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VOL. XXII NO. 6, July 1-15, 2012
It's fascinating to catch up with local history
(By Vincent D'Souza)

Every summer, I am coaxed to take a group of holiday makers on a tour. A summer of 40 plus degrees is certainly not the best time of the year to go on picnic tours. But then the outdoors always beckon you when it is holiday time for young people.

This year my offer was a tour of the neighbourhood forts. And though history is not everybody’s favourite subject, my theme seemed to delight the group.

There are a string of forts you can explore from a base in our city if you set aside a weekend for this tour.

Start in the north, with a tour of Pulicat to explore the remnants of Dutch history, with traces of Portuguese presence here.

A cemetery, churches, old houses and a huge waterbody by the sea are must-see places in Pulicat. Fort St. George in north Madras is Stop No. 2. To me this is a fascinating place waiting to be explored many times over and it is best done on a Sunday. This was the seat of the English East India Company and the fort of the British.

San Thomé is Stop No. 3. In the 16th Century, it was the hub of the trading Portuguese and they built their own little fort looking out on to the sea. Nothing remains since the British flattened the place to end all headaches of challengers. But if you sneak in the sea side of the Leith Castle area, you may be lucky to see fragile remnants of what must have been the walls of a fort.

The campus of Taj Vivanta Fisherman’s Cove in Covelong off the ECR preserves a slice of a wall of what was once a little fort.

Further south, Stop No.4 has to be Sadras, a fort of the Dutch and another trading post. Located on the seaside, it lies in the village at the end of a road that branches off from the ECR in the Kalpakkam Atomic Power Plant region. Chambers, tombstones, tablets and the ramparts must be explored here.

And if you still have the energy, then your final stop can be Fort Alambarai, some 40 minutes from the Kalpakkam point on the ECR. Muck, tourist waste and massive fortified walls greet you. The fort, built in the 17th Century and in the Mughal era, was gifted to the French for services rendered by them to the local Nawab but was demolished by the British after they defeated the French.

It offers spectacular views of the sea that washes into a lagoon and the local kuppam.

There are lots of places to explore in our city and on its fringe. Basic info and how-to-do guides and rough guide tips on the Web are required for the wanna-be city travellers.

* * *

Narasingapuram is a small colony off Mount Road, now called Anna Salai. Its more famous landmark is Ritchie Street. Once the biggest radio market, it is now a buzzing hub of the electronics, computers and peripherals trade.

Prof. Paul Montgomery from the UK is keen to know lots more about Narasingapuram because he has an Anglo-Indian ancestry and this will be part of his book on his family.

One thread in his genealogical spread leads to this little colony which has been over-run by the computers market.

Prof. Montgomery assumes that the lady who married a Scots soldier, the male progenitor, must have been born in 'Nursingpooram' and that her dad got pensions from the FINS (Friend in Need Society), located on the busy Poonamallee High Road.

FINS is yet another vintage institution of our city. Started in 1822 by the merchants and community leaders of the city for the less abled, it has provided shelter to mostly Anglo-Indians.

FINS and the Anglo-Indians who once resided in Narasingapuram may provide leads for the professor's research.

And since I had written about Narasingapuram in an earlier column, the World Wide Web made the connection and I have been relooking at a colony that was once my backyard.

Revisiting the past in small neighbourhoods can be a fascinating exercise.

To help the UK professor, I will also make a trip to Christ Church and try to delve into the wedding registration records there.

This Church, which has for its neighbours the Devi Cinemas complex (it celebrated its 42nd anniversary in May) and Cosmopolitan Club, also has a unique history.

It was built in the 1850s on land which housed the stables of Englishman Waller when the Eurasians (later called Anglo-Indians) sought a church for the growing community of Protestants in the Mount Road area.

Christ Church also shared space for an Anglo-Indian school which survives today. For youngs­ters who lived in this area, the ‘must do’ thing at this school in the 60s and 70s was to attend the annual Shakespeare play put up by its senior students.

Will any of these past students provide a link that the UK professor will be glad to have?

For me, though, revisiting these places and jotting down fascinating threads of people is engaging.

Would it not be a worthwhile effort if a small group in each locality recorded local histories? (Courtesy: Mylapore Times)

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In this issue

Still no solutions to woes caused by parking
How do we curb cell-phone use on the roads?
It's fascinating to catch up with local history
Looking back
When Madras went on the AIR
Driving Down Memory Lane
The actor in the shadows
There's urgent need to list heritage in 800 towns

Our Regulars

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


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