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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 4, June16-15, 2010

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From Club to Mall

Two bitterns & a crake at Pallikaranai

Churches, Railways, and Charnockite

A model State fighting AIDS

Some Madras street names and their history

From Club to Mall
(The Gujaratis of Madras – a series by Karthik A. Bhatt)

The Madras Club c. 1900 by Willie Burke.

At the end of Club House Road, off Anna Salai, is a spacious estate that was occupied till early 2007 by the Indian Express.

Express Estate was once the home of the Madras Club, founded in 1832 as a residential European Club and described in the 19th Century as “the finest in India... the Headquarters... the Ace of Clubs.” J.D. White of White’s Road, who was granted ground by Government here in 1809, built the original ‘garden house’ that was bought by the Club from its then owner, a Mr. Webster, in May 1832 to be the Club’s home after additions were made to it. The need for more space led to Waller’s ‘compound’ being added in 1852 and Devenish’s in 1853. These two purchases extended the property to Patullo’s Road. Between 1865 and 1867, the Club was further expanded to a Robert Chisholm design and got its pillared and pedimented Pantheonic handsomeness.

The splendid building with Pantheonic overtones survived till 2004 in a dreadful, dilapidated state in Express Estate together with its derelict octagonal ‘smoking room’, a Gothic timbered pavilion with stained glass windows that Chisholm also designed. The ‘Diwan’ and its later additions, a billiards room and a cards room, were to the rear of the main building and were linked to it by a covered way. Both were behind another old house that was incorporated into the campus in 1898, Hick’s Bungalow, bought from Hick in 1822 by Capt Archibald Patullo who commanded the Governor’s Bodyguard. Hick’s Bungalow was imaginatively restored by Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express, and he made it his family home. The Club’s Ladies’ Pavilion – necessary because the Club would not allow women into the main buildings – was completed in 1898, slightly in front of the main buildings and to their north.

The Madras Club, the second oldest in India, has now been merged with and occupies the lovely garden – almost park-like – premises of the Adyar Club, on the banks of the river at the end of Moubray’s (TTK) Road. Once this ‘garden house’ was historic Moubray’s Cupola.

The merger took place after World War II when both clubs faced straitened circumstances. The Madras Club sold its Club House Road property for Rs. 1.3 million to Ramnath Goenka in 1947 and built manorial 123 Mount Road across from Church Park Convent in Branson Bagh, a 5 acre site that was owned by the Rajah of Bobbili, who sold it to the Club for Rs 254,000. The Club moved in April 1948 into the purpose-built clubhouse it raised here to echo its first home.

By the late 1950s, the two clubs were struggling to survive, even in abbreviated circumstances and with new Indian membership. In the end, the task was too much for both; they merged to form the Madras Club which, in April 1963, acquired Moubray’s Cupola. Mount Road was left to commerce – and historical oblivion.

On the Mount Road site, there has arisen a huge mall (‘Express Avenue’) which had an opening a few days ago and will be fully operational by year end together with a multiplex theatre and a luxury hotel.


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Two bitterns & a crake
at Pallikaranai
(By K V Sudhakar)

Setting out on a warm and humid summer morning in Chennai, you do not hope to have a great day of birding. However, this April morning turned out to be different. The Pallikaranai marshes were drying up and the sun was strong. Driving down from Velachery, the sight of massive development work rapidly swallowing up the marsh did not portend good birding. As we turned into the road bisecting the marsh, an Openbill stork was in flight. A good omen. Further down, Spotbill ducks were lazily swimming in the water. Another swift-flying flock of these ducks landed across the road in the southern portion of the marsh. Ashy Prinias were hopping about on the Parthenium
bushes – also known as Congress weed. They were busy feeding. Were there some small insects on these plants that we could not see through our binoculars?

The distinctive call of the Indian Great Reed Warbler sounding more like a frog than a bird attracted our attention now. The ‘Great’ Reed Warbler is but a small drab bird, which used to be very common in these marshes years ago.
We wondered how long they will survive in the fast-disappearing wetlands. The elegant Blackwinged Stilts were active in the water and a couple of birds were just hunched over a mound. Were they incubating eggs in a nest? Anyway, a frisky mongoose leapt out of the grass in the foreground, making us fear for the safety of
the chicks when the eggs hatched.

The most important birds of the day, however, were the bitterns. The bitterns are the unmistakable cousins of the paddy bird. The Chestnut Bittern is a rufous and black bird with some steaks on its under parts. This bittern flew across and settled among the reeds. Before long, another bittern, this time a Yellow Bittern, glided and disappeared from view behind the reed beds. The yellowish body with the flash of black in the wings confirmed its identity. The bitterns are solitary birds with vivid colours, but they are crepuscuilar and shy. They are seldom noticed when they sit motionless amidst the grass, blending as they do so well with the background. Having seen two bitterns, we were sure we had exhausted this particular place of surprises as well as our luck! But another chestnut-coloured bird with bright red legs and distinctive black-and-white underbody markings was the next ‘catch’ of the day. The Ruddy-breasted Crake in full sun presented a spectacular view. It scuttled to cover, when it realised that some nosy bird-watchers were pointing fingers and, worse, some glinting binoculars, at it.

What is there to add? We also saw another thirty species – Brown Shrike, Watercock or Kora, Pied Crested Cuckoos, Spotbilled Pelicans, Grey and Purple Herons, Cattle and Little Egrets, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Glossy and White Ibis, Indian and Purple Moorhen, Ashy and Plain Prinias, Large Pied and Yellow Wagtails, Common and Wood Sandpipers and other such birds. (Courtesy: Madras Naturalists’ Society)


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Churches, Railways, and Charnockite
(LITERATURE ON MADRAS (an annotated bibliography from the Web)
compiled by Dr. A. Raman)

Social History

Rerceretnam M. (2002) Colonialisation and Christianised Indians in Penang: a study of parish communities at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in the early 20th Century. In “The Penang Story” organised by the Penang Heritage Trust and Star Publications, Penang, Malaysia.

The Church of St. Francis Xavier acted as an important entry point for many Indian Roman Catholic immigrants. Penang Island (via Pulau Jejerak Quarantine Station) was used as a major entry point for labour immigration to the Straits Settlements and the Malay States. Indian labour migration to Malaya (and Penang), particularly migration for purposes of estate labour, was specifically South Indian. This was due to the fact that the Indian Government refused to allow the sanctioning of indentured emigration from any part of India, other than the province of Madras. This was probably done so as to help facilitate governmental control of labour recruitment. Consequently the majority of workers were drawn from the districts of Tanjore, Trichinopoly, Madras and, to a lesser extent, Salem and Coimbatore. It was these districts which coincidentally had sizable Christian populations as noted by J.R. Daniel, who states that the primary source of Christian Indians came from the districts of Trichinopoly, Tanjore and Tirunelveli. This paper examines the interwoven social, political and economic roles of the clergy and the laity in the early 20th Century. It also examines evolving power structures and the role played by colonialism in moulding such ideas.

Sport History

Alter J.S. (2004) Indian clubs and colonialism: Hindu masculinity and muscular Christianity. Comparative Studies in Society and History 46: 497-534.

J.H. Gray, A.G. Noehren and, in particular, H.C. Buck were instrumental in first popularising ‘scientific physical training’ in India under the auspices of the YMCA, originally in Calcutta in 1908 but more systematically in Madras in the early 1920s. See Harsha (1982) for a concise account of this history (Harsha A. [1982] Development of Physical Education in Madras, 1918-1948. Christian Literature Society, Madras, India).

Technology History

Edkins J. (2008) Railways worked on by F.L. Dibblee between 1856 and 1888.

This web page refers to the service record of Frederick Dibblee, reconstructed from the Obituary columns of Institution of Civil Engineers. Fred Dibblee was born in Canada and trained as a railway engineer. He then worked on Brazilian and Prussian railways. He worked in Prussia under George Barclay Bruce, who was also a consultant to the Great Southern of India Railway. He must have satisfied Bruce, who offered him a job in Madras in India. This was important news for Frederick Dibblee, since it meant that he now was earning enough to get married to Emily Binney, left behind in Canada. He wrote to her, and she left her family without a second thought, crossing the Atlantic to marry him in London before he left for India. She went with him. At that time, private companies built railways under guarantee from the Secretary of State for India. Frederick Dibblee worked at first for Great Southern of India Company, which was one of these companies. He started as District Engineer. A year and a half later, he became Chief Engineer. He then worked on Carnatic Railway, which was also in the Madras Presidency, also as Chief Engineer, until 1874. During that time, his three oldest children were born in Trichinopoly between 1866 and 1868. The Great Southern of India Railway Company was incorporated in Britain in 1858. The Company received a guarantee from the Secretary of State for India for a 5% return on £500,000 which was to be used to construct a railway line from Negapatam to Trichinopoly, along with several branch lines. The Company’s guarantee was given amidst political controversy. Lord Stanley took over from Sir Charles Wood as Secretary of State for India, whereupon he reversed his predecessor’s policy, and started granting guarantees to the smaller branch line railway companies. The Great Southern of India Railway Company was one of the first companies to benefit. Construction began on the line shortly after the Company’s incorporation and, by 1860, the Negapatam to Trichinopoly line was nearing completion. This web page includes a fascinating B&W reproduction of India-ink line sketch of the Madras Central Station (c.1868).

Science History

Rao GVSP and Rao J.M. (2005) A palaeomagnetic study of charnockites from Madras Block, Southern Granulite Terrain, India. Gondwana Research 10: 57–65.

Madras city includes the unique geology of low-grade and high-grade metamorphic rock referred to as charnockite (named after Job Charnock, founder of Calcutta). This sophisticated paper refers to the evolution of the charnockitic region of the Pallavaram area in the Madras Block. A palaeomagnetic investigation suggests the age of magnetisation in the Pallavaram charnockites as 2600 million years. The St. Thomas Mount charnockites indicate a period of emplacement at 1650 million years.


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A model State fighting AIDS
(By Sangeetha Rajesh)

Tamil Nadu has been a pio-neer in dealing with HIV/AIDS. In 1996, it was the first to start a programme for children with HIV/AIDS. The positive people groups and the Transgender State programme exist only in Tamil Nadu. On April 1, 2004, when the Government of India launched free Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) in India, the Government Hospital for thoracic medicine in Tambaram was the first hospital in the country to start ART treatment.

Now, there are over 35 ART  centres in the State, reaching close to 44,000 infected people.

Around 7000 children living with HIV are registered under the ART programme, of whom about 2750 are currently on ART. The Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) is currently focussing on creating awareness and addressing issues of care and support as well as social issues faced by those living with HIV.

In order to provide a continuum of care for the orphan and vulnerable children, the Government of Tamil Nadu, in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society, has formed the Tamil Nadu Trust for Children affected by HIV/AIDS (TNTCAA).

V.K. Subburaj, Prinicipal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Tamil Nadu Government, said that the interest earned off a Rs. 5 crore deposit (Rs. 50 lakh p.a.) would be used to educate HIV infected and affected children up to +2. “It is the first programme of this nature in the country and this is only the beginning.” Welcoming donations, he said they would be used to provide higher education to performing students.

Dr. Satish Kumar, State Representative, UNICEF, Chennai, said that Tamil Nadu should be seen as a model State when it comes to providing for children infected with HIV/AIDS and that other States in the country should follow its example. (Courtesy: Grassroots)


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Some Madras street names and their history
(A four-page pull-out by the Madras Musings team)

With the Corporation of Chennai taking a decision that it will rename after Tamil scholars all those streets that still sport the names of our erstwhile colonial masters, a whole host of re-namings is just around the corner. Madras Musings has already highlighted the futility of such an exercise, for street names are hardly the way to commemorate anyone in these modern times. It has also pointed out that those who live on streets that are being renamed will be put to enormous hardships, having to notify various agencies and institutions about changes of address. But as all these arguments are likely to fall on deaf ears, especially when populism is the name of the game, this publication had appealed that, before the old names were all changed in one sweep, it would be best to look at what had led to the streets being named after a particular person in the past – and that, we must say, the Corporation has been, in a show of consideration, doing. Madras Musings, for its part, while helping the Corporation officials has been pointing out that in many cases roads and streets were named after obscure Company/Government servants and businessmen to whose properties and garden houses these thoroughfares had once led. But in a few instances, the names so commemorated are still worthy of retention thanks largely to the individual’s service to the city, to the world at large or even, as in the case of F.W. Ellis, to the cause of Tamil. These names, Madras Musings strongly feels, deserve to be retained.

Having said that, we are glad to inform you that Madras Musings’ volunteer staff, in the wake of all this inquiry, decided to embark on an exercise to identify the streets named after Europeans and colonial servants. We used the Eicher City Map of Chennai (2008 edition) as our basis, referring to its index of street and locality names. In this activity, we decided to concentrate only on those localities that existed in Madras city in 1947, for the Corporation has made it clear that it wants to rename only those streets that commemorate British names. Our boundaries were, therefore, clear – Tiruvottriyur/ Washermanpet/Royapuram in the North, T’Nagar/West Mambalam to the West, Adyar to the South and, of course, the sea to the East. We have, however, included Guindy and Saidapet in our listing, as these are old areas which had close links with the city though being not within it in 1947

Download the complete article here


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In this issue

Road widening is NOT the answer for City’s traffic
River basins, not stretches, should be looked at
Travails of city bus travel
Adyar Poonga gets ready for the public
Historic Residences of Chennai - 43
Other stories

Our Regulars

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


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