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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 22, March 1-15, 2011

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The Chennai Snake Park

Ramanujan in England

Training the ill to be useful citizens

Requiem for Lakshmi

Stainless steel coaches for Chennai Metro

The Chennai Snake Park
(By B.Vijayaraghavan)

The Chennai Snake Park (Madras Snake Park as it was known till 1997) owes its origin to the pioneering work of Romulus Whitaker, an American-born naturalised Indian and the best-known of contemporary herpetologists of India. Whitaker who, even as a child during his school years in India, had developed a deep fascination for snakes, had his skills honed during his two years’ work in Miami Serpentarium, Florida, U.S. He returned to India in 1967 and, in 1970, established a small snake park in Selaiyur village on the outskirts of Chennai.

Snakes in the CSP Museum.

This caught the interest of many and, among them, was a group of naturalists from Chennai. With their help, he set up the bigger Madras Snake Park in Guindy in 1972 on a piece of land obtained on lease from the Forest Department of the State Government. A Trust was constituted to manage its affaris. The Board of Trustees consisted of Ms. Doris N. Chattopadhyaya, Harry Miller, M.V. Rajendran, S. Meenakshisundaram, M. Krishnan, Romulus Whitaker and A.N. Jagannatha Rao.

Ex officio trustees from Government institutions have been added in 1976 and 1988.

During its first twenty years, the Snake Park owed its success to the efforts of the then-Trustees, Romulus Whitaker (who was also the Director of the Snake Park), S. Meenakshisundaram (who was the Chairman of the Trust), A.N. Jagannatha Rao (who was also the Honorary Secretary of the Trust), M.V. Rajendran (the noted ophiologist), M. Krishnan (the eminent naturalist, writer and wildlife photographer), R.S. Pillai (of the Zoological Survey of India) and Harry Miller (the well-known photo-journalist). The present Chairman of the Trust and most of the present Trustees other than the ex officio Trustees have been in position since 1994.

The Chairman of the Board is also the Chief Executive. The job is honorary and part-time. The whole-time staff is headed by a Director, assisted by an Environmental Education Officer, with twenty employees under them. Special mention has to be made of the fact that five out of the eight animal-keepers are Irula tribals who have been weaned from their traditional occupation of catching snakes for the now-illicit trade in snake skins.

The Snake Park received statutory recognition from the Central Zoo Authority of India in 1995.

* * *

The aims of the Park

• To maintain and display a captive collection of snakes and other reptiles as a means of eliciting public interest in them and prompting the public to empathise with them.

• To promote knowledge among the public on reptiles and amphibians and dispel the widespread erroneous beliefs about snakes in particular and, to this end, conduct awareness programmes targeting schoolchildren primarily and bring out low-priced publications with technical, semi-technical and popular contents on reptiles and amphibians.

• To aid and assist research on reptiles and amphibians, including the conduct of surveys to assess their status and distribution.

• To undertake captive breeding of endangered species of snakes and other reptiles.

• To canvas public support for the protection and conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

The Snake Park has, at present, 23 species of Indian snakes, all the three species of Indian crocodilians, four exotic species of crocodiles, one exotic species and three Indian species of turtles/tortoises and five species of lizards, making a total of 39 species (see Box).

Some species of reptiles, including endangered species like the Indian rock python (Python molurus) and the reticulated python (Python reticulatus), have been captively bred in the Snake Park. The offspring, surplus to the Park’s requirements, have been either released into the wild or made available for exchange with other zoos. A notable addition after 1994 has been the aquarium for sea snakes and turtles. Much restoration of enclosures and buildings has been done as well as additional facilities from 1994.

During 2009-2010, an Interpretation Centre was developed and opened to the public on January 16, 2010. The Centre has a lavish display of essential information in English and Tamil on snakes in eye-capturing formats in static and moving modes that are electronically aided. The Centre also has a small auditorium for conducting classes for visiting students with the aid of a ceiling-mounted projector, wall-mounted screen and a touch-screen kiosk with facilities also for projection from the kiosk to the wall-mounted screen. A museum of preserved specimens of reptiles and amphibians is an added attraction. And the Park has a good library of literature on snakes and other reptiles as well as sales counter offering semi-scientific and popular books and other materials on snakes and other reptiles.

As part of its endeavour to make knowledge about snakes and about the activities of the Snake Park accessible to a larger audience, the Snake Park started a periodical in May 1976 (named Hamadryad in 1977). The Hamadryad owed a great deal to the efforts of Zahida Whitaker. The name of the journal was changed to Cobra in 1990 (Hamadryad is now the name of the journal of the Centre for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust). Cobra, a half-yearly, publishes articles of scientific, semi-scientific and popular nature on snakes and other reptiles and amphibians.

The Snake Park also undertakes reptile surveys in Tamil Nadu and outside on the request of interested parties.

* * *

To be seen in the Park

1. Indian rock python Python molurus
2. Reticulated pythonPython reticulatus
3. Common sand boa Gongylophis conicus
4. Red sand boa Eryx johnii
5. Common trinket snakeCoelognathus helena helena
6. Indian rat snake Ptyas mucosa
7. Common kukri snake Oligodon arnensis
8. Common bronzeback Tree snake Dendrelaphis tristis
9. Common wolf snakeLycodon aulicus
10. Checkered keelbackXenochrophis piscator
11. Striped keelback Amphiesma stolatum
12. Olive keelback Atretium schistosum
13. Common cat snake Boiga trigonata
14. Common vine snakeAhaetulla nasuta
15. Dog-faced water snakeCerberus rynchops
16. Common kraitBungarus caeruleus
17. Spectacled cobra Naja naja
18. Hook-nosed sea snake Enhydrina schistosa
19. Yellow sea snakeHydrophis spiralis
20. Annulated sea snakeHydrophis cyanocinctus
21. Common small-headed sea snake Hydrophis gracilis
22. Russell's viperDaboia russelii
23. Saw-scaled viper Echis carinatus
24. Marsh crocodile Crocodylus paluster
25. Saltwater crocodile Crocodylus porosus
26. Gharial Gavialis gangeticus
27. Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus
28. Siamese crocodile Crocodylus siamensis
29. African dwarf crocodileOsteolaemus tetraspis
30. Spectacled caymanCaiman crocodilus
31. Indian black turtle Melanochelys trijuga
32. Star tortoise Geochelone elegans
33. Indian flapshell turtle Lissemys punctata
34. Slider Red-eared slider turtle Trachemys scripta
35. Spotted rock gecko Hemidactylus maculatus
36. Rock lizard Psammophilus blanfordanus
37. South Asian chamaeleon Chamaeleo zeylanicus
38. Bengal monitor Varanus bengalensis
39. Water monitor Varanus salvator

Note: The common and scientific names follow Whitaker and Captain (2004) in the case of snakes, and Das (2002) in the case of other Indian reptiles.

It has been the primary endeavour of the Chennai Snake Park Trust to save snakes from reckless destruction caused by widespread ignorance about them and the morbid and largely irrational fear of snakes even among the comparatively educated sections of the public. Many false beliefs about snakes are firmly entrenched in the mind of the public right from childhood. The public, by and large, know little or nothing of the good that snakes do by keeping vermin under control. It is against this background that the Trust has kept its principal focus on being a centre for education on snakes and other reptiles and offers a whole package of activities to this end. These include:

• Display of detailed information in English and Tamil at strategic locations in the Park on matters such as identification of the principal species of venomous and non-venomous snakes, habits and habitats of snakes and other reptiles, erroneous notions about snakes, treatment of snakebite, etc.

• Outreach programmes for schools in Chennai and in districts near Chennai on environment, snakes and other reptiles.

• One-day workshops for personnel of the Forest Department and Fire and Rescue Services Department to train them in identifying snakes and rescue of snakes from human habitations and their translocation to wild areas.

• Motivation of schools to send students in large numbers to visit the Park and familiarising them with snakes and other reptiles and making them aware of their role in the environment.

• Daily lecture-demonstrations in the Park on identification of some of the principal species of venomous and non-venomous snakes.

• Lectures by the scientists of the Park to visiting groups on snakes, the need to protect them, how to prevent them from getting into human habitations, their translocation from such habitations, treatment of snakebite, etc.

• Lecture-demonstrations in educational institutions, factories, etc. with large campuses having an appreciable resident/snake population.

• The Snake Park has also provided facilities, including monthly stipends, to those desirous of doing research on reptiles either to obtain doctorates from universities or for other purposes.

* * *

The Snake Park attracts over seven lakh visitors in a year, of whom a fifth are children.

Except for some assistance received from outside agencies on an occasional basis, the entire expenditure on the Snake Park – capital and revenue – is taken care of by the gate collections. The gate fee is revised from time to time and currently stands at Re.10 for an adult and Re.1 for a child.

* * *

Promotion of environmental awareness among all sections of the public has become an area of primary concern in today’s context of the serious dangers faced by the environment and by many animal species in particular. Zoos are no longer looked upon as locations for mere sight-seeing or amusement. They have become an effective agency for the education of the public, for making them alive to the diverse species that inhabit this planet with whom man has to learn to co-exist in peace if his own welfare, and even survival as a species, has to be ensured. This is more so in the case of snakes about which many erroneous beliefs prevail even among educated persons and which can be dispelled by centres like snake parks. The public, the young and the old alike, have to be made aware of not only the many fascinating aspects of snakes but also their crucial ecological role. This the Chennai Snake Park has done during the last 38 years.

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Ramanujan in England
(By R. Rajagopalan)

(Continued from last fortnight)

In plays and film

• Ramanujan has been the subject of two recent plays, Partition and First Calss Man, In London a Disappearing Number. Both of them imaginatively explore Ramanujan’s genius and his relationship with Hardy. In one scene in Partition (the title is a reference to Partition theory in Mathematics) Goddess Namagiri decides She does not have enough to do in India and goes to England with Ramanujan!

The biographical work The Man who knew Infinity by Robert Karigal (1991) is part adventure and part thriller. The book is to be made into a movie co-directed by Stephen Fry and Dev Benegal.

Hardy invited Ramanujan to England but the orthodox Brahmin refused to make the sea voyage. In early 1914, E.H. Neville, a Fellow of Trinity College, came to India to give a series of lectures in Madras. Hardy took this as an opportunity and requested Neville to persuade Ramanujan to give up his orthodox prejudices and come to Cambridge.

Fortunately for the world of mathematics, Ramanujan’s mother dreamt one night that her son was sitting amongst white persons with a great halo around him. She was so impressed with this dream that she gave her consent to her son to travel overseas. So when Neville approached Ramanujan he agreed to work with Hardy in Cambridge.

Neville’s memo to Madras University in January 1914 says, “The discovery of the genius of S. Ramanujan of Madras promises to be the most interesting event in the mathematical world.” The Madras University granted a scholarship of £ 250 a year. Ramanujan sailed to England on March 17, 1914. He was admitted to Trinity College which granted him a scholarship of £ 60. So he was in a comfortable financial position to do research without any worry on that count.

The two great mathematicians – Hardy and Ramanujan – who were to work together in Trinity College were a contrast in more than one respect.

Hardy (37) was lean, handsome, passionately fond of cricket, a skeptic and a rationalist who considered God his personal enemy.

Chubby Ramanujan (26) had no interest in sports, was a devout Hindu who saw the Divine everywhere. An equation, according to him, had no meaning unless it expressed the thought of God.

A strict vegetarian, Ramanujan was very particular about his diet. He had a 3-room apartment and cooked his own strictly vegetarian food, having to cope with acute war-time shortages. Once, he drank Ovaltine in a restaurant and was horrified when he found that it contained egg. By sheer accident, he was caught in an air raid a little while later, but was not hurt. He felt this was a punishment from God for eating eggs.

Ramanujan lived the life of an orthodox Brahmin during his stay in England. He had a pooja room and worshipped reguarly. Dressed in European clothes when he went out, in his room, however, he wore his caste mark and dhoti and walked barefoot. He was popular among Indians. Occasionally, he invited them for a meal. A good host, he made delicious food and entertained his guests with not too difficult mathematical puzzles.

During his stay at Cambridge, Ramanujan revelled in mathematical friendships and his output was prodigious. He showed Hardy a dozen new theorems a day. More than 30 papers were published by Ramanujan in various journals during the three years he was in England. Hardy once said, “I learnt from him much more than what he learnt from me.

The three years in England were the happiest years of his life. The genial genius, affectionately called “Dear Jam”, was liked by teachers and students. His contemporaries included distinguished Indians such as C.D. Deshmukh and P.C. Mahalanobis.

In 1917, he fell ill. Because of the War, he could not return to India immediately. The disease was suspected to be tuberculosis. During the next couple of years he was in and out of hospital. He grew steadily weaker, but his mathematical talent remained unaffected.

Once, when Hardy visited Ramanujan in the hospital, he mentioned the number of the taxi that he had travelled in. “It was 1729,” Hardy said, “it seemed to me rather a dull number.” Ramanujan immediately (as if by reflex action) protested. “No, Hardy, No, Hardy,” he cried. “It is a very interesting number expressible as a sum of two cubes in two different ways (13 + 123, 93 + 103).

Ramanujan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on February 28, 1918, the second Indian to be so honoured. On October 13, 1918, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, a prestigious honour and the first Indian to be conferred with it. This carried a fellowship worth £ 250 a year for a period of six years with no duties or conditions. After these awards, Hardy wrote to the Registrar, Madras University, “He will return to India with a scientific standing and reputation such as no Indian has enjoyed before and I am confident that India will regard him as the treasure he is.”

But Ramanujan had no aspirations for acquiring titles, power, praise or position. He worked with mathematics for the sake of mathematics.

Gaunt and emaciated by then, he set sail for home in February 1919.

* * *

He received a hero’s welcome in Madras. But alas! The warm welcome and even Janaki’s cooking failed to improve his health. He continued to work on his mathematics but it was clear that the end was near. Early in the morning of April 26, 1920, he passed away. He was only 33. Sadly, he had to be cremated without any rites being performed – no priest would perform them because he had broken caste taboos.

Early in 1920, three months before his death, Ramanujan had discovered a very interesting function called by him “Mock Theta Functions”. On January 12, 1920 he wrote to Hardy about his new discovery, giving a few examples. That was his last letter to Hardy.

Ramanujan left behind thousands of unpublished theorems in several notebooks and on scraps of paper. This legacy has fascinated mathematicians ever since.

An eminent Hungarian mathematician, George Polya, once borrowed Ramanujan’s notebooks from Hardy and returned them a couple of days later in panic. Polya was reported to have stated that Ramanujan’s theorems were so fascinating that he kept trying to prove them. In that process he was neglecting his own work. Other mathematicians have spent years doing this and new sub-disciplines in mathematics have grown around their efforts.

* * *

Though he died in 1920 much of Ramanujan’s work being so much far in advance of his time, it is only in recent years beginning to be properly understood. Indeed, his results are helping to solve today’s problems in physics and even computer science, problems that he had had no inkling of.

Prof. G.N. Watson, President of the London Mathematical Society, chose ‘Mock Theta Function’ for his valedictory address before relinquishing office. He said, ‘Ramanujan’s discovery of mock theta function makes it obvious that his skill and ingenuity do not desert him at the oncoming of his untimely end. Like all his earlier work, Mock Theta Functions is an achievement sufficient to cause his name to be held in lasting remembrance.

The field of Mathematics in particular and Science and Technology in general would have been enriched in an entirely different way had Ramanujan’s life not been snatched.”

Full of drama and pathos, Ramanujan’s life is one of the great romantic stories of mathematics, a poignant reminder that a genius can flourish in the most uncompromising circumstances.

“It is a shame Ramanujan was not born a hundred years later,” says Prof. Richard Askey of the University of Wisconsin, U.S.A. “It would be marvellous to have somebody with his intuition to help us.”

Prof. Freeman Dyson of the Institute of Advance Study in Pinceton, New Jersey, says, “I always read letters that come from obscure places and written in an illegible scrawl. I always hope it might be from another Ramanujan.”

To conclude, I repeat, his birth, his superactivity in India and Cambridge, and his death leaving a trail of unsolved theorems and problems, all seemed to have happened in a flash. He will, however, live forever particularly in the minds of mathematicians all over the world. He is a legend.


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Training the ill to be useful citizens
• In the care of the mentally ill – III
(By Shobha Menon)

(Continued from last fortnight)

The Industrial Therapy Centre (ITC) at the IMH was the first of its kind in the country. Patients earlier under lock and key began to be trained in group therapy and vocational training. Started with the objective of filtering the best individuals from the various occupation centres and training them so that they could secure and keep jobs outside and become financially independent, the therapy centre began with around a hundred male and female patients.

Bread-making at the hospital campus.

Women were encouraged to learn handicrafts and men were engaged in paper cover making. Dr. Sarada Menon remembers, “In the early days we used to go round from shop to shop asking for orders for paper covers; later we acquired a paper cutting machine and were getting orders from Tiruthani and Tirupati for vibuthi covers. The ITC soon expanded to include a bakery, a flour mill, a detergent manufacturing unit.”

The bakery’s products were sold in the canteen, and bread was supplied to the Otteri and Stanley Hospitals. “We had stiff competition from outside ­contractors and had to personally convince the persons in charge about the importance
of buying from us since this was a remunerative work opportunity for the mentally ­challenged.”

Detergents and soaps were manufactured and sold; handicrafts were sent to the Victoria Technical Institute for sale. The canteen was also a part of the ITC, regular cooks were appointed and the patients helped them. Both patients and staff were served in the canteen.

When repeated requests to relatives to take recovered women patients back home brought no response, there came the idea of the first rehabilitation centres for women. The YWCA helped to get this started, taking in ten patients, who were supervised in their daily activities and encouraged to work and socialise. Seva Sadan joined in social workers from the IMH who visited these patients once a week with necessary medication for the week.

In 1961, there was only one social worker in the hospital. Later, appointees were trained students who went through a 9-month course in Social Work introduced by the Red Cross for those who had passed high school. Then came graduate social workers.

Dr. O. Somasundaram’s training in the United Kingdom and special interest in Child Psychology, Child Psychiatry and allied disciplines led to the opening of ‘Child Guidance Clinics’, as well as special ­clinics for patients with fits, irrespective of age.

The provision of ‘temporary discharge’ was fully utilised with the cooperation of the relatives. Under this provision, patients could be sent home to stay with their relatives upto a maximum of 90 days, by which time if there was a setback the patient would be taken back without any official formalities. If the patient remained well, she/he would be discharged. Many ­persons appreciated this ­arrange­ment, as well as the ­system of ‘daily passes’ by which those patients who had relatives in the city could be taken to their relatives’ homes and be returned by 8 p.m. to the wards.

All this and more brought more members of the public to the hospital at all hours of the day and even, occasionally, during the night, and it was found necessary to give some relief to the severely taxed Medical Officer on duty. Consequently, the post of Resident Medical ­Officer was created in the early 1970s.

The whole compound was converted into a garden which attracted patinets throughtout the day. Facilities were also created for tennis, volleyball, badminton and tennicoit.

Occupations introduced were gardening, weaving, tailoring, carpentry, toy-making, smithy, embroidery, cotton and coir rope-making, mat-making, book-binding, poultry farming, masonry, painting, washing clothes, general cleaning of the premises and kitchen work. Books were bound to meet other hospitals’ needs and toys and furniture were made and sold.

Mats and the likes were sent to other hospitals. Patients taking part in these activities were paid a nominal sum in appreciation of their work and were allowed to use the money to buy eatables from the hospital canteen. Cots made by the patients in the carpentry and smithy sections were used by them.

Weaving activities met the whole demand of the hospital. Carpets, bedsheets, dhotis, and towels were made in and kept at the welfare section for sale along with wooden toys. Clothes were made as part of occupational therapy and washing was done by selected patients. Maintenance work was done to a limited extent by patients, thereby saving Government money. Road-making, small repairs, building work (like a porch put up near the Recreation Hall) were all done by patients.

The entrances to the wards were once guarded by huge, heavily-built teak double-doors with massive steel padlocks and kept locked. These have been replaced with much less menacing grille doors. Six cottages just outside the sections on either side of the entrances accommodate paying patients, some of them highly connected but who have stayed on as in-patients for years. Family members could stay with the patients and even prepare their meals in these well-appointed cottages. Dr. Somasundaram narrates, “I recollect treating the son of a Health Minister, as also those of a Lt. Governor and a General in these cottages.” More difficult patients were accommodated in the ‘inner specials’. The family quarters with the surrounding gardens and trees were well cared for not only by the hospital staff but also by numerous ‘working’ patients from the wards. “The well-maintained hospital gardens were regularly awarded horticultural merit prizes from the State Government!”

Nurses lived in the Nurses’ Quarters in the campus. The Nursing Superintendent’s Quarters are alongside and her Administrative Office is near the entrance to the Female Section. One of the senior nurses, Sister Thomas, was trained at the Maudsley Hospital, London, in psychiatric nursing, for which there was no training in India in those days. She was the Nursing Tutor, taking classes in psychiatric nursing for the nurses working in the hospital.

According to Dr. Soma­sundaram, “Once, an asylum for the mentally ill was considered the panacea for all mental illnesses. The sooner those displaying signs of mental imbalance were removed from domestic to asylum care, the better for all concerned, was the view. Even by the middle of the 20th Century admissions were under the Indian Lunacy Act, 1912. These included involuntary admissions by magistrates and the police. There was no separate Outpaitent Department. The turbulent and aggressive were isolated in single rooms, where massive iron barred doors guarded the entrance. There was a single barred ventilator opening just below the ceiling in every room. A mat was provided and there was a dry latrine in the corner of every room. In the 1960s, the rooms were provided with water closets (clogged more often than not!). Library facilities were initiated in 1966.”

Says Dr. Mohandas, Resident Medical Officer of IMH, “There are at present around 1550 patients, of whom 600 are women. 80 per cent of them are in long-term care, and 70 per cent of them are from North India. But we face a major issue with some of our buildings still being used for patients. The antique water pipelines and drainage systems need to be upgraded urgently to cope with increased usage. Structural safety of the buildings also needs to be improved.”

The only tertiary care mental health institution in the State, the Institute will soon become an autonomous institution (the first medical institution in Tamil Nadu other than Stanley), on the lines of the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore. With orders recently issued for setting up a 250-bed hospital in Theni as a satellite centre for the IMH, and approvals accorded to NGOs to take up and run ten funded rehabilitation homes across the State, mental health in the State seems to be getting greater attention than so far paid to it.

Says Dr. R. Sathianathan, current Director of the IMH, “Autonomy will mean that the IMH can be more independent, decisions can be taken faster and implemented without much delay and this will facilitate the patients’ interests. The biggest challenge we face is, of course, the long-term rehabilitation of improved mentally ill patients at the IMH, most of whom are from socially deprived families and with poor social support. We hope more corporates will come forward with ideas for half-way homes to accommodate these improved patients and give them gainful employment opportunities.”


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Requiem for Lakshmi

(By T.K. Srinivasa Chari)

Lakshmi Talkies on Poona­mallee High Road in Aminjikarai, which opened on April 24, 1939, screened its last show on the night of November 25, 2010. The dubious credit for being the last screening goes to Suriya-starrer Singam.

Lakshmi Theatre, Aminjikarai

Says Mohanakrishnan Naga­­­rajan, whose family lived nearby from 1968 to 1980, “Lakshmi was a simple structure – no plush seats, no frills. We could go just half an hour ahead and get the highest class ticket for five rupees or so and take the A row with pride. I also remember the powercut interruptions and everyone hooting. I loved the Paa series of Bhimsingh movies I saw here for their excellent screenplay. Now the experience is about online booking, valet parking and menu-driven eateries. In the past, theatres remained in the background and allowed the movies to hog the limelight. And that’s as it should be.”

Former MLA and Minister Dr. H.V. Hande, who started his practice in neighbouring Shenoy Nagar in 1950, recalls seeing the Annadurai-scripted Nallathambi (1949) starring Bhanumathi, N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Madhuram. The rationalistic flavour of its songs left an indelible impression on him. Film historian Randor Guy says, as a student at nearby Pachai­yappa’s College, he would before entering the theatre stop at the nearby Lakshmi Café which served lunch for two rupees.

The Varadaraja Perumal temple priests from the neigh­bourhood were regulars at Lakshmi. While Kooram Krish­na­­­­ma­­chari is no more, his son Kasturi Rangan recalls seeing P.U. Chinnappa’s Arya Mala (1941) and Ranjan’s Neela Malai Thirudan (1957), the ticket rates being equivalents of 31, 45 and 75 naye Paise. Lakshmi Talkies founder L.K. Ayavoo Naidu’s name is inscribed in the temple for his munificence towards it.

V.P. Raman, an old-time neighbourhood resident, says the Hindi film Janak Janak Payal Baje (1955) starring Gopi Krishna and Sandhya was released here.

P. Sreekkanth, one of the shareholders who has been managing the theatre for about two decades, hasn’t seen any movie fully and would catch the plot’s twists and turns on TV. But he recalls that among the new releases which did 100 days and more in the theatre were the low-budget movies of ­Producer-Director Ramanara­yanan, Aadi Velli and Durga (1990). Gangai Amaran’s Karagattakaran (1989) ran for a record 350 days, after being ­released elsewhere and running for 50 days. In recent times, Vijay-starrer Pokkiri (2007) ‘shifted’ here after running
for 100 days and ran for 140 days.

The invasion of TV and access to CDs and DVDs for home-viewing cut into its audience, says Sreekkanth. But he didn’t quite agree that the launch of a 7-screen multiplex hardly a kilometre away in April 2010 could have been the last straw, adding that in June 2009 he upgraded to digital theatre system (DTS) and digital cinema with better seating. However, Lakshmi remained a non-airconditioned theatre with asbestos roofing. It had 18 doorways on the sides with curtains blocking sunlight and providing ventilation. Its capacity was 767 seats and tickets were priced at Rs.12, 15 and 30 at the time it closed.

Was the upgradation a case of too little, too late? DTS came to India with the movie Kaalaa Paani in 1996, and the audio-cum-video brand of digital cinema, called Qube technology, came with Mumbai Express and Chandramukhi in 2005, according to Janaki Sabesh of Real Image Media Technologies. In fact, about three-four years ago ‘Bharat’ and ‘Maharani’ in Washermanpet, ‘Theagaraya’ in Tiruvanmiyur and ‘Rakki’ in Ambattur adopted the high-end digital cinema systems, she adds. ‘Royal’ in Villivakkam has emerged as the AGS multiplex and ‘Brighton’ in Royapuram as Idreams.

According to film-maker Raju Easwaran, “The IT boom and the resultant liquidity have made the public gravitate towards multiplexes that charge a bomb but give material comforts on par with the developed world. The advent of digital cinema and the resultant boom in alternative cinema, quite a few of which succeed, have made people sit up and take notice! Gone are the days of films running houseful for 25 weeks! Today you are lucky to survive 25 days! Now the strategy is release in the maximum number of theatres, reap the maximum profits in the first couple of weeks and exit!”

Director of ‘Theatre Nisha’ V. Balakrishnan says: “Today’s enhanced experience of ­watching a movie attracts more crowds, including those who get the Rs.120 tickets as well as those who opt for the ­mandatory Rs.10 first row ­tickets.”

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Stainless steel coaches for Chennai Metro
(By R. Sriraman. Formerly of Indian Railways)

Chennai’s Metro Rail project was initiated in 2007. Phase I consists of two interconnected lines, linking North Chennai to the Airport in the south and Chennai Central to St. Thomas’ Mount. It will include 32 stations – 19 equipped with full-size platform screen doors – over 45 km (24 km underground and 21 km elevated). These lines have been planned to take care of a capacity to carry more than 500,000 people daily and a frequency between two trains as short as three ­minutes.

A Delhi Metro stainless steel coach ... ­Showing the way for Chennai?

The Chennai Metro Rail Ltd (CMRL) has placed orders for the supply of 42 sets of four-car configuration (168 coaches), including supply of spares and maintenance kits with M/s. Alstom Transport SA (ATSA) and Alstom Projects India (APIL) consortium.

The cars will be of state-of-the-art design with light weight shell made of Austenitic stainless steel with 3-phase AC drive and regenerative braking system. The car body structure will be manufactured in Austenitic Stainless Steel AISI types such as 201L, 301L, 304, etc. with the exception of end under-frames, which will be built in low alloy high tensile carbon steel. In order to obtain lighter structures, the material of each structure will have the most appropriate cold drawn grade of austenitic stainless steel for the load it carries.

The cars will have automatic train protection (ATP) and automatic train operation (ATO) systems. All cars are provided with electrically operated bi-parting automatic sliding doors to ensure safety of passengers. Besides, these coaches will be airconditioned and have electronic route maps, public address systems, passenger emergency intercoms, video surveillance and CCTV. The initial lot of 36 coaches will be manufactured in Lapa, Brazil. The remaining coaches are planned for manufacture in India.

The first delivery of cars is planned for the end of 2012. Chennai Metro plans to commence services partly by the end of 2013. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by 2015. (Courtesy: Stainless India)

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In this issue

Secrets of Tamil Nadu's Archives
No photographs, please, this is Chennai
Bins of cruelty
New uses for old buildings
A Home for ­Music
Masters of 20th Century Madras science
Why does Tamil Nadu keep failing?
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Dates for your diary


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