Friday, December 9, 2011


An unique advertisement from a 1915 book, advertising Convocation Gowns!!!


Before you read today's post further,take a look at the map below (click on it to see a bigger image)

This is a map of Madras in 1909. A closer look at the map would reveal a startling fact, the absence of an area without which Madras that is Chennai today cannot be imagined- T.Nagar.

This post is about the formation of T.Nagar.

The area where today T.Nagar stands was a vast expanse of water called the Long Tank. The earliest reference I could find of the existence of this water body was in the 1770s, though am quite sure it would have been in existence much earlier.The Long Tank was a big enough water body to form the western frontier of the city,also determining the limits of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Madras Judicature.

The "Sportsman's Book of India", on the subject of the Madras Boat Club has the following mention about the Long Tank:

"The club-house is permanently situated on the river Adyar, about five miles out of the city of Madras ; but during the cold weather, when the principal regatta is held,a large tank, called the " Long Tank," opposite the Cathedral of Madras, fills and gives a stretch of water 3 miles by 2 miles. A temporary boathouse is erected there while the water lasts, and the big regatta is generally held in this tank.The roads leading to the club are shaded by magnificent avenues, the drive being one of the best in Madras".

What a wonderful sight it must have been!!!

(The Cathedral in the above account refers to the St.George's Cathedral, which gives an idea about the expanse of the water body when seen in today's context).

Madras was undergoing a population explosion in the early 1900s and the Government was seriously thinking of expansion to facilitate the increasing housing needs.It hit upon an idea of going on a huge takeover drive, buying out several large parts of land and the huge garden bungalows. A proposal was also mooted to takeover 115 acres of land on Greenways Road,most of which was owned by the P.Venkatachellum family,a family famed for its pickles and condiments business.

An idea was then suggested by V.S.Ranganatham Pillai, the son of a former Dewan of Cochin and the owner of one of the garden bungalows on Greenways road, that the Long Tank could be taken up for development. The Government too thought of it as a good idea and this spelt the death knell for the huge water body.

In one of the earliest instances of draining out a water body for real estate purposes (Chennai was to see a lot more of it especially in the early/mid 2000s, when the real estate boom was at its peak), the Long Tank was drained in 1919 and filled up to create housing facilities.Thus came up Theyagaroya Nagar in 1925,or T.Nagar to call it by its more familiar name. It was named in honour of Sir Pitty Theyagaroya Chetty,one of the founders of the Justice Party and for long the President of the Corporation of Madras.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011


2011 marked the end of the year long celebrations commemorating 150 years of Income Tax India. I happened to go through a small pamphlet brought out by the IT department (available on the website), which traced the origins of Income Tax in India and proceeded to trace its progress over the 150 year period. Mentioned rather appropriately in the pamphlet was James Wilson, the man behind the levy of Income Tax.

This post is about a man who played an equally important and interesting part in the introduction of Income Tax in India,Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras from 1858-1860, a man who is seldom mentioned in discussions regarding the origins of Income Tax in this country.

Sir Charles Trevelyan, born in 1807 joined the East India Company's Bengal Civil Service as a writer in 1826 and gradually moved up the ranks, becoming Deputy Secretary to the Government in the Political Department and later Secretary to the Sudder Board of Revenue, before returning to England in 1838. During his tenure, he earned a reputation for promoting the cause for education and it was thanks to him that the Government decided in favour of the promulgation of European Literature and Science amongst the Indians.

His experience in Indian conditions meant that he was seen as a perfect choice to replace Lord Harris, who had resigned as Governor of Madras in 1858. Thus, he returned to India in 1858, this time as Governor of Madras.It was around this time that the administration of India was undergoing a change. Soon after the Mutiny of 1857, the Government of India Act, 1858 was passed that placed India under the direct rule of the Queen, thus bringing to an end the East India Company rule.

The Mutiny had left in its wake a tremendous deficit that needed to be overcome. An increase in customs duty was proposed, which led to widespread protests, especially in Bengal and Madras. A need was felt for the presence of a person who would be the panacea for the financial mess the government was finding itself in. Thus came into picture James Wilson, a man known to be of great financial ability. Little would he have imagined then that his brainchild would go on one day to become the country's mainstay of revenue.

James Wilson, in the first ever Budget Speech in India, delivered on 18th of February 1860, proposed to bridge the gap between revenue and increase in public debt through an increase in import duties, a tax on home-grown tobacco, a small and uniform license duty upon traders of every class and the temporary imposition of an income-tax on all incomes above Rs 200 a year, but with a reduction for those not exceeding Rs 500 per annum. Needless to say, these proposals were to meet with considerable opposition.

Sir Charles Trevelyan was quick to raise in protest against the proposed taxes, and Income Tax in particular. He was of the view that it was not proper to impose the burden of the expenses caused due to the Mutiny on a Presidency that was least affected by it. A public meeting was held at the Pachaiyappa's Hall in George Town (then known as Black Town) to garner support against the imposition of Income Tax.Joining hands with Sir Charles Trevelyan in the protest was Sir Henry Nelson of Parry and Co, who was then the Chairman of the Madras Chamber of Commerce. Trevelyan also found fault with the imposition of the tax on people who had no representation in the Legislative Council. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the powers in England and led to the recall of Trevelyan.

The whole episode had an ironical ending. James Wilson did not live to see his efforts bear fruit as he died of dysentery in August 1860, thus leaving a sizable hole to fill in the Finance Department. In one of those ironies of life, the man chosen to replace him was Trevelyan himself, who returned to India in 1862 as the Finance Minister, thus being made in charge of implementing a levy he had so vehemently opposed. And thus came to stay Income Tax, in the face of ongoing protests led by Madras particularly. After an unsteady initial period in the 1870s(when it was abolished in 1873,only to return 5 years later), Income Tax became more or less a permanent feature.

Trevelyan and his tenure in Madras as Governor is remembered even today in the city. It was he who mooted the idea of developing a public space for the city, a green lung that would serve as a place for people to congregate and also provide a mode of recreation. Thus came into being the People's Park right next to where today the Central Station is, on an area of 117 acres. This park would later go on to house famous Madras institutions such as the Zoo (which functioned from there until the 1980s, when it moved to Vandalur)and the magnificent and historic Victoria Public Hall (built in 1887,currently undergoing renovation). Sadly, all today that remains of this huge green space is a garden called the My Ladys Garden, which is functional and can been accessed through Sydenhams Road. A fountain christened the "Trevelyan Fountain" was put up on the grounds of the Victoria Public Hall when it was built, thus commemorating the man who developed the space. This fountain, though dysfunctional can be seen even today, recently having been relocated inside the grounds to facilitate the Metro Rail work. Another place commemorating Trevelyan in the city is a road called the Trevelyan Basin road.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Recently, a report in the Hindu Property Plus spoke of the diminishing tree cover in Chennai and how amongst the metropolises it has the lowest tree cover (an unflattering 9.5% within city limits and 4.5% in the suburbs).

So when I came across this report on the number of trees planted on the various roads in Madras in 1878, I just could not believe how green the roads mentioned in the report would have been!!! A far cry from what we have today!!!

Snapshots of extracts from the Report:

Monday, December 5, 2011


My write up on a recent visit to Pulicat which has been published in the current issue of Madras Musings:

Heritage destination – Pulicat
(By Karthik A. Bhatt)
Will it ever happen?

One recent lazy Sunday afternoon, a couple of friends and I took off on a drive to Pulicat (Pazhaverkadu in Tamil), to explore the sights of a fishing hamlet that was once home to the Dutch East India Company.

At the end of a 2-hour, and a fairly comfortable, drive on NH-5, we reached Pulicat. We had established contact with a local there to take us around and he was on hand to receive us.

Our first stop was at an exquisite temple dating to the Vijayanagara period dedicated to Adinarayana Perumal. A locked wicket gate welcomed us. Awed by the sight of the main entrance to the temple, we were disappointed that we would be denied the opportunity to witness what lay beyond. We decided to ask around to see if someone could guide us to the person who would have the keys to the temple and so, off went one of my friends and the local contact. They returned 10 minutes later with the good tidings that the priest was on his way and, sure enough, he appeared not long after. The priest unlocked the main entrance and a huge temple greeted us.

Though a magnificent temple, it was in complete ruins. Huge roots had literally torn it apart at various places. After returning from the visit, a little research on the internet revealed that the entire construction was of laterite stone, a material seen used in Kerala palaces and commonly seen in Malabar and the Konkan coast, but not seen in Tamil Nadu. So it was the type of construction that made this temple unique.

The area leading to the sanctum sanctorum was surprisingly neat and well maintained. The priest explained to us that it had been spruced up when some basic work had been undertaken in 2009 and 2010. He also mentioned that there was talk of HR & CE aid forthcoming but that nothing had come out of it so far. We could gather from him that a feud between Pazhaverkadu and another village, the name of which we couldn’t catch, had led to this temple being neglected. We could not even complete the circumambulation as the path was full of thorns.

After leaving the temple, our next stop was the Dutch cemetery. Pulicat was the principal trading post of the Dutch East India Company, whose factory was established there in 1610. Legend has it that they first established contact with the local Muslim traders and that it was they who helped the Dutch get a trading grant from Queen Obayama, the wife of King Venkata II, the Vijayanagara ruler. It was from Pulicat that the Dutch successfully carried out much of their trading operations for the next 200 years, before surrendering the settlement to the British East India Company in 1825.

All that remains today signifying that it was once a Dutch enclave is the cemetery. Fort Geldria, the fort built by the Dutch around 1615 as a means of protection, had been demolished, first by Hyder Ali and later by the British when they took control of Pulicat.

Maintained by the ASI, the cemetery was open, but there was not a soul in sight. Once we entered, it was so quiet that it was hard to believe that we were just a minute away from the main market of Pazhaverkadu! Two beautifully sculpted skeletons greeted us at the entrance. Inside the cemetery were well maintained graves of various Dutch residents and officials of Pulicat. We could also see a couple of English tombstones in a far corner, obviously sited after 1825.

Coming out of the cemetery, we made brief stops at a couple of old churches. The older of them, called the Our Lady of Glory Church (said to date to the Portuguese period), had been demolished and was being reconstructed. The other church, a small, beautiful one called the St. Anthony’s Church, was closed and we could only get a glimpse of it from the outside. We then drove over the bridge across the lake connecting one side of this fishing hamlet to the other. This bridge, which has been recently opened, has improved connectivity with the mainland for the many villages on the other side of the lake. It was twilight and the lake presented a pretty sight in the fading light.

Our last stop for the evening before we drove back was to catch up with a bit of Muslim history. Pulicat has a long association with the Muslim community, with Arabian traders settling there nearly 800 years ago. Two prominent mosques, both nearly 300 years old, are the main places of worship. The smaller of the two mosques, the Chinna Pallivasal, has an interesting feature, a sundial that was installed in 1914 to show the time based on which the people would assemble for prayer. A Madrasa also functions in the vicinity, where the children receive Islamic instructions. The Arwi language, a blend of Tamil and Arabic, is another interesting feature of the place. Dating to the time the Arabs first settled in Pulicat, this language today has very few takers amongst the Muslims of Pulicat, with only a handful of people amongst the local population having a knowledge of it. Essentially Tamil written in Arabic, the script has certain special symbols as Tamil has more consonants and vowels than Arabic. Arwi was used during the freedom struggle as a means of secret communication, as the British translators could understand only the Arabic script.

It was soon time for us to make the two-hour drive back to the city. We were left ruing the fact that we had mistimed our trip, as the three hours we had in Pulicat offered only a glimpse of the local culture and nothing more. We had also missed out on visiting the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary.

With so much of rich history in Pulicat, not to mention the placid waters of the lake and the beach beyond, it is a place that offers an opportunity to be developed as an exciting tourist destination. Though tourists do visit the place for joy rides on the lake and enjoy the bird sanctuary, its potential needs to be harnessed much more.