Friday, December 30, 2005

Chennai Trivia - 14

This time I will make it contemporary. Most of us cross the Anna Flyover in Gemini area on regular basis. Right at the apex of the flyover there is a small police shack 2ftx2ftx8ft with a Policeman inside it. Check carefully the next time you go across the fly over. So why is he there?

(I too don't have an answer but only a guess, let's see what you people come up with.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chennai Trivia - 13

This is the hotel where Douglas Jardine's team stayed when they visited Madras. So did Dyan Chand's victorious 1936 Olympics Hockey team. Where is this and what is it now?

Ans: It was the D'Angelis Hotel, started by Corsican D'Angeli and later named as Bosottos that hosted Douglas Jardine's team and Dyan Chand's team. This was the first hotel in Madras to have an electric lift and cold storage. Also probably Madras' first French Restaurant.If you have not heard about the hotel, don't worry; it doesn't exist anymore. Bosottos quit the hotel business in 1940s to concentrate on confectionery.

It is now occupied by the Bata Showroom in Mount Road. Next time you stop at the signal there, look closely at the Bata Showroom. You can still see some old architecture left over. More details about the hotel from V. Sundaram here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chennai Trivia - 12

Robert Clive and Dupleix were great adversaries and played important roles during the early years of Madras. Dupleix, the French Governor General of Pondicherry was the first one to think of an European Empire in India and had captured Madras in 1746 only to hand it over to the British back in 1749 based on a peace treaty signed in Europe. Where in Madras now will you find the names of Robert Clive and Dupleix side by side?

Ans: The conference halls in Taj Coromandel hotel are duly named Clive Hall, Dupleix Hall and Clive & Dupleix Hall :-). I came to know of this when I attended an IBM Tech Symposium in the Clive & Dupleix Hall two weeks back.

Chennai Trivia - 11

Name the oldest surviving organisation in Mount Road.

Ans: It is Simpson & Co set up in 1840. They built the first railway coach for the Madras Railway. Other old institutions are Higginbothams (1844), P. Orr & Sons (moved to the present building in 1879), The Hindu (1885, moved to their present building later), J. Fenn & Co - undertakers opposite to Thousand Lights Mosque(1892 - always wondered how the undertakers celebrated their centenary year)

Chennai Trivia - 10

Ok, the last few questions were about events 200 years back. So this will be a contemporary one.

Who is he?

1. He started out as a small scale fabrication contractor in Chennai.

2. He bought a rap star's house in San Francisco.

3. Ratan Tata says that he has helped us in terms of gross savings more than any one else.

Ans: It is C. Sivasankaran of Sterling Group. Starting out as fabrication contractor for MRL (now CPCL), he bought Sterling Computers from Robert Amritaraj, father of the tennis player Vijay Amritaraj. From there it is all the way up for Mr. Sivasankaran, the serial entrepreneur. He is behind Dishnet (now sold to VSNL), Aircel (sold to Hutch?) and Barista (will probably be sold to Starbucks when they enter India). He bought rapper C J Hammer's house in San Francisco.

Chennai Trivia - 9

What connects Nova Scotia,Canada and Chennai?

Ans: Dupleix, the French Governor General of Pondicherry, captured Madras in 1746 from the British. This was during the War of Austrian Succession 1740-1749 when British and French were fighting all over the world. At the end of the war, they signed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, under which British agreed to give up Loisbourg,Nova Scotia to the French in lieu of which Madras was handed back to the British. If not for the treaty, we would probably be blogging in French.

Dupleix was an interesting character, the first European to dream of ruling India. The British actually had no interest in taking over India then, they were treating it as a trading outpost only. Dupleix's actions prompted the clerk in Madras East India Company, Robert Clive to take up arms and rest is history. Dupleix's Dubash Ananda Ranga Pillai had kept meticulous records of daily happenings in his diaries. These provide great insight into those turbulent years. I have read bits and pieces of them. If you get a chance do read them.

Chennai Trivia - 8

Identify these buildings.

The first building has been rebuilt, but the second, taller one is still present, alive and functioning in the same location.

Answer: The picture is of Rajaji Salai. The first building is the (in)famous Arbuthnot Bank whose collapse IN 1906 almost bankrupted entire South India. The Second building is now occupied by HSBC Bank.

The crash of Arbuthnot bank is an interesting study. When it crashed in 1906 it had dubious assets worth 7 million Pounds and liabilities of 27 million Pounds (and we are taking in 1906 values).

The firm invested lavishly in daring enterprises, such as searching for gold in the Nilgiris and Anamalais, investing in American railway projects and new South African goldfields, and in the plantation crops of the West Indies, amongst other ventures

History was to repeat itself when the successor to Arbuthnot Bank, the Indian Bank went through the same set of sequences in 1990s under the flamboyant chairman M. Gopalakrishnan lending recklessly to various ventures and almost folded.

Looks like Finance Company debacles are regular events of Madras History.

Futher details here. I guess this is an article by Mr. Muthiah, the tone is his, but there is no byline to the story.

Chennai Trivia - 7

Armenians had a notable presence in Madras in 1700s. The well known land mark left behind by them is the Armenian Church in the Armenian Street. What is the other major contribution of Armenians to Madras?

Answer: The Saidapet Bridge - connecting Chennai to St. Thomas Mount was initially built by the Armenian Merchant Khojah Petrus Woskan in 1728 at the cost of Rs. 1 lakh. It was called the Marmalong Bridge then and now it is called the Maraimalai Adigal Paalam, but most of us know it as the Saidapet Bridge. There is plaque about this in the Saidapet Bus Terminus.

Chennai Trivia - 6

My house is on Cenotaph Road. Why is the road named so? (No, Mr. Cenotaph didn't live there)

Ans: There was a memorial for Lord Cornwallis situated at the junction of Mount Road and Cenotaph Road. Cenotaph: A monument erected in honor of a dead person whose remains lie elsewhere.

Pic Courtesy British Library UK

This statue is 14.5 ft tall and is presently at the Fort Museum. The base of the statue was painted with the scene of Tippu Sultan's sons being handed over as hostages to the British. Further details from Mr. Muthiah here

Chennai Trivia - 5

He was most generous to sundry ladies, who seemed to be of all nationalities and hues, and several children. Of particular note were the provisions made to xxxx.. After providing for her "during her natural life", he went on to also will "the sum of fifty rupees for the support of any child which the said xxxx may have within nine months from the date hereof... "

This is from the will of a famous Merchant in Madras. Whom are we talking about?

Chennai Trivia - 4

The House of a company executive, it was later converted into a hotel. Initially called Imperial Hotel, then renamed as Albany Hotel, what is it now called?

Chennai Trivia - 3

Most of you know that what is now called as TTK Road was earlier called Mowbray's Road. And if I ask you why, you will guess that one Mr. Mowbray lived there and you would be right too. This is the house where Mr. Mowbray lived.

So I ask you, what is present now at the location of Mr. Mowbray's house on Mowbray's Raod?

Chennai Trivia - 2

This one is far simpler.

Pic courtesy Outlook
What connects this building and Boston, US of A? CCG not to answer :-).

Chennai Trivia - 1

German Warship "Emden" bombed Madras during the First World War, but not much damage was done. There is a plaque at the place where the bombs fell. Where is the plaque located?