is nothing specifically Chennai about this, but I did see it in a Chennai store. It is an 'official' board game, with illustrations by the magazine's "usual gang of idiots". As children, those "idiots" were looked up to; Sergio Aragonés, Dick DeBartolo, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker, Dave Berg, Antonio Prohias... they were all adults writing to corrupt us children.
This game itself is Monopoly with a twist. The first player to go bankrupt is the winner. It has several ways to lose money, including cards that allow you to lose $500 by jumping up, with a chance to lose $5,000 by remaining airborne for 37 seconds. All those losses will count for nothing if you end up getting up that $1,329,063 note. There is, however, only one way to win that note - can you guess what that is? (see below photo for the answer)
Wait - did I say this has no connect to Chennai? Maybe not, but where do you think those Mad ras-cals got all their ideas from?!
!uɐɯnǝu ˙ǝ pǝɹɟןɐ sı ǝɯɐu ɹnoʎ ɟı ʇı uıʍ noʎ
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
It might sound a bit surprising now, but in the late 19th century, it was pretty much the order of things that a young girl in the Bombay Presidency desiring to study a formal course in medicine should come up to Madras to do so. The Madras Medical College had just started admitting female students and Krupabai Khisty's frail health did not allow her to go abroad to study medicine, as she had been advised to by a family friend. And so to Madras she went, in 1878, a frail girl of sixteen. Though her father, Rev Hari Punt Khisty had died when she was very young, he was remembered enough for a fellow missionary, Rev W.T. Satthianadhan, to take her into his house as a boarder. At the end of the first year, Krupabai was rated as a brilliant student, but her health was shot - she had to give up the study of medicine.
It was an extremely trying period for her. Her elder brother Bhasker was also no more and she was in Madras, far away from her family. Luckily, she found a companion for her intellect in the Rev. Satthianadhan's son Samuel, who had recently returned from Cambridge. They got along very well and were married in 1883. She had been writing short pieces to get past her loneliness and Samuel encouraged her to go further. That was how the magazine South India Observer carried her first published article, "A visit to the Todas", under her pen name 'An Indian Lady'.
It was An Indian Lady who went on to write what is arguably the first English novel written by an Indian woman: Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life, published in 1890. The Story of a Conversion followed in 1891 and her last work Kamala: A Story of Hindu Life came out in 1894. In some ways, she followed a path taken by Toru Dutt, a "pioneer of Indo-Anglican writing"; there is however no reason to believe that Krupabai knew of her, for Toru died in 1877, all of 21 years old; Krupabai was then 5. Krupabai died young, too, in 1894. Had Toru Dutt completed writing Bianca, she would have been the claimant to the title that now seems quite firmly Krupabai's. It is as such that she is remembered in the memorial tablet erected by her husband, in the church cared for by her father-in-law!
Monday, April 7, 2014
That's the rather quiet and unassuming entrance to one of the city's best maintained parks. The Nageswara Rao Park in Mylapore spreads over an area of about four acres. That makes it one of the smaller parks under the Corporation of Chennai, but that doesn't stop it from being put to various uses. Walkers, joggers, tree-watchers, singers, lovers, chess players, all of them can be found here. By the side of the broad walking areas are seats for players wanting a game of chess; there is a stage where you can perform (and do it as a featured programme on the first Sunday of every month is a privilege) and of course, all those little nooks that invite sweethearts to linger a while.
The park is named for Nageswara Rao Pantulu, who was a resident of Sri Bagh, a palatial house near the park. A little to the west of his house was a pond called Arathakuttai; sometime in the late 1930s, when that began to dry up, Nageswara Rao convinced some of his neighbours that it was better to give up the dry lake to the city rather than to expand their residences into it, and so the park was born.
For the past decade or so, the park is being maintained by Sundaram Finance on behalf of the Corporation of Chennai. I cannot think of any other such privately funded public park in the city; but the manner in which the Desodharaka Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao Pantulu Park (that's its full name) is used in run is surely a strong boost for inviting more corporate bodies to invest in the city's green lungs!
Sunday, April 6, 2014
The general elections rise in the east, tomorrow, with Assam and Tripura starting off their voting process. They come to Tamil Nadu on the 24th; which means that for the next couple of weeks, the noise and the colour will keep rising, until it all falls silent on April 22.
Chennai has 3 seats in the Lok Sabha - North, Central and South, with the last one being the largest in terms of number of voters. The last day for candidates to file their nominations was yesterday and they have until Wednesday to change their minds. In the recent years, the Election Commission of India has put in place several conditions that have served to make the campaigning more sterile, even if that was not the intent.
Such a display of flags and buntings is therefore not very common. And as I look through the picture, I find that I am not able to recognize two of the three flags there - what is the "DMP"? The closest equivalent I could find was the All Kerala MGR Dravida Munnetra Party - but what could it be doing in Chennai, and with a picture of Dr. Ambedkar at that? And what is that blue-white-red flag with a chakra in the centre? Would people actually be able to figure out all of the who-is-who (and, because of all those poll alliances, who-is-whose) in the next fortnight? Tough choices ahead!
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Friday, April 4, 2014
I can read English, but I had a bit of a difficult time figuring this one out. And yes, I know Tamizh as well, maybe that was what made it difficult. English letters in the Tamizh script - and yes, they look a bit like Tamizh letters as well - threw me off track.
This is just a garment firm announcing a range of their Chennai t-shirts. A blue one, that had "NYPD" in large letters, looked commonplace. But a closer look showed that NYPD is an acronym for a phrase often heard in Chennai. You can see what that is, here, but I think the prices are a bit too overboard for them!
Thursday, April 3, 2014
As Mount Road runs through Teynampet on to Nandanam, there is a quiet piece of land tucked between some commercial establishments. The gates are mostly closed and all the busy people scuttling along do not look at those gates - they are easy enough to miss, anyway. But should they do so, they would likely be taken aback, seeing those 'people' standing and sitting around. What they may not realize is that they have seen the studio of Kishore Nagappa, a third generation sculptor, whose father and grandfather have crafted so many statues around the city.
Kishore's father, Jayaram Nagappa, was the one who made the twin horse-and-man statues that are placed at the Gemini Circle. Off-hand, I am not able to point to one defining statue that is Kishore's; but that could also be because some of them have become so popular that there are probably many rip-offs pretending to be originals.
The next time you pass that way, pause. And take a look at the place where all those statues you see around the city - and other parts of the state - are made!
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
The moment I saw the name of this building, it reminded me of television. That was even before I noticed the image between the 'E' and the 'K', which convinced me that Beekay was indeed a brand of.... no, not TVs, but something to do with them. Voltage stabilizers? Antennas? Memory is vague.
Not the memory of the antennas. None of us would have seen them in the past twenty years. But once upon a time, they proclaimed to the world, "this house has a television". The first ones were just 3 aluminium tubes, short ones at each end and the long one in the centre bent into a kind of double-tube. Within the city, these were fastened onto a pole that was raised maybe 3-4 feet above the highest point of the building. The further you went out of the city, the higher the pole rose; I remember seeing some about 20 feet tall at Polur, near Vellore, about 120km away from Madras.
But then, Rupavahini happened. Some folks began receiving signals from the Sri Lankan broadcaster - they seemed to have much better programming than good old Doordarshan - and everyone wanted a piece of the action. No one knew how the physics worked, but everyone was convinced that you needed more height and more aluminium tubes if you had to get signals from Sri Lanka. There was a mad rush to get better antennas; it was during that phase that one saw antennas like the one in the picture get popular. Maybe that was how Beekay made their money - does anyone know for sure why that antenna is part of the Beekay logo?
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
We are probably a very mathematically inclined people when it comes to food. From doling out liquids by the metre to getting that perfect circle for the chappati, it is all part of the maths that makes the world go round. So when today's theme - over at the City Daily Photo Bloggers group, that is - was announced, I figured this would be the best representation of the theme.
Of course, you could get this in two dimensions, with the circle tucked in to make a triangle of the dosa, but when you ask for a ghee roast, you have to be prepared for it to take a three-dimensional form as well. There are some who would argue that the ghee roast works best as a cylinder, but like the Little-Endians and the Big-Endians, that argument would lead to wars, but no agreement.
But whatever be the shape it takes, a ghee roast makes for a great breakfast!
Figured out the theme for the City Daily Photo Bloggers today? Head out here to find more interpretations!