Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Amendment connection

It seems to be a convoluted connection, but it seems so fascinating that I had to get it in here. This unpretentious signboard caught my attention only because of its white-on-blue combination. But finding out about The Law Weekly side-tracked me into the background to the First Amendment to India's Constitution. 

The story is essentially this: the Province of Madras, had been at the vanguard of community-based reservations, since passing what has come to be known as the 'First Communal G.O. (G.O.#613, Sep 16, 1921)' in 1921. That Government Order was the basis on which a girl named Champakam Dorairajan was denied admission to a medical college. Claiming that she had been discriminated based on her caste, Champakam took the issue to the Supreme Court, and a full bench agreed that the Communal G.O. was unconstitutional. 

What does that have to do with this board? Well, V.C. Srikumar, the current editor of the journal, who is also the grandson of its founder, was one of the lawyers in the case of 'Champakam Dorairajan vs The State of Madras'!

Monday, August 10, 2015


In the days of the British, a trip to Andamans was usually a one-way ticket to the dreaded Kala-pani, the cellular jail at Port Blair. These days, the dread is reserved for the mode of transport, not the point of arrival. The Andaman & Nicobar Administration (with a well named website - and.nic.in) determines the schedules for the three ships that connect Port Blair with 3 points of mainland India: Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Chennai. Those ships are MV Swaraj Deep, MV Campbell Bay and MV Nancowry

Of these, the Nancowry works the hardest. Swaraj Deep and Campbell Bay run two round-trips a month, the former alternating between Kolkata and Chennai and the latter running exclusively to Chennai. The task of connecting all three of these mainland ports to Port Blair is left to the Nancowry. The ship takes three days to run from Port Blair to Chennai and then has to spend four days catching its breath. It was in the dock yesterday, having arrived on Thursday. 

If there is anything that really put you off the idea of a sea-voyage, it is the sight of this rust-bucket. The Nancowry was built in 1992, which makes it close to the average age at which a passenger ship is decommissioned. Surely, no one will shed any tears at this rust-bucket's retirement!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Planter man

The slopes of the hills at Vagamon, in Kerala's Idukki district, were favoured by the British for cultivating tea. Among the several estates there was the Pasuparai Estate, covering a bit over 300 hectares. In 1925, these estates were bought from the British by Alfred Vedam Thomas, who took it as a challenge to prove that an Indian could be as good a planter as any of the Britishers. He must have been good at his work, for the company he founded, AV Thomas & Company has grown to be a diversified group today, with interests in varied sectors.

When young Thomas bought the plantation, it was part of the Madras Presidency and it was natural for the company to be headquartered at the city. Over time, the majority of AVT Group's plantation operations have moved to Kerala; the Group also runs factories for food ingredients and natural extracts in Kochi. The corporate office continues to be in Chennai, making this one of the few 'Malayalee' business groups in the city. 

This bust of AV Thomas is inside a conference hall in the corporate office. 124 years after his birth on this day, he continues to oversee the businesses that carry on in his name!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Keeping time

This post has been in the making for about a year. Knowing that the centenary celebrations  of the Women's Christian College were going to be this year, I had hoped to time this post with the kick-off of those festivities. But 7/7, the date on which the college was founded in 1915, came and went and the blog remained un-updated. And then it had to wait until the next symmetric date came along, didn't it? 

The WCC was established by Eleanor McDougall, who came to India in 1915. There does not appear to have been any reason for her to come to Madras other than to se up a college for women. The plans for the college must have been very much in place; McDougall was possibly the final piece in the jigsaw of setting it up. Within a week the college had its motto ("Lighted to Lighten"), its crest, (with sunflowers, a lit lamp and the motto) and its song. Of these, only the song appears to have been changed in the last century, the rest continuing to be the identity of the college. 

The missing part, in July 1915, was a campus. The college conducted its classes at rented premises for the first year. But even before the anniversary, on July 5, 1916, the college moved to Doveton House, on the banks of the Cooum, where it has remained since. Eleanor McDougall's work is remembered in this clock tower, donated by her brother Charles in 1937, when she was in her final year as the Principal. It stands right outside the Doveton House; having marked time over the past seven decades, it can be forgiven for being a couple of hours ahead of what the time is!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Treachery of images

I learnt a new word during this week. Magritte. Derived from the name of the Belgian surrealist painter RenĂ© Magritte, it refers to something that is not what it seems. The story is that Magritte painted a pipe, and titled it "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe). He was right of course, for it was only a painting of the pipe and not the pipe itself. 

So, the picture up here today is of a police station. Or is it? Okay, I'm not getting all meta here. The J4 Police Station in Chennai is indeed the one at Kotturpuram, as it says on this board here. But this is not it. This building is somewhere off Cart Track Road in Velachery. The board has been placed there because it is acting - acting as a police station. 

Yes. Part of a movie. More about the movie for another post, but then, isn't every movie a treachery of images? If you've watched the Malayalam Drishyam, or its Tamizh version Papanasam, you will agree with that! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Granny told mother...

The stuff was concocted by William Woodward, a pharmacist in England, sometime in the 1850s. For some reason, the mix of sodium bicarbonate, dill oil, sugar water and a bit of alcohol became a runaway hit with the babies and by 1876 it was so popular that Bill decided to register "Woodward's Gripe Water" as a trademark. His advertising at that time was based on the message that "Granny told mother and mother told me" - a theme that will be familiar to Indians from the TVC that was popular in the 1980s

In India, the brand is licensed by TTK & Company, which is headquartered in Chennai. I was sure this one had gone the way of many other old brands - does any baby even want gripe water any more, when all she has to do is to focus on her mother's iPhone? - when I saw this in a store. Somehow, the solitary bottle of gripe water only served to reinforce the point that the market for gripe water has evaporated. 

Can't help feeling that once this one goes off the shelf, the brand will be done for!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Droning away

When we were planning on making a corporate film, the director told us that he would have a surprise for us. Turned out that the surprise was a drone-cam. The radio controlled drone was designed and fabricated by the director himself, with his brother helping out on the electronics bits. It needed two sets of controls; one to fly the drone itself and the other to manipulate the Go-Pro camera that was its payload. 

As in many other parts of the world, Chennai is grappling with issues around regulating drones. There are some basic controls in place; anyone planning to fly a drone must get the equipment cleared by the DGCA. In addition to that, each time one plans to send the drone into the air, the plans have to be cleared by the city police. The uncertainty around getting the permission from the police was the reason for our director saying that he might surprise us - there was no way he could commit to having a drone-cam for the shoot.

It was quite a curiosity and the crew took turns at trying to pilot the drone. After going up a bit - around 15m or so - they found that the signals from a nearby cellphone tower were interfering with the drone's radio controls. There was a danger that it would crash; but as it came down, the controls were re-established and the drone-cam landed safely. And then, the roles were reversed. Rather than the drone-cam focussing on us, we all pulled out our cellphones and cameras and tried to get a good shot of the drone!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Old world

It is one of the remnants of a time when hotels were supposed to be a "home away from home". Charming, with many of the minor niggles that every home has - paint flaking off from a part of the wall, a drip that can be stopped only by gagging it with a dishcloth, or those ketchup stains on the carpet from that awesome party, which no amount of scrubbing can get rid of. Such things may have been cute a couple of generations ago; unfortunately, Madras Hotel Ashoka is still stuck in that calendar. 

There are a couple of things from that age which are worth staying at this hotel for. One of course is the chance that you get one of the better rooms, with space enough to host a ball. The feeling of space is heightened by the property - the lawns not actually manicured, but kind of spiffed up and the trees channeling the breeze into your room.

And the restaurant. That's something that no one can complain about, not even travellers who might have spotted something that shouldn't have been in their rooms. Madras Hotel Ashoka has positioned the entry to the property in such a way that it is Abhinandan, the restaurant that you are taken directly to. In a way that is okay, for the majority of visitors seem to be Chennai-ites going over for a quick bite or a leisurely lunch!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Not just a token

Chennai has been a relative late-comer to the Metro rail scene, being the sixth or the seventh (depending on whether you consider Gurgaon as being distinct from the Delhi Metro - it actually is) in the country to operate such a service. Since its inauguration on June 29 this year, the Chennai Metro has seen a lot of traffic; the CMRL authorities are still trying to figure out if it is actually commuter traffic, or folks who are taking a joy ride on the Metro.

We were among the latter a couple of weeks ago. I've been used to picking up the small, 1"X 0.3" dull yellow pasteboard tickets on the city's suburban trains that I was looking for something like those when the clerk at the counter, channeling his inner croupier, pushed these tokens towards me. I had heard about these tokens - once anyone enters a station using a token, the system checks if the same token has come out within a given timeframe. If it does not, something like a missing person alert goes out and the passenger is traced. Helps cut down loitering at the stations. 

But then, I kept these tokens away so carefully that I couldn't find them when we got off the train. Searched all my pockets. Nada. So we head over to the help-desk. Too many people there, we are asked to wait. And then, like always, my wife told me where to look for them. Sure enough, there they were. Well, we did not get to find out what happens to a commuter who loses his tokens. And we are glad we didn't!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pitch perfect

Today would have been the last day of the 3rd Ashes test, but as you all know, that was wrapped up a couple of days ago. That's just an excuse for putting up this picture of a cricket pitch. Chennai has several, and this one is inside the IIT Madras, sponsored by Chemplast Sanmar. Chemplast has a long association with cricket, and owns two of the cricket teams playing in the TNCA League - Jolly Rovers and Alwarpet CC - and this ground is where the players practice their stuff.

It is not just those League players, but internationals as well. When the 2011 Cricket World Cup was held in the sub-continent, the IIT-Chemplast Sanmar Ground was the practice ground for the Indian team. The pitch is top-notch and true; it is an absolute pleasure to play on, no matter if you are batsman or a bowler.

It was a wonderful feeling to play at this ground, and to bat on this pitch, a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, the match didn't go too well for my team and I ended up spending a lot more time inside the pavilion; one that was inaugurated in 1998 by the legendary Australian cricketer, Neil Harvey. All said and done, it was wonderful to have been on the same turf as the legend, thinking about others who've also run across this rectangle!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cycling along

Chennai is home to one of the largest producers of bicycles in the country. TI Cycles, part of the Murugappa Group, owns and manufactures some of the biggest cycle brands in India, including Hercules, BSA and Montra. Between them, these brands cover most kinds of bicycles available on the roads today: the stodgy old-world cycle (being pedalled by the man in the picture), the lightweight sporty cycles that the BSA has been known for and the 'specials' - the mountain, road or hybrid bikes, of which the Montra brand is a part.

In the past few years, cycling in Chennai has changed considerably. On a weekend morning, it is quite common to spot a couple of hundred cyclists breezing away along the ECR or along the Marina. They are still a novelty, for the vast majority of the city's cyclists are those who do it for their regular commute, rather than fitness enthusiasts or hobbyists. But the latter groups have been growing exponentially, to the stage where an entrepreneur spotted a niche business.

It is entirely appropriate that Ciclo Cafe should come up on Gandhi Mandapam Road, for the western side of the road hosts a lot of properties belonging to the Murugappa Group. That road is a quiet, leafy stretch and is one of the roads taking you towards the ECR. On their way back, it would certainly tempt those cyclists to stop and un-famish themselves after their long ride. Oh, you thought the bicycle theme was restricted to the man on the cycle? Look closer. The building behind, touted as India's first cycling themed cafe, opened a few months ago and has caught the city's imagination big-time!

Today is 'Theme Day' for the City Daily Photo bloggers. Head over to http://cdpbthemeday.blogspot.in/ to see bicycles from all over the world!