A Nostalgist’s Map of Madras

This month, we celebrated Chennai that is Madras. August 22nd was Madras Day. It was this day in 1639 that a strip of land, where Fort. St. George stands today, was bought by the East India Company. The deal was struck by Francis Day, his ‘dubash’ Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan, with the local Nayak rulers.

A group of enthusiastic people started the Madras Day celebrations in 2004. This year, they had a list of activities lined up, none of which I could attend. The newspapers covered it well.

Any birthday is an excuse to look back at our glorious past. On the left is Mylapore in 1906. Anyone familiar with Madras will now only see shops, restaurants, vegetable haats, and cows in the area seen here. Such beautiful space unfortunately is relegated only to sepia-tinted photographs.

On the right is Mount Road a.k.a Anna Salai. It’s the arterial road of Madras. Today, it’s a bustling road no pedestrian can cross. I am not even sure which area of current Mount Road this pic shows, which goes to show how much it has changed!

I stumbled upon some short articles written by non other than Asokamitran, one of best known Contemporary Tamil Writers, on old Madras. (Of course, they were translated.) An air of pure nostalgia permeated these pieces sometimes even with a sprinkle of humour. Here is a sample:

…The Adyar Library was a world-renowned one till recent times. This library, which was a part of the Theosophical Society, has a lot of texts of ancient scriptures, many of them about Buddhism. The founder and first President of the Theosophical Society, American Colonel Olcott, has mentioned these texts in his autobiography “Old Diary Leaves”. Col. Olcott and the other founder, Madam Blavatsky, established the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Most of us do not know that it was a very revolutionary decision in many ways. There was a general opinion that this was also a group of ascetics like any other one but the only difference was that they were also clad in white. But the truth was different.

These Westerners accepted Indian philosophy and also believed that the saints who lived in the Himalayas were a guiding force. It is also said that one such saint appeared before Colonel Olcott and gave him a turban. The turban is still preserved in a steel almirah. The name of the saint has been given as just “Muni” in the “Old Diary Leaves” book. Even though the Theosophical Society has been established all over the world, the impact is maximum here.

In the past whoever came to Chennai used to go around certain places – one was the Zoo (near the Moore Market), the second, the Museum and the third was the Marina Beach and the last was the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society occupied a very vast area with old-fashioned buildings here and there. The other areas resembled a jungle. This place was well suited for the spirits to wander, in which the members of the Theosophical Society believed.

To continue reading this article, click here.

To see more of old Madras, click here.

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One thought on “A Nostalgist’s Map of Madras

  1. Though I’ve never been to Madras that is Chennai now, some places, atleast the names of them I’m quite familiar with. Especially with fellow bloggers residing in the southern metropolis writing about them so frequently. One of them is Mylapore.

    Another is Anna Salai. An address that I became familiar with through addresses of organisations based there.

    And yes of course there’s the Marina Beach…

    Times change, people change and so do places. Sometimes for the better, or usually (as we perceive it) for the worse. But then it is just a point of view. Times change the needs change.

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