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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 17, december 16-31, 2009

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Mentor to the Music Academy

Last days together in school – & city

On the Bookshelves

Our Print Heritage: The Lady and the Brigand

Mentor to the Music Academy
(By Sriram V)

A young man was seen diligently taking notes during the presentation of papers by musicians and scholars at an all-India music conference held in conjunction with the 1927 All-India Congress session in Madras. He was V. Raghavan. Of the several resolutions passed at the meet, the most significant one was on the founding of the Music Academy, Madras. The intellectual that he was, Raghavan was attracted to the new organisation and joined it. In time, he became one of its leading lights. The Raghavan era at the Academy lasted fifty years.

V. Raghavan

Initially the academic side of the institution dominated, with raga-s and their evolution in practice being the subject of many discussions. The growth of Carnatic music over the centuries and the work of scholars, kings and composers who played an important role in it were also discussed. Raghavan announced his arrival to these scholars with an extremely well-researched paper at the 1931 conference on ‘Some Early Names in Sanskrit Sangita Literature’. His talk covered musicologists and academicians from the time of Bharata to Sarangadeva. He followed this up with a second lecture at the 1933 conference, quoting from commentaries, alankara-s and several unpublished works. In the process, he mentioned 120 works he accessed from the Adyar Library, the Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library, the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras, and the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona. The Academy’s committee welcomed him with open arms, realising they had a jewel in their midst. A member of the Academy’s Executive Committee from 1938, he became one of its three secretaries in 1944.

When the Academy’s conference debated the question of nautch in 1932, Raghavan read out a paper on behalf of Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai. He came into his own in 1933, when he moved seven resolutions during the conference, giving a glimpse of his vision for the Music Academy. All the resolutions were carried.

The journal of the Music Academy made its first appearance in January 1930. A quarterly, it had T.V. Subba Rao as editor. Financial constraints led to its closure in two years. A new committee took over in 1936, with K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer as President. Treating the journal as a flagship publication, the new group made all efforts for its resumption. All the hitherto unpublished issues were printed in 1937 and the journal was back. Raghavan (by then Dr. Raghavan) played an important role in clearing the backlog. He was the Managing Editor and T.V. Subba Rao Editor-in-Chief. Following T.V. Subba Rao’s death in 1958, Raghavan became the editor of the journal and remained so till his own death. The journal bore Raghavan’s stamp right from 1937. What gave the journal its stature was the international profile of its articles, with its Carnatic base intact. In addition to the journal, the Academy started bringing out a series of publications, many of them prepared by various scholars and experts, with the assistance and guidance of Raghavan. He edited their works, wrote the prefaces and supervised their printing. The Academy listed with the pride the other books it had re-published.

The morning sessions of the Music Academy’s annual conference were planned and conducted by T.V. Subba Rao and Raghavan till Subba Rao’s death in 1958. Raghavan then ran the show till 1978. In the early years, the discussions centred on raga-s and Raghavan kept a low profile, contributing a paper or two.

From the mid-1940s, especially with the Tamil Isai movement gaining ground, the Academy made attempts at reforming Carnatic music according to its own light, but these were not received well by the world at large. For instance, there were, besides the resolutions on Tamil Isai, resolutions advising the Corporation, the AIR and the gramophone companies on what kind of music they should encourage, others advising the universities on the syllabus for their music courses and several rules and regulations concerning music and Harikatha performances. There was even a resolution that the Music Academy produce feature films depicting chaste classical music! None of this was followed up. Perhaps weary of this apathy, the Academy changed track in 1952 and decided that in future it would focus on the presentation of papers and lecture demonstrations rather than debate on musical matters and pass resolutions.

Under Raghavan’s watchful eyes, Madras audiences were introduced to several international performing arts in the morning lecdems. The rest of the Academy committee recognised that these were Raghavan’s speciality and chose not to interfere. Western classical music was presented extensively during special sessions. American composer Dr. Henry Cowell and his wife attended them in 1956. Dr. Cowell gave an endowment to the Academy and on his return to the US composed the Madras Symphony. The original handwritten score was presented to Raghavan as a representative of the Music Academy at the end of the 1958 conference. In March 1959, the world premiere of the Symphony was held in Madras, under the auspices of the Academy, with the Little Orchestra Society of New York performing it. A similar creation was the Madras Sonata in 1959 by the American composer Alan Hovhaness who toured India that year under a Fulbright scholarship and participated in the Music Academy’s deliberations. This was premiered on 3rd January, 1960 at the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Hovhaness.

With his holistic vision, Raghavan ensured that the art forms of India were well represented at the Academy’s morning sessions and in the journal. Several Hindustani musicians and North Indian scholars were present during the morning sessions, with specific days earmarked for Hindustani lectures and demonstrations. The morning sessions also witnessed folk artistes from all over India demonstrating their arts. Artistes from Assam were frequent performers. Classical dance from other regions also received due attention.

Wary of poor presenters and those lacking in content but keen to ascend the Academy’s stage, Raghavan took his time over giving opportunities to those who sought his help. The one line reply was characteristic of him, for he was a man of few words who did not suffer fools gladly. Poor quality presentations would usually draw an inspired snub or a withering glance. This served to give the impression that Raghavan was an arrogant man, but in fairness to him, he preferred the company of intellectuals of his own stature and these were few and far between. When he found an earnest research scholar, Raghavan went all out to help him or her. He ensured the decorum of the morning sessions even when professional rivals tried to score points off each other.

TTK joined the Academy in 1950 and immediately became a Vice-President. He did much to ensure the construction of the auditorium on the property purchased earlier. On October 5, 1955, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone for the new auditorium, one of the first modern auditoriums built in India. At the grihapravesam on December 14, Raghavan was in his element, directing the religious observances.

From the 1950s it was also the responsibility of Raghavan to deliver the welcome address at the inauguration of each year’s conference. On such occasions he would don a dapper bandgala Jodhpur style suit and deliver his speech which included a summary of the Academy’s activities that year. He prepared his speech with care and seldom departed from the prepared text. But his brilliance in repartee was evident on occasions.

With the Academy in dire financial straits by 1967, TTK brought in a Board of Trustees comprising prominent industrialists of the city to mobilise donations and tide over the crisis. Raghavan was made a de-facto member in his capacity as secretary, followed by the other secretaries by rotation. This group helped the Academy restore its bottomline in later years.

While not interfering much with the evening programmes at the Academy, Raghavan and other secretaries ensured that the same raga-s were not repeated by successive artistes on the same day.

Raghavan remained at the helm of affairs in the Academy right till his death. He represented a continuity, forming an important link between the founders, most of whom he outlived, and the new members, who came in with their own ideas on how to run the Academy.

With the completion of the Academy’s annexe, the Dr. V. Raghavan Research Centre was inaugurated on the ground floor in 1982. His portrait was unveiled by ‘Chitra’ S. Narayanaswami. In 2000, his son R. Kalidas made a significant donation to the Academy for research purposes.

Raghavan’s portrait now hangs in the foyer of the annexe. To those who attend the morning sessions during the Conference, do research at the library or participate in committee discussions, it is a chance to pause before it and resolve to maintain the high standards he set.

(Courtesy: Sruti)


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Last days together
in school – & city

(Continued from last fortnight)

It was a quiet Saturday in school. There were no classes and only the Head Clerk’s office was open. Devi Prosad was taking his mid-day nap in his studio, next to the Head Clerk Mr. S’s office. It was well over two months after tests for the job, and rumours were floating around that an official selection had already been made. Paniker and I stood outside the office in the hope that somebody would tell us something about it.

The Indian and World Arts & Crafts is a journal we had never heard of till a well-wisher sent us a fascinating series of articles that appeared in it in 1985. They were by an expatriate artist and art critic SUSHIL MUKHERJEE, who in them looked back at his memorable days at the Madras School of Arts then headed by the renowned artist Devi Prosad Roychowdhury as well as painted a picture of Madras in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The series titled ‘Devi Prosad and His Disciples at the Madras School of Arts’ is ­featured in these pages in a somewhat abbreviated form.

Mr. S, a burly, balding, dark man of middle age, dressed in a white dhoti, white shirt and a tie, came out of his office after lunch to wash his hands and, seeing us standing outside, called out to Paniker, “Hey Mr. Paniker, have you heard anything about the selection?”

“No, but have you any information?”

Mr. S came up to us and in a conspiratorial whisper said, “Yes, yes, I have, but I’m not supposed to divulge it. So don’t tell anyone that I’ve told you. It’s good news, man, Mr. Paniker, you’ve got the job. Mr. Choodry had made up his mind long before the tests, man. Those flunkies at the industries wouldn’t dare go against him.”

“Thank you Mr. S. Thank you very much. But are you sure it’s me?”

“Of course, man. We got the official letter from the Director yesterday.”

“Thank you again,” said Paniker and, as we started walking off to go to Ramaiya’s, Mr. S called after us in his booming voice: “Hey, Mr. Paniker, don’t forget that I’ve given you the good news in advance. You’ve to stand me a treat. Good food man and good visky (whisky).”

“Sure, sure, how about next Friday, at about seven in the evening?”

* * *

Paniker was worried about the expenses for the party. “But this bugger’s a mean sod. If I don’t serve him whisky, he will quite likely make it hard for me at school.”

“Listen,” I said, “I know about a drink they make in North India. Very potent, but very cheap. It’s called bhang, and it’s made with ganja leaves. I know how to make it.” I was just trying to show off little realising in my youthful folly that my hearsay expertise in how to make bhang would ultimately take us almost to the brink of disaster.

Mr. S arrived for the party, immaculately dressed. “Hey, Mr. Paniker, I’m here. Where’s the tiger’s milk, man, I mean the visky.” We took him upstairs to the balcony, made him sit down and offered him a glass of bhang “What’s this man?” he asked me. “Well, this is a North Indian drink. It’s very potent. Try it, you’ll like it.” We all filled our glasses, said ‘cheers’ and drank the stuff slowly. I could see that no one was impressed by the potency of the drink. Mr. S gulped down his drink, “Hey Mr. Paniker, this has no kick man, it’s just like milk. Good for milk sops like Sushil. Too bad, man, no visky, no fun. That man Mr. Choodry can drink man, I mean he can really drink, man. One bottle of brandy every day – sweet mother of Jesus – that’s twelve bucks a day, more than three hundred bucks a month – more than double my salary. Oh Christ! Can that man drink? And never ever gets drunk. Always sober, and always working, even if it’s only painting and statue work that he keeps himself busy with. I really don’t understand your art, man, mere waste of time I think it is. But he’s a tough guy, man, a tough boss. He must be good though, even the Governor calls on him and all the big English officers are his friends. Hey, Mr. Paniker, you should have arranged for some visky. This bloddy stuff’s no good”.

Paniker took me aside and said, “It’s a nice cool drink, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect at all. The blighter isn’t happy. Let’s give him more, maybe that will work. It creeps on you, it takes time.” We gave Mr. S another glassful and he gulped it down.

Dinner was served. Our cook had done his best. The food served on clean banana leaves looked and smelled good for a change. I suddenly felt ravenously hungry but before we could touch even a morsel of food... I felt myself sucked into the vortex of a strange experience, and although in a flash it brought about a disorienting state of mind and hallucination, I can strangely enough remember every detail of what followed, absolutely clearly. Suddenly everything seemed suspended in time and the idea of space vanished altogether. In a few seconds, or so it seemed then, I found myself stretched out on the old sofa in the living room. Opposite me, along the wall under the dim light of a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling, sat my friends on the rickety old chairs. They looked like figures in a Bacon composition – their faces seemed to be in a constant and fluid state of dissolution and their bodies levitated out of the chairs rhythmically at regular intervals.

“Sushil, Sushil, are you all right?” Somebody was shaking me. I was jolted out of my reverie.

“Yes, yes... why?” Paniker was standing next to me. He sat next to me on the sofa and said, “My God, Sushil, everybody has been hit hard by the drink. I’m glad I took very little, although I don’t feel too good either. The biggest problem now is how to take Mr. S back to his place. He’s in a terrible state. I had to take him upstairs and lock him up.” The sight before me was absolutely unbelievable. Mr. S was kneeling down on the floor, stark naked and murmuring, “Aio Kadavulay, what’s happened to me? They have poisoned me ... this Sushil and Paniker ... Satan’s disciples ... save me dear Jesus... help me.” Then he started saying the Lord’s prayer.

* * *

Not far from our house on Poonamallee High Road lived Johnny, a tall, young, affable Anglo-Indian taxi driver whom we knew very well. His brother Frank was a colleague and friend of Paniker, when the latter was a telegraphist. Running to Johnny’s house seemed endless, nightmarish. I felt like I was floating over the road, running in slow motion through the air. That late at night Johnny’s front door was closed. “Johnny, open the door,” Paniker called out. There was no answer. He started banging on the door and shouting. “Johnny ... Johnny ... Joh – nny!!”

Devi Prosad Roychowdhury with a statue of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee sculpted by him. – Courtesy: Pictorial History of South India for 1929.

After a while the door opened. “Hey Panic, old chap, what’s going on? You know how it is at this time of the night. Bloody riff raff coming and bothering me.” Johnny was in his pajamas and still sleepy. We explained to him about our problem with Mr. S.

“Don’t worry my friends, I’ll take care of the bastard.” He quickly got dressed and we drove back to our place in his big Desoto. It wasn’t easy to get Mr. S down. With the help of Johnny and two tough rickshaw­­men, who tied him up in his own dhoti, we half dragged and half carried him to the taxi. Paniker and I sat with Johnny while the rickshawmen kept Mr. S pinned down in the back seat.

When we arrived at Mr. S’s place near the Ripon Buildings, the tower clock was striking four in the morning. Paniker knocked on the door several times and at last Mr. S’s son opened the door. “What’s all this? Where’s my father?”

“Well,” Paniker replied hesitatingly, “you see, your father had a few too many to drink.”

He ran to the taxi. “My God, my God,” he cried. “What have you done to my father? You’ve poisoned him. I’ll call the police. Paniker, Sushil, you bastards, you’re going to pay dearly for it. In God’s name I promise I’ll get you into jail.”

“Hey man,” Johnny said. “Calm down, man. He’s just knocked out by this bloody native stuff, nothing serious, man. Come morning, he’ll be as good as new again.” Mr. S’s son still kept on shouting and screaming. Johnny was exasperated. “Now, why don’t you shut your bloody trap man and help us carry your dear dad into the house?”

* * *

Art School was not too far from Mr. S’s house. We decided to walk there and see Devi Prosad who, we knew, was an early riser. We were in an awful jam and we thought the only person who could, and perhaps would help us was Devi Prosad.

It was close on five when we reached the school. Devi Prosad was walking briskly around the garden. He saw us and stopped. “Hello, you early birds, where did you spend the night?” Paniker replied, “We’re in big trouble, Sir.” He explained to him about the party and the condition of Mr. S.

“Don’t worry about him, Paniker, nothing’s going to happen to him. He’s an insensitive bull. No, no, nobody dies drinking a couple of glasses of bhang and even if he dies, it’d be good riddance. He doesn’t understand artists. Can you imagine, he actually makes me count nails.”

To our great relief, Mr. S came to school on Monday, looking a bit jaded perhaps, but as Paniker said, “Thank God, still alive.”

* * *

Paniker married Rama Bai and settled down to a more staid and uneventful middle-class family life in a small comfortable flat on Casa Major Road. I started spending most of my spare time with them, often enjoying Rama’s fine vegetarian food and warm hospitality. Rama Bai was a wonderful home maker.

When she went to Bangalore for their first baby, I moved into their flat to keep Paniker company for a few days. Paniker was always talking about how strange but fantastic he felt that soon he was going to be a father. “Well, Sushil, if it’s a boy I’m going to call him Viplavvadi Mahavayan­karachari. But if it’s a girl, I’d like you to suggest a name.”

“Sumitra,” I said. And fortunately a girl was born and she was given the name suggested by me.

* * *

Immediately after I finished school, I was offered the job of an art teacher in a progressive girls’ school in Madras. For me it was a great bit of luck because Madras had become home for me. I didn’t want to move anywhere else. A year later I married Gourie, a girl from Coorg. A few years later we both were offered jobs in a public school in Gwalior. The offer was so attractive that we reluctantly decided to leave Madras and move to Gwalior with our infant son.

The three years we spent in Gwalior were enjoyable. But deep in our hearts we wanted to be in Madras. In 1949, Government of India started a public school in the Nilgiris and we were invited to join the faculty. Needless to say that we were ­exceedingly happy to be able to return to the South again, and so were Devi Prosad, Paniker, Dhanapal, Sultan Ali and the other friends of ours. With the encouragement and goodwill of Maulana Azad and Dr. Tara­chand of the Ministry of Education, I was able to architecturally design and equip a large, modern art department for the school. For me it was a great challenge and I enjoyed every moment of it. In 1953, a Smith-Mundt Fulbright grant enabled me to travel extensively and spend an aesthetically very ­exciting year in Europe and America.

After my return, I realised that to be associated with a small town school wasn’t quite conducive to the growth of creative faculties of an artist. I loved the Nilgiris. But as an artist I had no challenge there at all. Life was comfortable without any meaning. Also the management didn’t see eye to eye with Plato’s thesis that ‘Art should be the basis of all education.’ The learning process of the young students was geared to the idea of only passing a test and their lifestyle was influenced by pseudo-Western and rather comic mannerisms and social graces. I knew I could do very little to change the attitude of the management. So I managed to get another Fulbright in 1960 and ultimately settled down with my family in the United States.

* * *

In 1968 my wife and I returned to India for a short stay. Paniker had become the principal of the Art School and was deeply involved in the complex, post-independence art politics of India. It was a great joy to be in Madras again and we were both happy to see each other. We got together often and talked, talked, talked. “You know, Sushil, I’m really fed up with all this politics in art. It’s killing for me. I don’t want it. What I want is just paint and be myself. You’re lucky to be out of the dirty business of art politics.”

“Well, you can be too, you know.”

“My God, man, you don’t know what it’s like here. If I don’t challenge their dirty tricks, they’ll pull the last shirt off my back.”

Devi Prosad and Paniker are no longer with us. Both of them, despite certain drawbacks, were outstanding creative personalities, and each one, in his own unique way, did a great deal to enhance the reputation of Madras Government School of Arts as one of the most exciting institutions of arts in India.



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(By Savitha Gautam)

Being honest with himself

Unlikely Hero
Nandita Puri (Roli Books, Rs. 395)

Biographies, especially when they deal with film stars, always generate much hype and hoopla. The same can be said of Unlikely Hero, the book that bares the life of one of India’s most talented actors, Om Puri. Written by his wife Nandita, the book kicked up a storm over details of the actor’s early relationships. And mind you, that’s just one small aspect of the book!

Wonder what the fuss was all about? If you read biographies/autobiogaphies of Hollywood stars and directors, you will find such stories aplenty. Their stories are far closer to the truth and much more candid. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of auto/biographies of the Indian film fraternity. Invariably, they end up being eulogies sung in high praise of the subject in question. A rare exception is perhaps that of Dev Anand, where the actor does admit to various affairs, though enclosing the details in a shroud.

In that way, Puri’s book is closer to a Hollywood actor’s. For once, here’s a book that can boast of being honest and mean it!

Om Puri’s days of struggle, his love and respect for Girish Karnad and Govind Nihalani who saw the burning fire in the young man, and his fellow actors who stood by him through thick and thin… there is a lot of good reading for you. And Nandita’s lucid and free-flowing style makes the book an absorbing read.

Go pick it up… if you love cinema.


What makes India tick?

The Rediscovery of India
Meghnad Desai (Penguin, Rs. 699)

India is the flavour of the season globally… in every field possible. And capitalising on that is Lord Meghnad Desai’s latest work, a nearly 500-page tome.

What makes India tick? That’s the basic premise on which this book is built. Desai delves deep into history and puts together a picture of a nation that ‘could have done this and should have done that…’

Desai begins his tale from the British landing on Indian soil back in the 16th Century and tracks a story that has the ingredients of a soap opera. Yes, it was all real… but, well, ‘Yeh hi hai India, baby!’

India’s story has been told many times before by several history masters, from Nehru to the more recent Ramachandra Guha. So how different is this work? Well, you could say that Desai analyses the defining moments of the nation’s past in a slightly different manner, and suggests alternative courses that history could have taken. Only, what is past is lost. And history cannot be re-written.

The book makes for an interesting read and, yes, the style makes up for a lot. So does the beautiful jacket! So read it if you have a thing for history.


Of landmarks and legends

Four Score and More – The History of the Music Academy
Sriram V. and Malathi Rangaswamy (Westland Books, Rs. 2,000)

This book on a landmark cultural institution of Chennai is in a way a slice of Carnatic music history as well as of the city’s cultural season. Music historian Sriram and Malathi Rangaswamy, Joint Secretary, the Music Academy, who chose the Academy for the subject of her doctorate dissertation, have put together this mine of information in a reader-friendly format enriched by a rare collection of pictures.

Every photograph by itself has an interesting story to tell. The book is also full of moving and funny incidents. Stories about how legends like D.K. Pattammal performed here for 30 years for free, and Veena Dhannammal went to listen to Rajarathinam Pillai’s first performance here can move die-hard fans to tears.

This story also traces the birth of the December Music Festival, which began when an all-India Congress session was held here, and goes on to deal with its current state as perhaps the most important events in Madras’ cultural calendar.

Here’s a book that’s a must-have for all those who love music. Go enjoy it...


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Our Print Heritage:
The Lady and the Brigand
(An occasional column by Theodore Baskaran)

We were walking in the Kalakadu-Mundandhurai Tiger reserve in the Sengaltheri range when the forest guard  pointed to a distant cave at the bottom of an escarpment. It was the erstwhile hideout of the legendary bandit Jambulingam, he explained. The cave overlooked the vast plains eastward and, on a clear evening, you could see the lighthouse of Thoothukoodi flickering. A large rock overlooking the plains, which was a look out post for the bandit, is still known as ‘Jambulingam rock’.

In the early 1920s, highway robbery was quite common across India and some brigands attained notoriety. One such was Jambulingam who was active in the Kalakad area. The mountain fastness of the Western Ghats offered him places to hide and operate from. Beginning his life as a jaggery merchant, Jambulingam had to flee into the forest to evade arrest for a civil offence. Driven by persecution to dacoity, he operated in the Sengaltheri area of the Kalakad forest.

Women in the southern districts wore heavy ornaments in their distended ear lobes. Highway robbers often snipped the earlobes and stole the jewels. Jambulingam scrupulously avoided hurting women even as he robbed them. So people christened him ‘The bandit who does not cut the ear’, Kathaaraa kallan. That was also the title of a novella by Kalki based on the life of this bandit. He was also called Sembuli (the red tiger) as well as Raj.

The government announced a large reward for him. He was captured, but made a dramatic escape from prison and once again entered the forest. All this became the stuff of ballads and folk songs, which made Jambulingam a Robin Hood.

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), a Protestant missionary, had set up an orphanage in Dohnavur, near Nanguneri at the foot of the Western Ghats. She lived there, in what came to be known as the Dohnavur Fellowship, for 55 years without ever going back to England. On hearing the exploits of the bandit, she went into the forest in disguise and made contact with him. Her idea was to persuade him to mend his ways and create a respectable life for himself.

He had a series of meetings with Carmichael and talked about his children, a daughter and two sons. They exchanged correspondence. She agreed to raise them in her orphanage. She hoped to persuade him to surrender to the police. But he was shot by the police while returning after a clandestine meeting with Carmichael.

Carmichael documented the story of Jambulingam in her book Raj, the Brigand Chief. The book, with a foreword by the Bishop of Tiinnevelly, was published in London and gives a peep into the period and people and carries some interesting photographs.

Raj, the Brigand Chief. Seely Service, London. 1927. Pages 312. The book is preserved at the Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai.


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In this issue

Will the City waterways see better days?
Urban renewal must look decades ahead
Heritage legislation is essential
Calming traffic in recreational areas,
like the Marina
Historic Residences of Chennai - 32
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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