How to make Chennai pollution free

September 29, 2014

Rather ironically, after what has happened over the weekend, the first email I see in the Madras Musings mail box is this one. Addressed to the CM as she then was, a copy has been marked to us. I am reproducing it in full mainly for its language.

I have had in my mind from a long time, but that I was thinking that local govt is not interested to do what I want to do.but prime minister Shree Narendra Modi is declared that smart city must be level best by them. then in my mind came that matter was slept again came in form to do positive so then and there i have requested sent to madam Jaya Lalitha madam for pollution free of Chennai city and smart city a large of colony may be possible to do in the middle city of Chennai total sewage canals lands will be free from flood and over flow problem and total used water by resident of city that water i will recycle and convert in drinking water 80% out of used water.and fertilizer and stop Harbour pollutant and methane gas also i will give to Tamilnadu govt.

I want to YOUR VALUEBLE TIME FOR APPOINTMENT DISCUSSING REGARDING CHENNAI CITY HOW TO BE FREE FROM POLLUTION AND free all lands of city (CANALS SEWAGE AREA) for colony and lease for general public. I have in my mind it may be utilize and city save from pollution free it means,
pollution free green city of chennai .
for its what what saved IN DETAILS AS BELOWS:-



Avadhanam Paupiah – A diabolical dubash

September 27, 2014

There’s hope for Buckingham Canal

September 24, 2014

Given up practically as a lost cause with talks of revival being merely ministerial pronouncements, the Buckingham Canal may see better days with the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Andhra. Among the first announcements of the new Andhra Government is that it would be interested in making the Buckingham Canal a tourist destination and a navigable waterway once again. Much will depend on how this idea pans into reality, but if it did, it would be wonderful and perhaps something that the Tamil Nadu Government could then extend to what is there of the canal within its jurisdiction.

It may be the longest canal in the country starting off in Orissa and ending somewhere after Cuddalore, but it cannot be denied that we have done precious little to protect this valuable waterway. In our city, it is nothing more than a foul gutter, its condition being just about marginally better in areas outside city limits. In certain stretches it still is a navigable waterway. Indeed, it was navigable till the 1960s, with boats plying down the canal carrying produce of various kinds being a normal sight. Consistent neglect and a cyclone that destroyed its banks in the late 1960s sealed its fate.

Within the city, the canal has had other problems. The first of these has been the historic practice of letting in untreated sewage. The second, and perhaps the more serious issue, has been the construction of the MRTS all along much of its bed in the city. Pillars for the transport system are actually in the waterway and have effectively ensured that navigation is next to an impossibility even if water were to flow once again.

Rather interestingly, even as the Andhra Government has made this announcement, there is talk of the Tamil Nadu Government looking at how it can revive the canal in the stretch that runs south after Chennai city limits. It is reliably learnt that the State Government is examining Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) stipulations to see how this can be done. It will be recalled that the farmers of Southern Tamil Nadu have been in favour of such a development for quite some time now. As recently as January 2014, we had the ryots of Cuddalore petitioning the Pondicherry Government to revive the waterway. They had highlighted its potential to contribute to trade and, more importantly, recalled the role it played in absorbing the waters of the tsunami of 2004, thereby minimising its impact on the areas that it flowed through. They had also pointed out that, once the canal is in good working order, the necessity of constructing barrages across the rivers that flow through Cuddalore can be minimised, with surplus waters being drained through the canal. This has major potential for reducing civil constructions on rivers and thereby minimising costs. The Inland Waterway Authority of the Government of India has proposed a sanction of Rs. 1000 crore for cleaning up the entire canal.

There are, thus, plans for reviving the canal almost everywhere except within the city. Here too, however, it would appear that all is not lost. Barring the stretches up to Mylapore and Adyar till where the MRTS runs parallel to it, there are plenty of stretches of the canal that can be renovated and restored. Can the Government not look at this and see what can be done?

With so much going for it and the swing of public opinion being all for restoration of the canal, it is perhaps likely that its condition will soon improve. If that were to be so, it deserves all encouragement and, more importantly, prayers that all this talk will soon result in concrete action.

Is Chennai losing its industrial sheen?

September 23, 2014

The latest report on the competitiveness of Indian cities, released by the World Economic Forum, classifies Chennai as a city that is not “easy to do business in”. Ahmadabad is now ranked the best location to set up an enterprise. That may reflect the current political situation, but there is no denying that our city, which was holding second position four years ago, has slipped several rungs.

The reasons are not far to seek. The continuing power shortage is considered to be the biggest and most visible issue, but there are several others. One of these is the inordinately high price of land in the city and its environs. The second is the failure in providing infrastructure in most locations. The last and, perhaps, the most important is the inaccessibility of decision-makers in the Government.

That Chennai has been unable to provide land at reasonable rates for the setting up of industries may come as a surprise to many. After all, this was where the concept of industrial estates first came up, with the Tiru Vi Ka Estate in Guindy having been set up in 1958. Since then, several others have come up in and around the city, but all of them have long lost their original character. Most have turned IT Parks, vehicle servicing centres, and newspaper offices. As for the feasibility of new estates, forget it. The Government has long stopped creating land banks for such purposes and can now do so only by expensive acquisitions. A solution for this can be the encouraging of industries to move to Tier II towns in the State. But the lack of infrastructure in such places is daunting, to say the least.

Not that the infrastructure is any better in the city. Expatriates have, by and large, expressed their disappointment at what is available. When the IT Expressway was first planned, it was touted as a model of what civic services ought to be. But when it was developed it delivered hardly anything of what was promised. Six lanes yes, but nothing more. And as for the surrounding ‘colonies’ that came up, despite most of them being set up newly and, therefore, not having any of the problems that are traditionally faced by older neighbourhoods, they followed the same patterns of development. Narrow roads, infrastructure FOLLOWING land development and not the other way round, and a plethora of violations, all together put further stress on the environment.

The last and, perhaps, the most serious issue is the inaccessibility of those in power to industrialists. It is reported that with decision making being strongly centralised, very few Ministers and Secretaries are interested in meeting entrepreneurs and businessmen and sorting out the problems they face. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu and Chennai are faced with a very piquant situation – in the last two months, Chief Ministers from States up north have begun coming here to make presentations on their respective territories and the helpful concessions they are prepared to offer companies setting up plants in them. It is, of course, well known that at least three major organisations that have manufacturing facilities around Chennai have already announced that their second phase of development will be in States in the northern part of India. One of them has rather pointedly stated that they would prefer to be where they are “closer to decision-makers.”

The State Government has been promising a Global Investors Meet for long. The latest we have heard is that this has now been postponed to March 2015. The timing could not be worse – March is the financial year-end for majority of companies and most of them will be scrambling to close what has been a tough year. All this does not bode well for a city that was once touted as the best location to do business in. We hope the administration wakes up and reads the signs.

More Madras Week types

September 22, 2014

Lots of people are writing in Chief and gushing over the way you pulled it off. Some have even appreciated the chap who sang at your book release, referring to it as the highpoint of the Week. In the view of the Man from Madras Musings however, it is however indeed a pity that the chap did not hit the high note even once, singing flat and off key right through.

But be that as it may, several are asking as to why MMM, in his previous issue’s listing of the oddballs that come for Madras Week events, did not include the Horribly Hirsute Hermit (HHH). And MMM hangs his head in shame, for he is not in any way able to explain as to how he left out the Abou Ben Adam of Madras Week. The HHH actually takes off from where one of the veterans left. The latter, now sadly no longer with us, was in the habit of snoring loudly and rhythmically through all events, year after year. He would wake up only during question time and put up his hand with alacrity. His question when asked, was always guaranteed to throw the speaker off his/her poise. If it was a talk on rockets, he would ask what the speakers view was on the courtesan culture and ought it have been banned. If it was a talk on courtesans he would definitely have a query about rockets. He was a man of unprepossessing visage and I trust you recollect the day Chief when you and MMM discovered that the chap had crores of trust properties in George Town, all of them locked up in litigation. You will also recollect Chief that after this MMM used to regularly smile at the veteran questioner in the hope that when he passed on he would leave MMM a crore or two. But in that MMM was disappointed.

But to come back to HHH. He too has a habit of asking questions and some of the more high society attendees have come to classify him as the Madras Week Horror. The man in question always prefaces his query with an introduction of himself to the effect that he is a film actor though MMM is yet to meet anyone who has seen him in any movie. However those who are in the know vouch for the veracity of this fact.

In MMM’s view HHH rose to the heights of horrors not at any Madras Week event but at a literary festival conducted by a lovely lady of the Maha Vishnu of Mount Road stable. An international figure had just concluded a session on what can only be termed as Prattling on the Pudenda. The audience, mostly high society ladies had oohed and aahed about it all. The speaker then asked if anyone had a question. And sure enough, up popped HHH. Having prefaced his query with the statement that he was a film actor, he then went on to tell the speaker that when it came to the part of the female anatomy that she had spoken on, he was the greatest living expert on the subject and she could take a lesson or two from him! Before the speaker could recover, the lovely lady of literature (LLL) whispered a word or two to an unseen hand backstage, which immediately dropped the curtain.

Such then is HHH. Now MMM’s reading public will agree that compared to him the others – namely Granny with many children, sleeveless wonder and the pugnacious looking King Kong pale into insignificance. There are one or two more, and MMM will save them up for another bout of reminiscence on Madras Week, Past and Present.

The Scots who built Madras

September 19, 2014

Lost Landmarks of Chennai – Corporation Zoo

September 18, 2014
Darwin Gate, Corporation Zoo

Darwin Gate, Corporation Zoo

Today it may have shifted to a sprawling, verdant and much deserved campus in Vandalur and may be called the Arignar Anna Zoological Park but, for at least three generations, the Madras Zoo was behind the Ripon Building, occupying one end of the 116-acre People’s Park.

The Zoo, of course, is older than that; it is, in fact, the oldest zoo in the country. It was begun thanks to Edward Green Balfour, Director of the Government Museum, Madras, who in 1854 persuaded the Nawab of Arcot to hand over his menagerie to the Museum. The Zoo was founded officially a year later in the Museum premises. Its specimens expanded to 300 in number within a year. In 1863, the Zoo was shifted to People’s Park, where it was to remain for almost 125 years. Together with the Lily Pond, My Ladye’s Garden, Moore Market and VP Hall, it helped to make Park Town a tourist attraction.

Not that it lacked some gory history as well. In 1942, following the fears of bombardment of Madras, the city was evacuated. All the dangerous animals of the zoo were shot dead. The harmless ones were taken to Erode and brought back to the city in 1944. Another gruesome record was that for years the stray dogs of Madras were rounded up by the Corporation, killed, and the meat used to be given to the carnivores in the zoo! This was given up only in the 1970s following protests by animal lovers when the sterilisation rather than the culling of strays was adopted.

Located as it was in just 11 acres of land, the zoo began to get congested even in the 1940s. Around the time of Independence, Governor Sir Archibald Nye offered around 100 acres of the Guindy Raj Bhavan Estate for the zoo. While this eventually developed as the Guindy Park, the zoo stayed put. Nye’s successor, Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavsinhji, the Maharajah of Bhavnagar, was an animal lover and it was thanks to him that the zoo got several specimens, including lions, tigers and macaws. The centenary of the zoo was celebrated with éclat in 1955 with a special souvenir and a new entrance in art deco style – the Darwin Gate, which is seen in today’s picture.

Right through the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the zoo was a favourite cinema setting. Perhaps its best representation was in the otherwise poor film Kakkum Karangal (1965) where the entire song ‘Alli thandu kaal eduttu’ was set in the zoo. A decade earlier, the American film director Ellis R. Dungan did a whole photo feature of the zoo for the Corporation.

In 1976, with increasing traffic noise, and the demand for People’s Park land for other services, the zoo had to shift. The Forest Department generously gave 1265 acres of land in the Vandalur Reserve Forest. Work began in 1979 and was completed in 1985 when, on July 24, the then Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran declared the zoo open in its new location and named it after his mentor C.N. Annadurai.

With a further 230 acres land being added to it subsequently, the zoo is one of the largest in Southeast Asia and is a great attraction in the city.
You may want to read about other lost/vanishing/surviving landmarks

Victory House

Gemini Studios

Old Woodlands Hotel

The Oceanic Hotel

My Ladyes Garden

Connemara Hotel

The Airlines Hotel

Everest Hotel

Modern Cafe


The Eastern and Western Castlets

The Madras Bulwark

AR Sundaram, a blithe spirit

September 17, 2014

To those who knew A.R Sundaram or Sunda as she was referred to among her close circle, her spirit never ceased to amaze. Except for the last six months of her long life of ninety-one years, she was sprightly, full of life and above all immersed in Carnatic music. Only a cricket match could draw her attention away from music.

I first got to meet ‘Sunda Mami’ as I referred to her, thanks to my friends Ravi and Sridhar of Tiruvannamalai. The two of them were disciples of T.Mukta and therefore knew Sunda very well. They were surprised that I had never heard of her and once took me along to meet her at her residence in Kotturpuram. There, she sang Sakhi Prana in the true Brinda-Mukta style and we became firm friends.

Sunda was in many ways a true representative of old Mylapore. Her father was A.K.Ramachandra Iyer, the redoubtable grandson of the first Indian judge of the High Court of Madras – Sir T.Muthuswami Iyer.

AKR was the man who set up Madras Auto Service, now with the TVS Group. He also began Midland Theatre and introduced Coca Cola to Madras. For several years he organised the music concerts and ‘bhajanais’ at the Kapaliswarar Temple festival and it was in that capacity that he brought Papanasam Sivan to Madras in 1921.

Sunda’s mother Lakshmi was the daughter of the legal luminary T.R. Venkatarama Sastry. It was always with some pride that she would relate how her wedding procession lasted almost a whole night, going around the Mylapore tank with the best of the Nagaswaram greats – Rajarathnam Pillai, Veerusami Pillai, the Sembanar Brothers and the Tiruvizhimizhalai Brothers performing for it in relays.

Her musical training began with T.Brinda, from whom she learnt for almost 10 years. Then for some reason, her father abruptly switched her to T.R. Balu, GNB’s student.

Singing for Bala
But Sunda’s original love was the Veena Dhanammal style and so she later began learning music from Jayammal, Brinda’s aunt and the mother of T.Balasaraswati. She had the honour of singing for Bala’s dance performances as well. Brinda, who never quite forgave AKR for the change in tutelage, did acknowledge several years later that Sunda sang exactly the way she had taught her.

Sunda performed solo for All India Radio and also sang at the Music Academy’s morning sessions in tandem with aunt Rukmini Rajagopalan. She was a regular at the Academy’s annual music festival from the 1930s till almost a couple of years ago. But marriage and family meant that music was a passion and nothing more.

When Dr. Malathi Rangaswami and I wrote the history of the Music Academy, Sunda was of immense help with anecdotes and accounts of past music seasons. It was with considerable amusement that we discovered in the Academy archives a minute that recorded her becoming a member. “This is the name of a lady and not a man,” was the terse note of a secretary. When told of it, Sunda chuckled heartily but could never explain why her father had named her Sundaram.

The annual festival at the Kapaleeswarar Temple was a must do on her calendar.

Till a couple of years back she would think nothing of braving the crowds to witness the Arupathu Moovar procession, something that would daunt those far younger than her. I asked her how she managed and her reply was characteristic – she made friends with a vegetable vendor who allowed her to sit on his cart and watch the procession go by!

Every once in a while, till their passing, Sunda would call on M.S.Subbulakshmi, D.K.Pattammal and T.Mukta. She was particularly close to Mukta and the two would often launch into impromptu song sessions.

One of the last was in the presence of the author Indira Menon, when holding hands with a bedridden Mukta, Sunda sang along.

On one occasion, I took S.Rajam, on his request, to meet Sunda. It was a delight to watch the two reminisce about life in old Mylapore.

As she aged, Sunda’s life remained filled with music. Her memory was an asset and she remembered every word of every song she had learnt. She was quite happy to impart what she knew to whoever cared to learn. It was enough for her that what she learnt was being passed on.

As life took away friends, health and the ability to go up to the Mylapore temple, Sunda accepted the changes gracefully.

But her will to live was enormous, as was her love for music. These are what kept her going till the very end.

Her passing marks the end of a time when music was a way of life.

This article appeared in The Hindu under the Friday Review section on September 12, 2014

Is Madras Week colonial?

September 15, 2014

Over 150 events spread across several locations and organisations of the city have just come to an end. All of these were to commemorate the 375th birthday of our city. The events witnessed full houses and were held with the enthusiastic support of the hospitality industry and the media. If this was not a sure shot success, then what was it? Certainly it was NOT what a Tourism De­partment official apparently dismissed as a celebration of the ‘colonial’ in a display of a mind­set out of tune with the times.

Consider the facts – much of what went into celebrating ­Madras Week this year concerned the here and now. There were discussions on business leadership, security of the peninsula, civic conservancy and the economy. There were views expressed on the challenges that the city faces in its journey to becoming a world-class metropolis. There were presentations on the lives of several noble residents of the city who went on to make powerful contributions to the world. The current generation, to which the British Raj is something that is only in text books, came out in full strength to participate. Are these expressions of a ­‘colonial hangover’? What we did was celebrate our city, warts and all.

The same official apparently also said that his department is only mandated to celebrate the ancient Dravidian age, the Sangam era, and the glories of the Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms. If that is so, why was this opportunity not taken to highlight the relics of that glorious past, of which there are several in the city itself? Why were special trips not organised to the Pallava cave at Pallavaram, perhaps the first instance of a temple being hewn out of a rock in India? Could not events focussing on the grand temples that dot the city’s coastline have been planned? Could the Museum not have been asked to showcase its Bronze Gallery and its magni­ficient collections of ins­crip­tions? By merely ­dismissing ­Madras Week as a Brown Sahib event, the Department of Tourism has passed up a golden opportunity. It could have participated, attracted tourists and ensured that everyone recog­nised that Chennai could be a destination by itself and not a mere gateway to other locations in South India. In fact, all those wishing celebrations of the Dravidian and anything else, why don’t they organise similar celebrations on a voluntary ­basis?

Approaching the matter from another angle, can we deny that the city itself is a colonial creation? The seat of the Government is still in what was the first British possession in the whole of India. Several institutions that our metro swears by, such as the Corporation, the Legislature, the University, the General Hospital and the transport services, to name a few, are all colonial creations. Should we not be abandoning them all and reverting to ancient practices if the pre-British period is all that deserves to be commemorated? Why not shift the capital itself to some ancient town and when setting it up ensure that no vestige of overseas elements is reflected in it? Let’s face it, Madras has been the capital for 67 years AFTER ­independence as well. There is enough and more to celebrate from that period also.

Madras Week, as we said, is a celebration of our city. It is where we live, earn our money, educate our children and plan our future. It deserves to be ­rejoiced in and its achievements need to be highlighted to the world. At an age when the smallest of matters are tweeted and broadcast across the globe, why cannot Chennai with its vast record of achievements not stand up and speak of its glories? Even if it does not have an official stamp, as some celebrations in the past, have had, that the people have spoken loud and clear for the celebrations is all that matters. After all, another great Chennai success, the ­December Music Season, has survived and grown over 87 years without official ­support. May Madras Week ­follow suit.

Plain tales on Old Madras

September 14, 2014

Madras Week also saw several sidekicks of the Chief making it big on the small screen. The actor, the writer/entrepreneur (as he calls himself), and the photo­grapher were all there, rather in the manner of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. One of these program­mes also had a former ­Member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly holding forth on the history of the city. The man, who rejoices in the name of the powerful God who wielded the plough, had apparently represented Park Town at one time and, so, considers himself quite an authority. And so he gave all viewers a lesson in ­history.

It was then that The Man from Madras Musings realised that the Chief has all along been hoodwinking us with his version of the history of ­Madras. The former MLA claimed that the area we know of as Town was in reality two parts – George Town and Black Town. The for­mer, he claimed, was a white ­enclave where apar­­theid was strictly follow­ed. The ‘dirty natives’, he said, were sent to the periphery and there they eked out a precarious living in areas such as Roya­puram, Wall Tax Road and Park Town. All this was said with a breezy insouciance that only a politician can bring to a subject that he knows nothing about. If MMM had been on the spot he could have asked the man as to how was it then that most of the streets of George Town were named ­after Indian dubashes.

The former MLA then moved on to wax eloquent on the Cooum which, he said, is one of the longest rivers in the country, becoming Buc­king­­ham Canal when in the city! If this be the level of knowledge of our lawmakers, is it any wonder that the Town and the river are in such bad shape?!

At yet another event, an ­officer from the country’s ­oldest civic body chose to make his speech in song. The burden of the song by a Nati­o­nal Poet was whe­ther, ­after making a beautiful lute, it could be cast into the mud to destroy it. MMM could not help wondering if the song ought not to be adopted by the Corporation as its ­anthem, for it appeared to be doing to the city exactly what the poet had written about the stringed ­instrument.

And that brings MMM to another event. A heritage walk in the vicinity of the ­Sacred Tank of Lilies was about to begin. One of the Chief’s acolytes was just clearing his throat prior to leading the tour when a clear-voiced participant ask­ed if the roads to be tra­versed were ‘mucky’. MMM wondered if any ­tho­rough­fare in the city was anything else but that.


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