If this article was written around fifty years ago, Kilpauk could have been summarised in just a few stately homes – Ajmer, Manohar, Vupputur House, Sladens Gardens, Devarasola, Hyde Park Gardens, Rama Mandiram, Lalitha Prasad, Kingston… – hardly any survive now. Such is life. Kilpauk still remains one of my favourite localities of the city – it is full of history, of essentially the rich and the famous of an era long gone. You cannot avoid stumbling over long dead knights, dewan bahadurs, rao bahadurs, rao sahebs and at worst a mere hon.
But before we get on with the lives, let us look at the geography of the place. This is an irregularly shaped postal district for it has on the west a spur along New Avadi Road and spills over a little to the other side as well. On the north you have Ayanavaram. On the east it includes Otteri and also a little bit of Purasaiwalkam and then on the south it is bound by Poonamallee High/Periyar EV Ramaswami Road, stopping just short of Pacchaiyappa’s College. There are three POs here – Kilpauk, Kilpauk Medical College and Medavakkam Tank Road.
Kilpauk, falling to the west of Fort St George, is on the road that was laid to Poonamallee where the Naik who (imagined that he) had the powers to regulate the British, lived. It was therefore an important thoroughfare and developed quite early in city’s history. Its roads reflect that era by way of names – Landon’s, Flower’s, Barnaby, Balfour’s, Hall’s, Branson’s, Kelly’s and Aspiran’s being some of them. And then you have the names of some of the major Indian landowners in the area – T Vasu Naidu (Vasu Street), Manikkeswari (named after the tutelary deity of the Rajas of Paralakhemundi) and Rajarathnam (probably after P Rajarathna Mudaliar) are some of these. I wonder who or what Barracka Road is named after. If Mylaporeans can claim Kannadiyan Theru to be Kennedy Street and named after JFK, surely Kilpaukis can say the saw the rise of Barak Obama a long while back.
But first let us deal with some of the big land pockets here. The Institute of Mental Health is perhaps one of the oldest occupants, having been here since the 1790s. It is perhaps India’s oldest institution of its kind to still survive and it turned 225 a couple of years ago. Then you have the Kilpauk Water Works, dating to 1914 and still going strong. Though JW Madeley (of the Madeley subway fame) was undoubtedly the man who saw it through, no less was the contribution of Hormusji Nowroji, Engineer of the Corporation. He is remembered in Nowroji Road which itself has some very large properties – that of MS Subbulakshmi (Sladen and later Kalki Gardens), which has since changed hands, and Srinath Baugh, the residence of the Kushaldoss Chaturbhujadoss, Gujarati magnates. Their Kushaldoss Gardens, another magnificent property in Kilpauk, has since been demolished and redeveloped. The CSI Bain School and Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram are two other large landholders here. The latter was once Newtone Studio where among others, MS Subbulakshmi’s Meera was shot. Two other schools in this area that deserve mention are the M Ct M School whose history is better related in a Puraswailkam post and the Sindhi Model School. The latter traces its history to the arrival of the Sindhi community to the city post partition and settling in and around Kilpauk. Their educational society began in 1974.
As I said before, many properties have vanished. Among these is vast Vupputoor House on Flower’s Road. This was the residence of the V Perumal Chetty family. Much diminished in size is Devarasola, now restricted to Major Murari Avenue, off Vasu Street. This was the property of T Vasu Naidu and he owned nearly half of Kilpauk. Timeri N Murari, well-known writer, is a grandson and he still lives here. His book, Four Steps to Paradise, set in Kilpauk, is perhaps one of the finest works of fiction that out city can take pride in. Much of the action takes place in Kilpauk. Gone completely, leaving behind a Samadhi is Raja Sir Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar’s house, Rama Mandiram. This was on long lease from the Kanchipuram Ekamranatha Swami Temple, which since reclaimed the land. The same was the fate of Lalitha Prasad, though the house still stands. It was home to Soora Lutchmiah Chetty. Also on the same landbank is Kingston, once home to the likes of Dharmamurthy Rao Bahadur Calavala Cunnan Chetty and Dr S Rangachary. It was the Seetha Kingston School till recently. The institution still functions at the same premises, now under Government administration. Sadly no longer in existence is beautiful Flower’s Road Post Office as well.
The stretch of Poonamallee High Road facing Kilpauk was known for doctors. Here you had hallowed names such as Dr Mohan Rau, Dr Ananda Rau, Dr Pandalai and so many others. Just inside Kilpauk still stands the aptly named Dhanvantri Villa, the residence of Dr Sir A Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, renowned gynaecologist and for long the Vice Chancellor of Madras University. Leading off Poonamallee High Road is Dr Guruswami Mudaliar Road, recalling another great physician who lived at the end of the stretch. Many hospitals and nursing homes continue to function here and taking forward that legacy. But the biggest of them all is the Kilpauk Medical Hospital. It has an interesting history –in 1925, the Raja of Panagal arriving to inaugurate a conference of Unani practitioners, was so impressed that he ordered the starting of an Indian School of Medicine (ISM), for which he gave his residence – Hyde Park Gardens. The school functioned from here till 1960, when the Government in its wisdom wound it up and gave the land to the Kilpauk Medical College. The ISM was in an act of contrition opened again at Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli and then sometime in 1970 was shifted back to Madras where it now functions from Anna Nagar, where it became the Arignar Anna Govt. Hospital of Indian Medicine.
Why did so many doctors want to set up practice right here? Well, the answer is obvious – good old GH and MMC are right at the eastern end of the same road.
The Otteri Nullah, which stretches from Anna Nagar to Pulianthope, cuts across Kilpauk and is known in certain parts as Ainslie Canal after a Binny Director. It is now a massive gutter, which lends its name to the less fashionable part of Kilpauk – Otteri. The Purasawalkam bit added to Kilpauk is fairly nondescript and ends at Tana Street, of rich history but better related when I deal with Purasaiwalkam.
If Mylapore and Triplicane were Congress and Music Academy bastions, Kilpauk was Justice Party and Tamil Isai Sangam headquarters. Here lived people such as Varadaraja Mudaliar, Salla Guruswami Chetty, Sir A Ramaswami Mudaliar, the Raja of Panagal and other such prominent Justicites in their great mansions. Also here lived Sir RK Shanmukham Chetty, second President of the Tamil Isai Sangam and Rao Bahadur Kacchapikesa Mudaliar, its Treasurer. A person who bridged both the Academy and the Sangam was T Balasaraswati, who lived on Ramanathan Street.
I cannot conclude without mentioning Ega Theatre of the Candalagadda family, who still reside in a massive home just by its side. The rest are memories.
I dedicate this post to two people who showered me with love and affection and also filled me in on a lot of Kilpauk history – TK Singaram and V Sethuram. May they be in peace wherever they are. I also thank their respective family members who remain very close friends of mine.
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