This stands inside the Law College in Madras. It doubles up as smokers corner judging by the number of cigarette packs lying around. What is amazing is the weathering course of this monument. Not a drop of water, and when I visited it had just rained, enters the chamber below the obelisk.
Interestingly Elihu Yale married Catherine, Joseph Hynmer’s wife after the latter’s death. David Yale was born to Elihu and Catherine and died young. The monument, built by Elihu Yale, commemorates his friend and his own son. Yale of course lent his name to Yale University as it was through auction of books and other articles gifted by him that the famed institution began life.
Archive for September, 2010
This stands inside the Law College in Madras. It doubles up as smokers corner judging by the number of cigarette packs lying around. What is amazing is the weathering course of this monument. Not a drop of water, and when I visited it had just rained, enters the chamber below the obelisk.
Cockroaches on wheels
The Man from Madras Musings has only a vague recollection of the Testaments New & Old, but he does remember that the pharaoh was visited by a plague of locusts. MMM supposes that in his times the pharaoh must have been the largest employer and today who has that honour but the Indian Railways? MMM is not too sure if the locusts plagued the pharaoh’s carriages but sure enough, the railways are plagued with if not locusts, at least cockroaches.
That is what MMM found on a recent journey from Chennai to Coimbatore. It was an AC 2 tier compartment and by the time the passengers had boarded, they found that their berths were already occupied by creepy crawlies. And the ratio of cockroaches to berths stood at least at 100 to 1 making it therefore quite a crowded coach. Magazines and newspapers were brandished and some of the squatters were squashed but the remaining nimbly hid themselves in the various crevices and nooks that our railway coaches are amply endowed with. Some of the passengers (the human variety that is) impatiently called for the coach attendant while others yelled for the ticket examiner. Both the august functionaries arrived and pleaded inability to do anything about it. And then it all boiled down to what we are all very good at – adjusting to the situation. But while the two-legged variety was willing to live and let live, those with six legs were not. As night advanced, the cockroaches came out to play and made merry.
MMM is all for adjusting and expressing love for flora and fauna but he draws the line at being crawled upon. There was nothing to be done but to remain awake the whole night and be alert for any attacks. And there were plenty of imagined sensations, particularly after the lights were switched off and a few intrepid souls went to sleep. MMM was amazed at their carefree attitude. Some even slept with their mouths open. Imagine if one of the cockroaches was to make bold to peep in! After all mosquitoes are known to do that.
As MMM brooded silently far into the watches of the night, as he believes the expression is, he realised that the cockroaches were but a recent manifestation and rats have been residents in railway coaches for a longer while. Knowing that cats are generally willing to eat rats and lizards are partial to cockroaches, it may be best that the railways begin rearing these two predator varieties. And when they are anyway running Palaces on Wheels, why not a menagerie on wheels as well?
She yelled to conquer
The Man from Madras Musings was recently invited to a high profile event where two musical stars were to perform together. Mails were sent in advance ‘soliciting’ MMM’s gracious presence and phone calls were made, all of which gave the impression to MMM that the organisers were dying for his presence at the concert. And so on the appointed day off went MMM to the venue only to find a scene that was more or less akin to the storming of the Bastille. The auditorium was full and yet a huge crowd was demanding to be let in. The organisers were peering out of the doors once in a while and dragging in whomsoever took their fancy. It was in vain that MMM tried to contact over the cell phone some of the (presumably) pretty young things with dulcet voices that had done the inviting but they had all switched their phones off. And so MMM cooled his heels in the verandah of the auditorium for a while. It was then that he noticed a parallel drama of sorts unfolding on the steps of the auditorium. A small audience that was ever growing was standing in an informal circle around a woman who was exhibiting high dudgeon. “What do these people mean,” shouted the lady, all the while gazing at every one with fiery eyes. “I have come all the way from Besant Nagar for this kind of insult,” she screamed. “At the Music Academy I have a seat reserved in my name,” she shrieked, giving an extraordinarily good imitation of Kannagi at the court of the Pandyan King. MMM half expected her to tweak off her left breast and fling it at the auditorium to set it on fire. But before that happened, one of the organisers appeared and led her in. Such histrionics being beyond the capability of MMM, he was left to his own devices and that meant going home and so to bed as Samuel Pepys said. This was the second instance in recent months that MMM was witness to woman power. The earlier episode was of course that of the woman legislator of Bihar who said it all with flower pots. For those who missed that, a good clear clip is available on you tube. 100% entertainment is assured by MMM.
A gargantuan idol for the Elephant-headed god
“We have come to you for donation,” said the man whom the Man from Madras Musings knew slightly. MMM wondered what the cause was. Some widow remarriage or an orphanage requiring funds perhaps he thought to himself even as he fished out his cheque-book. Having made the payment, it struck MMM rather belatedly that he had not asked what it was for and if he informed his good lady that he had parted with money for causes unknown there would be hell to pay. And so MMM asked and was informed with a bright smile that it was for building a Ganesha idol entirely out of kozhukattais, the sweetmeat that the deity is so fond of. “Last year we made it out of laddu. The previous year it was out of coconuts and the year before that out of grass. Each year, the Lord appears in a dream and informs us as to what he wants to be fashioned out of and then we execute his wishes.” No wonder the world is in such a mess thought MMM, what with God now focusing on strange ways to aggrandise himself. Must be getting on in age.
And where was this confection to be put up asked MMM. The man mentioned one of the busiest intersections of the city. “We always seek police permission,” he added. “They give it readily and also provide full security.” From what wondered MMM. Ants, perhaps. And does the police have a choice anyway? But what of the daily commuter and the road-user whose life will definitely be disrupted because God wants to park himself in the middle of a roadway? Don’t they have a choice as well? And does not God seem entirely to behave like a modern-day politician? He has also collected money, demanded security and also cornered a public spot and disrupted traffic. There was a time when a public celebration for this festival was deemed a historic necessity. Times have changed since then.
What happens to the creation when the festival is over asked MMM. “We immerse it in the sea.” Would it not be better if the eatable is given away to the poor assuming that it does not become rancid by then, asked MMM. “How could we do that?” came the answer. “And don’t you know, it is good for the seawater to have some sugar content to be mixed in it?”
It is now two months since the Heritage Conservation Committee was formed by the State Government. Since then, the committee has recommended that two buildings, namely Bharat Insurance (Kardyll) Building and Gokhale Hall ought not to be demolished. It has also sent out letters to the owners of the 467 buildings/places of historical importance/aesthetic value/popular places as listed in 2008 by the Justice E Padmanabhan Committee and has asked them to desist from making any modifications/alterations/repairs/demolition. But since then, not much has happened by way of progress. And in the meanwhile, buildings, even those listed in the Padmanabhan report, are continuing to vanish.
A partial survey recently undertaken by Madras Musings shows that even before the list was made public this year in conjunction with the appointment of the Heritage Committee, some of the buildings had already gone. These most notably included all the heritage structures inside the Government Estate which were demolished to make way for the new State Assembly and Secretariat- Government House, Gandhi Illam (formerly the Governor’s Guest House), the gates of Government Estate and the Cooum House. So that brings down the tally of listed heritage buildings from 467 to 463. It is noteworthy to point out here that all the above demolished structures were listed as grade 1 buildings in the Padmanabhan Committee report which meant that they were “buildings, precincts or open spaces of national or historic importance and are characterised by their excellence in architectural style, design, technology and material usage/aesthetics and they may be associated with a great historic event, personality, movement or institution. They are and have been prime landmarks of the city.”
If this is the fate of grade 1 buildings in the possession of the Government, the story of buildings owned by other institutions is not much better. Among those privately held, the Roxy Theatre in Purasawalkam (graded as a 2a building – a landmark of the city that forms an important part of the city’s heritage and contributes to the image and identity of the city) has been completely demolished and a shopping complex stands in its place. The Binny’s Recreation Club on Errabalu Chetty Street (grade 2b-buildings/precincts/open spaces that are important in maintaining the character of the locality in which they are cited) has more or less collapsed due to poor maintenance and its entrance is now blocked by a family of squatters.
Galvanised iron sheets have come up around the Harbour Police Station (2a) and it is understood that it will soon be demolished.
The Church has contributed its share too. We have already published in Madras Musings about the repairs going on in Anderson Church (grade 1). In this issue, we carry an independent report of the demolition of the old structures at St Roque’s Church (2a). Another church that has been completely pulled down is CSI St Lukes (2a) in Mandaveli. A wedding hall stands in its place now. The Christian Literature Society Building (2a) on Evening Bazaar Road has also been demolished. Another set of buildings listed in the report comprises the residential quarters of the Government Women and Children’s Hospital on Pantheon Road. Some of the blocks have been demolished and a multi-storey building is coming up there. This was given grade 1 status in the report. Similarly, a whole block of the Kasturba Gandhi Hospital (grade 1) in Triplicane has been torn down and pile foundations are being laid for a multi-storey structure.
It is clear from all this that the listing and the subsequent intimation by letter has not had the desired effect. In fact it appears to have spurred owners to get on with demolition and development. The Committee will therefore need to change its strategy. It will need to begin personal interactions with the owners and advise them on what can be done and what will not be allowed. It will also need to begin to gauge the feelings of the owners and in cases where there is a desire to realise the commercial value locked up in the property, it must step in and ensure that those desirous of maintaining heritage properties come forward and take the place over, after paying market rates to the owners. All this is not easy, but this is the only way ahead. The Committee will also need to lobby hard with the Government for the passage of a Heritage Act. And it will also need to look beyond this list and see what other buildings/precincts are worth protection.
Lastly, a small committee cannot monitor the well-being of so many buildings. It will need to get voluntary help from residents in various localities to do this. These people can alert the committee as and when any heritage building in their vicinity sees a sudden spurt of activity. For this, the list of buildings protected by the Committee will need to be made public. Madras Musings will publish the list in instalments. This issue covers the buildings in Fort St George and North Chennai.
This article is a sequel to what I wrote in the last issue of Sruti. I had mentioned in it that Colletpet may not have been sanctified by a composition but it deserved to be termed a Sangeetha Sthalam for the way it fostered the arts. But even as I typed those lines in a hurry I had a hunch that I may be wrong in stating that there are no compositions in praise of Kalyana Varadaraja Swami. A couple of days ago I visited the Music Academy library and looked up Gana Manjari, a compilation of the compositions of Veenai Krishnamachariar, the younger brother of Tiger Varadachariar and discovered to my delight that most of his compositions are dedicated to this deity. In fact Krishnamachariar’s mudra was Padmapuri Varada or minor variants of that term. The book has 12 varnams and around 30 compositions and almost all of them are in praise of either Kalyana Varadaraja or Rama who is enshrined in a sanctum in the same temple complex. Colletpet apparently was also referred to as Padmapuram by the local inhabitants and Krishnamachariar had used this term in his songs.
The book, published in 1966 by Kalakshetra is a compilation of Krishnamachariar’s songs by Dr Alamelu Govindarajan and has an introduction by C Seshachalam, the proprietor of the famed Curzon & Co which specialises in furniture and is identified with its landmark building on Mount Road. He writes that Colletpet played an important role in the musical moulding of Krishnamachariar. According to him, Krishnamachariar’s (and Tiger’s) father was Uttama Bhagavata Matam Sri Ramanujachariar Swamy who lived with “his good lady who was endowed with an uncommonly high musical talent” at Kalathur near Tiruvallur. And when Krishnamachariar and his brothers were young, the family migrated to Colletpet which was then “a quiet agraharam, set in a sea of calm acres of swaying and soughing coconut palm groves,” with in its centre the temple to Kalyana Varadaraja. Wonder what happened to all that?
Seshachalam wrote that “As a near-at-hand tranquil oasis, many of the progressive and prosperous Arya Vysya merchant princes found in Collet Pettah a desirable haven for weekends, away from the noise and bustle of metropolitan Chennapatna. Many were the houses with traditional inner courtyards, sheltered koodams and shady pyols, flowing with holiday hospitality and cultured leisure. The fabulously wealthy Calavala family was prominent in this circle; as also their nephews, my forebears, the not-so-wealthy Chimata Brothers- Namberumal, Alavandar and Ramanujam, familiarly known as ‘Wenlock’ and ‘Curzon’ Chettiars. They were fine connoisseurs and generous devotees of music, which characteristic they obviously inherited from their father, Chimata Krishnaswami Chetty, who for the pure pleasure of it, was Cello instructor in Fort St George!”
Among the Chimata Brothers, Namberumal was a vainika and helped the Tachur Brothers in bringing out their books. It was thanks to him that Krishnamachariar’s musical talents were discovered and he was apprenticed under Pancha Tala Neelakanta Sastry, an expert in the field. Krishnamachariar was ever grateful to the Chimata family for this and according to Seshachalam, “almost became a member of the family, always accompanying them on their pilgrimages and picnics also.”
It was also thanks to the Chimata family that Krishnamachariar acquired his prefix of Puliyodarai. Once the Curzon Chettiars were offering worship at the Triplicane temple of Parthasarathy and there was a crisis in the madapali. Krishnamachariar had to lend an active hand in the making of the Puliyodarai and it was found to be top class. That evening, he made his musical debut at the shrine and word got around that the singer was the man who had turned out the tasty offering in the morning and the name of the dish permanently became his prefix.
On Krishnamachariar’s compositions Seshachalam wrote that they were “precise, logical, with a carillon purity of well-defined musical syllabification, faithfully and wholly in accord with sampradaya. His varnams are true models of raga forms. They help the students to get a total picture of unerring bold strokes- doubtless a broad, sound, sure and safe foundation for later superstructure and embellishment. Specially noteworthy is his varnam in raga Byagada, in that though it is its very life breath, ‘Nishada’ is not pronounced at all. Of course it is intoned. This ingenious, daringly uncommon bold device, is designed to help the practitioner to appreciate nuances, abstracted from the bondage to swara. I wonder if there are any other compositions of this type. I know of no other similar essay.” The varnam is addressed to Kalyana Varadaraja.
Krishnamachariar later settled in Bangalore where he ran the Arya Gana Vidyalaya. He is said to have been proficient in handling a variety of musical instruments also till he suffered from a paralytic stroke that left his right foot and the little finger of his right hand immobilised. In later years he was with Kalakshetra where he set the Kutrala Kuravanji to music. Krishnamachariar passed away in 1947.
A list of varnams and songs he composed on Colletpet are given below:
1. Muddu gumma madanuni – Kharaharapriya/Adi
2. Chiguruboni ninnedabasi – Mohanam/Adi
3. Papa jati maruni – Arabhi/Adi
4. Ninnu nammina maguva – Ananda bhairavi/Adi
5. Sarasudani ninnu – Kanada/Adi (this is on Tirupati Venkateswara and Padmapuri Varada)
6. Pankajakshipai – Shanmukhapriya/Adi
7. Palumaru ninnu – Athana/Adi
8. Sarasangi marulu – Sarasangi/Adi
9. Garavinchi yelukonduvani- Purvikalyani/Adi
10. Manjula veni – Natabhairavi/Adi
11. Taralakshini baya- Saveri/Mishra Jhampa
12. Pagalu reyi – Begada/Ata
Kritis – Paranmukhudai -Bhairavi/Deshadi, Vidyayam dellapudu – Shankarabharanam/Jhampa, Pari pari ninu – Vachaspati/Tishra Laghu – these three kritis addressed to a general divinity and identify the composer as a resident of Padmapuri (Colletpet). The following kritis are addressed to Padmapuri Varada and Padmapuri Rama
1. Vere gatiledani – Vasantha/Adi
2. Karu chichu – Mohana/Deshadi
3. Ni manasu – Kathanakuthoohalam/Deshadi
4. Ne ne maparadhamu – Chayalaga Khamas (from the notation given it does not appear different from the routine Khamas)/Deshadi
5. Padasarojamula nammiti – Nagaswaravali/Tishra Laghu
6. Sadananda svarupa- Kuntalavarali/Tishra Laghu
7. Aparadha memi – Kanada/Jhampa
8. Velavesi diyutakaye- Varali/Deshadi
9. Papatmudani ni madi – Mukhari/Adi
10. Janana badhala – Devamanohari/Jhampa
11. Papatraya harana – Abheri/Adi
12. Dikku lekkuna- Kiravani/Mishra Laghu
13. Papatmulaina pavanula – Shuddha saveri/Deshadi
14. Alasata yemi- Simhendra madhyamam/Deshadi
15. Peddala seva – Kharaharapriya/Adi
16. Mayateetudai – Kalyani/Adi
17. Kanchanamande moksha – Charukesi/Adi
18. Narayana – Jhinjhoti/Adi
19. Nive anatha bandhu – Huseni/Triputa
20. Ikanu ne – Purvikalyani/Jhampa
21. Palimpu vemanna – Harikedaram/Jhampa
22. Manasaraga ninnu – Ananda bhairavi/Adi
23. Anni yerigiyunna – Saveri/Adi
24. Panula mani – Divyamalati/Adi
25. Saraguna ni – Madhyamavati/Tishra Laghu
This morning I was at George Town with an overseas visitor. Our aim was to cover as many pre-Mutiny sites as possible in the course of four hours. Our last stop was Armenian Church. As always, we were welcomed by the warm and friendly caretaker Mr Alexander.
The church is now a sight for sore eyes. And its pristine condition and upkeep speak volumes about the heritage consciousness of the Armenians. It would be significant to point out that Chennai has no Armenians now. And yet, thanks to those of the community from other parts of the world, the Church, along with Armenian Churches in the rest of India was restored a couple of years ago. On completion of the exercise in 2008, the Catholicos (the equivalent of the Pope) of the Armenian Church came to Chennai and reconsecrated the shrine. Today, though no services are held, the church is open to visitors of all faiths between 9.30 am and 2.30 pm. It is a haven of peace and what more do we need in a place of worship?
There are over 300 graves of Armenians in the church. There is a plaque in memory of Coja Petrus Uscan who in the 1750s did much for the city including the building of the St Mathias Church, Vepery, the St Ritas Church, the building of the steps to St Thomas Mount and the Marmalong bridge at Saidapet. A grave that stands by itself with a 1960s monument on it is the one of Shimovinian who in 1794 brought out the first Armenian journal – Azdarar, from Madras.
Lastly, there is the bell tower. You can climb up past angels carved out of plaster and reach the belfry where hang six bells, in three rows. The oldest dates back to the 1750s and has an inscription in Armenian. There are two dating to the 1780s and these are in memory of Shawmier, an Armenian Merchant. Two others date to the 19th century and bear the legend that these were cast by Thomas Mears of London. There is a venerable old one right at the top of which nothing can be made out from where we stand. But you can imagine the sound that they must have made when Madras had no traffic and very little noise other than human voices.
Forgot to put this up
After the party
And so the Madras Week (Fortnight? Month?) celebrations have ended. Or have they? The Chief was in his element- cajoling people to put up exhibitions, host shows, work on presentations and lead walks. And after they had done their bit and imagined that the labourer’s task was over calling them and asking to send the gist of their talk as a piece to Madras Musings. The Man from Madras Musings called it a day after the week, feeling weak and leaving it to the Chief to carry on from sport to sport as MMM believes the expression is. MMM however thoroughly enjoyed the programmes, especially the Chennai Heritage talks. And he enjoyed the hospitality even more. But not as much some others did. MMM is the last one to cavil and carp but the behaviour of some who came to the fest made MMM think that they had stayed on to feast. But it is a poor heart that never rejoices and so MMM is glad that everyone had a good time whether they feasted their eyes, ears or stomachs. In fact MMM has a suggestion- the menu of the day ought to be published along with the programmes for the evening in the rather natty brochure that the Chief brings out. That way those who come to eat can choose their locations.
What got MMM’s goat was the complaint of a woman (one of the lead feasters) that all the locations for the talks were far from where she lived. But when MMM asked her if she could consider hosting a few programmes in her sitting room from the coming year onwards she stopped complaining about this aspect of the talks at least.
Then there was this other person who felt Madras Week was becoming increasingly elitist. But when MMM asked as to why she could not help in making it more populist, complete silence prevailed and then she proceeded to talk of inconsequential things such as clothes and ceramics. The only thing that some people did not complain about or blame the organisers for was the wet weather.
A friend of MMM’s had a frightfully ego-flattening experience. He was scheduled to speak at one of the locations and received a call just as he was setting out. “Sir, I am a fan of yours,” said the voice. MMM’s friend, having paused for a moment to preen thanked the caller. “Sir, you are speaking this evening,” said the voice. MMM’s friend replied in the affirmative. “Sir, are they selling tickets for the talk?” asked the admirer. MMM’s friend said no and then the voice said, “Oh thank you sir. In that case I will be there,” and rung off. MMM’s friend did not know how to react to that. He could have taken comfort from the world of Carnatic music, where such questions are commonplace. In fact there is a theory that the art form survives entirely because of free downloads over the internet and “All are welcome” concerts.
Getting back to the Madras Week celebrations, MMM wonders as to what would happen if the Chief did think of charging tickets for the talks. His guess is that the free-loaders would all disappear. But then the programmes could comfortably fit into the sitting room of the lady who wanted them all close to her home.
Murphy’s Law or whatever that is which governs things going wrong was in full attendance when it came to technology during Madras Week. There was this presentation where the power failed just when the power point had loaded on to the laptop. That meant that the projector switched off. It was a small venue and fairly crowded at that rather resembling the Black Hole of Calcutta. While everyone was wringing hands and saying how sad it all was, it was left to the Chief to point out the bright side. The laptop was still working thanks to its battery and the Chief suggested that it be turned towards the audience and the presentation proceeded with. It beats the Man from Madras Musings as to how a man who professes to know nothing about modern technology can come up with such brainwaves. Or is it because he is completely removed from the world of chips (if they are not of the tapioca/potato variety), mails (what is not delivered by postmen that is) and does not believe in any form of electronics?
Anyway, the speaker did what the Chief recommended and everyone crowded around the speaker and peered into the laptop screen, reminding MMM of the old bioscopes where on paying a coin and being asked to look into a tube you saw London, Rome and Paris. Only this time the speaker had to press keys on his keyboard to keep shifting the slides and in the pitch darkness he could not see any. A candle was produced and by holding that over the laptop he progressed with his presentation. It was truly a wedding of modern technology with an age-old technique. The only aspect that MMM was distressed at was the sight of the speaker dripping sweat and candle wax over the laptop. And just as the presentation ended the lights came on as though a divine hand had pressed the switch. The Chief suggested that the slides be run though once again on the big screen and that was done.
At yet another venue, where a brilliant set of photographs concerning the Nawabs of Arcot was to be a part of a talk, the laptop and LCD projector, after what appeared to be a truly blessed union, fell out and refused to talk to each other. The LCD displaying a rather strong mind of its own insisted in displaying what appeared to be a brightly coloured mat from Tirunelveli which closer investigation revealed was caused by a loose contact in a cable. It was subsequently discovered that channels of communication between LCD and laptop were open only at a certain angle which involved a technician kneeling on stage and holding on to the laptop while the presentation progressed.
The highlight of that evening for MMM was however the behaviour of a cell phone. The man who had brought it had put in on vibrator mode and placed it inside his plastic topped suitcase. Halfway through the presentation there began emanating from the vicinity of this member of the audience strangely digestive noises of the breaking wind variety. People around sat up to stare in disbelief. Had he feasted rather freely on the vadas, laddu and tea wondered MMM. But it turned out to be the cell phone. It had suddenly begun to vibrate and was rubbing against the top of the plastic. The owner of the phone initially tried to ignore it with an airy wave of his hand but after sometime the variety of sounds became truly embarrassing and he had to hastily dive into his suitcase and retrieve the phone after which silence prevailed and everyone reverted to the presentation.
Seen by the Man from Madras Musings in a document profiling someone- “he is a heritage enthusiastic.” As long as the enthusiasm is there, MMM guesses he ought to be thankful. Also seen by MMM at a cinema theatre – “Entry only through backside”. There ought to be a law against such things, though MMM is all for freedom of choice.
It was only in the last issue of Madras Musings that we had written about religious institutions paying scant attention to conservation of heritage monuments under their care, though they ought to be leading the way in this matter, for tradition, culture and heritage ought to be the some of the concerns of those involved in the faiths. Of late, there has been a spate of repair and renovation work undertaken at several shrines. While such activities are very important, what is not good is the manner in which they are being done with no thought being given to sound heritage restoration and conservation principles.
A recent visit to the historic Anderson’s Church on NSC Bose Road shocked me. The rear of the altar has been completely covered with tiles. The roof has been dismantled and the interior of the church is open to the elements. And on that particular day it was raining quite heavily. Nothing remains of the richly carved wooden pews which once filled the church. It is quite likely that these have been stored carefully somewhere else, but the sight of one solitary pew lying in the front verandah does not give such confidence. The Church also used to have a few memorial tablets but except one which is on the rear wall, all the others have been removed and a few were lying in the compound. What used to be the central aisle is filled with debris. There is no information anywhere as to who is doing the restoration and what is the timeframe for the work. It was early in the morning when this correspondent visited the Church and the edifice was open to just about anyone who wanted to walk in. This is of course a primary requirement for a house of God but when restoration work is in progress such carelessness is not desirable. What was amazing that even amidst such chaos a few people had come to pray and were kneeling wherever space permitted. It is not clear if the Anderson Church is a lime mortar structure but its present restoration makes liberal use of cement. This again is not an advisable route to follow and it is clear that the Church authorities in their zeal for renovation have not chosen to consult any technically qualified person who is well-versed in conservation also.
This historic church was built as an adjunct to the Madras Christian College which was housed in a series of buildings fronting the Esplanade before the institution shifted its school to Chetpet and the college to Tambaram in the 1930s. Since then the buildings that housed the MCC have been brought down one by one and the Anderson’s Church is the only reminder of that educational institution’s tenure at George Town.
The story does not end with Anderson’s Church. Right across the city, there are several temples whose gopurams are being brought down to build new ones. Sanctum sanctorums are being covered with polished granite or glazed tiles, thereby irretrievably covering up valuable inscriptions. Temples interiors are being air-conditioned with walls being pierced to make way for cooling ducts. Liberal usage of sand-blasting of sculptures continues regardless of such procedures being banned. In the name of security, collapsible shutters and grille-gates are being put up at any convenient spot with no thought to nearby pillars and sculptures that may suffer permanent damage.
It is high time that the Heritage Conservation Committee appointed by the Government of Tamil Nadu makes an effort to include religious precincts in its list and sends them letters asking for complete cessation of all such work unless they are overseen and supervised by those qualified to restore heritage structures. This needs to be done quickly failing which our temples, churches and mosques will lose whatever antiquity they possess. Without that vital element, all claims that these locations can make to represent our traditions will sound hollow.
Anna and Madras
As extracted from Anna, the Life and Times of CN Annadurai, by R Kannan. A Viking imprint from Penguin
The recent biography of CN Annadurai or Anna, one of the icons of Tamil Nadu, by R Kannan has received its fair share of publicity, reviews, praise and criticism in the popular press. When read from the point of view of a person interested in the history of Madras, the book throws a lot of light on various incidents in the life of Anna in which the city had an important role to play.
It was an irony that the man who propounded rationalism should have arrived into this world at Kanchipuram, a town known for its shrines and mutts. Born there on 15th September 1909 to Natarajan, a self-styled village scribe and his wife Bangaru, Anna was brought up by his maternal aunt Rajamani. His early schooling was at the Pacchaiyappa’s School in Kanchipuram, named after the famed Dubash of Madras whose earnings still support educational causes. In 1928, Anna moved to Madras, where he enrolled for the two-year intermediate course at Pacchaiyappa’s College on China Bazaar (now NSC Bose) Road. The book says that he lived in a rented “small, inexpensive room, one of a row in a building occupied by low-income tenants with large families.” Regretfully, the location is not mentioned.
At Pacchaiyappa’s College Anna noted “the history of ancient Greece and the price of goods being sold outside reached the students ears at the same time.” He was to be greatly influenced by Professor Varadarajan who taught English even while studying Law at the Madras Law College. Anna described this mentor as “as holding the force of a storm against authoritarianism but being as gentle as a breeze with the students.” Varadarajan lived in a one room tenement at Mannady and this became the place where Anna was politically baptised. At the Pacchaiyappa’s College he was to also be influenced by Professor Venkatasamy who introduced him to the concept of social justice. The Tamil professors Mosur Kandasamy Mudaliar and Mani Tirunavukkarasu Mudaliar opened Anna’s eyes to the beauties of the Tamil language which was to become another lasting love in his life. In 1931, Anna having topped the intermediate exam was able to join the BA honours programme, thanks to the intervention of Chinnathambi Pillai, the Principal who ensured that a scholarship for the same was made available to the indigent boy. Pillai was to famously remark to a colleague that “a bright future awaits this youngster; he is going to savour the lusty cheers of lakhs of people, he will change the motherland into a happy place.”
In college, Anna shone as a keen debater and writer and acquired a steady fan-following. He became the general-secretary of the college students union in 1931 and two years later became president of the college’s Economics Association. During his college years, he was also married to Rani, a bride his family selected for him. After his graduation, Anna worked briefly as a Tamil tutor at the Govindappa Naicker Middle School which functioned in the same building as his college. He left it, attracted by the possibility of effecting social reform through an active role in politics.
The South Indian Liberal Federation or the Justice Party as it was better known, was then in the throes of decline. While in the 1920s it had formed governments, in the 1930s it could do so only when the Congress boycotted polls and in 1934, it suffered a complete rout at the hustings. On Professor Varadarajan’s recommendation, Anna became assistant editor of a daily brought out by the Rajah of Bobbili who was Premier of Madras between 1932 and 1934. He was also friendly with P Balasubramaniam who was bringing out the Sunday Observer, another publication that represented Justice interests. Through these channels, Anna became close to the powers-that-be of the party. In an effort to stem the rot, the party had then embraced EV Ramaswami Naicker (EVR)’s Self-Respect movement and this attracted Anna above everything else. He was to be a regular speaker at the Self-Respect Movement’s Youth Association premises at Mannady. EVR and Anna were in Anna’s biographer’s words, to become “political father and son.”
In 1935, at the instance of MA Muthiah Chettiar, Anna was given the Peddunaickenpet ward ticket by the Justice Party in the elections to the Madras Corporation. In a pitched campaign Anna was to ridicule the usage of ornamental lights in temples when slums were in darkness. This was used by his Congress rival M Balasubramaniam to his advantage, claiming that if Anna was elected he would remove lights from temples. Anna lost but in the process of canvassing made several friends in North Madras. In 1937, Anna was once again in the limelight, this time for the anti-Hindi agitation. The C Rajagopalachari led Congress government had made Hindi mandatory in schools from class VI to class VIII. Periyar EVR, who had always questioned the status of Hindi and believed that among South Indians it was only Brahmins who learned the language to further their employment opportunities, launched a province-wide agitation. The Hindu High School in Mint Street was one of the many places where picketing was done by way of protest, a method that to Rajaji smacked strongly of a parody of Satyagraha. In 1938, arrests of those protesting against Hindi began and Anna was interned on 21st September 1938 at Saidapet. He was released along with others following the resignation of the Congress government owing to the declaration of the Second World War. The Governor of Madras withdrew the decision to make Hindi compulsory and peace was restored.
The end of the anti-Hindi agitation saw EVR becoming the leader of the Justice Party and he floated the concept of a Dravida Nadu, a “separate, sovereign and federal republic made up of the four Dravidian language areas.” Anna, the faithful follower, espoused the cause and it was to find another and rather unlikely supporter in Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who while addressing the All India Muslim Conference in Madras in April 1941 said “I have every sympathy and shall do all to help…establish Dravidistan where the 7% Muslim population will stretch out its hands of friendship and live with you on the lines of security, justice and fair play.” Anna later also wrote that “Muslims are but Dravidians on an Islamic path.” Jinnah for his part also told the Governor of Madras that India needed to be divided into Dravidistan, Hindustan, Bengalistan and Pakistan. It was left to Sir Stafford Cripps leading his eponymous mission to pour cold water on the Dravidistan idea. He simply refused to countenance it and Jinnah, despite EVR writing to him for help, distanced himself from the idea. But to EVR and Anna, the concept of Dravida Nadu had come to stay and could not be so easily given up.
In the years leading up to independence Anna and EVR extended their reformist zeal to spirited attacks on the Kamba Ramayanam and Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam. It was EVR’s opinion that these were works glorifying Aryan supremacy. On 9th February 1943, Anna debated with Sethu Pillai on both the works at the Law College, Madras. His oratorical skills carried the day. During this period, while he was editing EVR’s publications, Kudiarasu and Viduthalai, Anna also launched his own weekly, the Dravida Nadu on 8th March 1942 from Kanchipuram. He was by then residing at Karupanna Mudali Street, Madras. His unconventional writing style and his new thoughts were to attract several youngsters and they all flocked to his home. His biographer notes that “after Anna returned from a meeting or play, the house would grow boisterous. An old gramophone would come alive with film songs. Against this backdrop would ensue a serious discussion on everything under the sun…” Sometimes the whole group would decide to go to Kanchipuram. Anna would lead the band to Kotwal Chawadi where they would simply hitch a ride on a truck going back after unloading produce. They would sit in the rear after spreading some hay. If the trucks had left then they would proceed to Egmore to catch the 10.30 pm train to Chingleput. There they would spend the night on the platform before taking the first train in the morning to Kanchipuram.
Dravida Nadu needed money for its continued running and so Anna decided to script plays. He founded the Dravida Drama Troupe and performed roles himself. His maiden play was Chandrodayam debuting formally in EVR’s presence at Erode. With its success, Anna was to find himself attracting actors, left on a limb by the Congress with Satyamurti’s passing. Several famous names attached themselves to his bandwagon, sowing the seeds for the performing arts-politics connect that Tamil Nadu became famous for. EVR was not comfortable with artistes but tolerated them for Anna’s sake. In any case he had other matters to think of. In 1944, he announced that the Justice Party would be rechristened the Dravida Kazhagam. The old guard opposed this and the party split with the rump being retained by Sir PT Rajan. EVR and Anna walked off with the majority. But the two were to soon fall out. To EVR, 15th August 1947 was a day of sorrow as it was a ‘British-Bania-Brahmin Contractual Day’ and his agenda of a Dravida Nadu was still as inchoate as ever. But Anna differed. To him 15th August was a day of joy and he wrote as much in his weekly. He debated within himself and with his friends at compatriot Era Sezhian’s home at Sembudoss Street, Madras before voicing his dissenting view in public. The mentor and sishya came briefly together during the Anti Hindi Conference in Madras in 1948 to protest the compulsory introduction of Hindi in junior classes in schools. But after that they went their ways. The rift widened in 1949 with EVR’s decision to marry Maniyammai, his junior by several years and his entrusting the party to her. That year, Anna and his followers met at a house in Muthialpet, Madras and took the decision of floating a separate party- the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The party was launched on 17th September at a meeting in Robinson Park, North Madras. The office of the new entity was at a member’s house on Coral Merchant Street. It later shifted to Mint Street and finally through funds raised from Anna’s plays, acquired its own property, Arivagam in North Madras. The same year, Anna also staged plays and collected Rs 20,000 for the Pacchaiyappa’s College. The party grew in stature and in 1951 when it organised its fist state-level conference at the Island Grounds, Madras, the space was filled with people. Anna began by addressing his men as ‘Kazhaga kanmanigal’. This was received with lusty cheers but the phrase has since become commonplace in today’s politics.
The success of the new party notwithstanding, EVR and Anna would collaborate again, and again, on issues. The first was in 1950 when the provision for affirmative action in the Constitution of India was challenged in the High Court of Madras. The Court’s judgement favoured the petitioners and this was protested against by EVR who called for a ‘full closure’ on 14th August 1950. Anna supported this call and joined the protest march down Broadway. The Supreme Court upheld the Madras High Court’s judgement but with Kamaraj, by then a very important player from Madras in the Congress throwing his weight behind Anna and EVR, the first amendment to the Constitution took place in 1951, overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling. It was to be the first of several such social revisions, many of them emanating from Madras where thanks to EVR, Anna and others, awareness was high. Next, EVR and Anna joined forces to protest against Rajaji’s ‘kula-kalvi thittam’, a scheme that envisaged vocational training based on hereditary caste-based professions. The idea cost Rajaji his job as Chief Minister and Kamaraj who had opposed it, succeeded him. The appointment of a man of the masses as CM was considered a success of their own protests by the DK and DMK men. EVR and Anna would also come together in their agitation against the imposition of Hindi repeatedly, in 1957, 1960 and most famously 1963. In the last instance, the protest was against Hindi becoming the official language of India. Anna would be arrested for the last time, at the Aminjikarai police station on 16th November, a day prior to the proposed burning of the Indian Constitution. The Bhaktavatsalam administration clamped down on the agitationists and several were arrested. This turmoil was also to claim the first death by self-immolation for a cause – that of Chinnasami of Tiruchi, a DMK cadre. Anna and others were to be released in 1964, only to be taken into preventive custody again in 1965 following the outbreak of protests caused by the Central Government circular making it obligatory for government staff above a particular grade to transact in Hindi. On 25th January, 50,000 students from Madras colleges marched from Napiers Park to Fort St George in protest, only to be fired at with tear gas shells by the police. That evening a mammoth meeting was organised at the Marina and a few Hindi books were burnt. The Congress government had alienated the students who in the subsequent elections would prostrate before voters asking them not to vote for that party.
The DMK was in the meanwhile making steady progress in Madras State, the new entity that emerged after the reorganisation of states in 1955. In 1956 it decided after an intra-party poll that the DMK would henceforth contest elections. It fielded candidates both for the Centre and the State in 1957 and won two seats in the former and 15 in the latter. Anna declared that the party would play the role of a constructive opposition. Madras city became one of its bastions. In 1959 the DMK won majority in the elections to the Madras Corporation. In 1962, the party improved its tally in the State elections though the Congress once again formed the government, albeit with a dented majority. Strangely, Anna was defeated, in his home town of Kanchipuram. The Dravida Nadu baggage had proved to be an effective tool to campaign against him. He was branded a secessionist by the Congress. But it was to be a blessing in disguise. Anna was elected to the Rajya Sabha. There the nation got to know of him. It was also here that he famously suspended forever the Dravida Nadu demand. The National Integration Committee headed by Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer had recommended the forbidding of secessionist advocacy and this was incorporated into the Constitution following the 16th amendment. Shortly thereafter came the Chinese aggression and it became a convenient excuse for Anna. He called for the suspension of the Dravida Nadu demand. On 3rd October 1962, he addressed a meeting at the Marina and compared his action to the suspension of the Dravida Nadu demand by EVR when the Second World War was declared.
In 1966, the DMK staged a four-day party conference at Virugambakkam, then a suburb of Madras. It took six hours for the procession to pass through and was an indication of the party’s strength. Rajaji was present in person to bless everyone. Rs 11 lakhs by way of election funds, was handed over to Anna by Kalaignar M Karunanidhi who was treasurer of the party. It was a record amount for the DMK and indicated that the party had come a long way from its beginnings in Muthialpet. In the 1967 elections, the DMK swept Madras state, winning all 25 parliamentary seats and 138 out of the 173 assembly seats. Anna became Chief Minister, on 6th March, being sworn in along with his cabinet by Governor Ujjal Singh at the Rajaji Hall.
Sadly, he was to remain in power and be alive for hardly two years. In July 1967, he would face his first administrative challenge when a fire engulfed one of the largest slums of South Madras. Anna called for an all party meeting and it was decided that no new slums would be allowed to come up in the city. The naivety of the decision is perhaps reflective of the fundamental innocence and idealism of the man at the helm. The first bye-election post his coming to power was at the South Madras parliamentary constituency and this was won by the DMK, indicating that the fire notwithstanding, the party’s popularity was intact.
In July 1967, the DMK government passed a resolution renaming Madras state as Tamil Nadu. In January 1968, the Government hosted the Second International Tamil Conference in Madras. A row of statues of those who contributed to Tamil was erected along the Marina. A day prior to this, Anna’s own statue was unveiled on Mount Road by Sir A Ramaswami Mudaliar. On January 3rd, there was a parade comprising floats down the Marina, all of them depicting Tamil history and heritage. Delegates from 40 countries participated in the six-day long conference. Rather coincidentally, the Government of India amended its Official Languages Act, stating in effect that Hindi would become the official language of the nation only when all non-Hindi speaking states adopted a resolution to that effect. The joy that this would have given Anna was however dampened by the succeeding resolution passed by parliament which aimed at the progressive use of Hindi as the official language. In Madras, disturbances broke out once again but this time Anna was not for any agitation involving students. He spent five nights talking to them and finally convinced them that adopting constitutional means was the best way. The Madras assembly passed a resolution on 23rd January eliminating Hindi from all school curricula.
Politics that had entered the Law College in Anna’s youth became heightened with time and in March 1968, Anna faced his last administrative challenge from Madras city. There was a clash between the college students and busmen and this spread to the Madras Medical College. Once again Anna was to display great sensitivity in handling the situation.
The book does not mention it but in 1968 Madras hosted the World Trade Fair. The venue became the city’s fastest growing suburb – Anna Nagar. In September 1968, Anna was diagnosed with cancer. He flew to the US for treatment and returned on 6th November to Madras to an overwhelming reception. He stayed at Agriculture Minister A Govindasami’s bungalow, Anbu, specially fitted with an air-conditioner as stipulated by his doctors. But his health was steadily deteriorating. On 2nd December he participated in the celebrations connected with the renaming of the State. The question over Anna’s health hung like a cloud over the state through most of December and January. On the 20th of January 1969 Anna fell unconscious and was admitted to the Adyar Cancer Institute. Ramnath Goenka flew in at his own expense doctors from the US and also funded the surgeries that followed. But it was all to no avail for Anna died on 3rd February 1969. The body lay in state for homage by millions of mourners. The greatest funeral procession the world had witnessed, entering into the Guinness Book of Records, unfolded the next day in Madras city as the state tearfully bid farewell to the man it loved. A grand memorial would later come up for him at the Marina, the beachfront where thousands of his followers had been mesmerised by his oratory and erudition.
Couldn’t get in! What is called pey koottam in Tamil