It was quite an interesting photo exhibition put up by the Russian Centre of Science and Culture, the Indo-Russian Women’s Association (IRWA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) at the Russian Cultural Centre on Kasturi Ranga Road. This year (2009) is the Year of India in Russia and the exhibition had the theme, Madras-Volvograd: Twin Cities’.
There were some wonderful pictures of the Madras of old on display and immediately after the exhibition was inaugurated visitors and photographers trooped in and crowded around the display to have a closer look. There were pictures of Volvograd, too, all in colour, but they somehow did not seem to attract as much attention. The black-and-white pictures of Madras were what everybody was keen to see.
Later, S.V. Soloviev, deputy consul-general, Consulate General of the Russian Federation in South India, spoke broadly about the friendly nature of Indo-Russian ties over the years. But it was Janaki Krishnan, president, IRWA, who put things in perspective as she went back in time to trace the city’s history. According to her, Madras’s history goes back to its temples, with the Thiruvottiyur Temple being the oldest. There were even animal sacrifices conducted there once upon a time, she said, adding that the British had stopped the practice. She mentioned the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane and the Marundeeswarar Temple in Thiruvanmiyur; Luke’s paintings of Christ at St Thomas Mount; the Armenian Church and the Marmalong Bridge; and recollected memories of the time she had spent at the bandstand near the Clive Battery and the presence of the British army there. Krishnan also provided an image of what Edward Elliot’s Road once looked like (in the 1930s), mentioning that jackals would be heard howling at night and that there were hardly any buildings in sight, with trees all around and the beach visible from afar. On Mount Road, there would be hardly four or five cars passing in an hour, and she would sometimes do the counting.
It was thanks to the British that Madras was born, Krishnan said, and compared its beginnings to Petersburg in Russia, which was founded by Peter the Great 1. She also mentioned Russian scholars who came to south India to learn Tamil, work and research.