Having wandered far and wide with Chenani 3, 4 and 5, the postal authorities evidently decided to come back to Mount Road/Anna Salai for Chennai 6. This begins exactly where Chenani 2 left off, where the TVS workshops were and are in the process of winding up. There are four POs here and they pretty much define the contours of the area. These are Greams (should be Graeme’s) Road, Old College Buildings, Sastry Bhawan and Teynampet. And that also gives you much of the history of this area.
The Graeme’s Road takes its name after Henry Sullivan Graeme, an EIC official who had a large garden house here in the 18th century when much of Mount Road was still the Great Choultry Plain. Also here were other such properties as Mackay’s (now Makkees) and Maskylene (now lost) Gardens. Much of this was once Nawabi property and still bears vestiges of that. You have here the Thousand Lights Mosque about which every child in Chennai will tell you that it gets its name from thousand lamps being lit here. I have not come across any reference to this anywhere. The mosque itself is now remodelled to reflect what Mr S Muthiah said was Dubai at its best, but the adjoining Assembly Hall is a thing of beauty. Not far from here is a set of Aziz Ul Mulk Streets, now a rabbits warren but in its time a garden of a Muslim aristocrat.
What you have next is the Khivraj Motors/Safire theatre area. This was once the second home of the Madras Club, to which it moved after vacating its old premises at where the Express Avenue Mall stands. It later moved to merge with the Adyar Club in the Boat Club area. Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald were more emotions that mere theatres. They bit the dust owing to infighting in the Vecumsee family that owned the place. In its premises was Nine Gems, Chennai first disco or was it nightclub, I have forgotten. Anyway J Jayalalithaa, with her insatiably appetite for real estate soon moved in, ostensibly to build a new party HQ. But then, so rumour has it, the place was no good Vaastu-wise and so the idea was given up. It is an empty plot and god alone knows who the owner is.
Chennai 600006 then moves on to encompass a sizeable portion of Nungambakkam High Road. It actually follows the contours of the Cooum, which forms the northern bounds. Within this space are the upmarket neighbourhoods of Wallace Gardens, Rutland Gate and Khader Nawaz Khan Road, and also Apollo Hospitals – the dream of Dr PC Reddy who transformed Indian healthcare by showing that there was enough and more space for the private sector to play a role in it. Of course, there is no denying that the hospital here has played havoc with the neighbourhood. Also here is Anderson’s Garden, remembering Dr James Anerson, the 18thcentury man of medicine who did more in botany – creating India’s first botanical garden in Nungambakkam. He was remembered till recently in a house name here. Much of Anderson’s Garden was shared between the Bank of Madras and the National Bank, which then passed on to their successors, respectively the Imperial Bank-State Bank of India and Grindlays Bank-Standard Chartered. Also here in Anderson’s Road is the British Deputy High Commission in stately Cottingley, the only property Britain still owns in India. Anderson’s Road also was home to what was once Tulloch’s Gardens, remembering Hector Tulloch who first came up with a comprehensive underground drainage scheme for Madras. His garden, later became the Cochin Maharaja’s palace in Madras and is now the Asan Memorial School. Neighbouring Moore’s Garden was once the property of Raja Sir Goday Narain Gajapaty Row, Zamindar of Vishakhapatnam and not Vizianagaram as is often said. A noted British toady, he gave us the statue of Queen Victoria outside the University. And it was in his house that the trial following the killing of Collector Ashe took place. Much of Nungambakkam was once home to several Andhra grandees – the Pithapurams, the Bobbilis, the Wanaparthis and such like.
The PO designated Old College Buildings is interesting, for it commemorates the College of Fort St George, begun in what was once Samuel Moorat’s gardens, remembering an Armenian who owned much of that area. In fact, College Road and College Bridge commemorate this institution which begun in 1812, closed in 1854 but within that time did much to initiate research into South Indian languages. FW Ellis, who gave us the Dravidian proof, was associated with this College. The vast campus is now home to the Directorate of Public Instruction and still has some mysterious buildings of the past whose function we do not know, including arches along the Cooum. The Madras Literary Society library that functions here is a survivor from the college. The same road of course has a real and thriving college – the city’s second oldest for women – Women’s Christian. And it has the Meteorological Dept, in whose premises we have the markers of the Great Trigonometric Survey, begun in 1802.
Sastry Bhawan is on Haddows Road where there are still some surviving bungalows, the biggest and most impressive are Kaveri and Bhavani (once Blenheim), both railway bungalows. We are then back on Nungambakkam High Road and return to Mount Road via Taj Coromandel (once the bungalow Chipstead and still remembered in the bar). Not so lucky are countless other houses that have vanished. Where are Monksilver, Hazelmere, Loxley and Kookaburra for instance? Gemini Ganesan’s beautiful art deco bungalow, Ganga Griha still survives, but hidden behind high rise on what was once his lawn.
We come back to Mount Road to what is still called Gemini Circle though the studio that gave the place its name vanished in the 1970s. Remembered for SS Vasan and his iconic films, Gemini was earlier a studio belonging to K Subrahmanyam. It was still earlier Spring’s Gardens and behind it was Cathedral Gardens, commemorating St George’s, which was just diagonally opposite.
What is most interesting however is the southern bound of Chennai 600006. It follows the contours of what was once the Long Tank of Mylapore. And so it had the Cooum to the north and the tank to the south. Here it skirts Semmozhi Poonga (once Cathedral Point to board a boat for the tank) and then goes up to Congress Grounds and Kamaraj Arangam both of which were once Blackers Gardens that stood on the banks of the tank. Here Chennai 600006 abruptly ends, just like the Long Tank did, in the 1920s, to make way for T Nagar.
You can read Chennai 600005 here
You can read Chennai 600006 here