Friday, August 29, 2014

The CBC TABLOG 2 : One aspect of Chennai that I would like to change

This post is part of 'The CBC Tablog - 2.' Chennai Bloggers Club (CBC), a group of active bloggers of Chennai city has hosted this series focusing on 'One aspect that I would like to change in Chennai' to celebrate Madras Week 2014. 

The previous post in this series by Dr. Jennifer Divia Clement who blogs at Princess of God and at a couple of other blogspots. She has written about the one aspect she would like to change in Chennai here.

Call it Chennai or Madras, the city is beautiful. It has its characteristics, some good and some bad. After all, contrasts make both living and non-living things interesting.

When we say the city is beautiful and has interesting sights to offer to us, why not we stop for a while and take in all that the city is!

The one aspect I would like to change in Chennai city is that its people give their vehicles a break in their neighbourhoods.

To the market, the temple, the grocery, the salon and even to hire an auto from the street-end, people in Chennai just hop into their cars or ride on their bikes. I see many women with kids in the front and in the pillion of the scooters fly around taking them to their afterschool activities. I see people getting down right at the gates of the temples, schools and shops. I see them drive with a goal to get one thing done and get back in the same breath!

Try holding the little fingers of your kids and walk along showing them the streetscape, the road signs, the flower seller on the pavement, the strings of hair clips, the posters in the newspaper shops, the tea shacks ... It is hands-on knowledge of the good and the bad, the to-do and the not-to, on the road. Walk along with your partner in your neighbourhood for fetching milk and for the evening worship in the colony's temple. The neighbourhoods throw many surprises from a celebrity's name board to a clay potter's wheel workshop.

I am not talking about walking for fitness. But, about walking for an experience. I am not wanting the change because of the crowded roads, but because the people of Chennai miss the beautiful sights of the city and the village existing together in this fascinating city.

I wish the series continued and I passed on the baton to another blogger. Yet, thank you all bloggers who participated in this series. I eagerly looked at what each one wanted to change in the city for the past one month now.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Chennai from the top of the lighthouse

Two months after opening the Madras Lighthouse to public I decided to go to have a view of the city from its top. The entry to the lighthouse was smooth. A small fee for entry to the lighthouse and its technical museum had to be paid and a ticket for the camera was issued.

Just after lunch time, there were only a few people in the queue to the elevator. Yes, you can go up only by the elevator and not through the stairs. We got off at the 8th floor and there is another floor to climb up. Closed with iron grills, the narrow corridor of the viewing gallery is said to accommodate 30 visitors conveniently. But with a little over 15, we had to squeeze in and we didn't mind it as the view from the top was breathtaking.

This  lighthouse, the fourth in city since the ships began travelling through Bay of Bengal has its older siblings in Fort St. George and Madras High Court.

In Feb. 1795, three commanders of Indianmen Captains W.T. Money, T.D. Foulkes and A.J. Applegarth proposed to the Government for a fixed lighthouse. They felt that the ships nearing Madras from the southward were to risk the shoals of Covelong and those from the northward had the dangers of sand-banks of Armagon and Pulicat. They proposed the steeple of St. Mary's Church in Fort St. George as the site for the lighthouse.

But the Chaplains quoted an engagement made in 1680 that the church should be put to no secular use that finally made the Government select the roof of the Exchange building (currently the Fort Museum) as the position for the light.

Henry Davidson Love in his 'Indian Records Series Vestiges of Old Madras' writes –
The lighthouse, which appears to have been a framed iron structure, carried a lantern, reflectors and twelve lamps burning cocoanut oil. It was completed by the end of 1796.

A note in the 'Madras Almanac for 1822' says, 'the Light is 90 feet above the level of the sea at high water; it can be seen from the decks of the Honorable Company's Ships about 17 miles, and from their mast-heads near 26 miles.' This lighthouse was in operation till 1841.

In 1834, when the necessity of a lighthouse with more advanced features was felt by vice-admiral Sir John Gore petitioned the East India Company.
Handbook of the Madras Presidency (1879), by John Murray Publishers records -
It stands on the Esplanade, close to the N.face of the Fort, and is 128ft, above the level of the sea. Its light, one of the most brilliant in the world, is a flashing one, the duration of the flash being to that of the dark interval as 2 to 3, and was first shown on the 1st of Jan. 1841. It is exhibited from the top of a Doric column of granite standing on a cubic pedestal 21 ft. high, also of granite, with massive steps, the shaft being 111 ft. high. The lantern consists of a 12-sided polygon, framed in gun-metal, with 9 glass and 3 blank faces. The interior diameter of the lantern is 9 ft and its height is 41/2 ft. The entrance is on the W. side. On the pedestal is inscribed 1838-44. There are 210 steps to the light including 3 on a short wooden ladder. There are 15 burners and 6 light-keepers... There is a fine view over Madras city from the top of this building.

Then comes the third light house.
After the 1886 cyclones, Madras Port was reconstructed. A port officer found a reef around the present Mamallapuram area and recommends for a taller lighthouse. The Government then shifted the lantern from the second tower to one of the tallest ornate towers of the Madras High Court building. This tower functioned till 1977.

The modern lighthouse in the present location diagonally opposite All India Radio. Originally, the lighthouse department proposed a site opposite the Madras University buildings, but was turned down by the Government. The present lighthouse functions from Jan. 1977 and serves a range of 28 nautical miles.
This was closed to the public after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister in 1991.

After 22 long years, the lighthouse is open to public again from Nov. 14, 2013.
It is worth spending time travelling to the tower and climbing up as well peep into the history of Madras lighthouses at the cute small museum in the ground floor.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Chennai's spirit catches on

I am just back after the Mylapore Festival during which the neighbourhood witnesses huge carpet of kolam in the weekend. And the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) invites for an evening of Pongal celebrations. The catch is a kolam competition that tempts me to drive down to the campus.

The student co-ordinator says that this contest would never match the Mylapore's kolams as most of the students are not from this part of the country. This kindles my curiosity more that I definitely want to be there.

The Basket Ball court in the campus turns into a front yard of a countryside row houses. About 20 kolams smile at you as you stand on the side of the court. I couldn't help asking the faculty if the students didn't really know about kolams before this contest! Such is the precision.

To me, the kolams drawn in the city do bring surprises, as I always thought that this art is mostly confined to the villages and to small towns. Life in the takes you away from the time-taking routine rituals. But every time the Mylapore Festival proves me wrong. And this time, the NIFT students too!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Colours in the sky

Thyagaraja Aradhana in Tiruvaiyaru is a nice occasion to soak in classical music. There are some crazy moments too that people, mostly singers try and grab a place to sit inside the pandal and offer anjali to saint Thyagaraja.

Once the five-day event is over and after the long night of listening to great nadaswarams, waking up early in the morning is really tough unless you have a great energy.

But, this time, I had to get ready to leave early to Chennai. And this was the gift for waking up early despite tired eyes due to lack of sleep.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

My childhood summer holidays

The days of the annual exams were never of anxiety and fear during my school years. Instead they were prelude to an exciting summer vacation at our native place with cousins and grand parents.

Train journeys were far and few during our childhood days. Save for weddings in the family, we never travelled taking off from school. So the summer holidays were looked at as fun times to travel and just enjoy.

The view of the pond from our home
The pattern of holidays and travels were almost the same every year. My uncle's family along with a lovely cousin used to take the first train from Madras to Cuddalore. A few days of evening beach visits, roaming around a super market and some drawing and painting at home were the routine for a week.

Then the travel used to take all of us to Karaikkudi, our native place. My cousin, my brother and I along with my uncle and aunt formed the group. Sometimes my mother joined us. We travelled by the 'Boat Mail' that departed a few minutes after midnight at Cuddalore and reached Karaikkudi around 8.45 a.m.  Not-to-forget fun was the date in the ticket. It was always the next day's date since the departure time of the train was 00: 25 a.m.!And we always had the doubt if the train we had to catch was 'today's or tomorrow's'!

The holiday fun started there every time.
It was jhatka earlier and then the motorised cycle rickshaws that took us home from the railway station at Karaikkudi. We and our cousin never had the opportunity to travel by these means in our places.

Our grandparents' lovely home

Our home in Karaikkudi was on the northern bank of a Ooruni, a tank. Called the Muthoorani, the four sides of the bank had row houses and most of the occupants of these houses were either relatives or friends of our other cousins, my brothers and sister who were schooling at our grand parents' home there. The news of our arrival would spread to the small community around the Ooruni bank in no time.

The second cousins who were our neighbours also drew plans for the holidays. But the times spent at home with grand parents were real fun.

Our grandfather woke us up early morning and we took turns to draw the kolam in our front yard. Sometimes all of us joining to draw the kolam was creativity coming together.
We fetched our drinking water from outside since our home used only the water from the well at our backyard. The ice apples (nungu) used to come to our home in dozens. Wrapped in palm leaves they were treat for the heat. Our grandma took the palm leaves out carefully and taught us to make little baskets locally called the kottaan.

The afternoons were spent watching our grandma and aunts make appalams and vadams at home. Kilos of sweets and snacks were made at home and gobbled up by the whole group of children. We were nine in all. We still, are!

We took the evening tiffins and baskets of mangoes to the garden and spent hours eating them. We cousins learnt to ride the bicycle on the banks of the tank. Hiring a pair of cycles, we took turns to rode on them supported by the cousins, who ran along the bicycles.

Our grandma used to do up our hair nicely stitching jasmin flowers together.  With so much flowers in the hair and long paavadais, we used to go the cinema at the street corner. The 'old fims' (now most of them are almost almost extinct!) of our times, my uncle introduced us to, were a lot of fun and learning. The New Cinema probably saw us, the balcony ticket customers only during the summer vacation!

Some evenings were for classical music. At home it was with a nice cute harmonium. The sessions used to go on till dinner many times. It was also series of concerts at Pudukkottai, another town close by that hosted Narasimha Jayanthi concerts in summer. Our uncle took us to the festival in twos and threes during the ten days.

Half way through the vacation, we all used to pack up to Madras. A 'city' all the cousins enjoyed. Shopping, beach, zoo, parks, car rides, temples and just like that outings ...

At the end of the summer, when we all returned to our respective towns, we were all richer by a couple of new dresses, new books, new toys and great experiences!

We never had a holiday abroad or summer camps like the kids have these days. But the fun we had and the hobbies we learnt, knowledge we acquired just by being with cousins and grandparents cannot be just be compared with today's vacations.