You could have knocked me down with a feather – for all that we celebrate the Tamil film world as Kollywood, there is not a single studio in Kodambakkam. That stellar universe, or what is left of it, is in neighbouring Vadapalani. I guess the original pin code for all of the area was once Kodambakkam’s and later Vadapalani must have been carved out of it, taking away the studios, lock, stock and barrel. But the old Power House, which is alleged to have been the reason why studios settled here, still stands, on Arcot Road, as per the Eicher Map. 

Of course, as everybody knows, Kodambakkam gets its name from Ghoda Baugh – the place where the Nawab tethered his horses. But sadly, this is a piece of fiction that has gained ground and has been established as fact. There is mention of the village of Corumbat in 1672, when the Golconda forces were besieging San Thome. HD Love says this is Kodumbaukum. If that is not convincing enough (it is not), we find the French laying claim to the village of Codamback a year later. The Nawab would settle in Madras a hundred years later and bring along his horses. (Why would any Nawab, with a palace in Chepauk, keep his horses in Kodambakkam? Unless he was allergic to horse dung of course). 

But long before the Europeans, the core of Kodambakkam existed. The Kurumbas of the Sangam era divided Thondaimandalam into 24 kottams or administrative units and one among these was Puliyur Kottam. Even today, Puliyur exists, completely swallowed up by Madras that is Chennai. Government records still notify this area as Puliyur Village and there is a Puliyur Main Road with variants even now there. Along its side is what a narrow drain that is referred to as Cooum Stream in Government records. As per KV Raman, there is a 13th century inscription of the Telugu Chodas that mentions Puliyur as well. For the record, Kodambakkam has Nungambakkam and T Nagar to the east, Mambalam to the south, Vadapalani to the west and Aminjikarai to the north. Much if its development is from the 20th century. There is just one PO here and in postal records, the area was known as Akbarabad, and not Kodambakkam, till the 1960s! The name survives, in a tiny colony opposite Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam. What is its history I wonder.

After the Puliyur history, Arcot Road would perhaps be the next most important as it linked Fort St George, via Mount Road, to Arcot. It was the Company genuflecting to the Nawabs in the 18th century. Today it is named after NS Krishnan, a tribute to a towering film personality. There is an NTR Garden Street nearby, which I assume is a tribute to Lord Vishnu who came to earth to act in films. Nungambakkam is separated from Kodambakkam by the railway line and Railway Border Road marks the boundary. To many of us, in the 1970s, Kodambakkam was synonymous with interminable waits at the level crossings in Rangarajapuram and Kodambakkam High Road. I am told that the latter was also where the star struck waited, to see their favourite stars as they fumed and fretted in their cars en route the studios. Now an overbridge has reduced the wait though traffic crawls along it as well. Not far from here is Kodambakkam’s now most famous film connection – the Sri Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam of Rajinikanth fame. For all its cine-connect, Kodambakkam did not have any big theatre. I can only recall Liberty, which stood in United India Colony.

The name of UI Colony brings to mind a wonderful short story that someone from the US wrote under the pseudonym of Ramanuja Iyer in Madras Musings about life in that locality in the 1970s. It was essentially a lower-middle class neighbourhood. I quote his description of the place – 

“Circular Road, happens to be the outer ring road of United India Colony, a quaint well laid out middle-class locality tucked at one end of Kollywood aka Kodambakkam, Chennai. A 15-minute stroll would bring you back to your starting point. The radial roads at 120 degrees connected you to the inner ring road called Park View road, which you could walk in under five minutes, and in the middle was a small nice park. 

It also had three long vertical roads and a bunch of horizontal roads, the most famous among the latter being the 4th cross street which is where a good part of the action took place in this story, the other being Circular road itself. The 4th cross street stretched right from the old Uma lodge (which was a landmark for Malayalam movie stars in their early days) and across the Loyola school and Fatima church, all the way to the end of the other side with Gokul apartments, one of the first flats in that area. The Circular road was tangential to the 4th cross street. It was such a beautiful layout and could bring out either the romantic or the mathematician in you. I guess I ended up with the former more than the latter.”

UI Colony owes its existence to the vision of MCt Chidambaram Chettyar, who was the Chairman of the United India Insurance when it was a private company. Those were days when insurance companies invested heavily in real estate as a hedge and also as a market sign of security. Thus it was that UI Colony came to be developed. Trustpuram takes its name from the City Improvement Trust that developed various colonies in Madras in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Zachariah Colony honours one of the Metropolitans of the Orthodox Church, which has its offices close by. 

Of the schools in the area Fathima Convent is perhaps the best known, and it is UI Colony as well. There is a Loyola School too, and a DAV. Of the colleges, Meenakshi is famous. Begun in 1975 by Prof KR Sundararajan, it owed much of its initial development to the Rane Group of Companies. Next to it is a lovely temple to Goddess Sarada, constructed and maintained by the Sringeri Sarada Peetham. Another Amman temple in the area is dedicated to Goddess Kali. Known as the Kali Bari (home), it is, as the name suggests, constructed and maintained by the Bengali community in the city and dates from the 1980s. 

Much of Kodambakkam is of recent origin but nevertheless it has its interesting past. 

This series on pincodes will take a break from today till the 27th as I am traveling. More on return. 

You can read about Chennai 600023 here