Click here for more...

Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 12, october 1-15, 2009
Musings during Madras Week
(By a Special Correspondent)

Madras Day started as an idea six years ago. Involved in it from the beginning was the Editor of this journal. From Madras Day he has seen it become Madras Week, which now promises to expand into Madras Fortnight. Madras Musings and Chennai Heritage, the not-for-profit company that brings it out and which, in turn, is supported by 20 corporate houses of the city, have been regular participants in the celebrations. Together they organise a series of talks on topics related to the heritage of Madras, play a coordinators’ role in helping with speakers and venues for other organisations wanting to celebrate the city, and conduct heritage walks/tours.

As has been the practice in past years, Chennai Heritage also arranged to host the Press Conference announcing the events, which acted as a curtain-raiser for the festival. This was held at the Taj Coromandel Hotel which provided the hospitality and PRISM the help with the media. Chennai Heritage also produced the programme sheets, 8-page folders that were widely distributed throughout the city.

Randor Guy

This year, the Chennai Heritage Lecture Series saw an interesting combination of programmes. The talks opened on August 16th to an SRO audience at the Park Sheraton’s Dublin with Randor Guy, the city’s social historian, holding forth on the scandals of the city. He dealt with a Maharani who, on the encouragement of an educationist, wanted to declare her husband mad, de la Haye who was murdered by his students at the Newington College because they had taken a shine to his wife, and Seetha, an ambitious lower-middle class housewife who took to partying with the bigwigs of the city and was found dead one morning under mysterious circumstances. All of these may have been scandals of the 1920s and later, but they kept the audience that listened to Randor spellbound. Randor named no names and SMSs were flying among those present, each trying to identify the persons hinted at.

Aruna Sairam

On the next day, Aruna Sairam spoke at The Park, on the journey from being an unknown musician from Bombay to becoming the toast of Madras in the field of Carnatic music. She said that it was necessary for any musician who wished to make a name in the field to become popular in this city. While she came from an impeccable musical background, it took her quite a while to realise that rather than being a faithful clone of her guru, she needed to reinvent herself and find her own niche in music. Aruna had the audience laughing with her and swaying to her music. She also brought them close to tears when she spoke of fans who made enormous sacrifices to attend her performances, recollecting particular incidents.

C.V. Karthik Narayanan

18th August had C.V. Karthik Narayanan at the Park Sheraton speaking on Chennai, the Detroit of India. Being a seasoned industrialist in the automobile field, he deftly traced the history of the development of Chennai as the automotive components and automobile hub of the country. Beginning with the pioneers such as Simpson’s and Addison’s, he took the audiences on a trail that covered the contributions of S. Anantharamakrishnan (Amalgamations), K. Gopalakrishnan (Union Motors and Standard Motors), K.R. Sundaram Iyer (Enfield), T.V. Sundaram Iyengar and his sons (the TVS Group), and L.L. Narayanan (the Rane group) in making this city the home for automakers. He also dwelt on the roles of R. Venkataraman and T.T. Krishnamachari in fostering this development.

T.T. Krishnamachari

Muslims and Mosques of Madras was the topic on which S. Anvar spoke on the 19th. The programme was appropriately held at Amir Mahal, courtesy the Prince of Arcot who laid out, with traditional Nawabi hospitality, a lavish spread by way of refreshments. The programme was an eye-opener for several among the large numbers who attended and the audience participation was matched in every way by the host’s enthusiasm. Anvar had researched the subject thoroughly and presented much new information about a community that has played an important role in the development of the city.

Music dominated on August 21st at the Taj Coromandel, when Vedant Bharadwaj sang songs related to Chennai. Accompanying himself with a guitar, he sang the works of composers who lived in this city, such as Subramania Bharati and Kalki Krishnamurthy. He also sang film numbers that had made a tremendous impact on the public of the city when they were first sung on screen. These have remained evergreen since. The programme ended with a bhajan composed by his guru, a long-time resident of Chennai.

Mohan Raman

Madras Day, 22nd August, had Mohan Raman, television and film actor, paying tribute to Nagesh, the veteran film comedian who died earlier this year. Mohan’s presentation, held at The Park, dealt with the buildings and localities of the city with which Nagesh had a close association – ranging from the Railway HQ, where he worked, the Gokhale Hall where he first acted in a play and was  appreciated by MGR, to Rayar’s  Mess on Kutchery Road, of whose cuisine he was a devotee. The presentation opened with Nagesh’s unforgettable song, Madras, Nalla Madras. Several film clips were also presented.

Chitra Madhavan spoke on four well-known temples of Madras on the 23rd to an overflowing audience at The Raintree. The talk dealt with the architecture, myths, history and interesting features of the great temples at Tiruvottiriyur, Tiruvallikeni, Tirumayilai and Tiruvanmiyur.

On the next day, the last of the Chennai Heritage talks was held at the Sir M Ct Muthiah Chettiar School for Boys at Purasawalkam. Zhayynn James made a presentation on the Nicholas family, once custodians of the Seven Wells Pumping Station in North Madras. The responsibility was given by the British Government in gratitude for an act of bravery by an ancestor during the Mysore Wars and was with the family for 150 years. Many of the family are buried in nearby churches and Zhayynn had spent quite some time in researching the facts. Several of the Nicholas family were present during the talk.

An Indian Triumph Herald

The Sir M.Ct.M. School, thanks to Nandini Muthiah, is the latest entrant into the Madras Week celebrations and Madras Musings was glad that it could help the school with speakers – Randor Guy, on The Studios of Madras, and Zhayynn James. It also helped the Roja Muthiah Research Library with its exhibition on Gandhi in Madras and its talks. Among the speakers who spoke there was K.R.A. Narasiah whose talk on The History of Civil Aviation in Madras was arranged by Madras Musings/Chennai Heritage. Madras Musings also helped in getting speakers at the Green Park Hotel, where Sashi Nair put together several events.

This year, Chennai Heritage sponsored the production of a dance-drama based on the People’s Park Vazhi Nadai Chindu, a ballad written in 1915 or thereabouts, describing the route taken by a young couple as they walked from George Town to Mylapore to witness the Arupathu Moovar festival. Produced by Natyarangam, the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha Trust, it featured Narendran and Gayatri Balagurunathan in the principal roles. A series of photographs of old Madras, courtesy Vintage Vignettes, formed an interesting backdrop. The dance was presented on August 16th to an invited audience at Tag Centre as part of the South India Heritage Series programmes hosted by the Tag Corporation. This was followed by a presentation by Sriram V. on the route followed in the poem and the changes that have come about since in the locations described.

In addition to these programmes, Chennai Heritage helped in the organising of a Madras Book Club event which saw the release of the book Madras School of Orientalism, a compilation of articles on the subject edited by Thomas Trautmann. The book was released by Ms Kanimozhi, MP, and the first copy was received by Nirmala Lakshman of The Hindu. Dr. A.R. Venkatachalapathy and Theodore Baskaran spoke on the occasion.

Chennai Heritage organised three heritage walks this year to commemorate Madras Week. The first, held on August 15th, had Sriram V. taking a group of 15 people on a tour of T’ Nagar, explaining to them the history of the Justice Party and its connection with the area. Places visited included Panagal Park, C. Natesa Mudaliar Park, G.N. Chetty Road, O. Thanikachalam Chettiar Road, Venkatanarayana Road, the Sir Pitty Theyagaroya Chetty Hall and, finally, the residence of Sir Kurma Venkatareddy Naidu, now better known as the residence of Sivaji Ganesan. The participants had a great time, in particular at the last location where they were welcomed by members of Sivaji’s family with coffee, juice and biscuits, and told about the history of the home. It was heartening that as many as four of the Raja of Paanagal’s descendants were part of the tour.

The second walk was held on August 16th and had as its theme ‘The Dubashes of George Town’. A record 45 people participated and, led by Sriram V, the tour covered the lives of dubashes such as Malayappa Chetty, Casa Verona (Kasi Veeranna), Beri Thimmanna and Thimmappa, Thambu Chetty, Alangatha Pillai, Manali Muthukrishna Mudali, Ketty Narayan, Pachaiyappa Mudaliar and Sunkurama Chetty. Places visited included Moore Street, Sunkurama Chetty Street, Thambu Chetty Street, the Patnam Temples, Ekambreswarar Temple on Mint Street, Bairagi Mutt and, finally, Pachaiyappa’s Hall.

Swami Vivekananda

The third walk, conducted jointly by Karthik Bhatt and Sriram V, was held on August 23rd and, Vinayaka Chaturthi notwithstanding, there were 35 people. This tour traced Swami Vivekananda’s visits to Madras. The tour was flagged off by Swami Gautamananda, President of the Ramakrishna Mission, Mylapore. The places covered included Rahmat Bagh (now demolished) on San Thomé High Road, Ice House (Vivekanandar Illam), Patter’s Gardens (the residence of Lodd Govinddoss), on General Patter’s Road, Sasi Vilas on RK Mutt Road, the Vivekananda College, and the Boys’ Home.

The descendants of Lodd Govinddoss had turned out in strength at Patter’s Gardens and the group was treated to coffee and biscuits even as Lodd Govinddoss looked on benignly from a portrait. Each participant was given a gift by the family as the group left. Similarly, at Sasi Vilas, descendants of Dr. M.C. Nan­junda Row had organised coffee and regaled the participants with anecdotes of the time when Swami Vivekananda called at the house.

All three tours ended with breakfast for all the participants.

Overall, it was a great week and we at Madras Musings enjoyed putting together all the events. The response was overwhelming, not only in terms of participation but also in respect of media coverage. Extracts from a blog that reported on these programmes are in the box alongside. All this encouragement has ensured that we have already begun the planning process for next year’s Madras Week celebrations. Any ideas for talks and walks? We look forward to hearing from readers.


In this issue

The road ahead...
Twists and turns...
During Madras Week...
A blogger's view...
Historic Residences...
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


Back to current issue...