Call it Chennai, call it Madras, chances are that you'll fall in love with this city almost without realising you have. And that is the magic of Madras, now celebrating its 375th birthday. There is no clash between the new and the old in Madras; the modern is simply allowed to exist merrily in the lap of the gloriously traditional. This birthday video, Madras Is Beautiful by Madras Photo Factory, takes us on a journey through the streets and bylanes, the distinct sights, smells and sounds of Madras/Chennai.
We see Marina and Kovalam beaches, we see the compound of the lovely Kapaleeswarar Temple, we see Parry's Corner and almost feel the scorching heat and smell the filter coffee. Devoid of all structures modern, and all people famous (except in cardboard cutout form), this video pays tribute to the city itself. A city that seems to become ever larger than life with each passing year. Chennai is beautiful, but Madras even more so.
There are two versions of the video, one with a Bengali sound track, Apur Panchali, and another with AR Rahman's Unthan Desathin Kural from Swades.
The only regret perhaps, is that the video isn't longer. Perhaps a little more of the vast coastline with its frothy, often lashing, waves breaking against shore? And a little more of the merry-go-rounds on the beach, with a glimpse of Elliot's Schmidt Memorial?
But this video definitely serves its purpose - watch it and, for those who know and love the city, it will evoke the scent of fresh orange and white mallipu (gajra); the sight of those gorgeous, minutely carved temples outlining the indigo skyline; annas in their white or checked dhoti; and the sound of Carnatic music.
All that is shown is the video is Chennai, but Madras is all that and more:
For those who are sentimental about Chennai, it will always be Madras. Located on the Coromandel coast of the Bay of Bengal, this city finds its way into the hearts of residents and visitors making them love its idiosyncrasies, its soft brush with modernism and its cold stance on being traditional and conservative.
With a long and interesting history, this city, the fourth largest in India, has evolved from a few fishing hamlets to an industrial hub with a thriving automobile, IT, garment and movie industry.
Going back in time
A painting at the Fort Museum: Fort St. George. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
It was Beri Thimmappa, the dubash of Francis Day, who brokered a deal leasing the sandy strip of land to Day in return for trade benefits, army protection and Persian horses. The Grant secured on August 22, 1639 was to be for two years and allowed the East India Company to build a fort and castle on its strip of land. When this Grant expired, a new one was signed and this one expanded the rights of the English. This new Grant was important because it saw the beginning of the growth of the city.
The construction of Fort St. George began in 1640. Once completed it grew into being the core around which the city began to develop. Fortified as it was, it became a citadel for the English during their many forays into war and fighting.
After Independence, Madras became the capital of the state.
In sync with nature: Bharatanatyam at the Kalakshetra Foundation.
In December, the city plays host to music lovers of the world. A five-week Music Season, described as one of the world’s largest cultural events, rocks the city with its sweet melodies.
Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form and is the official dance of Tamil Nadu. In a beautiful campus near the sea is Kalakshetra, a place of learning for this dance. Kalakshetra, meaning “place of the arts”, attracts students from all over the world.
The Tamil movie industry, fondly referred to as Kollywood, churns out almost 100 movies every year and the sound tracks from these movies play a merry tune as you go about your way.
Chennai is also known for its Theosophical Society, a section of the Society founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott and others in 1875 and headquartered in Adyar.
At the top
Natural urban beach: The longest in the country.
The University of Madras, established in 1857 is one of the oldest universities in India and The Presidency College is one of the oldest government arts colleges in the country.
If you want to chill out in the evening, the Marina is where you head out to. A natural, urban beach, it runs from near Fort St. George to Besant Nagar, making it the longest beach in the country and the world’s second longest.
In 1794, the Government Survey School was established. It is the oldest engineering school outside Europe and is now a part of the Anna University.
Elihu Yale, after whom Yale University is named, was the governor of Madras for five years. It was a part of the fortune he made in Madras that made it possible for his generous contribution to Yale University.
September 1914: After Emden bombarded the city - an unexploded shell.
The closest brush with war was during World War I. The German light cruiser “SMS Emden” attacked an oil depot demolishing the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean causing interruption to shipping. Madras was the only Indian city which was attacked during World War I.
Long shelf life: Higginbothams on Anna Salai
The Higginbothams connection with books is old....very old. The main bookstore on Anna Salai (Mount Road) has been around since 1844.
In March 1859, in a letter to Lord Macaulay, Lord Trevelyan, the Governor of Madras, wrote: Among the many elusive and indescribable charms of life in Madras City, is the existence of my favourite book shop Higginbothams on Mount Road. In this bookshop I can see beautiful editions of the works of Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Aristophanes, Pindar, Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Camoyens, Calderon and Racine. I can get the latest editions of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist. Amongst the German writers, I can have Schiller and Goethe. Altogether a delightful place for the casual browser and a serious book lover.”
The city of Chennai has a lot of reasons to celebrate on August 22, which marks its 375th anniversary. The Madras Presidency under the British rule stretched across much of southern India and got renamed as Tamil Nadu after Independence. However, the city along the coast of Coromandel remained to be known as Madras, and was later renamed as Chennai in 1996. Often known as the doorway to south India, the heritage sites and architecture of temples, caves and palaces of Chennai have attracted people from around the world. This city has given its land to monument rich architecture right from the Pallavas, the Cholas to the British empire. Today, Chennai shows a myriad mix of old heritage structures and new modern buildings that traces the transformation the city has gone through. A lot of the history of the city stands intact because of the interest towards preservation of such structures by individuals and organisations.
Archaeologist Dr S Suresh, is the state convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for Tamil Nadu, a non-government body that works towards restoring heritage sites across the country. Extensively involved in the restoration project of the Senate House, University of Madras, he says, "The Senate House took us many years to work on and it was restored completely in 2006. It was a quite a prestigious and challenging project."
Talking about the unique heritage sites in Chennai, Suresh, who holds PhDs in Classical Archaeology and Medieval Indian Art says, "One of my favourite sites is the 'Ice House'. There is an intriguing history attached to this structure which stored ice imported from America back in 1845." The structure was built in such a manner that ice could be perfectly stored for days without melting. Suresh adds that ice was also imported and stored in ice-houses in Mumbai and Kolkata but those buildings have either been demolished or are beyond recognition. He proudly verifies that Chennai has the only existing Ice House which is still well preserved. The Ice House was renamed as the Vivekanandar Illam and American tourists who visit this place find it astonishing that the ice-trade between the two countries dates back almost two centuries.
Benny Kuriakose, a well-known architect involved in designing many landmark buildings in Chennai and Cochin as well as in the conservation of heritage structures in Chennai is of the opinion that the ‘vernacular architecture’ of heritage sites, based on local materials and needs, is relevant today as well. Kuriakose explains, "Modern architecture is such a deviation from the traditions and it is believed that one need not design according to the climate. While we cannot go back to our old lifestyle, we have to find a path between vernacular architecture and the kind of modern architecture which is coming up in our cities. The optimum use of materials and the way vernacular architecture looked at climate, have to become more relevant in India."
The journey of this city and the transformations it has undergone is worth reminiscing about on the occasion of its 375th anniversary. Suresh says, "It is not just Chennai, but other cities like Madurai in Tamil Nadu also observe August 22 as Madras Day. In fact, even Tamilians abroad have Madras Day celebrations along with food festivals to commemorate the heritage and rich culture of the city."
A Few Firsts:
India's oldest and well-known bookstore, which is still in existence, Higginbothams has expanded to many cities and can be seen in more than 50 railway stations across Indian and in Chennai Airport.
University of Madras
One of the oldest universities in India, the University of Madras was incorporated in 1857 by an act of the Legislative Council of India after a long demand for a higher education institution in Madras Presidency by its residents.
Founded in 1832, Madras club is the second-oldest surviving club after Calcutta's Bengal club. In 1963, the club merged with Adyar club and moved to its present location Mowbrays Cupola on the banks of the Adyar river.
The first of its kind in India, the canal was built in 1806 as a saltwater navigation canal by the British. The Buckingham canal stretched for 9 km from North Madras to Ennore. Subsequently it was extended 40 km north till Pulicat. The canal use was stopped in 1965 after the destruction caused by cyclones. Presently, it lies in a sad state and has been reduced to a sewage drain.
The first newspaper of Madras was the Madras Courier. Its first copy was published on October 12, 1785 by the East India Company's printer Richard Johnston as a 4-6 page tabloid-sized weekly paper. The Madras Courier survived for 36 years after which it was closed down.
The first bank in India was the Madras Bank, founded by Governor Gifford at Fort St. George in the year 1682.
The Chennai Corporation is the second oldest civic body of its kind in the whole world, second only to the London Corporation.
The first observatory in India set up in 1792 in Nugambakkam, Chennai. It set the Indian Standard Time.
The first radio broadcasting service in India began in Chennai with the Presidency Radio Club founded in 1924 by CV Krishnaswami Chetty.
The Neils Blue Caps, the first British regiment was formed in India in 1688. This later came to be known as the 102nd Royal Madras Infantry and later as the Dublin Fusiliers. The oldest regiment of the Indian Army today is the Madras Regiment, raised in 1758 and now headquartered at Wellington near Coonoor.
Chancey Illa ( Independent Album)Madras Day is celebrated on 22 August every year. The historic city of Chennai is marking its 375th anniversary this year. On the occasion of 375th year of Madras, Moviecrow brings you the collection of recent songs based on Chennai and its Proud. Happy Madras Day to the readers.
As part of its initiative to reach out to readers and engage with the State in addressing issues affecting the lives of people in the city, The Hindu on Friday launched ‘Friends of Chennai’ – an online platform.
The initiative (www.friendsofchennai.com) was launched as a gift to Madras that is now Chennai on her 375th birthday. It is a non-commercial venture aimed at making an impact in ways that involve the people of the city.
The forum looks to build a network of citizens who want to talk about things that matter to residents. Being a social media initiative, readers can give a ‘shout out’ by uploading pictures, share their experiences, success stories and positive developments due to efforts taken by people to make the city a better place to live. Grievances about the city – garbage, traffic, erring auto or bus drivers, non existent pavements and power supply — can also be raised.
T.G. Vinay, deputy commissioner (revenue and finance), Chennai Corporation, while speaking of the days when he relied on The Hindu for preparing for the civil examinations, added that the civic body was regularly interacting with citizens.
“We not only have a helpline, but also ensure that we monitor action taken on complaints and cherish citizen interaction,” he said. Stressing the need for a website like Friends of Chennai, Mr. Vinay added that there should be some sort of medium by which complaints of the residents (registered on the site) reach the Corporation.
The Corporation had interacted with over 700 associations in the city earlier this year. “There should be a way to institutionalise the associations through the website,” Mr. Vinay said.
In his address, Mervin Alexander, postmaster general, Chennai City Region, called for a strong Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA) movement. “An enlightened association can make a lot of difference,” he said. Citing Thiruvananthapuram as an example where RWAs engage regularly with civic authorities, he said something similar could be followed in the city. This, would help not just the postal department, but other departments as well, he said.
Rajiv Lochan, chief executive officer and managing director, Kasturi and Sons Limited, said the new initiative aimed to create a coalition of citizens. B.A. Kodandaraman, chairman and managing director, Viveks, distributed prizes to winners of The Hindu’s Madras 375 contest.
Chennai, the first city of Modern India in Tamil Nadu completes 375 years today on August 22nd. The occasion is celebrated annually as Madras Day. On this occasion, we present some interesting facts and trivia on the South Indian city...
On 22 August 1639, the British East India Company under Francis Day bought a small strip of land stretching 3 miles on the Coromandel Coast. They got a license to build a fort and a castle in the contracted region.
The ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, the Nayaka of Vandavasi, granted the British permission to build a factory and warehouse for their trading enterprises. The region was then primarily a fishing village known as "Madraspatnam".
A year later, the British built Fort St. George, the first major British settlement in India, which became the nucleus of the growing colonial city.
Fort St. George housed the Tamil Nadu Assembly until the new Secretariat building was opened in 2010. The Tamil Nadu Assembly was again moved back to Fort St. George.
Mount Road with the round Tana. The word Tana comes from Thana meaning police station.
A city of firsts
>>Chennai has the distinction of being the first British settlement.
>>The Fort Museum inside the premises of Fort St. George, managed by the Archaeological Survey of India enjoys the pride of having in its possession, the first tricolour hoisted after the Indian independence.
>>Chennai is the first city in India to have implemented the Conditional Access System for cable television.
>>Chennai was the first Indian city to have the Wi-Fi facility in a widespread manner.
>>Chennai is home to the first European-style banking system in India with the establishment of the 'Madras Bank' on 21 June 1683, almost a century before the establishment of the first commercial banks, such as the Bank of Hindustan and the General Bank of India, which were established in 1770 and 1786, respectively.
>>The Spectator, founded in 1836, was the first English newspaper in Chennai to be owned by an Indian and became the city's first daily newspaper in 1853.
Home to world's second longest beach
Chennai's Marina Beach runs for 6 km, spanning along the shoreline of the city between the deltas of Cooum and Adyar. It is the second longest urban beach in the world.
An undated image of the Marina Beach. The picture presents a view looking south along the waterfront, with the lighthouse in the distance and numerous masoola boats lining the foreshore. In 1976, the lighthouse was replaced by a new building. The current Chennai Lighthouse is one of the 13 lighthouses in India that are identified as heritage centers to portray the maritime history of India.
A tribute to Chennai
Anirudh Ravichander of 'Kolaveri Di' fame released a music album titled, 'Chancey Illa Chennai', a tribute to Chennai, starring himself, which was shot at various places across the city including Kamala Theatre, Beasant Nagar beach, Chennai Central railway station etc.
The birthplace of the rich and famous
Chess grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand, Cricketers Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Dinesh Karthik, Murali Vijay, Squash players and CWG gold medallists Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, racing driver Karun Chandok, actor Kamal Haasan, Oscar-winning music maestro AR Rahman, scientist and Nobel laureate CV Raman, chairmann of Pepsi Co. Indra Nooyi among many other eminenet personalities were born in Chennai.
How Chennai got its name
Different aspects explain the origin of the name Chennai/Chennapattanam:
1. First theory explains the name that it was from the Telugu ruler Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, Nayaka of Chandragiri and Vandavasi, father of Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, from whom the English acquired the town in 1639.
2. The second theory states it was named after the Chenna Kesava Perumal Temple; the word chenni in Tamil means face, with the temple regarded as the face of the city
3. Historian J B Prashant More has stated that the origin of the name "Chennai" is Telugu and not Tamil.
Home to Kollywood
Chennai is the base for the Tamil film industry, known as Kollywood. Many former film personalities like M.G. Ramachandran and J. Jayalalitha have gone on to become successful politicians. Former chief minister M.Karunanidhi has close links with Kollywood. Chennai hosts the AVM studios, the oldest surviving studio in India.
Chennai was Madras before the British came
The name Madras originated even before the British arrived in India. Several explanations attempt to account for the city's colonial name:
>> Allegedly derived from Madraspattinam, a fishing-village north of Fort St. George. However, it is uncertain whether the name 'Madraspattinam' was in use before the arrival of European influence.
>> Military mapmakers believed Madras was originally Mundir-raj, or abbreviatedly, Mundiraj.
>> Other arguments suggest that the Portuguese, who arrived in the area in the 16th century, named the village Madre de Deus, meaning Mother of God.
>> Another possibility sees the village's name coming from the prominent Madeiros family of Portuguese origin, which consecrated the Madre de Deus Church in the Santhome locality of Chennai in 1575.
>> Other parties express the opinion that Madras might have taken its name from a fisherman by the name of Madrasan from religious Muslim schools, referred to as Madrasahs
>> From the word Madhu-ras, which means "honey" in Sanskrit.
>>Chennai is the only city in South Asia and India to figure in the "52 places to go around the world" by The New York Times.
>>It is also the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the country and 31st largest urban area in the world.
>>The city is host to the third largest expatriate population in India after Mumbai and Delhi, with 35,000 in 2009 and steadily climbing to 82,790 in 2011.
Alvida (Goodbye) Chennai - Kunal Anand.
May 19, 2011 at 6:39am
Four years isn’t a long period in a man’s life. But if those four years are your college life, they ought to be special and memorable. As my college life ends and in all probability, I will leave Chennai for some other place; I can’t stop myself from saying a final goodbye to this beautiful city that has given me the best four years of my life.
My first brush with Chennai wasn’t very pleasant (and is not talking about the summer heat. That’s the only thing I wish Chennai could get rid of). As I got down at Chennai central station for my first trip to SRM to attend the counseling session, my uncle realized he needed to replace his wrist watch battery. The roadside vendor charged us Rs 100 for a 20 bucks Chinese stuff. When I tried to reason with him, he said that the battery was big. This made me blurt the most ridiculous argument ever. I asked him, “By that logic, you will charge Rs1000 for a pencil battery!“. He gave me a nasty look and that very moment, I decided this wasn’t the city I wanted to spend my next four years in. As fate would have it, I wasn’t left with many choices. I joined my college a few months later and thus began my love-hate relationship with this city.
Like most people from north, I too was prejudiced. The sambar smell, the flowers in every other women’s hairs, the undecipherable Tamil billboards, the life size cutouts of Capt. Vijaykanth with Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda (I swear I am not making this up!) were a few of the things we used to joke about in the hostel. Add to this the horrible mess food and not so friendly college administration, and the hatred for Chennai, Tamil Nadu and anything remotely associated with Chennai was complete.
Then the classes started. Slowly, I realized that my Tamil and Telugu friends are way cooler than me. They know Hindi! Unlike the rich spoilt brats we see in Delhi and other major cities, the rich guys here are down to earth, although they love to splurge on luxuries too. They do drive Audi, but don’t run over the lesser mortals. They don’t kill Jessica Lals for not serving liquor. And money is the last thing that decides their friend circle.
The city, many people still refer to it as Madras, is as colorful and diverse as the Tamil movies. You can see 1950 Premier Padmini waiting on traffic signals alongside Lamborghini Gallardo. The Victorian structure Ripon building can still give a run for the money to the newly built Express Avenue in terms of grandeur. This city has given us India’s most sophisticated sci-fi movie- The Robot, but it still comes to standstill when India’s biggest superstar-Rajnikanth makes an appearance in his trademark black shirt and dhoti, sans make-up and wig.
The beauty of Chennaites lies in their simplicity. Their matinee idols don’t need to look young and ravishing either on-screen or in real life. They know how to love their stars the way they are. This is why a bus conductor can become a worldwide phenomenon and actresses with waist size double to that of Deepika Padukone can give her a run for her money. Inspite of mushrooming of KFCs and McDonald’s, there’s still no match for the idlis from Ratna café. A Chennaite is deeply rooted in his culture while embracing modernity. He is as comfortable eating at the Taj with French cutleries as he is in the traditional banana leaf. If there’s one city where the old and new India isn’t two different localities but are one single entity coexisting in perfect harmony, it’s Chennai.
In Chennai, it’s impossible not to notice the omnipresent political graffiti. They are everywhere-on walls, flyovers, subways, vehicles. Karunanidhi is almost as famous as Rajinikanth in this part of the world. When you distribute free color TVs and rice at Rs1/kg, you are bound to be idolized.
This city is unique. You can sit in the local train with your friends and talk loudly in the not so decent version of “engineering Hindi” without the fear of being scolded by some elderly uncle. This city is relatively safe for girls and working women even late at night. This is one aspect in which Chennai is totally different from the national rape capital of India. Unlike other metros, people here are busy amongst themselves, too busy to think about teaching “lessons” to girls who venture out at nights for work or even discos.
Spencer’s plaza was my favorite destination for the first two years. Even now, if you visit the mall on weekends, it will resemble a mini SRM buzzing with students from our college. It’s still one of those few places where the biggest brands share space with cheap fake goods. With the opening of Express Avenue (EA), Spencer’s might have lost a lot of its admirers, but the old lady still lures us once in a while.
Watching Chak De! India on the main screen of Sathyam cinemas with a packed crowd was amazing. That was the day I became a fan of Sathyam cinemas like every other guy who has visited this multiplex at least once. You can’t escape its charm. Oh wait! You can escape to ESCAPE!
The sweltering heat can make anyone hate Chennai. But you need to know Chennai to love her. And once you do that, there’s no escaping her charm. Who can forget this city after driving on ECR, watching the sunrise at Besant nagar beach, and exploring the chariot temples of Mahab? This city is like a shell. To know her worth, you have to look in to see the shining pearl-pure and immaculate, she holds inside her heart.
I was lucky to experience the joy called Chennai. Contrary to what I had thought four years back, I will leave Chennai with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. I will forever miss this city and the friends I made here. But the memories will always lighten my heart whenever I will be sad.
P.S: This might well be my last post from Chennai. I hope I get a chance to be back soon. God knows how many times I have dreamt of buying one of those beach villas on ECR and spending my life watching the waves crash against the shores.
Source of this article - http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2011/05/alvida-chennai/
A Bengali poet in colonial Madras
On December 29, 1847, a small coastal vessel, The Lady Sale, set sail for Madras from Calcutta. On board was a young Michael Madhusudan... »
The large presence of various linguistic and cultural groups in Chennai has contributed to its metropolitan character and enriched its socio-economic milieu. BY R.K. RADHAKRISHNAN
IT IS EASY TO DEFINE “home”. For the author Maya Angelou, it is a “safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned” though she longs, “as does every human being, to be at home” wherever she finds herself. The American writer Gertrude Stein saw no contradiction in declaring that “America is my country and Paris is my home town”.
For most people, insulated from the world of literature or other finer pursuits and struggling to make a living, home is a place that provides food and shelter. Over the past 375 years or thereabouts, Madras (now Chennai) has sustained and supported millions of people. After the English East India Company decided to prepare for a permanent settlement in Madras in 1640, capital and labour flowed in and opportunities opened up. The conversion of the fishing village into a city continued through the centuries, bringing into Madras’ fold hundreds of specialised and non-skilled workers, speculators and investors, refugees and migrants, artisans and artists, and a wide variety of performers to entertain the new working class.
It helped that there was no Theodore Roosevelt era diktat on learning the local language (“Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country,” the American President had famously said). Madras leaned more towards President Lyndon Johnson’s assertion that the “land flourished because it was fed from so many sources—because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples”.
The expanding city was no melting pot; a melting pot presupposes a kind of merging of identities. The accommodation of a continuous stream of immigrants affirms the city’s level of tolerance and acceptance. This became the key to the city’s growth and prosperity.
Chennai, now the capital of Tamil Nadu, is home to diverse groups of people. Telugu-speaking people, for instance, constitute about 40 per cent of the city’s population. The strident demand to make Madras a part of Andhra Pradesh during the reorganisation of States in the 1950s did not result in rancour between Telugus and the rest of the Madras population. (Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, which were part of the Madras State in 1947, were merged with Telangana in 1956 to form Andhra Pradesh.) More than a dozen Telugu television news and entertainment channels, the many Telugu language publications, and the good run Telugu movies have in Chennai today point to the fact that the people from Andhra Pradesh consider Chennai their home.
The presence of several language associations and outfits such as the Andhra Club, the Andhra Mahila Sabha, the Telugu Mahajana Samajam and the Indian Telugu Association is an indication that Telugus are at home here. Although numerically smaller in number than Telugus, Malayalees are an influential group in Chennai. Kerala’s Malabar region was part of the Madras Presidency. A reference to Madras in popular fiction is found in the first Malayalam novel, Indulekha, published in 1889. In the novel, the hero, Madhavan, comes to Madras for higher studies, goes back to Kerala to claim the love of his life, marries her, and prefers to come back to Madras to settle down.
The Malayalee Club is the second oldest club, after the Gymkhana Club, in Chennai. The many branches of the Kerala Samajam in the city point to the fact that the city’s Malayalee population has been growing steadily (some say the number of branches may not be a true reflection of the numbers, which could be much larger.) The creation of the Confederation of Tamil Nadu Malayalee Associations was an attempt to lend a collective voice to the community at large. A result of this has been the Tamil Nadu State declaring a restricted holiday for the largely Kerala festival Onam. Two Malayalam newspapers, Mathrubhoomi and Malayala Manorama, have their editions in Chennai.
Karnataka, the third southern neighbour, also has a significant number of its people residing in Chennai. The Kannadiga population in Chennai is estimated at three lakh. They are mostly professionals or are engaged in the hotel industry. Kannada organisations run a slew of educational and cultural institutions and are a prominent part of the cityscape.
There is a historical reason for the large presence of these linguistic groups in Chennai. The Madras Presidency that the British created for administrative convenience included parts of today’s Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, and Madras was the home province of the peoples belonging to these regions until the middle of the 20th century.
While the contributions made by the people from the three southern States are relatively well known, those of the other diverse groups that constitute the demography of Chennai today is largely under-recorded. It is difficult to provide a full list of all the linguistic groups that make up Chennai, but it is more difficult to ignore some of the prominent communities that make up the megapolis.
From Pakistan to Chennai
As Partition became a reality in 1947, Devi Chand, like many local businessmen, went about his normal life in Bahawalnagar, Pakistan. He did not fear the worst. He was a citizen of some standing, his father was a “Patwari” and was well connected with important people in the region, and the people who worked for them were loyal. Devi Chand had sent his pregnant wife back to Giddarbaha, a village on the Indian side of Punjab, to satisfy his concerned family.
On August 14, 1947, Pakistan woke up to “life and freedom” over the dead bodies of Devi Chand, his father, and countless others. “Father and grandfather did not think any harm would come to them,” Devi Chand’s son, S.K. Jain, now a Chennai-based trader, says. “You see, they owned a lot of land, and grandfather and father also had a line of shops in Bahawalnagar. They were well known and thought, come what may, they would be safe,” he says, recounting one of many stories his mother had narrated to him.
“Their trusting ways, and also their ego to some extent, let them down,” he says, sitting in the comfort of his residence on Chennai’s pricey Casa Major Road. Jain was born later that year, in December 1947, in Giddarbaha. Life was not easy. The material belongings they had in Pakistan ceased to be theirs the day the men of the family were murdered. After completing his graduation from Chandigarh in 1967, Jain began to look for a job and the search led him south. “I worked for my relatives for some time in places such as Bangalore. Looking for opportunities, I moved to Chennai,” he says.
He ventured into iron and steel retailing. Credit was hard to come by, so Jain began at the bottom of the ladder. He invested all his savings in his first lot of purchase, and ploughed back the profits.
His business acumen and years of hard work paid off. Jain, a Punjabi Hindu, now runs a thriving retail business in Chennai. Two of his three sons, Gaurav Jain and Manav Jain, help him run the business. His third son, Aman Jain, who knows no other home but Chennai, is an information technology (IT) professional running his own start-up. A married daughter, Pooja Nagpal, lives close by. “When I came here, everyone was very nice,” recalls Jain. “Most of them were God-fearing, were considerate and helped me a lot. I cannot run the business without the people from Chennai,” he says, adding that he is a Chennaiite by default. “Let us assume that I want to go back to my village. There is no one there. Maybe about 10 per cent of the people who went to school with me will be alive now. I have lost all connections with my village. This is my home,” he asserts.
Jain’s Tamil is still patchy but “good enough for his employees to understand” and for him to “get by” in Tamil Nadu. The rest of his family speak decent Tamil though. His children echo his views: Chennai is the city they have known; their friends live here, and they are most comfortable in this city. The number of Hindu Punjabis is not very large in Chennai but that of Punjabi Sikhs is significant.
The Sikhs even have a colony, Gill Nagar, named after an illustrious official, Colonel Gurdeep Gill, the then Inspector General of Prisons. Not many Sikhs live there now as the community’s members are spread across Chennai. A relatively prosperous community, Sikhs have made their mark in the automobile spare parts business. They run educational institutions and are also present in the entertainment business. More than 3,000 Sikh families have made Chennai their home. The Punjab Association, which came into existence in 1939, is an umbrella outfit that seeks to cater to the general needs of the community. It also runs schools, hospitals, clinics and working women’s hostels. The Sri Guru Nanak Sat Sangh Sabha, established in 1949, is another place that brings Sikhs together during special occasions and festivals.
Kumar Chandiramani has no recollection of the place of his birth, Saigon (later Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). Not surprising because Kumar left Saigon, along with his parents and other members of the Sindhi community in Vietnam, when he was six months old. The year was 1954, and his father, Gobindram, decided to move out because Vietnam had just entered into another war, and this time, it promised to be a long-drawn-out one.
The Chandiramani family’s destination was not the nearby Singapore or any of the other South-East Asian cities but Madras. “Oh, that was because my father’s uncle, Arjun Das, was working for Chellarams [on Wallajah Road],” says Kumar. “They were looking for good hands, and my father fitted the bill since he was into garments too,” says Kumar, who is also into garment designing. In fact, most of the Sindhis like Kumar, from Hyderabad in the Sindh province of Pakistan, are connected with one or the other aspect of the garment business.
Kumar made Chennai his home though many other Sindhis he knew went looking for better opportunities in South-East Asian cities and elsewhere. Kumar met the girl he got married to, Manisha, in Chennai. “It was love-cum-arranged marriage,” says Manisha, a Sindhi from Bangalore.
Manisha’s side of the family lives in Casablanca, Morocco. They had moved to the African country before Partition. Kumar and Manisha have two children, Deepa Chandiramani, a marketing and communications manager with a multinational hotel chain, and Karan Chandiramani, a garment expert now in Guangzhou.
“I have never faced any problems in Chennai because none of us was politically inclined,” says Kumar. “We are as much a part of Chennai as anyone else is,” he adds. They go about their routine work each week and have fun on the weekends. Sindhis take great pride in their ability to have fun, and events such as weddings become occasions for all age groups to enjoy themselves. Singing, dancing, playing pranks, loads of good food and alcohol mark any Sindhi event, and Sindhis in Chennai, too, live up to the reputation of the community elsewhere. (There are many Sindhis who also stay away from alcohol, but one teetotaller adds that this does not mean that they have any less fun.)
Hyderabadi Sindhis’ surnames end in “ani”, and this is how they are distinct from Shikarpuri Sindhis. “We Shikarpuri Sindhis will have at least some small role in finance,” says Suresh L. Raheja, who was born and brought up in Chennai. Many of the Shikarpuri Sindhis are big names in the Indian business circuit; they also have a small stake in the finance market. Raheja’s wife, Archana, speaks fluent Tamil and can easily pass off as a Tamilian. She says she loves the language, and the family knows no other home but Chennai.
But some memories of the distant past have not faded away. Raheja recalls the time when his family fled Sindh, the difficult times they had in Mumbai as unwanted refugees subsisting on two pieces of bread and channa, and the trauma of moving on yet again, setting up a hearth and making a living. Some of the Sindhis went south, as far as Kozhikode, Kerala, in pursuit of a livelihood. A few others moved inland to Bangalore, some moved further south to Vellore, Salem and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. Raheja’s father himself initially moved to Vellore and eventually came to Chennai. “I’d put the total number of Sindhis in Chennai at around 75,000,” says Prakash J.C., a chartered accountant, who also heads the Sindhi Federation of South India.
Prakash is acclaimed by his community for his efforts to keep the Sindhi culture alive. He is also instrumental in encouraging Sindhis in Chennai and elsewhere to start age- and gender-specific community organisations. “He constantly reminds us that we need to speak in Sindhi and we should not forget our roots,” says Radhika Raheja, a PhD in microbiology, who was, until recently with the Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, New York. Radhika, who grew up in Chennai and did her engineering in Vellore, is in the city to spend time with friends and family ahead of commencing her postdoctoral stint at Harvard University, United States.
Jodhpur to Sowcarpet
In the early 1950s, the law graduate Ganesh Chand Bhansali decided that moving south from his home town, Jodhpur in Rajasthan, might result in a better living. Those were the times when community members in Chennai helped one another, and Marwaris were no exception. The highly orthodox, vegetarian, cow-worshipping, exceedingly religious community, which made Sowcarpet in north Chennai its home, embraced any newcomer from its native land, provided him with seed money, and helped him with initial contacts. Most of them prospered. When Bhansali came to Chennai, he was taken to a small firm that retailed tyres. After a few years, he was encouraged to set up his own shop. He also began a small finance business on the “side”.
His grandson, Sanjay Bhansali, today helps run most of the businesses that the family has built up over the decades. A past president of the Rajasthan Youth Association (RYA), Sanjay insists that the community gives back to society quite a lot. “The RYA has been distributing schoolbooks, notebooks, and uniforms for 51 years. We also have a cloth bank and a medical bank for the poor,” he says.
Sanjay is also active in the Home Guards and is now an area commander. “Most of our people are service-minded and are active in many organisations. Our community believes in contributing to the place where it prospered,” he says. Despite the demands of his work, which often begins at the crack of dawn and goes on late into the night, Sanjay sets apart each month the five days required to be a part of the Home Guards. He and many other members from the community have been doing this with dedication for years. “Now I am not required to do the mandatory time each month. But as an area commander, I do much more,” he says. Sanjay and his friends organised the recently concluded Home Guards meet at Vandalur, on the outskirts of Chennai, where home guards from all over Tamil Nadu participated.
For him, and every member of his family, Chennai, not Jodhpur, is home. “Two hundred per cent, Chennai is our home. My grandfather might know people in Jodhpur, but for us there is nothing there. Our people, what we know... everything is here,” he says. Sanjay has seen his community branch out from Sowcarpet to Vepery, Kilpauk and Anna Nagar. A rough estimate places the number of Marwaris in Chennai at around 1.5 lakh. “That too should be on the lower side,” he says. The population is significant enough for a Jaipur-based Hindi newspaper, Rajasthan Patrika, to begin an edition in Chennai.
But the Marwari migration from Rajasthan has dipped to a trickle. “I now see a lot of Hindi-speaking north Indians coming to Chennai. This has been the trend in the past 10-15 years. But some people here do not see them as different from us. For them, everyone is a Marwari!” Rupa Chawda did not have a say when her family decided to move from Anjar in Kutch to Bangalore. “My grandfather, Dev Ram Chawda, established a saw mill in Bangalore, and we all moved there. My father, Rafik Lal Chawda, and a friend decided to move to Chennai and set up a timber business here,” she says. That was 27 years ago. Rupa, who took up interior designing here, says she cannot think of living in any other city now. “We do visit various places, but I feel like coming back to Chennai as soon as possible,” she says. Recalling a visit to some south Indian pilgrimage centres sometime ago, she says her family began missing idli and dosa after the first few days. It was an exclusive Gujarati tour, and the operator had taken pains to make sure that all the pilgrims got Gujarati food.
“After the first few days, we asked the tour organiser: ‘please give us idli and dosas’,” she laughs. Rupa does not feel any different from the people here. She proudly points out that a brother and sister of hers have married Tamilians. “My daughter was born in Chennai. She belongs here,” she adds. Any thoughts of going back to Gujarat? “No, I don’t see anyone in my family doing that,” she adds.
The Hindus from Gujarat have built temples dedicated to Swami Narayan in Sowcarpet (near the Ekambareswarar temple), near Dasaprakash, also in Chennai, and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. The community, numbering roughly about 50,000, gets together on festive occasions. Khedawals, an orthodox sect of migrant Gujaratis, are found largely in Thanjavur. They came to the Chola capital a few centuries ago. Some of them have also moved to Chennai. A few of them have come together in Chennai to found the Baj Khedawal Gnati Samaj, a forum for Khedawals. The Samaj also has a Facebook page.
Chennai was nowhere on young Viresh Seth’s radar. In fact, he had never had any interaction with a person from south India during his youth. The Allahabad resident was going about his job as usual when his employer, Karam Chand Thapar and Brothers Limited, asked him to relocate to Chennai. That was in 1971. KCT brothers, which began as a small coal trading company in Calcutta in 1920, had grown in size and stature. The money was good, and young Viresh, who was from the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, did not have a problem with relocating his family. He was married to Aruna Seth and was ready to start a family. Any extra income was welcome.
“The company was into importing coal and pepper. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board was a major consumer of coal, and the company wanted someone in Chennai to coordinate with the delivery and also to do the liaison work,” recalls Aruna. The coal was offloaded at Paradeep port (in Odisha) and it made its way to Tamil Nadu. The family initially found Chennai difficult. No one seemed to understand Hindi, and English too was barely understood by retailers and traders. “But we got used to it and eventually learnt Tamil,” says Aruna. Chennai literally grew on Aruna. Their three children went to school in Chennai. With the Chennai branch doing well, Viresh gave up any thought of moving north. Also, given the education of the children and the fact that the family had made new friends in Chennai, they were not in a hurry to leave the city. Viresh worked on a commission, and as business grew, his desire to stay on in Chennai grew proportionately. He finally retired in Chennai. Two of his three children live in Chennai while one has relocated to Australia.
Aruna likes Chennai for another reason: its medical facilities. There is nothing comparable in Allahabad or other parts of Uttar Pradesh, she asserts. More than 10,000 Mathurs, Kshatriyas and Baniyas from Uttar Pradesh have made Chennai their home, and many more are moving south lured by the better infrastructure and the generally better law and order situation in the metropolis. As a community, they are not very active but as a group they do have their associations in place, and meet socially during special occasions and festive seasons.
“Anglo-Indians did not come to Chennai from somewhere. They were created here,” says the author Harry MacLure. The Anglo-Indian community, much like the Burghers of Sri Lanka, was the result of locals marrying or having relationships with the Portuguese, who had come to India centuries before the British. The earliest of them, Vasco da Gama and his men, initially landed on the Kappad beach in Kerala. Later, they fanned out over much of the peninsula. The term Anglo-Indian seems to have originated after the British captured much of India, leading to the popular perception that it refers to the group of people who were of mixed Indian and British parentage.
The Anglo-Indians, a book MacLure co-authored with S. Muthiah and Richard O’Connor, is an authoritative account of the community in India and traces the origin and growth of four generations of Anglo-Indians here. MacLure agrees with the other popular perception about the Anglo-Indians, that they were associated with the Indian Railways.
“Yes, yes. My father was a driver, so was my wife’s father. Most of the Anglo-Indians were among the ‘running staff’ [a railwayese used to refer to the personnel who are directly involved in the operation of a train],” he says. The Anglo-Indian concentration in Chennai at that time was in Perambur [home to a few Railway workshops] and nearby Purasawalkam.
“They took a great deal of pride in operating the trains. Legend has it that your watch could be set as a train passed a station. Trains were always punctual,” he claims. The onset of reservation (in jobs) sounded the death knell for Anglo-Indians in India. Chennai was no exception. The fear of losing jobs, insecurity over the looming anti-Hindi agitation, and a sense of discomfort over the direction that independent India was taking, were among the reasons that drove the first Anglo-Indians out of India.
“There was a mistaken notion that they would be marginalised here. In the 1960s and 1970s, Anglo-Indians left in droves. It was also easier to migrate to countries such as Australia at that time,” MacLure says. But there are still a significant population of Anglo-Indians left in Chennai. “About 40,000,” says MacLure. They are no longer merely in Perambur and Purasawalkam. The community has moved out and found work in varied sectors, including IT and IT-enabled services. Their sound diction makes them good candidates for call centres too.
There are not as many Anglo-Indians leaving for other countries any longer. “In the past, everyone depended on the Railways. When that [opportunity] was lost, they became insecure. But now, almost nobody in the community depends on the Railways for a livelihood. They have got used to doing other jobs,” he says. There are now six Anglo Indian Associations operating in Pallavaram, Ayanavaram, George Town, Vepery, Perambur and St. Thomas Mount. Today, a dense Anglo-Indian pocket in the city is surprisingly Madhavaram in the north. “Rents are cheaper there than in Perambur or Purasawalkam. Plus there is a beautiful church there,” says MacLure.
Anglo-Indians constitute the one special group of people who have representation in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Most Anglo-Indian MLAs have taken no serious interest in the discussions that go on in the House. Usually, after their first speech (at the start of the session), they are barely heard at all. In their defence, it is pointed out that being nominees of the ruling party, they do not have the choice of airing their views in public or in a forum such as the Assembly. They prefer taking up the issues in private with the Ministers concerned.
These and many other groups, such as Armenians, Parsis, Bengalis, Burma Tamils, and the people of north-eastern India, contribute to the character of Chennai in no small measure. While records show that the migration patterns coincided with negative events in north India and elsewhere in the past few centuries, the past three decades have been an exception to that rule with migration taking place for better opportunities.
It all began with the IT revolution in the 1990s. Bangalore was the IT capital, and many pioneers in the field in Tamil Nadu insist that this was because Tamil Nadu did not market itself well. Hyderabad, too, stole the march initially because of an ambitious and hard-working Chief Minister who saw in IT an instrument to leap ahead in the quest for development.Chennai was comparatively steady and refused to jump on to the bandwagon that offered dramatic concessions. Soon enough, some of the major firms wanted to shift out of Hyderabad following the Telangana struggle, and Bangalore, which welcomed the IT sector right into the city’s core, choked on its new-found success. Chennai, which directed its IT growth along Old Mahabalipuram Road on the southern fringe of the city, finally caught up and began adding huge numbers of people to its workforce.
While immigration over the past century has brought to Chennai close to a million migrants, the IT sector added a third of those numbers in under two decades. “There are about 3.6 lakh IT sector employees in Chennai,” says K. Purushothaman, regional director, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies). The sector provides indirect employment to twice that number. Add the growth in the automotive sector to that, and it can be said with confidence that the number of people arriving in Chennai for work in the past few decades outnumber those that came in the past century.
The new migrants are from everywhere: no Indian State goes unrepresented. The new workers also include a significant number of Nepalis, who fill up the slots of watchmen, cooks and even drivers. For most of them, Chennai is home today for sure.