When there was counterfeiting , in reverse !

It was actually a counterfeiting in the reverse. When the intrinsic value of metal within a coin became more valuable than the established denomination itself, people started hoarding coins in Madras as elsewhere in the country. No wonder for there was a world war going on and feud usually was a Glutton for metals. Copper…

The Queen from Alwarpet

The Madras racing season of 1943 had just begun. In Madras, bets were being made on the horse’s haste even when the Mughals were ruling in Delhi. But the Madras race club was not just a sporting space. The rich and famous did not come from afar to devote their hours to watch equine sprints…

REFUGEES SEEKING A DESERTED TOWN

Ironically when long term residents were fleeing a fast emptying Madras, a new set of refugees took sanctuary in that city. Rangoon in Burma suffered aerial bombardments on the Christmas day 1941 when 40 Japanese Zero bombers wreaking havoc. One lakh people died and their bodies lay uncleared for days. Tamils were the commercial backbone…

1940 – The year of Fires

Fires of a world war were raging across the globe, but 1940 was a year of three famous blazes in Madras, which in a way rewrote the history of the town. The New Year started with a fire which gutted the Congress run All India Khadi and Swadeshi exhibition, whose organization had been compared in the…

When Censorship withered film production

1942 started a ruinous stint for the nascent talkie industry of Madras. Wartime evacuations of both audience and producers (AVM moved to Devakottai Rastha) and restriction of post dusk shows had already hit the industry hard. Then came the next jolt. German film technology (AGFA film mainly) had sustained Indian cinema with negative raw stock…

BUTCHERING A ZOO

Madras had a long tradition of exhibiting animals and boasted of a choicely-kept menagerie from the Nawab times. The zoos were seen later as the symbol of British Empire’s economic power as it built a global empire. The earliest public zoos was established within the Egmore museum premises giving rise to the term ‘uyir college’…

Quit India movement – A damp squib in madras

In 1942 the Congress met in Bombay. The nation was strife with rumours that a mega event of the freedom movement was in the offing and a nervousness on part of the colonial establishment was perceptible. Even the archbishop of Canterbury in his weekly prayer asked people to keep India in their prayers. Gandhi maintained…

Waiting for a Japanese bomb

For a year every flying fowl in the skies was suspect.  Likewise, every utensil that slipped out of the housewife’s hand had people scuttling for shelter. “What if it was a hot headed Jap pilot discharging his volatile cargo?” was the sheepish response. With dramatic suddenness, lives had been changed when on   Easter Sunday, 75…

When Gandhi rode a Madras bus

Gandhi had a close-knit but somewhat tumultuous relationship with Madras which in over fifty years he would visit twenty times. In 1896 Gandhi first visited Madras and newspapers reported that he ‘read out’ a protracted speech which the crowd at Pachaiyappan hall was patient enough to hear fully. 20 years later and a satisfactory orator…

Madras and the Stealer of Locks

The world war times were periods of paradox. It was 1942 and the height of world war 2. The British said they would defend Madras at any cost. And the people believed them. But when nearby Colombo , Vizag and Kakinada were bombed mercilessly by the Japanese Fear entrenched itself in the minds of the…

Coming of age ritual and the Casino theatre

It was a dark and stormy night. Dusky because a blackout had been announced to deceive the Japanese bombers. And squally because a cyclone had been predicted the next day. But with an inaugural show of George Formby starring in a laugh riot titled ‘It’s turned out nice again’ on the 14th of December, Casino…

A demon from the sea. The Emden bombing.

Today is the 104th anniversary of the Emden bombing of Madras. It was after a gap of more than a century that Madras was being attacked by an enemy and it caused a lot of flutter Unlike the later world war india was not a participant and had the least inkling it would be attacked….

The Kalki magazine

The jail doors clanged open. A free Krishnamurthy had gone in as India’s highest paid magazine editor but walked out as an unemployed writer. His  joining the individual sathyagraha call of Gandhi had irked his boss at Ananda Vikatan- SS Vasan who had with embarrassing firmness stressed that Krishnamurthy was not welcome back. Patience ceases…

Individual Sathyagraha movement

“No quantity but quality please. And I assure victory” said Gandhi promoting his latest  method to needle the British empire. The radicals in Congress wanted to launch a mass Civil Disobedience Movement and get everyone onto the streets, but Gandhi insisted on “Individual Satyagraha’. The sathyagrahis had to be approved by Gandhi himself. After serving…

When Madras surrendered…….

9th September is the 271st anniversary of the only time in history  Madras was taken by an enemy. Madras- the jewel of the Coramandel coast was constantly in the roving eyes of the enemy. Surprisingly its six metre high walls restricted the adversary quite competently for long. Unable to breach them HyderAli even tried to…

Jinnah’s tryst with the Madras presidency

Mohammed Ali Jinnah might be viewed as an Islamic fundamentalist, who was part of the reason for the India- Pakistan partition, but he was also the leader who brought the idea of Dravidanadu closer to reality.

How a Vanamohini influenced Tamil literature

In an age when even actresses, much less scantily clad ones, weren’t available, Sri Lankan actress K Thavamani Devi, who was struggling to find a place in the films of her homeland, made her mark in the Tamil film industry with her sarong costumes and sensuality.

To name a corner building

It was 1940 and the Art deco building on the corner plot stood, completed  and  ready for opening. But the tenants objected to what should have been the natural name of this new building – that of the founder of the second oldest surviving brand in the country. And the possibility of a loss in…

Guest article – An Ahalya amidst us

By Nivedita Louis. Maa…mata…the word evokes a deep emotion for us all Indians. Personification of nations as mothers- the motherland was a hitherto new concept that took off in India during the 1900s. The British called their Motherland Britannia 2000 years ago, The Scots named her Caledonia, the Germans though they loved calling it their…

1947: A Madras story

What was it like to live in this city the year India celebrated its much-awaited independence?Seventy years have passed since that momentous date. One that changed the lives of billions living and those yet to be born. But what was Madras like during the historic year of 1947? And what did everyday life look like?…

The Jhansi of Madras

A suffocating marriage had Lakshmi fleeing from the city she had grown up in. She boarded a ship setting sail from Madras to Singapore in June 1940. (following a fellow doctor she would only later identify as K whom she thought she was in love with). A divorced 26 year old gynecologist, Lakshmi hoped to…

To quench the City’s thirst

A mighty river – Kosasthaliyar flowed close to Madras but then it was mostly bone dry. However to its credit, it did flood like a herd of rampaging elephants for atleast a week every year and all that water went waste into the bay. A serious drought in 1939 made citizens whine about the inactive…

Hindi nahi hai !

In February 1940, Governor Erskine issued what was perhaps his last order before demitting office and one close to his heart. It was a communiqué retracting compulsory Hindi tutoring in Madras schools. It was three years before, in one rare lowering of the barriers by the British that the Congress came to power. The Governor…

Gandhi in a suit?

Nobody in India had seen Gandhi in a suit. Often criticised as the “half naked fakir” for the lack of attire, many didn’t believe their leader had even worn one. But they got to see it on 23rd August 1940. Around 1937, AK Chettiar a young photographer, while crossing the Atlantic on a ship, observed…

A star is made

“Who am I, a mere Prime Minister before a Queen, a Queen of Music” – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. A scorpion stung Apitha. No medication offered succor in her dying throes and to her, the culmination surprisingly came as a reprieve. Back home in Madras, she had left her daughters and husband Sadasivam but with them…