Thursday, August 20, 2009

Of Nellore cows, Hindu girls, Palanquin bearers, Boom Madu - the city during 1862-76

The Government College of Arts & Crafts just across the St. Andrew’s Kirk on Poonamallee High Road has a wonderful campus. Strange as it may seem, not many today really seem to know of its existence. Quite a few people asked me where exactly it was located. Sad, however, is the fact that such a wonderful campus has not been maintained well. I was there on Wednesday afternoon to listen to Pradeep Chakravarthy talk about the Madras of 1862-1876, based on photographs taken by students of the college in those days. Dr. Alexander Hunter founded the college in 1850 as a private institution, the Madras School of Arts. The well-known architect Robert Chisholm headed it in the late 1860s.

The other sad thing was that there were not enough students in the room where the presentation was made. Many were seen sitting outside, lazing and chatting; only a few bothered to attend. Pradeep’s presentation in lucid Tamil was excellent. There were several landmarks that were photographed then and Pradeep quizzed the students about some of these places.

I had never seen the Madras Central station without a clock tower, but he showed us a picture of one. There were pictures of the Government Telegraph Office built in Georgian style, in Erabalu Chetty Street; St Thomas Mount, a holiday destination in those days for the Britishers, Armenians and Portuguese; the Wooder School in Saidapet, a Western style school (1715); the statue of Thomas Munroe on a horse (installed in 1839), with no saddle or stirrup; the statue of James Neal near where the Connemara Hotel stands today; a village temple or the Achhan Koil on Spur Tank Road; a view of the Medical College, Government General hospital and the Cooum River from the Wallajah or Island Bridge (1715). Pradeep had something to say about each and that kept the audience engrossed..

Other fascinating pictures included ‘Missionaries in a cart’, ‘Commisserate bullocks’ (what commiserate means is not clear), ‘Saidapet farm’, ‘Nellore cows’, ‘Hindu girls’ on balloon-back chairs, ‘Indian bride’, ‘Vegetable woman’, ‘Palanquin bearers’, ‘Native merchants’, jewelers of Madras; silk weavers of Mylapore, ‘Boom Madu’ (decorated bull); and ‘Native servants’.

It is a presentation Pradeep must make more often at other fora.

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