Archive for the ‘Chennai (Madras) History’ Category

Father, Son and The Hindu

December 6, 2014

Between SVK, The Hindu’s music critic and his father SVV the humourist, they wrote for the paper for almost a century. The article appeared in The Hindu dated December 6, 2014 under the Hidden Histories column.

The quotes from SVV’s works in this article are taken from two sources:

A compilation of SVV’s articles titled At a Dinner and published by Alliance & Co in 1986

Hundred Years of The Hindu, the Epic Story of Indian Nationalism, by Rangaswami Parthasarathy, 1978

Moore Market – A Loved and Lost Landmark

December 2, 2014
Moore Market

Moore Market

One of the most remembered landmarks of Madras, this is an edifice that is still missed, particularly as the Christmas and New Year’s season begins. It was the brainchild of Lt Col Sir George Moore, President of the Corporation of Madras in the 1890s. He was of the view that a market at a central location would solve two problems – get rid of the old and insanitary market off Broadway and provide a home for hawkers who sold their wares at a place called Guzili Bazaar between Memorial Hall and Central Station.

The foundation stone for the building was laid by Sir George in August 1898 and the completed structure was thrown open to the public by Governor Sir Arthur Havelock in November 1900. The design was by R.E. Ellis and the contractor was A. Subramania Aiyar. The architecture was Indo-Saracenic and the market occupied 40,000 sq ft. It took its name from Sir George Moore. Located as it was between Central Station and Victoria Public Hall, it soon proved to be exceedingly popular.

The Corporation Handbook of 1950 gives us details of how the market looked and was divided: “Quadrangular in shape, with an open space in the centre laid out as a garden and with arcades all around, the market is a great convenience to the middle and upper classes of the population. It is well ventilated and kept in a clean condition. To the east and north of the Market are the supplementary structures called Hawkers’ Stalls allotted to the vendors of worn-out and second-hand goods, who formerly vended their wares in what was known as the Guzili Bazar near the Memorial Hall.”

But to get an idea of its true colour and chaos you need to read the account of veteran Tamil writer SaVi. This was part of a series that he wrote about popular landmarks of the city in the 1950s under the title Inge Poyirukkirirgala (Have you been here?). Moore Market emerges from SaVi’s pen as a place of hustle and bustle – there are second-hand goods shops for anything and everything, the central courtyard is filled with fancy goods that attracted women, bookshops abounded as did toy shops, and there was a section devoted to meat and to live birds to be sold as pets. Hawkers surrounded visitors and, unfortunately, so did pickpockets. There were palmists, acrobats and even a proselytiser or two, eager to make a conversion!

It is, however, as a mecca for second-hand books and gramophone plates that Moore Market is chiefly remembered today. It was a must on every tourist’s itinerary as much as Calcutta’s New (Hogg’s) Market continues to remain one.

Moore Market’s heydays lasted till the 1970s. It thereafter began to go to seed though it remained filled with people and did roaring business.

Pressure on urban space began mounting in Madras in the 1980s. The railways wanted land for expansion. And when the market rather conveniently caught fire in 1985, it was doomed. The railways could have saved the structure and creatively reused it, but that was not to be. The building made way for a tasteless piece of high-rise that is in no way in harmony with what surrounds it. In front of this building, in a small patch of lawn, stands a scaled down model of Moore Market. It is a fine piece in its own way, but its maintenance is shocking, to say the least.

The vendors in Moore Market were hastily accommodated in a new building, which was built on land reclaimed by filling in the beautiful Lily Pond. But somehow it never caught on. The vendors vanished one by one and those that remain sell gimcrack goods. Strangely enough, Guzili Bazar has survived and continues to function from behind Central Station.

You may want to read about other landmarks:

The Egmore Railway Station

The Meenambakkam Terminal

The Gurudwara on GN Chetty Road

Kalaivanar Arangam

The Corporation Zoo

Victory House

Gemini Studios

Old Woodlands Hotel

The Oceanic Hotel

My Ladyes Garden

Connemara Hotel

The Airlines Hotel

Everest Hotel

Modern Cafe

Dasaprakash

The Eastern and Western Castlets

The Madras Bulwark

Memorial to a multifaceted man

November 28, 2014
Sri Balasubramania Bhakta Jana Sabha

Sri Balasubramania Bhakta Jana Sabha

The Sri Balasubramania Bhakta Jana Sabhai stands on TTK Road near its intersection with Avvai Shanmugam (Lloyd) Road, a route that is my daily beat. Given its close association with the great Thiru Vi Kalyanasundara Mudaliar or Thiru Vi Ka (1883-1953), I would each time resolve to visit the place ‘soon’. But what with the traffic conditions at that corner, I kept putting it off. Last week, I made the pilgrimage on foot, and I am glad I did.

Thiru Vi Ka was many things rolled into one – Tamil scholar, writer, editor, publisher, spiritualist, patriot and labour leader. Royapettah was his base since childhood, for his father ran a wholesale grain shop here. He studied at the Wesley College High School on Westcott Road. Royapettah High Road is therefore appropriately named after this great man.

While at school, Thiru Vi Ka was greatly influenced by the Tamil scholar Jaffna Kathiravel Pillai. Both tutor and student were ardent followers of Pamban Swamigal, a devotee of Murugan. When the Swamigal’s followers banded together in 1903 to form the Sri Balasubramania Bhaktha Jana Sabhai, both Kathiravel Pillai and Thiru Vi Ka became associated with it. It had a peripatetic existence till 1915 when TS Balasundara Mudaliar, a devotee, donated the present site. Pamban Swamigal and Kathiravel Pillai laid the foundation stone that year and the simple structure named Guhananda Nilayam, with a garden adjoining it was completed by 1917.

It is however Thiru Vi Ka who is most closely associated with the building for it was here under his guidance that several meetings were held to discuss literary, political and religious matters. Subramania Bharati was a frequent visitor and on April 6, 1919, at Thiru Vi Ka’s request, he composed a poem on Murugan here. The six verses have been inscribed on the wall thanks to the munificence of Bharati’s granddaughter. As the years rolled by, the Sabha was also home to labour meetings – of the unions of Spencer & Co and the Perambur Railway Workshop in particular, of which Thiru Vi Ka was the leader. It also witnessed heated debates on Tamil language with scholars such as Maraimalai Adigal presiding. It was also here that Thiru Vi Ka ideated on most of his fifty books, wandering around the garden. When he passed away, his body was brought to the Sabha before being taken for cremation.

At the behest of Kalki Krishnamurthy, a fund collection drive was launched to convert the garden into a hall commemorating Thiru Vi Ka. Kalki however died soon thereafter and despite the best efforts of MS Subbulakshmi and T Sadasivam, the building took over ten years to be completed. Its beautiful frontage of art deco pillars is now hidden from view thanks to shops that have come up. The Sabha now lets out its premises for events and also features spiritual discourses, lectures and debates. But the thrust and parry of the time when Thiru Vi Ka held court here are now missing.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated November 29, 2014 under the Hidden Histories column

Chennai Landmark – The Egmore Station

November 25, 2014

Egmore Railway Station

Egmore Railway Station

One of the most enduring and endearing landmarks of our city, the Egmore railway station, is 106 years old. It stands on a historic site, for this was where the East India Company converted a standing choultry into a fortified redoubt, early in the 18th Century. It later served as a sanatorium for soldiers and then in the 1800s as a Government Press. The Male and Female Orphan Asylums functioned from here when they moved out of Fort St George in the mid-18th Century. By the late 19th/early 20th Century, a part of this property was owned by Senjee Pulnee Andy (1831-1909). A graduate of the Madras Christian ­College, he became the first Indian to go abroad for a medical degree, qualifying at the University of St Andrew’s in 1860 and becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons a year later. Returning to India, he was appointed Superintendent of Vaccinations, Government of Madras. He converted to Christianity in 1863 and established the Native/National Church of India, which proved to be short-lived. An avid Freemason, he helped establish the Lodge Carnatic in the city in 1883 of which he was the second Master.

Andy’s vast property in Egmore was eyed by the South Indian Railway Company (SIR) as a suitable location for its northern terminus. The SIR resulted from the amalgamation of three companies – the Great Southern Indian Railway Company (GSIRC) established in 1859, the Carnatic Railway Company (CRC) established in 1864, and the Pondicherry Railway Company Limited (PRC) established in the 1870s. The GSIRC operated in the Trichinopoly-Negapatam area while the CRC had its lines in the Conjeevaram-Arkonam region. The PRC was much smaller, limiting itself to eight miles near its headquarters. The SIR was founded in 1874 and took over all three lines.

From then till 1946, when the nationalisation of the railways began, the SIR was a private company, headquartered in Trichinopoly. Its Madras station was Egmore and a photograph in the Sir Robert Stanes collection, now with the Amalgamation Group, testifies to the presence of a station here by the 1880s. But it was only in the early 1900s that the SIR decided to build a proper terminus in the city and negotiations were opened with Pulney Andy. He proved to be a reluctant seller. Spread over 1.83 acres the property had buildings that he considered memorials to his late wife. He wanted them to be used for his Native Church. Also dear to him was an orchard that he had tended on the premises. But with the Collector of Madras bringing pressure to bear, he parted with the land in 1904 for Rs 100,000.

Work began on the station, considered to be larger than London’s Charing Cross, with dimensions of 300ft by 70ft. The design was by Henry Irwin and E. C. Bird. The contractor was T. Samynada Pillai of Bangalore who also ­constructed the Madura and Trichinopoly stations of the SIR. The Egmore ­station cost Rs. 17 lakh to build and was completed in 1908. It was one of the early instances of usage of concrete in Madras. The structure also had another first – incorporation of Dravidian motifs within the Indo-Saracenic genre. The station has had two extensions – one in 1930 and another in 1980. Rather surprisingly, the later addition is more in keeping with the original design than the earlier one – its pyramidal and truncated domes having been described as ­bulbous and squat and “far from an architectural masterpiece”. The elephant logo of the SIR can still be seen over the entrance porch. There were other attractions – a drive-in platform and a stained-glass-and-timber dream of a refreshment room, the latter operated by Spencer’s.

The SIR was amalgamated into the Indian Railways in 1951, becoming the latter’s Southern Railway, the ‘I’ on the SIR logo over the station being painted out to reflect the change. With its wooden stairways and vast cavernous interiors, Egmore remained a tranquil station till the 1980s when, with the population explosion and the burgeoning number of vehicles coming into it and the surroundings, it has become synonymous with chaos. The drive-in platform has vanished. And as for the refreshment room, its stained glass and wooden interior has been buried under tons of plywood and other accretions. The beauty of the station can now be detected only by the most determined observer. While congestion can be an excuse for the shoddy appearance of the station, there can be no forgiving the poor maintenance and lack of upkeep which point to a deeper and a normally common Indian malaise.

You may want to read about other landmarks, some standing, others long gone:

The Meenambakkam Terminal

The Gurudwara on GN Chetty Road

Kalaivanar Arangam

The Corporation Zoo

Victory House

Gemini Studios

Old Woodlands Hotel

The Oceanic Hotel

My Ladyes Garden

Connemara Hotel

The Airlines Hotel

Everest Hotel

Modern Cafe

Dasaprakash

The Eastern and Western Castlets

The Madras Bulwark

The Autorickshaw’s Ancestor

November 22, 2014
A Masulah Boat off the coast of Madras

A Masulah Boat off the coast of Madras

The state government is involved in yet another struggle to bring the autorickshaw drivers of our city under control. All this brings to mind the two-century-long battle that Madras fought against another transport operator — the Masulah boatman. And the two struggles are remarkably similar to each other.

Our city did not have a natural harbour with the surf near the coast being particularly dangerous. Between 1639 and 1875 or so, all ships dropped anchor beyond the surf, at a distance of almost two miles from the coast. This spot came to be known as Madras Roads. The only vessels that could brave the surf and ply to and fro between the ships and the coast were the native masulah boats. Passengers and goods had to use this form of transport when they landed at Madras or embarked on a sea voyage. Over time, given this monopoly, the boatmen became a law unto themselves.

The two-mile ferry service on the native boats to the shore was fraught with risks. As an account put it, “the boatmen waited for a big wave, came in on the crest of it till it was spent, paddled hard to get past the breaking place of the next wave so as to be carried by it right up to the beach. And as they waited outside the surf for a good wave they bargained with their passengers”. Those who did not accede to the boatmen’s demands could be pushed over by means of an accidental rocking of the boat and their goods could also be roughly handled.

For years, the government tried its best to rein in the boatmen but as a writer put it, “they were a gang of rapacious scoundrels who knew themselves to be indispensable and traded on it”. In 1839, the government tried to end the monopoly of a few boatmen who controlled the service by throwing open the supply of boats to public competition. But the boat cartel ensured that no newcomer came forward. In 1842, the government passed an Act by which it was compulsory for boats to be licensed. None of the boatmen applied for it and went on a strike! They “defied the law and plundered property under the very eyes of the watching peons”. The government kept enhancing the rates and also published rate cards to bring some control but to no avail. In the 1860s, it even enacted a rule that every boat should have a policeman on board, no doubt to ensure safety of the passengers and goods. It all sounds terribly familiar doesn’t it?

It was finally technology that put an end to the boatmen. The ships became bigger and steam driven, enabling them to brave the surf. And the harbour works began in 1856, concluding in the early 1900s, enabling ships to dock safely. The boatman and the masulah boat became a thing of the past. Perhaps effective public transport alternatives can control the autos as well.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated November 22, 2014 under the Hidden Histories column

Made in Madras

November 17, 2014

15mp_Hidden_Madras_2207190e

“Make in India” may be the buzz now, but there was a time when ‘to make in Madras’ meant fighting vested interests. The accompanying advertisement may bring old memories — of pencils such as Kohinoor, Ajantha and Spectrum, all sold by V. Perumal Chetty & Sons, and manufactured at their Madras Pencil Factory. That factory closed in the 1990s, but it had a history that stretched to a time when ‘make in Madras’ was considered possible.

It was sometime in 1899 that the Madras government got Alfred Chatterton, of the College of Engineering, to study the potential to set up industries. He did pioneering work in this area, first demonstrating that aluminium could be used in place of brass and copper to make vessels. That effort led to the Indian Aluminium Company (INDAL). The established business houses of Madras, all British-owned, were not happy with this. They were comfortable exporting raw materials to Britain and importing finished goods. Local industrial development they felt would mean Indians would take to it, thereby threatening them with competition.

But Chatterton was undeterred. In 1908, he convinced the Government of Madras to set up a Department of Industries, a first for the entire country. The Swadesi movement led by patriots such as V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was gaining ground then. Chatterton openly sided with the Swadesi Movement, declaring it “a good sign for India to develop her industrial life” and “Madras to rid itself of its character of an overstocked market of literacy employment”. His colleague Frederick Nicholson went a step further, stating that in the matter of Indian industries, “we are bound to consider Indian interests — firstly, secondly and thirdly — I mean by firstly, that local raw products should be utilised; by secondly that industries should be introduced and by thirdly, the profits of such industry should remain in the country.”

Both Chatterton and Nicholson felt that the government would need to set up small industries, which could then be sold to Indians to run. Nicholson established the Fisheries Department and created the Lalita Soap Works in Madras. Chatterton founded the Government (later Madras) Pencil Factory at Korukkupet. He imported wood from East Africa for the pencils and ran advertisements with a strong nationalist slant as you can see, to drum up business.

The business houses of Madras lobbied hard through the Madras Chamber of Commerce and got the Department of Industries closed in 1910. It was only after repeated protests by Indians in the Madras Legislative Council that it was reinstated in 1914. Its resurrection was celebrated with a Madras Industries Exhibition organised by the Department.

The Government operated the pencil factory till 1918 and then put it up for sale. A syndicate of Komati Chettys of Madras, led by the Perumal Chetty clan, bought it and the rest is history. Chatterton and Nicholson were knighted, which is not the kind of reward that civil servants would get today if they went against the establishment for the sake of public interest.

This article appeared in The Hindu under the Hidden Histories column dated November 15, 2014

All about Allbutt

November 7, 2014
The G Venkatapathy Naidu Building, Anna Salai

The G Venkatapathy Naidu Building, Anna Salai

I have to thank fellow heritage enthusiast R. Shantaram for this picture of G. Venkatapathy Naidu Building which used to stand on Mount Road, just next to the Madras Mahajana Sabha and opposite the New Assembly/Secretariat now turned into a multi-specialty referral hospital. It has since been demolished and the vacant plot awaits development.

This article has to do with one occupant of the old building — Allbutt & Co, whose signboard you see at the bottom of the photograph. This was one of the oldest pharmacies in the city, opening in Broadway in 1881. It shifted to Anna Salai/Mount Road in the 1930s. Together with another old pharmacy in the vicinity — JF Letoille that happily survives — Allbutt was a remainder from an era long gone.

The name was always a mystery and Shantaram had done some research on the subject, tracing it to a possible link with Dr. Henry A. Allbutt of England, a Malthusian who did much to propagate birth control techniques in England. He came to grief over the book he wrote on the subject in 1886, titled rather interestingly – The Wife’s Handbook. The General Medical Council found it too modern for its tastes and he was struck off medical register forever.

During the early 1880s, when he was researching the subject, the Madras Malthusian League invited Allbutt to be its patron. In that capacity, he established contact with several leading medical practitioners of India, one of them being Dr. Varadappa Naidu of our city. In 1888, Allbutt translated a French work on medicine into English. The New Handbook of Dosimetric Therapeutics or the Treatment of Diseases by Simple Remedies, was dedicated among others as a “token of admiration, friendship and esteem to Dr. Vurdapah Naidu of The General Hospital Madras, Introducer of Dosimetry into India.” The book has footnote references to Dr. Naidu’s experiences in Madras as well. It is obvious that Dr. Varadappa Naidu, when he set up a pharmacy in the city, named it after his illustrious friend in England.

There was more to Dr Naidu. In his Telugu memoirs, Chinnanati Mucchatlu, Dr. K.N. Kesari, the leading Ayurvedic practitioner of the city records that it was common for Dr. Naidu to refuse fees from poor patients, requesting that they use the money instead to buy milk for their children. He was personally well off, being the hereditary Shrotriemdar (landowner) of the Koyambedu area. In 1908, he gifted Rs. 30,000 and a plot of land in Vepery to the Madras Society for the Protection of Children. The Dr. V. Varadappa Naidu’s Orphanage came up here. This later shifted into vast premises of its own in New Washermanpet, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Naidu’s descendants. It continues to function from there.

As for Allbutt’s, it was run by Dr. Naidu’s kinsman G. Rangiah Naidu for several years. But with the owners of the Venkatapathy Naidu Building wanting to demolish and redevelop the space in 2012, Allbutt’s days were numbered. I wonder where it moved.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated November 8, 2014, under the Hidden Histories column http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/all-about-allbutt/article6574632.ece

You may be interested in the following landmarks as well:

The Meenambakkam Terminal

The Gurudwara on GN Chetty Road

Kalaivanar Arangam

The Corporation Zoo

Victory House

Gemini Studios

Old Woodlands Hotel

The Oceanic Hotel

My Ladyes Garden

Connemara Hotel

The Airlines Hotel

Everest Hotel

Modern Cafe

Dasaprakash

The Eastern and Western Castlets

The Madras Bulwark

The old Meenambakkam terminal

November 6, 2014
Old Meenambakkam ariport

Old Meenambakkam ariport

How many people remember the old air terminal, which is now part of the cargo complex of the Chennai airport? It was a thrilling experience to go there to receive and see off guests. To be able to climb the stairs and watch the flights arrival and take-off was the experience of a lifetime. And if your guest waved at you as he/she got off/walked towards the flight, your cup of joy ran over. A modernist structure very much in the Le Corbusier tradition, it was sufficient for the air traffic of those times.

Flying in Madras began with hotelier D’Angelis who piloted a Madras made aircraft using the Island Grounds as his airstrip. The aeroplane was manufactured by either Simpson or Addison. That was a one off. Some more exhibition flights did take place, including one by J W Madeley, the waterworks engineer. The next attempt was immediately after World War I when the Madras Chamber of Commerce was approached by aircraft manufacturer Sopwith to explore if there was a market in the Presidency. The Chamber was not responsive; such a service ought to run by the Government, it felt. In 1915, the house of Tatas began the Karachi-Madras airmail service, putting the city on the aviation map.

Rather ironically, several members of the Chamber were to be pioneering aviators thereafter. In 1930, the Madras Flying Club (MFC) was founded with William Maurice Browning of Burmah Shell as its first President. He was ably assisted by (Sir) Gerald Hodgson of Parry. Soon the sahibs of other British-owned companies, especially those that had far-flung industrial establishments, such as Beardsell and Binny, joined in. It is significant to note, however, that there were at least 14 Indians as Club members even at its inception; the Chettiar community in particular having a strength of three in the list.

The MFC’s stars were pilot G Vlasto, flight instructor Flt. Lt. H.N. Hawker, Chief Flying Instructor Tyndale Biscoe, and Chief Pilot Instructor Mohammed Ismail Khan. In 1936, Capt. V Sundaram became the first Indian to get a commercial pilot’s licence from Madras, and he flew a De Havilland Dove from Karachi to our city. Four years prior to this, J.R.D Tata’s solo flight in a De Havilland Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay further continued to Madras via Bellary by Neville Vintcent.

World War II saw the Royal Air Force moving in, commandeering much of the MFC’s resources, and making full use of its facility of which there was nothing more than an airstrip near St Thoma’s Mount. By 1939, the top brass of the Government and several Indian leaders were flying into Madras.

In 1948, Madras became the first city in the country to get an airport. That it was headquarters to K V Al Rm Alagappa Chettiar’s Jupiter Airways, which operated a Madras-Delhi service even then, may have had much to do with this. The airstrip expanded to become the Meenambakkam aerodrome, named after the village near it. For years, a hamlet continued to remain in occupation in the triangle formed by the runways and it was only after considerable effort that those in residence were convinced to move. With aircraft being few and far between, the runway was also used for the races conducted by the Madras Motor Sports Club before it shifted to Sholavaram in 1955. The terminal building in the photograph above was completed in 1954.

Air facilities to Madras owed much to K Kamaraj who kept fighting for them during the 1950s and 1960s. By 1959, with domestic air services being operated by Indian Airlines, Viscounts were flying from Madras to Hyderabad, Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta, with the Bombay-Colombo flight touching Madras enroute. Dakotas operated between the city and Bangalore, Coimbatore, Cochin, Trivandrum, Madurai and Trichy. There was in addition a night airmail service operating from Madras to Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi via Nagpur. Besides these, the taking off and landing of The Hindu’s aircraft with newspapers on board was a familiar sight.

Air India operated the international routes with Madras being connected by Constellations and Super Constellations to Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, England, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. The only overseas operator that also functioned from Madras in the 1950s was Air Ceylon that ran a service from here to Colombo. Other airline carriers, such as BOAC (now BA), the defunct TWA and Swiss Air, had offices here but their flights had to be boarded from Bombay. By the 1970s, however, more foreign airlines began touching down at Madras.

In the relaxed atmosphere that then prevailed, cinema shooting at the airport was a common affair. It was also common practice for the busy studios of Madras to hold up flights so that stars from Bombay could finish shooting and then rush to the airport (Gemini Studios to Meenambakkam in fifteen minutes flat) in full make-up to board the aircraft.

With the new passenger terminal coming up in the 1980s near Trisulam, the old Meenambakkam terminal was dedicated to cargo, a function that it still fulfils.

You may want to read about these other landmarks:

The Gurudwara on GN Chetty Road

Kalaivanar Arangam

The Corporation Zoo

Victory House

Gemini Studios

Old Woodlands Hotel

The Oceanic Hotel

My Ladyes Garden

Connemara Hotel

The Airlines Hotel

Everest Hotel

Modern Cafe

Dasaprakash

The Eastern and Western Castlets

The Madras Bulwark

How Madras grew – part 4

November 5, 2014

Continued from Part 3

With increasing migration to the city, the population was to double between 1941 and 1951, from 7.77 to 14.16 lakhs. By then the city had to be expanded and 19 sq miles comprising 28 towns and villages and adding 65 per cent to the area, were brought within city limits. Chief among these were Adyar, Guindy, Saidapet, West Mambalam, Kodambakkam, Aminjikarai and Ayanavaram. In 1944, JPL Shenoy, then Commissioner of the Corporation, conceived the idea of a big housing colony in the Aminjikarai area. He however chose to leave the Corporation in 1947 before the plans were finalised. It was left to C Narasimham, who succeeded him as Commissioner, to see the scheme through and also ensure that it was named Shenoy Nagar, “a rich and proper tribute to his services.”

Narasimham was to oversee another development – Gandhi Nagar. The city which had always had the Adyar river as its municipal boundary, extended beyond it for the first time in 1945. The Minister for Local Administration, Daniel Thomas felt that the area immediately south of the river would be ideal for a middle-class housing colony. The space, 150 acres, belonged to the Bishopric of Madras. The negotiations were conducted by Narasimham who settled on a price of Rs 17 lakhs for 136 acres, the balance being left to the Church and in particular, St Patrick’s school which had been in the area since 1875. The Premier of Madras, Omandur Ramaswami Reddiar, laid the foundation stone on January 23, 1948 and the proposed housing colony was named Gandhi Gram, later changed to Gandhi Nagar. A year later, with Gandhi Nagar becoming a popular destination, the city extended further with the various Nagars of Adyar coming into existence, a process that continued well into the 1970s.

The next big development was Anna Nagar, named after former Chief Minister, CN Annadurai. Developed in the early 1970s by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, it spans an area of 5 sq km and is located on the site of Naduvakkarai and Mullam villages. Ashok Nagar and KK Nagar were also areas almost simultaneously developed by the Board.

The addition of Velacheri and Tiruvanmiyur in the 1980s, doubled the area of the city since 1871 but the population had grown to 33 lakhs, a fivefold growth in fifty years! From being a city of vast open spaces we rapidly became a congested metro, with a colossal shortage of all infrastructure and a rapid fall in quality of life. This can only be attributed to lack of planning and foresight by the authorities concerned. In October 2011, the expansion process was once again initiated as we noted in the beginning of this article. But with all the acquired areas being densely populated already, perhaps it is time for Chennai to look for satellite townships in greenfield locations.

How Madras grew – Part 3

November 4, 2014

Continued from Part 2

With the Governor living along Mount Road, it became the fashionable district rapidly adding the adjoining villages of Pudupet, Komaleeswaranpet, Narasingapuram and Royapettah into the city. While in the initial years coach and saddle makers held sway, in later years Mount Road became home to upmarket entertainment facilities, hotels, retail establishments and from the early 1900s, car showrooms. Several landowners built their palatial town residences further down Mount Road. By the 1940s, they were selling, to make way for office establishments.

Lord Clive was to also get the business community to move out of the Fort in 1800. They followed the lead of Parry& Co, which had set up office in the 1780s at land’s end, now known as Parry’s Corner and built their edifices further down the same thoroughfare, which we now call First Line Beach or Rajaji Salai. Beginning with the 1850s, these establishments, led by their representative body, the Madras Chamber of Commerce, were to agitate for a proper harbour for the city. Work began in 1875 and as it progressed till 1914 or so, the sea began receding in the south, leaving exposed a fine beach. All along this front were coming up a series of fine buildings, many of which still survive. The first of these, Chepauk Palace, is now a burnt out shell, awaiting restoration. The first Indo-Saracenic building in India, it was designed in the 1760s as the residence of the Nawabs of Arcot.

In 1871 the first Census of Madras City was conducted – and recorded a population of 397,852. There were eight divisions in the city, which was then “a conurbation” comprising several diversely populated district towns and a “loose agglomeration of villages”. Ever since inception, the city had an uneven spread of population. Some areas had a density of less than 15 people to an acre while others were horribly overcrowded. At this time, Madras was a city of distances, its size is out of proportion to its population. Ten years later the situation was much the same. The 1931 census showed the population to be 647, 232, not even double that of 1875, and yet the area had increased by another 3 sq. miles with the inclusion of parts of Mambalam which became the new colony of T(heyagaroya) Nagar.

Difficult though it may be to believe now, a large section of what is now T Nagar was once a lake – the Long Tank of Mylapore, which spanned 70 acres. This was acquired for development as a township in the early 1920s. By 1924, further land, from Mambalam, Puliyur and Government Farm villages and a portion of the Mylapore division, comprising a total of 540 acres was acquired. Modelled very much on the lines of which New Delhi had been developed when it came to layout, it had a large park as its focus from which radiated three arterial roads, all connecting to Mount Road. The land in between these was made over for development, 410 acres earmarked for private development and rest being given to open spaces that would be developed as parks, and for the construction of public buildings – police stations, electric sub-stations, markets, bazaars, fruit stalls, hospitals, dispensaries, pumping stations, model schools, places of worship, industrial buildings and Government offices. The entire plan was developed by the Corporation in association with the Madras City and Suburban Town Planning Trust. Housing plots were divided into one, half, quarter, one eighth, one twelfth and one eighteenth of an acre. The cost of acquisition of the land was Rs 4.90 lakhs!

Though the plan was ready by 1924, work on the area began only ten years later. By then, the Justice Party had long been in power and several of its stalwarts were to be commemorated in street names in the area. The focal park was named after the Rajah of Panagal, the second Prime Minister of Madras. His statue adorns the park now. The entire development known initially as the Mambalam Town Planning Scheme, Eastern Section, was named Theagaroya Nagar, after Sir Pitty Theagaroya Chetty. And there were tributes to Corporation workers as well. Nathamuni and Govindu were humble drain workers who were killed when the land caved in on them. Streets commemorate them too.


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