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VOL. XXIII No. 10, September 1-15, 2013
Looking back on Madras Week Four-page special feature

Searching for a past in Kilpauk

Our Lady's Votive Shrine, Kilpauk

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,’ is the opening line of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go Between. Every year in our Madras Week/Month, we search for this country through exhibitions, lectures, books and walks but all we see are the few vestiges of that distant land. To many, especially the youth who live in Chennai, Madras is a foreign country.

Madras was a calm city of shaded roads and garden bungalows. When my great-grandfather moved from overcrowded George Town (Black Town) around 1900 to Kilpauk, his relatives and friends believed he was going to a jungle. He built his house in 1911, and other families followed cautiously and Kilpauk was embraced by Madras. There was grand space then for the garden bungalows that sprawled next to each other and, maybe, two or three families lived on those new roads.

When Madras Week celebrations began a few years ago, a young woman, Deepa Sekar, organised the first Kilpauk Heritage Walk. There were around a dozen people, mostly middle-aged, who showed up and we wandered in search of the past – Our Lady’s Votive Shrine, the church on Hall’s Road, Pachaiyappa’s College, one or two bungalows beyond it and then my great-grandfather’s house that still remains as a memory of that foreign country. The following year, the numbers dwindled.

This year, to my surprise, and hers, 58 explorers, most of them young, trailed Deepa. They were well armed with cameras and photographed the church, the Salesian Institute and, finally, my house from all angles. Then they waited for my sister, Nalini, and me to conjure up the past that was now layered with apartments on every road. It is hard to conjure up this foreign country through just words. Opposite the house was the Reserve Bank quarters. How could they imagine that once there was only a massive bungalow and a garden that stretched to Poonamallee High Road? The Salesian Institute had been a movie studio; the Madras Telephone quarters on Taylor’s Road was a rice field in my childhood. ‘No Anna Nagar?’ one asked? ‘Not even a New Avadi Road,’ we told them. The city petered out around those borders. Off Vasu Street was a large pond. All gone, like those garden bungalows and their gardens with mango a nd coconut groves.

For those who lived in that foreign country the deep roots are still there but they have now been chopped down like all those great trees that lined every road. Our roots lie in the buildings that our ancestors built for their future and, once lost, we too lose our identity. The cities and towns in Europe remain perfectly preserved, two to three centuries old, beautifully maintained and those citizens know they can see their past in the present.

In Chennai, the history has vanished and all we have are the apartments, block after block, almost identical on their stilts. We may walk and talk, but that foreign country, Madras, is beyond the reach of planes, trains and automobiles. We abandoned it a long time ago.

-Timeri Murari

A Tiruvottriyur Walk

And the tank inside the temple.

Sri Thyagarajaswamy temple gopuram, Tiruvottriyur

The teppakulam outside Sri Thyagarajaswamy temple, Tiruvottriyur, gone dry...

A group explored the heritage of Tiruvottriyur during Madras Week.

The heritage walk was led by Gokoulane Ravi with Jothi Vel Moorthi.

The Fort – in sketches, words & photographs

Ganapathy Subramanian says it in words and pictures.

52 people did the Fort St. George walk. The big group got the attention of the Police Intelligence, the Secretariat Outer Security, Inner Security and the Army folks. Was good to have the Arch students and the Madras Sketching Group! It was a great session exploring the Fort by foot. Vincent D'Souza's high energy time travel was enjoyable.

Near The Fort Exchange

King's Barracks, said to be the largest barracks space in Asia.

Another grand Fort building left to die.

The Grand Arsenal.

The Army's Parade Ground flanked by many vintage buildings.The first Fort House could have possibly stood here in the late 17th Century.

On the ramparts of Fort St. George. (Photo: Muralidharan Alagar)

With the Chennai Weekend Artists

A date with Adyar's past

by K. Venkatesh

The participants seen with Sriram at Brodie's Castle.

Traditionally it always rains when Sriram V. conducts a heritage walk and August 17th was no different,when he got Madras Week 98 to trekking start through Adyar. Notwithstanding the weather, 43 people had gathered at Gandhi Nagar at the crack of dawn.Sriram began with the story of Gandhi Nagar – the place that was once Bishop Gardens, belonging as it did to the diocese of Mylapore-Madras. The purchase was negotiated by C.Narasimham, Commissioner of the Corporation, and J.C. Ryan, Registrar of Societies, with the blessings of Daniel Thomas, Minister for Local Administration. The two officials agreed to the Bishop’s price of Rs. 17 lakh for 136 acres, although their allocation was only Rs. 15 lakh, an instance of the freedom officials enjoyed in those days. The cost of land and construction came to Rs. 60,000 per house for the larger plots, which were a third of an acre! The roaring success of Gandhi Nagar as a housing colony s aw the acquisition of 140 grounds from the Bengal brothers to create Kasturba Nagar in 1949. Other colonies came up thereafter.

The next stop was the Sri Ananthapadmanabha Swamy Temple, where Sriram provided many interesting anecdotes, chiefly involving the construction of the shrine thanks to A. Narayana Rao and other early residents of Gandhi Nagar with the help of the last ruler of Travancore, Chitra Tirunal Balarama Varma. His statue, which once stood at the Travancore Maharaja’s Park in the Esplanade, was shifted here in the 1990s by his admirers, the park having long gone and the statue having become a spot of public convenience and nuisance. Its pedestal carries the famed Temple Entry Proclamation of 1936, an act for which the Maharaja received Gandhi’s appreciation.

We next came to the Madras Institute of Development Studies, the brainchild of Malcolm Adiseshiah, who also donated his residence for it and which is where it functions from. Sriram dwelt at length on Dr. Adiseshiah’s illustrious career at UNESCO and as Vice-Chancellor, Madras University. The many facets of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy came to life at our next stop, the Cancer Institute. A woman of many firsts, she started the Cancer Institute, which is now a world-renowned institution, in 1954. Her dream was taken to great heights by her successors – her son Dr. Krishnamoorthy and the disciple, Dr. Shanta. We then moved on to a school that started functioning in the 19th Century. In 1875, three Patrician brothers, Bro. Ignatius Price, Bro. Paul Hughes and Bro. Fintan Parkinson, started St. Patrick’s School here. St. Michael’s Academy, another popular school, is an “offshoot of St. Patrick’s,” explained Sriram V. This school began functioning from 1953.

Elphinstone Bridge, connecting Mylapore and Adyar, was constructed in 1840 but fell into disuse after the Thiru Vi Ka bridge came up in 1973. At its northern end, we remembered Durgabai Deshmukh, founder of the Andhra Mahila Sabha. Sathya Studio opposite, another well-known landmark, was once Meenakshi Cinetone, later Neptune Studios and, finally, property of MGR, the matinee idol and three-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Now, a women’s college functions in these premises.

The largest island on the Adyar was Quibble Island, which later merged with the mainland. A cemetery here is the last resting place for many Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. Quibble Island also witnessed the Battle of Adyar on October 10, 1746, in which a small but disciplined French force defeated the 10,000-strong army of the Nawab of Carnatic commanded by Mahfuz Khan. It decisively demonstrated the superior training of the European forces, paving the way for an Empire.

The present-day Greenway’s Road was once lined with beautiful garden houses, each built with a different architectural style. Thanks to well-known musician E. Gayatri, who is now Director, Tamil Nadu Government Colleges for Music, we were allowed into Brodie’s Castle, one of the few to survive, which is where the Government Music College is situated. Even as Sriram told us the story of the several occupants of this palatial residence since 1796, we explored it with him.

From the verandah, we had a great view of the Theosophical Society, and, standing there, Sriram told us of the history of that verdant campus from its Huddlestone Garden days. The great personalities who lived there – Col. Olcott, Mme Blavatsky, Annie Besant – and the famed Adyar Alamaram, which still survives in part, were brought to life. The Theosophical Society was also the birthplace of Kalakshetra. The green cover prompted Sriram to also tell us of how activists successfully fought and saved the Adyar Creek, making it the Adyar Poonga now.

Our final stop was outside Ramalayam, the Travancore Maharajah’s palace in the city. The Sishya School and several eastern colonies of this area came up on its land. Diagonally opposite stands the Avvai Home started by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy for destitute women. We wound up with breakfast at (where else?) Adyar Ananda Bhavan.

The nawabs on Mount Road

(By A Special Correspondent)

On the Nawabi trail in Mount Road with S. Anwar.

In the past few years, well known photojournalist S. Anwar has emerged as an engaging chronicler of the Islamic history of South India. He penned the chapter on ‘Islam in Madras’ for the Association of British Scholars’ 3-volume project on the history of the City. Since 2011 he has also been roped in by Chennai Heritage to do heritage tours of the city with a focus on its Islamic history. Last year he took us on a tour of Nawabi Triplicane and this year he followed it up with a tour of Islamic Mount Road. It was a classic Anwar tour – underplayed, factual and engaging. Mount Road, now being a maze of one ways, Anwar took pains to go over the route several times, meticulously planning the destinations. A morning of great fun, and learning, was the result.

With the conquest of the South by the Mughals, Emperor Aurangazeb appointed the Nawab of Arcot to oversee the newly added territories. The decline of the Mughal Empire enabled the rise of the various powers who aspired to rule over the Carnatic, including the Marathas, the Mysore rulers, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the British and the French. The then Nawab, Muhammad Ali, was beholden to the British. They offered him protection within the walls of Fort St. George. Palace Street recalls plans for his residence. The Nawab, being the overlord of the Carnatic, preferred to build his own palace a little further from the Fort, at Chepauk. A road connecting the Fort and the Chepauk Palace is named after Nawab Muhammad Ali, who was given the title Wallajah by the Mughal Emperor (Wallajah Road). He engaged Paul Benfield to build the Chepauk Palace, which is considered to be the beginning of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in India. The palace e xtended upto the Cooum River in the north and Presidency College towards the south. The site of the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium was part of the Chepauk Palace, which extended till Bells Road as the western boundary. A clean Cooum River was where the Nawab bathed. One of the entry points to the Fort, where it meets Mount Road, was used by Wallajah when he visited and is known as the Wallajah Gate.

After the death of Wallajah’s successor Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah, the Company took over the entire administration of the Carnatic and the subsequent Nawabs were titular. After the1860s, they were moved to Amir Mahal, with the new title Prince of Arcot.

On August 18th, we assembled at May Day Park in Chintadripet for the heritage tour. On our way to Wallajah Gate, we stopped opposite Government Estate to learn about the Governor’s Bodyguards Mosque in which the Governor’s Muslim bodyguards prayed. This is close to the Governor’s Bodyguards’ Muneeswarar Temple, now just known as Bodyguard Muneeswarar Temple (near Pallavan House).

Our next stop was the Rajaji Hall which, interestingly, holds political significance for the Muslim community. After Partition, it was here that Quaid-e-Milleth Ismail Sahib founded the Indian Union Muslim League to provide a political voice to the Indian Muslims. Right opposite Rajaji Hall, on the other side of Mount Road, is Anjuman-e-Mufid-e-Ahle-Islam (Society for the Benefit of Muslims), which was established in 1885 for the betterment of Muslims and provide technical education to them. Today, the place houses a commercial establishment, ‘India Silk House’. The third president of the Anjuman, Justice Boddam, helped purchase the property and the society moved into the new premises in 1901. Anwar recalled that Lodd Govinddoss donated Rs. 10,000 to the Society when it was badly affected by the Arbuthnot Crash of 1906.

We were treated to a detailed history of the Nawabs, who belonged to three successive and different lineages, at the Chepauk Palace: Zulfikar Khan and Daud Khan Panni, the original appointees of Aurangazeb, the Mughal Emperor, followed by the Nawayati Nawabs, prominent among them being Sadatullah Khan after whom Saidabad was named, which later became Saidapet. In the 1740s, the Wallajah line of Nawabs came into being.

At Dargah-e-Hazrath Syed Moosa Sha Khaderi on Mount Road, Anwar explained Sufiism and the different mystical orders such as Khaderia, Chistiya, and Nakshabandhi. Nawab Mohammed Ali Wallajah was a follower of the Khaderia order. He was also open to other orders like Nakshabandhi and went on to invite Dastagir Saheb to Madras. The latter is buried at the end of Natesan Road, Mylapore.

We then went to the Madras-e-Azam, set up in 1849 as a school at the instance of Edward Balfour by the then Nawab, Ghulam Ghouse Khan. It originally operated in Triplicane and moved to the present premises of Umda Bagh, which was a palace of the Nawab that changed many hands before being bought by the government in the early 20th Century by paying Lodd Govinddoss’ family Rs. 1 lakh. Balfour designed it as a school for the English way of teaching Muslims and did away with Quranic studies. In 1919, the Government established the Mohammedan College for the education of the Muslim community. After Independence, the College was made the Government Women’s College. It was renamed the Quaid-e-Milleth Women’s College by a government order.

Only the small minarets of Byramjang Mosque are visible across the road, a few buildings away from Agurchand Mansion. Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah’s adviser Byramjang built it. The majestic Agurchand Mansion was once known as Khaleeli Mansion, built as it was by a Khaleeli who came to Madras from Persia for trade. As one of the Khaleelis who owned the mansion migrated to Pakistan after Partition, the Government auctioned off the premises as enemy property and it was bought by Agurchand family.

Abbasi Ashur Khana and a mosque constitute what is popularly known as the Thousand Lights Mosque. They were originally built by Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah who showed leanings towards Shiism. The current structures inside the compound, both the Ashur Khana and the mosque, are believed to have been rebuilt by the Khaleelis. It was a delightful walk culminating with breakfast at Saravana Bhavan, Peter’s Road.

Celebrating Madras in Poonamallee

The Pupil Saveetha Eco School, Poonamallee, organised a weeklong celebration, Madras Memoirs, from August 19th-24th, with a series of inter-school and intra-school events and competitions that highlighted the transition of the city from Madraspattinam to Chennai.

The exhibition Reflections, showcased exhibits from a bygone era – a gramophone, telephones, a hand-woven saree, some miniature brass items and vehicles, photographs, old coins, old documents and postage stamps. It was a nostalgic moment for some as they viewed the photos that adorned the walls and walked down streets and lanes of the past.

As part of the International School Award activity, another hall had charts, models and photographs that the students had collected over a period of time. This event enhanced their learning potential and gave them a sense of belonging – a sense of pride that they live in a city steeped in history.

Nizhal among the trees

Nizhal took steps in a totally new direction... offering its very first musical tree walk with Dr. Sowmya and her students at the verdant Kalakshetra campus. Great music under magnificent trees... digging deep into our heritage to discover the close connection between music and nature.

Winning T-shirt design

Vincent D'Souza displays a prize-winning T-shirt design.

In the US Consulate-General

Did you know that Chennai has two sister cities in the United States? The American Library at the U.S. Consulate-General, Chennai, celebrated MadrasWeek with a poster display featuring the two cities, Denver and San Antonio.

With the Cycling Yogis

The Cycling Yogis Heritage bicycle ride seen at National Poet Subramania Bharathi's house.

All about the Nawabs

Namma Arcot Road celebrated Madras Day with a talk by S.Anwar on the significant social and cultural contributions of the Nawabs of Arcot to Madras. Anwar spoke at Vadapalani on the secular practices of the Nawabs and the influences they had on architecture, education and British rule.

Old Churches of San Thome

A short tour of the old churches of San Thomé was organised by (Pictures by Arun Christopher.)

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In this issue

Madras Week a Great Success
The Muddle that is The ASI
Madras Fifty Years Ago
Brindian or Hindlish
Beginnings of the Labour Movement
Goodness Mercy And Toughness
Looking Back on Madras Week
The Hindu Metrplus Theatre Fest
On Your Marks Geography and a Laugh!
Unlucky to Find a Test cap too Far

Our Regulars

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


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