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.