Madras Rediscovered (A Historical Guide to Looking Around, Supplemented with Tales of Once Upon A City)

Madras Rediscovered (A Historical Guide to Looking Around, Supplemented with Tales of Once Upon A City)

FREE Delivery
$29.25  $39   (25% off)
Ships in 1-3 days
Item Code: IHK090
Author: S Muthiah
Publisher: East West Books (Chennai) Pvt Ltd
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788188661749
Pages: 476 (64 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.6 inch
Weight 660 gm
Preface to a Further Revised and Expanded Edition

What you hold in your hands, a bulkier than ever look at Madras that is now Chennai, is in effect the sixth edition of Madras Discovered. What I find significant about this edition is that in the 26 years since the book was first published, this edition has been necessitated in the quickest time, ever, just three years. To me that’s a happy sign that more and more people are getting involved with the story of Madras and the wealth of history the city is heir to. Perhaps my years of telling the story of this ‘First City of Modern India’ is at last having some effect.

This time, I’ve been able to go through the text of the previous edition with a fine-toothed comb and eliminate several factual errors as well as the mistakes a printer’s devil in a hurry had made. No prizes, however, if you spot an error, particularly in a date; just give me the chance to correct it in the next edition.

I have also added considerably to the edition that came out in 2004-and that in no small measure has been due to inputs of two others who have emerged as recorders of Madras History in recent years, Sriram V(enkatakrishnan) and K R A Narasiah. Then there has been all that information readers have been sending me for my column ‘Madras Miscellany’ in The Hindu and to Madras Musings. There have also been contributions made by several books on Madras that have been written in the intervening years, not the least being my own books on which primary research has been done, namely the stories of the Connemara Hotel (manuscript), the University of Madras and its Senate House, the Madras Port, Rm Alagappa Chettiar (manuscript) and Lt. Gen. Inderjit S Gill, PVSM, MC. The book has also benefited from numerous souvenirs boomed even more than its growth since the boom began c 2000. Bits and pieces of that story too have been included. All this additional information will make this a rediscovery of the city for readers who have read any of the earlier editions of the book.

Meanwhile, the battle for heritage continues in the city. At moments there are heartening signs that heritage and history are being paid attention to, at other times they are treated callously. We, my readers and I, can only live in hope. But while we do so, let us remember that this book is only scratching the surface of the story of Madras’s great contribution to modern India’s there’s much more to be unearthed and retailed and I hope my readers will contribute to that over the next few years as I continue my search.

Preface to the Revised Edition of Madras Rediscovered

I effect the fifth edition of Madras Discovered, which first appeared in 1981, this edition has grown still more in the five years since the last edition. Much of that growth has been entirely due to other books I’ve written in the intervening years.

Looking Back from Moulmein, the biography of the late A M M Arunachalam of the Murugappa Group, and The Ace Of Clubs, the story of the Madras Club, have both provided considerable additional information besides what was mined while helping with two other books, The Unfinished Journey, the biography of M Ct M Chidambaram Chettyar, and 60 Landmark Years, the story of E C C, the construction and engineering contracts division of Larsen & Toubro. Another book I played a small role in - Madras - The Architecturla Heritage - also provided many new insights. But the greatest part of the new inputs derived from two columns I did for The Hindu, ‘Madras Miscellany’, still going strong as I write these lines, and ‘Madrascapes’, which after a first innings awaits starting it second. Both these columns have received a considerable response and it has been that feedback, as well as the response to Chennai Heritage’s Madras Musings that I edit, that have provided much information about the old families of Madras and their homes.

With the previous edition of Madras Rediscovered out of stock for some months before I got down to updating the book and faced with repeated requests for a new edition of it, I haven’t had the time to do full justice to the wealth of information that came my way while writing those columns. So a still more complete edition awaits another day; meanwhile, I’ve found enough material to swell this book by another 10,000 words or so. With revisions and corrections to parts of the fourth edition having been carried out, what you have before you is a version of Madras Rediscovered that could well be a rediscovery for readers too.

I must also note that in the past five years, Madras has been enjoying an economic boom that has led to highrise taking over much of the core of the city, large business complexes coming up on the periphery, and an explosion of consumerism that has seen shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities mushroom. Coupled with the city becoming the Automobile Capital and Medicare Capital of India, congestion has become the greatest threat to a city once known for its spaciousness and graciousness. Though the Madras of the pages that follow might not be recognizable in ground reality, the past still survives in the city, precariously though it might be, to remind those that will listen that the prosperity of today is entirely rooted in the history of Madras, the first city of Modern India. To protect that history, the conservationists continue to cry themselves hoarse seeking a Heritage Act or, at least, Heritage Regulations. But there’s little response. The heartening sings however are the restoration of Senate House, Raj Bhavan and Rajaji Hall getting underway, the renewal and readaptation of several old houses for commercial use as shops and restaurants, the formation of Heritage Clubs in several schools, and Madras - with the help of Madras Rediscovered - being taught as a subject in half a dozen colleges. That’s what makes me feel optimistic that the Madras of this book will one day receive the recognition that is its due.

Preface to the First Edition of the retitled book

This should in fact be the fourth edition of Madras Discovered. But with Madras Discovered’s publisher now in new robes and the book having grown by at least 10,000 words besides being considerably revised, we have together decided to issue it as a new book under a new title, Madras Rediscovered.

Madras Rediscovered has the benefit of much that has happened in the six years since the last edition of Madras Discovered. Of the corporate histories I have written in this period, three have revealed much of Madras. Getting India on the Move, the story of Simpson & Co and the Amalgamations Group that grew from it, The Spencer Legend, the story of that giant department store, and The Spirit of Chepauk, the story of the Madras Cricket Club and the beginnings of sport in South India, have all provided much material, directly or indirectly, for this edition. Then there was the coffee-table book I did, Madras - Its Past and Its Present. For this book, and the other three, much research was done from primary sources by Rajind N Christy, my dedicated researcher, and this has yielded far more valuable information than what I had garnered reading a wealth of material, for that material could best be termed only as secondary and tertiary sources. Rajind Christy’s primary research, for those books as well as for this edition, has, therefore, led to many revisions in the present book as well as a fair amount of addition and some deletion. Thus, Madras Rediscovered in not only a substantially expanded book, but it has brought a greater degree of accuracy and precision to what had earlier been generalities or deductions in specific cases.

It must be noted as this edition goes to press that, in the intervening years since the Third Edition of Madras Discovered, the city has grown significantly - upwards, closer together and in population. It is today indeed a bustling metropolis with its quality of life significantly affected for the worse, but it remains a city that is still green and much more open to the skies than most other cities in India. Unfortunately, growth has in many ways destroyed several bits and pieces of its manmade heritage and has in more recent years begun to affect its natural heritage. Despite these changes, I have retained the original text as it was, as though nothing has happened, but have added a supplementary comment or two to bring readers up-to-date. Significantly, some awareness of heritage and the necessity to preserve it has been creeping into both official and non-official thinking and, as these lines are written, one major conservation project, the restoration of the Police Headquarters, has been completed, there is talk of restoring half a dozen other important public buildings in the next couple of years, and a Heritage Act has been recommended to Government by an official committee.

One important question that arose during this revision and expansion was whether to go along with the Government view of History. Government had in 1996 changed the name of Madras to Chennai. It is a change I disagreed with on historical grounds-and so did many others. But while I accept for official use the now-gazetted name for the city, I decided to stick to Madras in this book. After all, this book is a quest for the past in this city - and that past belongs to Madras and no Chennai. I have clarified that point of view further in the appropriate place.

And, as I have said in three previous prefaces, there’s much to be still discovered about Madras. Madras Rediscovered, even in its present more comprehensive form, is not the last word on the subject. But to be able to put down that word, there’s still much to be sought in Madras’s past. Help from anyone interested in making Madras Rediscovered still more complete would be welcome.

Preface to the Third Edition

In the six years since the second edition of Madras Discovered, I’ve read Love very much more carefully, there has been ‘discovery’ of several old classics about the city and I’ve sadly watched several of the city’s landmarks vanish, even if they encouraged a further search for their antecedents. There also occurred a significant anniversary, the city’s 350th birthday.

Regrettably, it was not celebrated on the same scale as ‘Calcutta celebrated its 300th anniversary about the same time. But there was more interest shown in the city than in the last forty years and this manifested itself in several others writing about it. To all of them, too many to single out individually, I’m indebted for more information about Madras.

But even if all this had not necessitated a considerably revised and enlarged third edition, there was one serendipitous happening that just had to be included. And that was discovery, purely by chance, that the Thimmappa connection still remains in the city and that his descendants still call Madras ‘home’. To discover that the family of one of the founders is still going strong in the city is a happy fact that needed to be recorded. All the rest that’s expanded this edition substantially pales beside the discovery that Alavandar Naidu and others of the Thimmappa family are very much a part of today’s Madras scene. They are, indeed, the ‘First Family of Madras’.

If and when there is a fourth edition of Madras Discovered, I hope there will be additional information about other early families, Indian as well as British; perhaps I might even find a Madra or a Day or a Cogan somewhere. I appeal once more, as in years past, not only for such information but for more about Madras the City, how it began and grew. Because there is such information somewhere out there, Madras Discovered remains not the last word on this city.

Preface to the Second Edition

The first edition of Madras Discovered, I was happy to find, was well received. Besides the favourable comment it got locally, several persons abroad acknowledged its use as a reference book on the early British period in India.

Philip Davies, who wrote the monumental Splendours of the Raj-British Architecture in India 1660-1947, acknowledge it as an aid and source book. Then Louise Nicholson, who provided “the Discerning Traveller” with “a Practical Guide” in her splendid India in Luxury, referred to Madras Discovered as the best guidebook to the city.

It was all very heart-warming, but though Madras Discovered was planned as a historical guide to the city, I had always felt the historical-and the conservation of it - should take precedence over its character as a guidebook. The location and sites were merely standing memorials to the history and legends of Madras.

And to emphasise the stuff of history Madras abounds in, I have planned this second edition slightly differently. The first edition has naturally been considerably revised, updated, expanded - and indexed. But in addition to this, I have added an anecdotal elaboration of some part of each chapter. Called ‘Once Upon a City’, these tales tell the stories (and histories) of different aspects of life in Our Towne of Madraspatnam during the centuries. I hope these tales of ‘Once Upon a City’ will help to bring brick and mortar alive and help readers recognize the ghosts who walk through the corridors of much of Madras, City of Legends.

For several of the additions of this volume and the ‘Once Upon a City’ tales, I must acknowledge the kind permission given by several publications for use here of material I had first written for them: Aside, that magazine of Madras which cares for the city, Swagat, Indian Airlines’ in-flight journal, and Namaste, the Welcomgroup publication. I must also thank T P Janakiram for the pains he took to get just the right pictures to illustrate several points made in these pages. And the Madras Chamber of Commerce for their kind permission to reproduce one of their prints of Old Madras on the cover.

Preface to the First Edition

After year abroad - punctuated by occasional visits to a Madras remembered as a leisurely but gracious town of conservative people and large houses with larger ‘gardens’ - I came ‘home’ to a metropolis in 1968-69, but found it essentially unchanged. True, the town I had known had grown bigger, become more populous and acquired an industrial base. But at heart it had remained the charming overgrown village of the 30s and 40s and 50s; a leisurely, gracious town with quaint old-world values, that had spread itself out comfortably in its quest to retain the spaciousness of the past.

My first assignment on my return here was to prepare ‘copy’ to accompany a street guide to Madras. A brief history of an old British company followed. And out of those quests for information was born my interest in the history of Madras and a need to do my bit to conserve its relics. This slim volume, therefore, is as much a historical guide for those who wish to look around Madras, or wish to find out more about their city, as it is a plea to conserve not only its spacious environment but also its cultural and historic relics, by they Indian or European.

Most of the material included here was discovered in the course of a search that is part of a bigger project. Some of it has already been published in Aside, that magazine of Madras which indeed cares for the city’s past, present and future. To its editor, Abraham Eraly, I am particularly grateful for permission to use material first published in his magazine. I must also thank Suresh Bhimsingh for all the trouble he took to get just the right photographs for this book.

The occasional error and omission could well crop up in such a compilation as this. I will be very grateful if they are pointed out or if additional information is provided, so that they may be included in subsequent editions. There might also be some readers who feel there is a Western bias to this book. This is perhaps inevitable, since most of the records on the subject are by Western writers or Indians using those same sources. Indian sources appear non-existent. I would, therefore, particularly appreciate receiving further material about those mentioned in these pages and especially authentic information about the great Indian families of Old Madras, which would enable me to straighten the records.

About the Author

Educated in Sri Lanka, India and the United States, where he dabbled in Engineering, Journalism, English and International Affairs, S Muthiah finally settled for a career in Journalism. After nearly two decades as a senior journalist with The Times of Ceylon Group, he returned to Madras and was in Printing and Publishing for nearly 25 years. He is now an information Consultant for several organizations, editor of two journals and a freelance journalist. But he still finds time for writing books and teaching, for reading and the pursuit of History, and for taking an enthusiast’s watching interest in the Arts and Sport.


Preface vi
Illustrations xiv
Once Upon a City: A Search for Roots7
Once Upon a City: The Mystery of the Woman in the North River13
Once Upon a City: Pushing the Map Ever Forward24
1. Of Clive and Wellington 27
2. The bells of St Mary’s 30
3. The portals of power 38
4. The Yale fortune 43
Once Upon a City: The Fort’s Great Romance46
1. The Mount Road Press 50
2. Coffee and Cinema at Round Tana 62
3. Commerce in Clubland 72
4. Trendsetting with a smile 88
5. Sahibs in Nawabland 91
Once Upon a City: The Missing Merchantmen 123
Once Upon a City: The Tormented Genius136
Once Upon A City: Down by the Riverside153
1. Building for education 157
2. When the icemen cometh 171
3. The majesty of Chepauk 177
Once Upon a City: Chepauk’s Lovely Cricket185
Once Upon a City: A Little Bit of France205
1. A town of temples 213
2. Cities, colleges and commerce 219
3. Where the lilies grew 221
Once Upon a City: The Universal Scientist and the Magical Genius228
1. Sanctuary and serenity236
2. A library and beyond 240
Once Upon a City: A Rebel’s Legacy, ‘A Cultural Empire’247
Once Upon a City: The Dalliance of Miss Mansell 273
1. The pillars of commerce 279
2. The towers of justice 284
3. A challenge in the face of nature 293
4. Betwixt city and surf 299
5. The Villages in the north 306
6. Northwest passage to Industry 308
Once Upon a City: Merchant Princes at North Beach311
1. Minting wealth 322
2. Bazaars and Broadways326
3. A tax for a wall 334
4. Amenities for the people 336
5. The City within today 347
6. Temples in ‘Thimmappa-town’ 349
1. The civic tradition 365
2. Spreading knowledge 373
Once Upon a City: The Splendour that Still is Indo-Saracenic 385
1. Pantheonic splendour 389
2. Keeping the record straight 396
3. Villages for weaving 398
Once Upon a City: A Winter’s Tale402
1. Shrines of all faiths 409
2. Repositories of learning 418
Once Upon a City: The Tamil Dream-Makers 430
Once Upon a City: The Changing City441
Add a review
Have A Question

For privacy concerns, please view our Privacy Policy