Madras Rediscovered: A Historical Guide to Looking Around, Supplemented With Tales of Once Upon A City

Madras Rediscovered: A Historical Guide to Looking Around, Supplemented With Tales of Once Upon A City

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Item Code: NAE253
Author: S Muthiah
Publisher: East West Books (Chennai) Pvt Ltd
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788188661749
Pages: 476 (64 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 470 gm
About the Author

The Author: Educated in Sri Lanka, India and the United States, where he dabbled in Engineering, Journalism, English and International Affairs, S Muthiah finally settled for a career in Journalism. After nearly two decades as a senior journalist with The Times of Ceylon Group, he returned to Madras and was in Printing and Publishing for nearly 25 years. He is now an Information Consultant for several organisations, editor of two journals and a freelance journalist. But he still finds time for writing books and teaching, for reading and the pursuit of History, and for taking an enthusiast’s watching interest in the Arts and Sport.

Preface To a Further Revised and Expanded Edition

What you hold in your hands, a bulkier than ever look at Madras that is now Chennai, is in effect the sixth edition of Madras Discovered. What I find significant about this edition is that in the 26 years since the book was first published, this edition has been necessitated iii the quickest time, ever, just three years. To me that’s a happy sign that more and more people are getting involved with the story of Madras and the wealth of history the city is heir to. Perhaps my years of telling the story of this ‘First City of Modern India’ is at last having some effect.

This time, I’ve been able to go through the text of the previous edition with a Fine—toothed comb and eliminate several factual errors as well as the mistakes a printer’s devil in a hurry had made. No prizes, however, if you spot an error, particularly in a date just give me the chance to correct it in the next edition.

I have also added considerably to the edition that came out in 2004 and that in no small measure has been due to inputs of two others who have emerged as recorders of Madras History in recent years, Sriram V(enkatakrishnan) and K R A Narasiah. Then there has been all that information readers have been sending me for my column ‘Madras Miscellany’ in lire Hindu and to Madras Musings. There have also been contributions made by several books on Madras that have been written in the intervening years. not the least being my own books on which primary research has been done, namely the stories of the Connemara Hotel (manuscript), the University of Madras and its Senate House, the Madras Port. Rm Alagappa Chettiar (manuscript) and Lt Gen. lnderjit S Gill. PVSM, Mc. The book has also benefitted from numerous souvenirs various people have sent me. Madras during the last three years has also boomed even more than its growth since the boom began c 2000. Bits and pieces of that story too have been included. All this additional information will make this a rediscovery of the city for readers who have lead of the earlier editions of the book.

Meanwhile, the battle for heritage continues in the city. At moments there are heartening signs that heritage and history are being paid attention to, at other times they are treated callously. We, my readers and I. can only live in hope. But while we do so, let us remember that this book is only scratching the surface of the story of Madras’s great contribution to modern India; there’s much more to be unearthed and retailed and I hope my readers will contribute to that over the next few years as I continue my search.

Preface to the Revised Edition of Madras Rediscovered

In effect the fifth edition of Madras Discovered, which first appeared in 1981. this edition has grown still more in the five years since the last edition. Much of that growth has been entirely due to other books I’ve written in the intervening years.

Looking Back From Moulmein, the biography of the late A M M Arunachalam of the Murugappa Group, and The Ace Of Clibs the story of the Madras Club, have both provided considerable additional information besides what was mined while helping with two other books. 77ie Unfinished Journey, the biography of M Ct M Chidambaram Chettyar and 60 Landmark Years, the story of E C C. the construction and engineering contracts division of Larsen & Toubro. Another book I played a small role in — Madras — The Architectural Heritage — also provided many new insights. But the greatest part of the new inputs derived from two columns I did for The Hindu, ‘Madras Miscellany’, still going strong as I write these lines, and ‘Madrascapes’, which after a first innings awaits starting its second. Both these columns have received a considerable response and it has been that feedback, as well as the response to Chennai Heritage’s Madras Musings that I edit, that have provided much information about the old families of Madras and their homes.

With the previous edition of Math-as Rediscovered out of stock for sonic months before I got down to updating the book and faced with repeated requests for a new edition of it, I haven’t had the time to do full justice to the wealth of information that came my way while writing those columns. So a still more complete edition awaits another day; meanwhile. I’ve found enough material to swell this book by another 10,000 words or so. With revisions and corrections to parts of the fourth edition having been carried out, what you have before you is a version of Madras Rediscovered that could well be a rediscovery for readers too.

I must also note that in the past five years, Madras has been enjoying an economic boom that has led to high rise taking over much of the core of the city, large business complexes coming up on the periphery, and an explosion of consumerism that has seen shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities mushroom. Coupled with the city becoming the Automobile Capital and Medicare Capital of India, congestion has become the greatest threat to a city once known for its spaciousness and graciousness. Though the Madras of the pages that follow might not be recognisable in ground reality, the past still survives in the city, precariously though it might be, to remind those that will listen that the prosperity of today is entirely rooted in the history of Madras, the first city of Modem India. To protect that history, the conservationists continue to cry themselves hoarse seeking a Heritage Act or, at least, Heritage Regulations. But there’s little response. The heartening signs however are the restoration of Senate House, Raj Bhavan and Rajaji Hall getting underway, the renewal and readaptation of several old houses for commercial use as shops and restaurants, the formation of Heritage Clubs in several schools, and Madras — with the help of Madras Rediscovered being taught as a subject in half a dozen colleges. That’s what makes me feel optimistic that the Madras of this book will one day receive the recognition that is its due.

Preface to The First Edition of The Retiled Book

This should in fact be the fourth edition of Madras Discovered. But with Madras Discovered publisher now in new robes and the book having grown by at least 10,000 words besides being considerably revised, we have together decided to issue it as a new book under a new title. Madras Rediscovered.

Madras Rediscovered has the benefit of much that has happened in the six years since the last edition of Madras Discovered. Of the corporate histories I have written in this period, three have revealed much of Madras. Getting India on the Move, the story of Simpson & Co and the Amalgamations Group that grew from it, The Spencer Legend, the story of that giant department store, and The Spirit of Chepauk, the story of the Madras Cricket Club and the beginnings of sport in South India, have all provided much material, directly or indirectly, for this edition. Then there was the coffee-table book I did. Madras — Its Past and Its Present. For this book, and the other three, much research was done from primary sources by Rajind N Christy, my dedicated researcher, and this has yielded far more valuable information than what I had garnered reading a wealth of material, for that material could best be termed only as secondary and tertiary sources. Rajind Christy’s primary research, for those books as well as for this edition, has, therefore, led to many revisions in the present book as well as a fair amount of addition and some deletion. Thus, Madras Rediscovered is not only a substantially expanded book, hut it has brought a greater degree of accuracy and precision to what had earlier been generalities or deductions in specific cases.

It must be noted as this edition goes to press that, in the intervening years since the Third Edition of Madras Discovered, the city has grown significantly — upwards, closer together and in population. It is today indeed a bustling metropolis with its quality of life significantly affected for the worse. hut it remains a city that is still green and much more open to the skies than most other cities in India. Unfortunately, growth has in many ways destroyed several bits and pieces of its manmade heritage and has in more recent years begun to affect its natural heritage. Despite these changes, I have retained the original text as it was, as though nothing has happened, but have added a supplementary comment or two to bring readers up-to-date. Significantly, some awareness of heritage and the necessity to preserve it has been creeping into both official and non-official thinking and. as these lines are written, one major conservation project, the restoration of the Police Headquarters, has been completed, there is talk of restoring half a dozen other important public buildings in the next couple of years, and a Heritage Act has been recommended to Government by an official committee.

One important question that arose during this revision and expansion was whether to go along with the Government view of History. Government had in 1996 changed the name of Madras to Chennai. It is a change I disagreed with on historical grounds — and so did many others. But while I accept for official use the now-gazetted name for the city, I decided to stick to Madras in this book. After all, this book is a quest for the past in this city — and that past belongs to Madras and not Chennai. I have clarified that point of view further in the appropriate place.

And, as I have said in three previous prefaces, there’s much to be still discovered about Madras. Madras Rediscovered, even in its present more comprehensive form, is not the last word on the subject. But to be able to put down that word, there’s still much to be sought in Madras’s past. Help from anyone interested in making Madras Rediscovered still more complete would be welcome.

Preface to the Third Edition

In the six years since the second edition of Madras Discovered, I’ve read Love very much more carefully, there has been ‘discovery’ of several old classics about the city and I’ve sadly watched several of the city’s landmarks vanish, even if they encouraged a further search for their antecedents. There also occurred a significant anniversary, the city’s 350th birthday.

Regrettably, it was not celebrated on the same scale as Calcutta celebrated its 300th anniversary about the same time. But there was more interest shown in the city than in the last forty years and this manifested itself in several others writing about it. To all of them, too many to single out individually. I’m indebted for more information about Madras.

But even if all this had not necessitated a considerably revised and enlarged third edition, there was one serendipitous happening that just had to be included. And that was discovery, purely by chance, that the Thimmappa connection still remains in the city and that his descendants still call Madras ‘home. To discover that the family of one of the founders is still going strong in the city is a happy fact that needed to be recorded, All the rest that’s expanded this edition substantially pales beside the discovery’ that Alavandar Naidu and others of the Thimmappa family are very much a part of today’s Madras scene. They are, indeed, the ‘First Family of Madras’.

If and when there is a fourth edition of Madras Discovered, I hope there will be additional information about other early families. Indian as well as British perhaps I might even find a Madras or a Day or a Cogan somewhere. I appeal once more, as in years past, not only for such information but for more about Madras the City, how it began and grew. Because there is such in form information somewhere out there. Madras Discovered remains not the last word on this city.

Preface to the Second Edition

The first edition of Madras Discovered, I was happy to find, was well received. Besides the favourable comment it got locally, several persons abroad acknowledged its use as a reference hook on the early British period in India.

Philip Davies, who wrote the monumental Splendor1’rs of the Raj British Architecture in India 1660-1947, acknowledged it as an aid and source hook. Then Louise Nicholson, who provided “the Discerning Traveller” with “a Practical Guide” in her splendid India in Luxury, referred to Madras Discovered as the best guidebook to the city.

It was all very heart—warming, hut though Madras Discovered was planned as a historical guide to the city. I had always felt the historical and the conservation of it — should take precedence over its character as a guidebook. The location and sites were merely standing memorials to the history and legends of Madras.

And to emphasise the stuff of history Madras abounds in, I have planned ‘this second edition slightly differently. The first edition has naturally been considerably revised. Updated, expanded — and indexed. But in addition to this, I have added an anecdotal elaboration of some part of each chapter.

Called ‘Once Upon a City’, these tales tell the stories (and histories) of different aspects of life in Our Towne of Madraspatnam during the centuries. I hope these tales of ‘Once Upon a City’ will help to bring brick and mortar alive and help readers recognise the ghosts who walk through the corridors of much of Madras, City of Legends.

For several of the additions of this volume and the ‘Once Upon a City’ tales, I must acknowledge the kind permission given by several publications for use here of material I had first written for them: Aside, that magazine of Madras which cares for the city, Swagat, Indian Airlines’ in-flight journal, and Namaste, the Welcomgroup publication. I must also thank T P Janakiram for the pains he took to get just the right pictures to illustrate several points made in these pages. And the Madras Chamber of Commerce for their kind permission to reproduce one of their prints of Old Madras on the cover. Once again, I look forward to more material from readers that will enable this volume to expand further. And once again 1 hope some of the words within will strike a sympathetic chord somewhere and help conserve a little bit of the historical in Our Town, Madras.

Preface to the First Edition

After years abroad punctuated by occasional visits to a Madras remembered as a leisurely hut gracious town of conservative people and large houses with larger ‘gardens’ — came ‘home’ to a metropolis in 1968-69, but found it essentially unchanged. True, the town I had known had grown bigger become more populous and acquired an industrial base. But at heart it had remained the charming overgrown village of the 30s and 40s and 5Os a leisurely, gracious town with quaint old-world values that had spread itself out comfortably in its quest to retain the spaciousness of the past.

My first assignment on my return here was to prepare ‘copy’ to accompany a street guide to Madras. A brief history of au old British company followed. And out of those quests for information was born my interest in the history of Madras and a need to do my bit to conserve its relics. This slim volume, therefore, is as much a historical guide For those who wish to look around Madras, or wish to find out more about their city, as it is a plea to conserve not only its spacious environment but also its cultural and historic relics, he they Indian or European.

Most of the material included here was discovered in the course of a search that is part of a bigger project. Some of it has’ already been published iii Aside, that magazine of Madras which indeed cares for the city’s past, present and Future. ‘To its editor, Abraham Eraly, I am particularly grateful for permission to use material first published in his magazine. I must also thank Suresh Bhim singh for all the trouble he took to get just the right photographs for this hook.

The occasional error and omission could well crop tip in such a compilation as this. I will be very grateful if they are pointed out or if additional information is provided, so that they may be included in subsequent editions. There might also he some readers who feel there is a Western bias to this book. This is perhaps inevitable, since most of the records on the subject are by Western writers or Indians using those same sources. Indian sources appear non-existent. I would, therefore particularly appreciate receiving further material about those mentioned in these pages and especially authentic information about the great Indian families of Old Madras, which would enable me to straighten the records.


1What's In a Name1
2Days No-Man's Sand9
3To Metropolitan Limits18
4The Fort Where It All Began27
5The Mall To The Mount50
6The Thoman Tradition118
7The Road South131
8A Tale of Two Islands144
9Magnificent Marina157
10The Twon of Thomas194
11Of Peacocks an Lilies213
12The Retreats of Theosophy236
13Where The Deer and The Black Buck Play252
14Bhavans of The Raj267
15The Road North279
16The City Within322
17The Road to Poonamallee365
18In The Curves of The Cooum389
19The Great Choultry Plain409
20The Gracious City440
A Chronological History of Madras445
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