Saturday, September 02, 2006

The finale; in many parts!

This may be a tad late. But a log on the blog is a must.

Murali works for the BSNL and he became a well wisher some weeks ago. We were planning ways in which we could get BSNL to be part of the Madras Day celebrations. Perhaps a special wish or a ringtone on August 22 to excite everybody who picked up the phone in this city.

We ran out of time but Murali soaked in some of the events and his Congrats! SMS rings on my cellphone way past midnight.
Wishes like these indicate one thing - that the people of this city have enjoyed the concept of Madras Day.

The last two days weren't easy as the energy levels slowly began to drop. It isn't easy for two of us to take almost 100 hundred people on a walk inside Fort St. George. This was an event for August 25, 8am.

The fort is often regarded as a high security area that we must all keep off from. Sad. Because this is such an interesting place. While colleague Dr. Suresh, a Adyar-based archaeologist, briefs the walkers (wow! we had about 46 staff members of L&T, one of the key supporters of this celebration, on this walk and all of them bought the 'Namma Chennai' T-shirt and were proud to wear it this morning) I need to sweet talk our police friends at the fort's security gate.

But they surprise me - yes, they have heard of the 'Madras Day' and the exhibition at Clive House, so allowing the group in isn't a problem but can we please keep off the Secretariat because the Chief Minister is due to drive in any moment!

Suresh and I enjoy doing the Fort walk, more so on a Sunday when we have the entire towne to ourselves. And so, the walk that Sunday (Aug.27) is a picnic!
It is a shame that this fort and its heritage buildings are left to decay and go to seed and collapse. The hinter areas of the fort stink and a slum is enlarging here.
This seems to be nobody's land . . . all those who come on the walks now get an idea of the uniqueness of this fort and the state it is in . .

The early morning breakfast at Murugan Idli Shop in Besant Nagar was a good idea - ahead of a long Sunday of events.
The 'Namma Mylapore' group, a NGO, which works on some, issues related to this heritage zone, take 32 children on a walk around the temple zone. This walk does wonders to the volunteers who haven't done this act before and for the children who enjoy pongal and iced rose milk at the end of it.

We are getting calls from people who seem to have enjoyed the Saturday evening talk by writer and historian Randor Guy at the P. S. Hr. Sec. School auditorium. The big hit here were the film clips that Surveswaran of 'Vintage Heritage' (which screens all the old films every month at a theatre of the Nadigar Sangam in T. Nagar) has carefully put together for this show. Imagine a series of clips, which show us many different areas of Madras as they were in the 1950s. Including one of P. S. School in Mylapore!

The Madras Quiz attracts about 200 people - wish we had double that number! Seniors at the prelims say the questions are tough - that's the work of quizzer Avinash Mudaliar who won the quiz last year and now works in Bangalore.
But what moves us is the fact that the participants jump up to volunteer to correct the answer sheets! Honestly!

Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti donated the rolling trophy for the English Quiz last year. This time, we went back to him and sought more support! He gladly funded another rolling trophy for the Tamil Quiz for school students and individual trophies for the team members.
The schoolboys from Raja Muthiah School in R. A. Puram won. And we realise that the same team won the quiz last year!

Carnatica's special kutcheri at this venue winds up the weeklong celebrations. I will have to skip Kanimozhi's (yes, chief minister M. Karunanidhi's daughter) talk on 'Poetry in Chennai' on Sunday evening at the Taj Coromandel hotel.

Carnatic vocalists Sowmya, Sashikiran and Ganesh are friends and we can't abandon them in Mylapore! With commentary by Dr. V V Srivatsa, the kutcheri of compositions on deities and temples in Madras, isn't exhaustive but is in line with the spirit of the Madras Day events.

I have one more event to wind up - screening the best three short films on city themes. We had invited all amateur filmmakers to work on city-based themes.
We hope we can slowly build a collection of visual content on the city. And making short films is one way of achieving just that.
In the Indo Cine Appreciation Forum (ICAF), an active film society in Chennai, we have a partner. Thangaraj, its Secretary, allows us to screen the films before he runs Russian feature films.
We haven't received the best docus. But the start is key.

As we sit back on Monday, we realise that Madras Day may well have left an imprint on the people of this wonderful city.

Cricket in Madras, after 1792

It’s good to know that the Madras Day celebrations have caught on and that this year there’s been an even greater enthusiasm from residents in Chennai. I was at the Taj Coromandel on Madras Day to listen to a presentation on the history of cricket in the city by V Ramnarayan courtesy Madras Musings.

I was there much ahead of the scheduled time and chose to wait and watch in the lobby. Even the Taj has not been able to ward off the ubiquitous mosquito. Anyway, who should come and greet me but a journalist friend. She wanted historical information about Parrys and the Marina. We were chatting for a while when I spotted the city’s storyteller S Muthiah. She had questions to ask him and he kept her entertained with stories, old and new, of Parrys and the Marina.

There was Tim Murari with a friend, and I thought I spotted Minnie Menon as well. What was heartening was that there were several new faces in the audience, which clearly meant that people had followed reports about Madras Day, and were keen to know a thing or two about Chennai’s cricketing past.

Ram, although he hasn’t played cricket for Tamil Nadu, knows enough about the game in these parts to keep you enthralled for hours. He had some vintage slides to back his presentation. There were some lovely pictures – of Gavaskar flicking to fine leg, Gundappa Vishwanath essaying a straight drive (his 97 not out against the West Indies at Chepauk was one of the best innings ever seen), Garfield Sobers executing an off-drive… these were on top of my list.

Tamil Nadu has won the Ranji Trophy only twice in the past 50 years – in 1954-55 and 1987-88. The state has played host to many players from other Indian states. Corporate support to the game has been fairly good. Indeed, most of the better playing grounds are maintained by corporates. And the game is well administered here too. Ram spoke about the knowledgeable and sporting crowd and bemoaned the lack of crowds nowadays for local cricket matches. “Lesser level cricketers are not considered entertaining anymore,” he said.

Following were some of the things I learnt:

- The earliest cricket match in Madras was in 1792
- The Madras Cricket Club was formed in 1846 by Alexander Arbuthnot
- MCC shifted to Chepauk in 1865
- The Pennycuick Trophy League began in 1898
- The Madras Cricket Association was formed in 1930
- The first Ranji Trophy match was played in 1934, the year Jardine’s Englishmen played

Ram took the audience through the Vinoo Mankad-Pankaj Roy record first-wicket stand of 413, the visit of the West Indies team in 1959 followed by the Pakistanis led by Fazal Mehmood in 1960, the tied Test between India and Australia in 1986, the establishment of the MRF Pace Foundation 20 years ago, and the coming of Dennis Lillee.

There was, of course, more than a mention of AG Ram Singh, the best cricketer never to play for India, according to Ram, WV Raman whom he rated as the best ever TN batsman, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Talking about Srikkanth, Ram mentioned how once when the opener was in his elements against the Pakistani pace attack at the Chepauk in the 1980s, Imran Khan felt sheer frustration not being able to give him a piece of his mind as Srikkanth had a tendency of walking towards square leg after executing each blow.

Then there was TE Srinivasan, a colourful character as Ram called him, whose jokes kept the team in splits. Once he had caused such a commotion in the dressing room that it upset the concentration of even the original Little Master, Gavaskar, who was batting at the crease then. According to Ram, Srinivasan during his visit with the Indian cricket team to Australia had commented to the press: “Tell Dennis that TE has arrived.” Well, after that remark little was heard of TE.

MA Chidambaram, S Sriraman and AC Muthiah’s names were not missed out – all administrators of the game in Tamil Nadu. And N Shankar’s name too. The chairman of the Sanmar Group was seated in the front row listening to Ram.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nature Walks organised by Nizhal

Shobha Menon of Nizhal says:

On Aug. 26 morning between 6 am and 9.30 am a walk inside Theosophical Society was organised by Nizhal, a trust to promote tree culture. The Resource Person who conducted the Walk was Pauline Deborah. She is a Botany expert and a lecturer at the Women's Christian College. The Walk began with a brief intro by Mr. Dattatri on Madras origins, and Nizhal's desire to promote tree culturee.

The group was interactive , of mixed ages and in learning mode. One enthusiast had come from as far away as Perambur! Rohini Ramakrishnan of The Hindu, Young World and a reporter from the Adyar Times were also present through the walk.

The next day - Aug. 27, the walk was inside Guindy National Park.

Here is a Report on the GNP Walk from Karthik Gopal (Great Lakes Institute Of Management), one of the 'walkers'...

I joined the ‘Nizhal’ team on their nature walk at Guindy National Park (GNP) on the 27th morning. It was an opportunity to meet bright conservationists from various fields, who thrive towards tree protection and awareness movements in urban Chennai. I met Ms. Shobha who briefed me about Nizhal’s activities and welcomed me into the group. Our resource person for the day, Dr Mahadeswara Swamy, a botany expert from Mysore, had traveled exclusively for us, to share his insights on the flora that inhabited GNP.

It was a bright, pleasant morning. Dr Mahadeswara Swamy started the walk with a brief introduction about GNP. It was new news to many that GNP is indeed the nation’s smallest national park and one of the only national parks that is situated within an urban area. As we walked, he introduced us to many species of trees, plants and shrubs inhabiting GNP, often talking about their medicinal properties and uses. It was all a lot of valuable and insightful information. I should say that his energy and enthusiasm spread contagiously amongst the others.
Some of the flora and fauna we identified

Atalantia monophylla - wild lemon, Pongamia glabra - is used for making bio-oil for various fuel applications, Mimosops elengi, Wrightia tinctoria - used for mouth sores n also for psoriasis, Aegle marmalos, Glycosmis indochinensis - wild curry leaves, Prosopsis juliflora, Carisa spinarum, Carisa carandus - used for pickling, Cassia auriculata..avaram, Vitex negundo - used to cure sinus, Acacia planifrons - umbrella tree


Mammals - Mongoose (pair) - couldn’t identify the species as they were very far away

Birds - Rose ringed parakeet, Spotted dove, Common hawk cuckoo (or) brain fever bird, House crow, Grey headed babbler, Purple sunbird, Purple rumped sunbird, Common Indian mynah, Ashy wren warbler

It was a very refreshing and energy boosting walk. A feel good factor to have been amongst lush green trees and plants, cut off from the busy life and roaring vehicles that ran just a few hundreds of meters over the other side of the park. It’s so amazing how nature can cure you off the stress and strain.

The city likes exploring itself..

Another great thing that has happened is that Rajaram, our enthusiast from Perambur is evincing interest to organise Walks in Perambur, in the Huzoor Gardens, with Nizhal's help

The Science Campus Library celebrates the city

The Science Campus Library (Guindy Campus Library) of University of Madras in tune to its role of being a Knowledge / Learning Resource Center has always been proactive in reaching out to its researchers.

Recently, in its efforts to sensitize the library members to city’s founding day celebrations, had a display of info on the old and reputed libraries of the city under the caption “Libmarks of Chennai”.

A century old library of University of Madras, Connemara Public Library, Adyar Library at the Theosophical Society, Madras Literary Society Library to name a few, were indeed a treasure of information to the younger generation. Besides this the display also highlighted the heritage of Madras and the week long programmes organized in the city.

Lyrics on Madras

On Aug. 25, the Unwind Center hosted a Madras Day Special at its regular Live 101 show in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. This was also the evening when the winners of the Madras Day Lyric Writing Competition, hosted by RadioCity & Unwind Center were announced. Among the 4 final nominees, there were 3 winners for the closely fought competition.

The winners got whopper prizes from Radiocity:
INDU BALACHANDRAN - 1st prize for the lyric "Chennai - Served Hot" won Rs.5000 worth of prizes
ROSHAN THOMAS - placed 2nd and won Rs.3000 worth of prizes
SHANTA MATHEW - placed 3rd and won Rs.2000 worth of prizes

Mr. Madhu Sudhan, Station Head of RadioCity proudly presented the prizes for the lyrics. The winner Indu had the crowd's attention when she opened her thank you speech with "I was born in Bangalore… and had the 'Chennai is too hot' attitude. But now after living here for so many years, Chennai's Hot -ness is what I love!"

Unwind Center is thinking of making this competition an annual affair.

Prior to the show, a Clean Up of 3rd Cross Street was held with the help of CES Onyx personnel, musicians and regular Unwinders. The street was much improved and a real community spirit meant that all who helped had a good time. Onyx proved their mettle with their supply of leather gloves, their garbage carts and their hi-tech tipper garbage truck.

After some well-earned refreshments courtesy RadioCity, came the show itself. 4 rock bands, a Quiz on local Madras History trivia, slideshows giving facts and showing images of the city and of course the "Happy Birthday Chennai" song. Different folks from different strokes… celebrating the same city.

The quiz competition was won by Mr. Kameswaran who attained a perfect Score! That's one faithful Chennaite and he won a gift Voucher from RadioCity.

The Prize winnng lyric is here!

"Chennai Served - Hot" - By Indu Balachandan

Some cities may leave you cold
But not our Chennai city
We get sunshine the whole year round
We're a hot and happening city!

Yes, we have three seasons here
Called hot, hotter and sweaty
Deodorant makers love it here
We're a hot and happening city!

We're hot (we're happening)
So hot (so happening)
We're a hot and happening city!

Our auto drivers will make you sweat
And say, "No change" for a fifty
You'll lose your cool along with your cash
As you drive all around our city!

Idli, dosa, sambar vada
Served to you in a jiffy
We're a city with 'suda-suda' food
We're a hot-food-loving city!

If the heat is getting you down
And you're all cooped up with an AC
Just head for the great Marina Beach
And enjoy the air that's breezy!

Our filmy heroes are larger than life
Hot babes---we have a -plenty
Our cinema hoardings even touch the skies
In our hot and film-crazed city.

We're hot (we're happening)
So hot (so happening)
We're a hot and happening city!

There's plenty for the culture buffs
Drama, dance and kutchery
Or if you simply want to chill
Hit East Coast Road-and party!!

This is a city with lots of drive
As it welcomes new industry
Hot new cars are all made here
In this hot and happening city.

Ours is a city that never sleeps
Ask the folks who do night duty
The hottest BPO jobs are here
We're a hot and rocking city!

So feel that wonderful glow of pride
That makes you warm and fuzzy
Call it Madras or call it Chennai
You'll call it the hottest city!!

We're hot (we're happening)
So hot (so happening)
Chennai's a hot and happening city!

(Closing flourish)
"Semma hot, machi...!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

On the eve of Madras Day

The Madras Day (Madras Week?) celebrations have been kicked off yesterday Aug. 20. Two groups of heritage lovers explored two different and interesting parts of the city. One group went on to see George Town area led by historian, writer V. Sriram and the other to Mylapore – San Thome along with Vincent D’ Souza, editor, Mylapore Times, Adyar Times and Arcot Road Times.

My cell phone and the landline at Mylapore Times office was buzzing all through last week with calls from every corner of the city enquiring about the heritage walks.

Clearly, people love to explore the city they live in.

The calls I receive are from a range of people, from a simple cyclist who has ideas to share with us to an official retired from the Directorate of Census Operations who has information about old maps of the city since 1773 at this office.

When we visited the Census office at Rajaji Bhavan, Besant Nagar, the officials were very receptive and enthusiastic about the idea of the Madras Day.
Dr. Joseph, Senior Geographer has a nice presentation about the growth of Madras supported by drawings of maps on his computer. The department makes the presentation to schools and colleges on invitation. Free of cost!!

Sanjay Kumar Sunku calls to say about his ancestors – the Sunkurama Chetty Street, Linghi Chetty Street – all named after them. He has the copy of the documents on the Kothaval Chavadi market purchased at Rs.800. The documents are bilingual. In English and Telegu!

Rajaram from TTK Healthcare Ltd., - Publishing Division, was excited about the Madras Quiz for Tamil medium school students. He has arranged for Atlases for the children as prizes from his company.

Not only calls, my cell phone receives a lot of greeting messages – I love Madras, Happy Madras Day, Wish you all great celebration from a Madrasi in Brisbane, Australia.
A software engineer emails and asks – Can I be a volunteer for the events?

The spirit of Madras, that is Chennai is amazing.

We are also excited. ‘Madras Eye’ – a live web cam will webcast the spirit of Chennai from Marina and Sri Kapali Temple Mylapore. Madrasis, Chennaiites and NRIs from Madras - all can view their city, as it celebrates its birthday tomorrow, from 630 Hrs to 1900Hrs (IST).
Just by logging on to

The week will see a whole load of events lined up. If you are in Chennai or visiting Chennai during these days, I am sure you will not like to miss them.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Reminisces of another age

It was in June 1983 that I arrived in Chennai after spending more than 20 years in Calcutta. Needless to say, it was a culture shock. I did not know the language, found it tiresome waiting at bus stops for buses that never seemed to turn up, and there was just no sign of a pretty girl. Meanwhile, I kick started my career with jobs as assistant in two or three companies, the first one on Mount Road, the second in Tondiarpet and the third in Parrys.

Our home was in Jawahar Nagar, Perambur, and I still remember travelling by buses on routes 29, 8A and 42. Initially, I was scared to travel by bus, not quite sure where to sit, when to buy the ticket, and how to stand. Could I sit next to a lady if the seat was vacant, did I have to approach the conductor for my ticket, and did I have to stand facing the women or the men? These questions kept popping in my mind ever so often. Calcutta was so different – you never thought twice about sitting next to a woman in a bus; indeed, if the woman was young and pretty, you could hardly wait for the seat next to her to be vacant; then again, where was the need to buy a ticket when you travelled by public transport in the City of Joy, unless the conductor was insistent; and, of course, if you didn’t have a seat, which was more often the case, you could stand any which way you wanted; chances were that you’d be pushed from one end of the bus to the other. Even today, I do not quite relish to thought of travelling by PTC buses, although memories of Calcutta have faded into the background. But that’s another matter.

May 1985 was a turning point in my career. I had found myself an officer’s job in the insurance industry and there we were, 25 of us direct recruits, provided excellent boarding facility at the company’s training centre down Nungambakkam’s Fourth Lane. The six months we spent there still remain the best days I have spent in Madras. Evenings would be at Cakes & Bakes on Nungambakkam High Road; it was the place to be in during those days. After dinner at the training centre, off we would head to Tic Tac, the open-air restaurant where you could see the kebabs being readied while you waited for them. Outside was Khan Saheb, the friendly neighbourhood paanwallah who greeted you and offered you a Benson & Hedges or a 555 cigarette while he expertly stuffed your paan. And, of course, who can forget the huge ice-cream scoops at Tic Tac? We usually gathered on the pavement outside the counter at about 11 in the night and took our time deciding on the scoop we wanted.

There was no Ispahani Centre then. Where MOP Vaishnav College stands today was a sort of a cr├Ęche, one corner of a huge untenanted ground or so it seemed. However, it was almost as if the Fourth Lane belonged to us. We would play table tennis well past midnight. There were a couple of romantic relationships brewing in our batch and there was enough to talk about. Many an evening was spent on the training centre terrace, gossiping and looking up at the night sky. And if you watched carefully, you would hour after hour notice the glimmer of an overseas flight, a tiny speck moving across ever so slowly. Except the occasional barks of an Alsatian dog in the opposite house, nights were quiet. It was Madras of another generation, a time when the world almost lay at our feet.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Madras Eye!! Not in the Sky!!

We are excited.
This was an idea we had toyed with some time ago. And then with the help of my friend Premanand we hope to make this real!
A web cam for Madras Day August 22 that will show a slice of this city LIVE around the world. On the Net.
Prem runs a web-based service out of his office in Kodambakkam.
And apart from his business (, he loves to be involved in experimental projects.
His bread and butter comes from videocasting/streaming weddings and poo-nal ceremonies and graduation days (he helped videocast the IIT Grad Day in Madras recently).
And every year, he assists my team at at the coverage of the annual Natyanjali Dance Fest at the Lord Nataraja temple in Chidambaram (4 hrs from Chennai).
Prem will team up with some of us again for Madras Day when we will have a web cam over Marina Beach and Sri Kapali temple, Mylapore just for 12 hrs on August 22.
We are hoping that the scenes that go out live will tickle home sick Chennaites and bless us for our effort!
We deserve it. We spent an hour going around the Mada Streets to locate a nice perch for the web-cam and found one at a jewellery shop owner's tall building.
Then, we walked up and down the Marina Beach to locate a place from which to fix the Madras Eye.
Now, we hope all will be well on August 22.
Please tell all your friends to check this out.
Pray that this one too will work well!

PS: The George Towne Heritage Walk has been sold out. Two van loads of people is all we can handle, says V. Sriram, who will lead this group on Sunday, Aug.20.

PS: The Mad Bulls contact is back from a great hol in Kodai where the Hashers had their celebrations. The Bulls will ride around the city for Madras Day. Can they get a person to talk about Royapuram railway station and all its history?
Gosh! If some one from that area logs in here and reads this, please pass on your contact if you can help the Bulls!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 22 is as important as August 15

August 15 - Independence Day.
August 22 - Madras Day.
Will this become reality? Some of us think it will. And if people of this city lend a hand, it will be sooner.
Though it is a holiday, there is work to be done.
Badri Seshadri confirms he will give a talk at any venue in the city - he would have loved to talk on the history and growth of Tamil publishing in Chennai.
But we guess the other topic - on cricket - may pull in more people to the Shanmughasundaram Hall in Luz.
Our friend K. J. Suryanarayanan, who is active in the sabha circuit, makes contact with former IAS officer A. M. Swaminathan and Hemanth Kumar, who manage the affairs of the Sastri Hall and Shanmughasundaram hall in Luz, and though we do not get the ever-booked Sastri Hall, one of the best venues for a kutcheri, we have the other.
Badri wants to focus on the last 5 Test matches played at Chepauk and this talk should be a treat for all cricket enthusiasts (Well, there is another cricket talk happening at the Taj Coromandel hotel on Aug.22 evening - by former national cricketer, writer and communication consultant, V. Ramnarayan).

Badri Seshadri is currently the Publisher and Managing Director of New Horizon Media Private Limited (NHM), a company publishing print books, audio books and CDROMs in Tamil and English from Chennai.
Prior to founding Badri co-founded, and as part of the job went around the world watching cricket matches in England, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India etc. When he couldn't watch the matches in person, he watched the matches on TV. When even that was not possible, he got the scores delivered to him through his mobile phone.
He now watches less cricket in person, or on TV, but continues to follow every wicket that falls anywhere in the world through his mobile phone.
Badri has a B.Tech from IIT-Madras and a Ph.D from Cornell University,
USA in Mechanical Engineering. He lives in Gopalapuram and works in Alwarpet, and co-owns a bookshop in Mylapore.

I am late for the annual Landmark Quiz. Most of those who are at this event will hopefully turn up for the Madras Quiz (at P. S. School, Mylapore, Aug.

He used his power for the common good

K. Venkataswami Naidu belonged to an ancient family of Naicks. His ancestor Beri Thimmappa had built two temples, one of Vishnu and the other of Shiva, in Devaraja Mudali Street in George Town – the Chennakesavaperumal and Chennamalleswara temples. Thimmappa held a seat in the Council and a salute of five guns was fired whenever he paid a visit to the Agent or Governor of Madras on Pongal days. He was presented with six yards of superfine scarlet on that occasion.

Venkataswami’s father K.T. Bashyam Naidu was known for his piety and generosity. Mother Srimathi Andalammal, who died when Venkataswami was young, belonged to the famous Bandla family. Their uncle K. Narayanappah Naidu and aunt Srimathi Narasammal looked after Venkataswami and his brothers. The uncle and his nephews built Appah & Company, which has a history of 60-plus years.

Venkataswami had his education in the institutions connected with the Pachaiyappa’s Charities. The Students’ Club there laid the foundation for his public work. It enabled him to get rid of his shyness and take part in meetings and excursions. Venkataswami studied law and became an apprentice under T. Ethiraja Mudaliyar and P. Venkataramana Rao. The early religious training he had under his father and some Vaishnavite bhaktas made him a great enthusiast for religious study and propaganda. Years later, in 1952, when Rajaji became the Chief Minister of Madras State, he included Venkataswami Naidu in his cabinet and gave him the portfolio of Hindu Religious Endowments. As President of the Tirumalai Tirupati Devasthanam Committee he initiated a number of useful and popular schemes.

Venkataswami was a trustee of the Pachaiyappa’s Charities for two and a half decades. In 1927, he, along with S. Duraiswami Iyer and N. Krishnamachari, filed a suit in the High Court of Madras and secured admission for Harijans in the educational institutions managed by the Charities. He was responsible for the foundation of the new Pachaiyappa’s College buildings at Chetput.

Like Thimmappa, Venkataswami took a great interest in civic matters. In 1928, he became a Councillor of the Corporation of Madras and continued in that post till 1952. He was the leader of the Congress Municipal party for 15 years. Venkataswami joined the Indian National Congress in November 1936. He contested the general elections the following year and topped the polls in the Madras City Constituency. He was elected Deputy President of the Madras Legislative Council. He became Mayor of the Corporation during 1938-39. He preached against war and was sentenced to the Trichy Jail for six months imprisonment.

Venkataswami was also connected with the Corporation Boy Scouts’ Association and was responsible for bringing about the merger of several scout organisations.

A genial host, he loved entertaining people. His devoted wife Srimathi Varalakshmiammal, who also belonged to the Bandla family, served him till the end.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A builder, a blogger and students

The calls we receive, to know about the Madras Day are from all corners of the city.

We were surprised to receive a bunch of T.shirt, a cap and a bag all bearing a design on Chennai theme from a leading builder of the city. Lancor Holdings Ltd sent us the packet. The moment they read about the 'Design the Chennai T.shirt contest' in the nespaper, they remembered their design on the city theme and sent it as an entry for the contest!

When we called the company to explain the spirits of the Madras Day and the host of contests to participate in, Lalit C. Shah, the DGM, Corporate Communication of the company was ready to know what he can do for the day that celebrates the city.

Here is another company looking for ways to be part of the celebrations!

Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan preferred to visit our office and handed over his card. This copywriter is an avid blogger too. One of the contributors of Chennai metblogs, Chandrachoodan is eager to know what he could do for the day.

Well, he could blog about it, he will be a volunteer at the events venue, may be he could join the heritage walks.

A set of students from the electronic media department of Anna University were trying to contact me on the cell during their lunch time! After all they have a few minutes in their hands to talk over cell phones as they are not permitted to take them to the college. Later they sent an SMS that they want to take part in the Short film contest and wanted to know the details, rules, etc.,

There was also a request. The deadline August 10 is too near for them to submit the entries.

Yes! We have extended the date by another week. The last date for submission of entries for the Short Film on the city contest is now August 17.

They talk about their film for the Madras Day during their lunch on Friendship Day!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

With FLO and KK

I am at this 11am meeting at the Hotel Accord in T. Nagar. It is not very new but many people aren’t aware of it. Posh.

FLO ( which is the FICCI Ladies Organisation) and IWA (International Womens Association) are hosting a joint meeting.

Nandini Alva and Padmini Ravi who direct the popular Bangalore Hubba are to make a presentation on this unique fest.

Presenting them is Shobana Reddy, chairperson of FLO.

Some 90 women listen closely and when it it interaction time, one woman stands up and talks about Madras Day!

Wow! I tell myself. The Madras Day idea has indeed sunk in, some where, some place.

Which is what our team set out to do three years ago.

First, get the Madras Day legend sink in. Then, get it to be August 22. And finally, believe that it is a day for the city!

FLO’s top team wishes they had known of the Day earlier so that they could have marked a special event on their calendar.

But they will compensate – they will invite me over in September to talk to them about what the concept is all about and what they can do too.

Charukesi, the writer brings negative news. The writers’ group that he visits wont be able to dedicate its monthly meet to Madras. We aren’t giving up. Perhaps we could get a short story writers group to do something. Reading sessions are engaging.

And we are hoping KK ( Krishna Kumar ) of Masquerade who shuns the base and the lowly whacky for hugely serious theatre, will band his actors for a reading session at some city venues.
A year ago, we shared the book by C. S. Lakshmi. A Penguin book that Lakshmi edited with a nice collection of essays, stories, poems, illustrations and more – all on the city.

KK assures me that he will be ‘in’ this year.

We wonder if we can have the session at the Nageswara Rao Park, Luz.

Everybody of Mylapore and thereabouts walks in this green oasis now maintained by Sundaram Finance. On weekends, some 2000 people swarm the park in the mornings.

SF sponsors a kutcheri every first Sunday of the month.

The walkers’ group host yoga classes and another group has tried a speaker’s post.

KK’s readings of poems, story and essay may well give a different dimension to the Madras Day to which everyone is invited.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cam phones and Carnatic music to celebrate Chennai

As the Madras Day is nearing, more and more people and many organisations find their own way to celebrate the city.

In the days when every third person owns a camera phone, why not a contest to capture the moods of the city as people walk with their cell phones down the road?

When this idea was expressed to Sathish Babu of Univercell, one of the leading retailers of Cell phones in the city, he was excited. He has details of number of cam phone users in the city, what do they shoot and how do they preserve the pics! He and his marketing team are brainstorming on this idea. The people of Chennai are going to be thrilled about an unusual but a simple and easy contest they can partake.

Soon we may see cell phone users shooting a flower seller at the Mada streets of Mylapore, fisherfolks at the kuppams or the expression of a musician at a classical music concert.

And yes, what is Chennai, without Carnatic music? Come December, people from all over the world throng the city to listen to music. They don’t mind hopping across the sabhas in various corners of the city after every two hours to listen to their favourite musicians.

As the city celebrates Carnatic music every year, Carnatic music decides to celebrate the city in turn for the Madras Day!

Carnatica, an institution run by two young musicians K. N. Sashikiran and S. Sowmya is up with a thematic programme for Madras Day.

When we met Sashikiran yesterday, he told us that he is already on the job along with the musicologist Dr. V. V. Srivatsa researching the Madras composers and compositions on the deities of temples in Chennai. This tech-savvy team will do a multimedia presentation on music in the city over the years. They will also jam up with their friends in an interactive concert on August 27 (Sunday) evening at the P. S High School auditorium.

The spirit of the city surprises us. If you and your institution are wondering how to be part of the celebrations, do mail us for ideas and guidance.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Whose Chennai is it?

I realise how bubbly Chennai can be if we have more people who can help us network.
For Madras Day.
But then how many people can we really contact even as we mind our work?
I tickled Bharat Jairaj of the Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), a well known activist group based in Adyar.
It had run a 'Whose Chennai is it?' themed round table to mark CAG's anniversary some time ago.
How about looking closely at what the recent state budget had for Chennai?
Mmmmm, Jairaj thinks it is a fine idea.
It is. For, do we really have any role to play in the making of the budget. Nowadays, the TV channels make a noise about the national budget. Few have time for a city and the plans for it.
Jairaj does get back, saying his team is excited about it. And will plan a round table/discussion to mark Madras Day 2006.
(If you want to make a point at this event, get across to CAG at -
I have called up another old friend, M. Chidambaram, who is active with Exnora.
Chidambaram, a long time Luz resident ( you can read about his dad's and that generations' histories at the Mylapore social history record that is blogged (at
Chidambaram, a banker, has been a hardworking Jaycee member and now at Exnora.
Can the Exnora trigger its units across the city to maybe focus on civic issues and community events during the Madras Week?
I guess these issues need further debate in north Chennai. Exnora had one meeting last week - here's another occasion to push the issue. Chidambaram and Govindaraj will hopefully set a busy agenda for mid-August.
We are hoping that more and more community groups will plan events for the event ahead.
Yes, we too could give you some ideas ( query us at
Social worker and activist Mythily Sriram based in Alwarpet who works closely with the city police promises to get messages across to the Commissioner of Police, Letika Saran.
By pulling out pictures of the city police and putting them up at an exhibition in the visitors room of the Police Commissioner's office, yet another nice event will be on the boards. Simple.
And here is another idea - the city police could start its own, small museum in the same campus.
We just need people to push through ideas and convert them into action.
Are you doing it for the city?

A meeting with the eighth-generation descendant of Beri Thimmappa

It was just a few days before the first Madras Day celebrations of August 22, 2004 that I had met Bandla Bakthavatsal, the eighth-generation descendant and then the oldest surviving member of the Beri Thimmappa family. Beri Thimmappa was, of course, the dubash who negotiated a piece of land on the Bay of Bengal waterfront with the local nayaks for the East India Company representatives Francis Day and Andrew Cogan. I had called Bakthavatsal a day or so before meeting him and he, dapper and diminutive, clad in white shirt and trouser, played the gracious host at his Anna Nagar residence.

Bakthavatsal, married to Ketty Sridevi, showed me the family tree he had painstakingly drawn, tracing its roots to Beri Thimmappa. He spent several minutes talking to me about the various members down the generations – now numbering more than a hundred perhaps, many of them in Chennai. I also learnt that Bakthavatsal was a numismatist.

According to Bakthavatsal, it was Thimmappa’s fluency in English and the vernacular that caught the attention of Day and Cogan. Originally from Palacole, near Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Thimmappa and his grandson traded in indigo and textiles before working for the East India Company. The British gifted extensive lands, north of the Fort St George, to the Thimmappa family. That was where generations of the family lived till the last century.

In 1678, Chinna Venkatadri, Thimmappa’s younger brother, acquired the Guindy Lodge and later sold it to the East India Company. Now we know it as the Raj Bhavan. In 1894, Ketty Bashyam Naidu and Narayanappah Naidu, representing the fourth generation, established Appah & Co., which traded in chilli and spices. The company much later diversified into pharmaceuticals.

No memorials have been erected in Chennai for Day or Cogan; there is none for Beri Thimmappa as well, at least as far as I know. However, there are symbolic references to the family. The Bashyam Naidu Park, off Taylor’s Road in Kilpauk is named after the fourth-generation descendant Thimmappa Bashyam Naidu. There is also a Narayanappah Pharmacy in Anna Nagar named after Ketty Narayanappah, but where exactly it is I do not quite know. Present day descendants include Urmila Satyanarayana, a Bharatanatyam dancer, Dr Praveen Godey (is he with Apollo Hospitals?), and Ketty Bobji who runs Precision Diagnostics, I have heard.

Other than Beri Thimmappa, who more than anything else will always be remembered for brokering the deal between the British and the nayaks, one person who distinguished himself was Ketty Venkataswamy Naidu, Bashyam Naidu’s son. He was Mayor of Madras, the President of the Madras Legislative Council, then Minister for Religious Endowments in C Rajagopalachari’s cabinet. As president of the Madras Cooperative Housing Society, he was instrumental in promoting housing colonies in Gandhi Nagar, Kasturba Nagar and Shenoy Nagar. More about him later…

Friday, July 28, 2006

Children's enthusiasm must grow

With Madras Day less than a month away, I am reminded of August 2004 when we got 20-odd schools in Chennai to participate in the School Heritage Project. Even as information about the project appeared in the newspapers - being the first year, reports in newspapers appeared almost at the last minute - we received several calls from teachers, students and parents, all keen to know what Madras Day and the project was all about.

I remember two mothers desperate to have their children enrolled but very disappointed that the schools the children were in did not show equal enthusiasm to participate. Sadly, those children could not take part and I'm sure there must have been many like them. For a city that has so many schools, the pro-active ones can really be counted on your fingers.

Hearteningly though, last year, there were more schools that showed enthusiasm to participate and this year, we hope that the number would further increase.

Let me add that in 2004, we had one venue where the students from the participating schools brought their models and charts for the judges to inspect. The venue was the Rajai Hall - surprisingly, not many students and teachers had heard of it - and that was where we actually got the residents of the city to sing 'Happy Birthday, Chennai' during the grand finale.

Last year, we had the judges from INTACH visiting each participating school to choose the prize winners. And I must say that more than the children, some of the judges showed excitement. One of the judges who was all praise for the students' efforts and told me she was delighted to be part of the committee of judges was Prema Kasturi, now holidaying in the USA with her daughter.

This year, of course, children will have to 'perform on-the-spot'. One of the things children must realise is that the better displays are usually the result of greater initiative and interest. So, forget seeking help from a website on the Internet. Visit an old neighbourhood orphanage, for instance, and get your creative thoughts flowing to produce something special. The whole idea of the School Heritage Project is to get children interested in Chennai's heritage (or heritage in general), be aware of what can be done to protect heritage, and perhaps translate that awareness into action by actually caring for it.

Sashi Nair

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Meeting at Army Postal Service Office, Chennai

With ideas on hand and determination to motivate every individual, institution and organization to celebrate their own city, we are meeting different people every day across the city.

A group of enthusiasts led by D. H. Rao, a passionate collector of coins and stamps have come together to display their collections at the Clive House, inside Fort St. George.

D. H. Rao, a senior citizen, but young at heart, is still exploring every corner of the city to have the postal cancellations from all the Post Offices of Chennai. When the exhibition is fixed at Clive House with permission from The Archaeological Survey of India – Chennai, Rao wanted to go a step ahead.

He wanted the army to open the less known places inside the Fort during the heritage walks. We were waiting to meet the Station Commander Brig. V. V. Mony, the other day. Though we could not meet him on that day, due to his preoccupations, we met another enthusiastic officer.

He is the head of Army Postal Service – Chennai, Major. P.M. Kumaraswamy.

We all civilians sat in front of him and listened to stories on the achievements of Indian Army. He explained about the services offered by Army Postal Department. All are similar to regular postal services, but offered only to persons serving the defense.

He showed a bunch of covers – all first day covers released by Army Postal Service.
All issued on commemorative occasions of the Army. The information brochure carries official details about the events and occasions.

Definitely a place to visit for all the philatelists of the city.
And for the youth who should know about the country they live in

And Yes, Major was ready to hold a show and a stall at the Clive House along with the Coins, stamps and maps exhibition by D.H. Rao and friends. All those interested in such collections can buy up these covers at the stall and children can add to their collections.

He has to take permission from his commander.

When you visit the Madras Day web site next, you will find the details. Keep a tab!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Three Men around a Table

Three people don't hesitate to promote the Madras Day.
In its third year now, it will not be long before it gets its place in our calendar.
S. Muthiah, the city's story teller and historian, is in Australia, holidaying and lecturing when the sketch for Madras Day 2006 are drawn.
Muthiah is back in June but a more pressing project is eating him up.
He has two publications on the University of Madras to push.
Remember, the 150th year celebrations are rolling out soon.
The Vice Chancellor, Dr. Thyagarajan has appreciated the value of documenting heritage and history and got an ally in Muthiah.
But the city's historian is close to exhaustion - it isn't easy to gather documents and materials in a place where one department rarely talks to the other!
But when we do sit at Muthiah's table at his T. Nagar house, he has dozens of ideas to roll out for me and my colleague on this venture, Sashi Nair.
We have planned a dozen talks. He wants two dozen of them.
We have 20 schools on the 'live heritage' project for city schools; Muthiah wants 20 more.
When the meeting ends, we have 20 new things to attempt.
Call former IAS officer Vijayaraghavan who is is in charge of the Madras Snake Park, Guindy, to explore an exhibition.
Tap Global Adjustments to see how the expats in Chennai can be involved in the event.
Get across to Tulika and Goodbooks in Abhiramapuram - suggest ways by which children can dig into the city.
Call the Philately Bureau inside the Anna Road HPO and suggest we host a show that relates to Madras.
We do not have a target - I mean, the number of events that we hope will be staged during the week - August 20 to 27.
But unless we light the lamps, we aren't going to make the Madras Day happen.
As the newpapers begin to post the run up to the events, we receive a few curious phone calls.
Of people who want to chip in. Do their own thing. or share their ideas and resources.
Like these young film makers who run Filter Coffee Productions.
Anushka says they have done a film called ' C/o Platform' on the pavement people around Flower Bazaar. And they would like it to be screened for the celebrations.
That is the spirit.