Sunday, April 20, 2014

Art centre

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

Two of a kind

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

A memorial hall

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

Green cover

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

Ersatz Rama?

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


Chennai hosts quite a few melas, or festivals, of products made by indigenous craftsmen. You could expect to see some metalwork, fabrics, paintings and things like that. But no matter how colourful they look, I am struggling to figure out how these cups would qualify as indigenous art!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sleepy cat

So where does cat get his forty winks? In the shadow of a sculpture named "Dream of the Black Sun". The sculpture itself is worth a look at - and you should go over to the Cholamandalam Artists' Village to do it - but I thought this cat in the shade of the sun was kind of poetic!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Medicinal might

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

Wait in line

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

Getting away

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

In Gandhi's name

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

What, who worry?

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

Doctor of letters - almost

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

Quiet entrance

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

Flags of a colour

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

Good night

I don't think I agree with that statement entirely, but you can't fault a restaurant for trying to push the idea of eating!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Read that

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

The city's sculptors

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

Receiving signals?

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

Geometric eatable

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!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ramu of the home

What was the last statue that you remember as being "erected by an admiring public"? Of the politicians, you would probably say. Here is one that has been around for quite a while - at least 50 years, to hazard a guess - which is not of any political leader. What the public admired in him was "A life dedicated to the cause of education, the service of the poor and the building of the "home"". The name on the pedestal says Ramu. Of course he had a more 'proper' name, but Ramu was enough for the public of the time. 

Ramu was C. Ramaswami Iyengar. Together with his cousin C. Ramanujachariar, they were "Ramu and Ramanuja", the most ardent followers of Swami Vivekananda in Madras. They were on hand to welcome him on his return to Madras in 1897 and they urged him to establish a more permanent presence in the city. And so, Swami Ramakrishnananda came over and together, they started off with a home for orphan children in Mylapore, at Kesavaperumalpuram. The home moved into its current location sometime between 1917 and 1921 and has remained there since.

From those beginnings came about several institutions; among them, Vivekananda College, Ramakrishna Mission Boys' School, Sarada Vidyalaya for Girls. Ramu was around for a while, but by 1926, he was struck with paralysis and so could not take active part in the Mission's work. However, he continued to function as the Secretary of the Home, right until his death in 1932. No wonder that the public admired him, and that they had this statue erected right outside the Home that Ramu helped establish!

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Did you know that the city is so advanced it has aircraft landing on rooftops? Here's proof from the roof of a house in Chintadripet. 

And yes, the aircraft does deliver the water for this house!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pump it out

"A civilisation is known by the quality of its drains". I am sure it was not Florence Nightingale who said this, but she said quite a lot about sanitation in India. Particularly, she was the moving force behind Madras' efforts to get a drainage system in the second half of the 19th century. She was convinced that Lord Hobart, Governor of Madras between May 1872 and April 1875, was a victim of the city not having proper drains. In her letter of June 25, 1875 to William Clark, who was in-charge of the sanitary engineering project in Madras, she writes, "There is small doubt that Lord Hobart died of delay: i.e. in carrying out Drainage".

Despite her support, the sanitary engineering project for Madras moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. The reasons could have been many, but in 1882, a letter to Lord Ripon, then Viceroy of India, she despairs, "You ask me to tell you "as to what is doing with the sewerage and draining of Madras." I wish I could. I only know that they are doing something different from any of the plans which have been discussed." Lord Ripon had had the work kicked off in 1881, but even then it did not proceed quickly. Somehow, it seems to have all come together and the city does have a drainage system today, just in case you are wondering.

The system as it worked then was to collect all the sewage in what is today the May Day Park and pump it out to the sea, possibly through the Cooum. That sewage farm has disappeared, but a key office of Chennai's Metrowater operates from those premises. The name of that road also calls to memory a time when all of Chennai's drains would come here to be pumped out! 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Corner church

This church began its life as a campus chapel. This land, now on Radhakrishnan Salai, was part of an estate originally granted to Benjamin Sullivan in the early 1800s. After his passing away, the land was obtained by the SPG - Society for Propagation of the Gospel - in 1847 (for Rs.1,700, it is said) in 1847 and then, in 1871, a theological college was set up here. For the students' use, a room was set aside for prayers. Over time, local residents also began to use the room to an extent that they asked the SPG to build a church for them, to save them the trouble of going all the way to Santhome.

It took about four years for the building to be completed, and it was dedicated on January 25, 1899. Designed by W.N. Baakson in a Gothic style, the construction used no wood - it is claimed that this is the only such church construction in India. Before its golden jubilee, however, the church changed hands in 1947, being given over to the Church of South India, who continue to run it now.

At the dedication, it was decided to name this the Church of the Good Shepherd - a name that it continues to be known by, after 105 years, and the change of ownership!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

ECR Sunrise

Going off-road from the ECR one morning, got to see this lovely sunrise. And you've got to enjoy it, too!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Which place, again?

With a name like "That Madras Place", one would expect to be greeted with a menu that had something to do with Madras. Yes, it is instinctively evident that this is not meant to be a south Indian place; Anglo-Indian dishes might have been a good start, even then. Dishes like "Chicken Madras", "Chinnamalai Pork Curry", "Kidney Toast Madras Style", going on to a "Madras Club Pudding". But no, no such luck.

Maybe the connect is to a time when Madras' finest hotel was run by a man from Messina!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Multipurpose tank

Every temple built during the middle ages has some kind of a water body attached to it. Such a water body - the temple tank - served more than an ornamental function. It is believed that these tanks also played a crucial role in the ecosystem. Storing water was key, but the way these tanks were constructed ensured that they collected the runoff water from the catchment areas. Thus, the tanks were replenished during the monsoons and, unless it was a particularly bad year, remained full of water the year round. 

A paper published in 2008 identified 39 temple tanks within Chennai. The paper was about the results of a study on how Chennai's temple tanks could be used in the rainwater harvesting efforts that are essential for Chennai's water supplies. The paper went into details about how the runoff can be predicted; apparently there is an empirical parameter called the SCN Runoff Curve Number that can be used to predict it. Combining this information with factors such as evaporation loss and water depth in the tank, an estimate was made of the size the catchment area for an urban tank needed to be. Let us just say that it is far greater than what is available to any of the city's 39 tanks.

For all that, this tank linked to the Marundeeswarar temple appears to be quite full. With narrow streets around its perimeter, this tank has kept itself reasonably clean and charged up to take on the next dry season!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Couple of questions

This was in front of the Chenna Kesava temple at Chindatripet. The elephant seems to be guarding the chariot with its colourful cylindrical cloth hangings - called தொம்பை ("thombai") in Tamizh. And no, the elephant hasn't fallen flat on its tummy, it is supposed to be doing something else.

So here are the questions: the first is What is the English word for தொம்பை ("thombai")?

The second question has been borrowed from Quizzerix - how would you connect what the elephant is doing with a happening spot in Velachery? A clue is that you need to think on the same lines as for an earlier question on this blog. And like then, if you get it right, I shall let you take me, and I promise to enjoy it. 

But if you let me have an answer to the first question, I shall take you to the Velachery connect!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


There are some accessories that do not depend on the car. Spotted this new Mercedes in a Chindatripet by-lane today. So new that not only is it yet to be registered, but the yellow ribbon with a bow-tie was still on the vehicle.

Also on the vehicle were accessories that you will not get at any car showroom. Maybe they are from a temple, but they could equally be from the grocer round the corner. Five lemons and six green chillies may not sound much, but obviously they are a must-have for a new Mercedes!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mixed church

In 1749, under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the French handed Fort St George back to the British. Never again, thought the British, and made arrangements for garrisoning additional troops within the Fort, apart from clearing the settlements to its north and west.  Not stopping with these, they also tore down a Capuchin chapel within the Fort, believing that Pe Severini had conspired to help the French capture the Fort three years earlier. 

The chapel moved to a piece of land in Vepery that belonged to Coja Petrus Uscan. Uscan had a private chapel there and he turned that over to the Capuchins. However, after his death, the British ensured that the chapel and its grounds were handed over to the SPCK - the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. And the premises were used to house some of the British troops. The soldiers used the woodwork of the chapel to light their kitchen fires and, by 1821, the chapel was deemed to be beyond repair. It was then that the plans for a new church were finalized, under the guidance of John Goldingham and conditional financial support from the SPCK: the condition was that the new church would worship only according to the Rites of the Church of England. 

The foundation of the St Matthias Church was laid on December 8, 1823 and when the building was completed, it was opened to the public on June 18, 1826. It is said that atop each pinnacle on the eastern side was placed a chembu (copper vessel), with mango leaves and a coconut on top. Also, the main entrance to the church with its arch and doors is Mohammedan in design, and is flanked with elements representing plantain and mango leaves, which are considered auspicious. Maybe the builders were deliberately mixing the three major religious styles to ensure that the church did not inherit the fate of the chapel it grew from!