It rained cats and dogs throughout the night of 26th and for a good part of early 27th as well. But having seen many Madras Week tours through in the midst of rain (the Justice Party tour of 2009 being the most memorable) I was not much bothered. And so we assembled at the Gymkhana Club at 6.15 am. The tour began at 6.30 am and I was still at Curzon’s at 7.20 am. The rest of it had to be rather quick paced. Serves me right for going overboard on telling the story of Lady Willingdon. The walk had its difficult bits. The traffic grew in volume (number and sound) and drowned out whatever I was saying through the megaphone. Parking the vans in the service lanes was tough. There were piles of shit everywhere… Who says Chennai is tourism friendly? Karthik Bhatt called off at the last minute owing to an eye ailment and so that meant Sarada and I had to keep in touch with the van drivers at every stop. Just for the record here is what we covered:
1. Thomas Munro, (right of Munro) 2. The Madras Gymkhana Club, 3. The Government House, 4. Cooum House, 5. Banqueting (Rajaji) Hall, 6. Gandhi Illam, 7. King Edward VII statue (3 to 7 are non existent), 8. the new Assembly cum Secretariat which is now to become a multi-purpose speciality hospital, 9. Curzons, 10. 100 Mount Road, the erstwhile home of The Hindu, 11. The rise of Woodlands as a chain, 12. Misquith (later Musee Musicals), 13. The Lyric (later The Elphinstone), 14. Lawrence & Mayo, 15. The Suguna Vilasa Sabha (earlier the Justice Party HQ and the Plaza Theatre), 16. The Cosmpolitan Club, 17. The Devi theatres, 18. Christ Church 19. Wrenn Bennet, 20. Wellington Talkies 21. Kardyll (Bharat Insurance), 22. LIC, 23. Pioneer Laundry and the Masonic Movement, 24. Murray & Co, 25. The Madras Club, 26. Indian Express, 27. Speed-a-way, 28. The Rane Group, 29. TVS (Madras Automobiles, AK Ramachandra Iyer etc), 30. Presentation Convent, 31. Thousand Lights, 32. Cuddon Building (VST Motors), 33. Agurchund Mansions, 34. Safire, 35. The Tawkers, 36. Swadesamitran
Left of Munro (beginning with Gemini) – 1. Francis Spring, K Subrahmanyam, SS Vasan, Gemini and Ananda Vikatan, 2. VTI, 3. Spencers, 4. Connemara, 5. IOB, the old Imperial Hotel (Amir Baugh), 6. The Eastern and Western Castlets (later Addison and Lady Willingdon Nursing Home), 7. Reliance Motors, 8. Saraswathi Stores, 9. Dhun Building and Tarapore Towers, 10. The Warwick Theatre, 11. Venkatapathi Naidu Building (Wiele & Klein), 12. The Umda Baugh (the Government Arts College), 13. Hazrath Moosa Shah Qadiri Mosque, 14. MES, 15. The Vizianagaram water trough, 16. New Elphinstone (and Jaffars), 17. India Silk House, 18. Higginbothams, 19. Poompuhar (old Lawrence Asylum Press), 20. Buharis, 21. The Mail, 22. P Orr & Sons, 23. The Hindu, 24. Simpsons (old Burghalls Stables and Oakes & Co), 25. D’Angelis Hotel, 26. Madras Mahajana Sabha building
I realise that while typing this I have lost the correct flow and the order is all jumbled up. I am also sure I have left out quite a few places in the above list. It was overall more than a mouthful and I was jolly glad when we tumbled into Saravana Bhavan, Mount Road, for a hearty breakfast. Ideally, Mount Road needs to be cut into five segments and each needs a heritage tour by itself. The Times of India reported the walk in detail. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Mount-Roads-takeover-tycoons/articleshow/9767517.cms They got the number of attendees wrong though. Our head count was 42.
That evening I spoke at the Gymkhana Club on the necessity of a heritage act in the city. A crowd of around 80 attended, which was not bad considering that the talk was not publicised in the papers, the Madras Week leaflet or the Gymkhana’s own magazine and SMS service. I should be flattered that all the attendance was entirely due to one single poster put up at the Gym.
As I went to bed, I was gratified by the thought that compared to Mount Road, Mint Street would be a jujube…, a mere bagatelle.