Volume 57 Number 4, June 2006

Chennai not Madras: Perspectives on the City

Edited by: A.R. Venkatachalapathy
Photographs by: Ramu Aravindan
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 148 pages, 140 illustrations
ISBN: 81-85026-74-2
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

Though the city of Chennai is over 350 years old, it has not received the kind of attention that other metropolitan cities in India have. Writings on the city that are available are written from a somewhat elitist perspective, epitomized by the opposition to the renaming of Madras, a few years ago. But the fact is that it has been referred to as Chennai in Tamil works. Thus the tussle revolves around the cultural struggle between colonial Madras and the Chennai of a wider democratic populace. This somewhat provocatively titled book highlights the vernacular character of Chennai.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy, the editor of the volume, has a doctorate in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. He has written/edited over fifteen books in Tamil on the social, cultural, and intellectual history of colonial Tamil Nadu. He has translated Sundara Ramaswamy's J.J.: Some Jottings (2004). His most recent publication is In Those Days There was No Coffee: Writings in Cultural History (2006).

Introduction: Chennai, Not Madras
A.R. Venkatachalapathy

“Madras Manade”: How Chennai Remained with Tamil Nadu
A.R. Venkatachalapathy

Geography of a Lingua Franca, History of a Linguistic Fracas
Pushpa Arabindoo

Urban Mobility and Early Cinema in Chennai
Stephen Hughes

Chennai: Politics, Architecture, and the City
A. Srivathsan

Search for Self in an Urban Jungle: Notes on Contemporary Art in Chennai

Visual Essay: Travellers’ Tales
A.V. Ilango

The Chennai of My First Visit
Sundara Ramaswamy

The City without Sparrows

East is East, West is West

Chennai Days, Vivid Dreams
Blake Wentworth

Photo Essay: Tondiapet to Mylapore
Ramu Aravindan 

Venkatachalapathy, A.R.
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 1-8

The city has been called Chennai as well as Madras since its inception, both names having been used simultaneously but by two different classes. If Madras stands for a colonial vision of the city, Chennai symbolizes the vernacular. This volume celebrates the unsung yet glorious aspects of Chennai and personalities where the full gamut of Tamil life - social, political, religious, and cultural - is played out. These are facets that get missed out in the conventional anglophile histories of Madras, now Chennai.

“Madras Manade”: How Chennai Remained with Tamil Nadu
Venkatachalapathy, A.R.
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 9–18

In the context of the demands for linguistic reorganization of states at the time of Independence, the Telugu-speaking people of Madras Presidency demanded a separate Andhra province. This was coupled with a claim – captured in the alliterative Telugu slogan, ‘Madras Manade’, Madras is ours – on the overwhelmingly Tamil majority city of Chennai. While the demand for an Andhra province was undisputed across the political spectrum, the claim on Chennai proved a stumbling block. Precipitated by the tragic fast unto death of Potti Sriramulu, ultimately Andhra province was formed but without Chennai. This essay contextualizes and narrates the sequence of events that reinforced Chennai as the capital of Tamil Nadu.

Geography of a Lingua Franca, History of a Linguistic Fracas
Arabindoo, Pushpa
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 19–38

In the mid-late1990s, Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta were renamed as Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata respectively. While the official arguments of decolonizing and vernacularizing may have been valid in the years immediately following independence, the more recent attempts at creating a postcolonial urbanity that is vernacular require a deeper enquiry into the application of language to channel the politics of identity and order the geographies of the cities and their regions. Thus, the renaming of Madras as Chennai was one masterful stroke used to realise the triple objectives of establishing a Tamil identity, restoring the credibility of a rejuvenated local government, and a strategy of repackaging the city for neo-liberal investors. But the spatial repercussions that result from this tell a different tale: a tale of two cities, where Madras and Chennai continue to co-exist, albeit in an uneven geographic condition with polarized economic fortunes.

Urban Mobility and the History of Cinema-Going in Chennai
Hughes, Stephen
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 39–48

This essay considers the historical relationship between public transportation and film going in Chennai. It briefly plots the development of public transportation and then discusses its relation to the early history of film going in the city. In particular it compares how the introduction of the tram system coincided with the growth and success of cinema exhibition. Both opened up and institutionalized new kinds of public space allowing for greater mixing at close proximity among different castes, classes, and religious communities that would otherwise not normally interact. The essay argues that the success of the cinema in Chennai must, among other things, be understood in relation to the increasing and new possibilities of urban mobility.

Politics, Architecture, and the City
Srivathsan, A.
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 49-62

Dravidian politics for many years contested the homogenization of the nationalist discourse. It played Dravidian identity as an alternative to national identity; it put forth Dravidanadu as an alternative sovereign place. Chennai remained at the centre of this contestary politics. The civic architecture of the city is an expression of this politics and it is to be understood in this political context. This paper attempts to explain the making of Chennai and its civic architecture in relation to the politics that inhabited the city.

Search for Self in an Urban Jungle: Notes on Contemporary Art
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 63-72

This essay traces the development of art practices and institutions in Chennai from the time of the founding of the city. Traditional artistic skills came with the migrant population. The Company school of paintings, a striking synthesis of various traditions, originated in Chennai and developed as it spread all over India. The advent of photography had its impact on portraiture and watercolour landscapes. The founding of the art school in Chennai, in the context of a nationalist awakening paved the way for the emergence of a modern art movement centred on the charismatic figure of D.P. Roy Choudhury. The Bengal-centrism of this movement led to a reaction - the founding of the Cholamandal artists village spearheaded by K.C.S. Paniker. The gradual disintegration of Cholamandal has not stopped the continuing growth of modern art in Chennai.

Visual Essay: Travellers' Tales
Ilango, A.V.
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 73-90

Award-winning artist Ilango, with his fresh and original paintings in vibrant colours, captures the everyday buzz of the city, its cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, buses, trains, and water tankers.

The Chennai of My First Visit
Ramaswamy, Sundara
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 91-100

This essay is an account of the first visit to Chennai in the early 1950s by the doyen of Tamil writers. To the young man from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, the city is both utterly fascinating and confounding. Even quotidian activities cause bewilderment. If the sights cause wonder, the rudeness and indifference of the people scare him. Negotiating the urban space of Chennai and its inhabitants gives the author a sense of achievement when he returns home.

The City without Sparrows
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 101-112

This essay offers the perspective of a full-time writer who ventures to live in Chennai in the late 1970s. The city is even more bewildering than in the early 1950s when Sundara Ramaswamy forays into it. The world of filmmaking offers Prapanjan the entry point into the city. But it is not the world of superstars and big money but that of young and aspiring assistant directors and junior artistes. Also of the marginals who sell black tickets and have to negotiate the dangerous shoals of lower-level police and rowdies. Chennai is a bleak city, without even sparrows, but it still houses a great amount of vitality and energy.

East is East, West is West
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 113-122

T. Nagar, earlier east Mambalam, is now both a bustling commercial hub and a generally upmarket residential district. This essay, born out of the lived experience of over half a century, narrates its transformation in contradistinction to West Mambalam. The railway track that marks out and divides the flourishing east from its poor cousin the west takes on symbolic meaning. Ashokamitran, who has set many of his fictional works in this region, narrates its travails with wry, understated humour.

Chennai Days, Vivid Dreams
Wentworth, Blake
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 123-130

This is a first-person account by an American that contemplates the shifting contours of self-awareness evoked by living in a foreign city. After living in an unfamiliar place for some time, the stranger's overwhelming need to find familiarity amidst newness is overtaken by an intensely local sense of place, where the most mundane things can spark an almost paranormal sense of awareness. This is a recognition of presence in the world at its most direct, an exhilarating time of discovery where memory and experience collide in the most interesting ways, but it is irretrievably evanescent, as fragile as it is consuming. Seeking to recapture it after returning home, we find the blurred traces of a different order of experience, which may yet be more real to our perceptions than the familiar surroundings we know perhaps too well.

Photo Essay: On the Streets of Chennai
Aravindan, Ramu
Vol. 57 No. 4, June 2006; ISBN:81-85026-74-2, pp. 131-138

Portraits of the people involved in day-to-day activities and the buildings in George Town, Sowcarpet, Triplicane.