Madras Transit
Gallery

In 1871 Madras had plenty of room for expansion within the limits of the municipal boundaries, and large areas of what was technically the ‘town of Madras’ must have presented an entirely rural appearance. In the possession of these extensive and largely undeveloped tracts Madras has enjoyed a great advantage over other Indian cities such as Calcutta or Bombay (especially Bombay) where the obstacles to lateral extension have forced a vertical rather than horizontal development. Until comparatively recently, Madras could be accurately described as a one-storied city, and if its immense distances created transport problems, they at least delivered the city from ‘sky-scaling’ tendencies and the huddled dreariness of the Bombay ‘chawl’.”

– C.W. Ranson, Studies in the Social Life of Madras, 1938

On June 29 2015, the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa inaugurated via video conference the first phase of the Chennai Metro, a modern manifestation of the city’s four century-old tryst with “immense distances”. Commuters can now cover the 10-km distance from Alandur to Koyambedu at a cost of Rs 40, among the steepest public transport fares in the country.

While the “sky-scaling” tendencies of Mumbai have not (yet) found equivalent expression in the urban form of Chennai, they have a hopeful future in the economics of public transport. The “huddled dreariness of the Bombay chawl” may yet find its place in south India after all – in the daily commute of the lower middle class, whose financial status does not allow the luxury of paying Rs 4 per kilometre.

Reading Rooms: Madras

Guindy Metro

April 2015

SO2 – 19 ug / m3
NO2 – 21 ug / m3
RSPM – 62 ug / m3

“Public lotteries, which were then legal, were started by private enterprise in Madras in 1795 as a means of providing money to support charities – the Male Asylum and others – connected with St. Mary’s Church in the fort. Government imposed one condition upon the promoters, but otherwise did not interfere for the first few years. A certain portion of the sum was to be set aside for the repair of roads and bridges of Madras by which the natives and the Europeans would equally benefit. These ventures were called “The Male Asylum and Road Lotteries,” and they speedily sprang into popularity with all classes.”

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 30
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

Venetian Vadapalani

February 2015

SO2 – 21 ug / m3
NO2 – 28 ug / m3
RSPM – 68 ug / m3

“The dust of Madras rises from the laterite, a ferruginous earth of which the roads are made.  The laterite is beaten down with water, and binds into a hard, smooth surface that is very pleasant to drive over.  The constant wear of cart-wheels and the pounding of hoofs, equine and bovine, reduces it in time to the finest powder, so fine that it resembles an ochre paint of venetian red tint ready ground for mixing.  It permeates everything, and penetrates through clothing to the very skin.  It stains white material with which it comes in contact, just as powdered paint would stain it.  Walking over such dust is impossible for a lady who would wear light garments and keep them spotless.  As for the smells, they are indescribable.”

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 61-62
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

Madras Club

June 2015

SO2 – 13 ug / m3
NO2 – 19 ug / m3
RSPM – 31 ug / m3

“Madras is well said to be ‘a city of magnificent distances.’  Not only are the roads long, but the private drives up to the houses are a considerable length.  The Mowbray Road, running parallel with the old Mount Road, is bordered with some fine banyans.  The branches interlace overhead and form a long aisle of wood and foliage.  It is beautiful in all its aspects: in the early morning, when the mist is rising and the blue smoke of the wood-fires hangs like a curtain of delicate gauze over the still vegetation ; in the broad rays of the noonday sun, when every leaf glistens with reflected sunlight; at sunset, when horizontal shafts of gold pierce the western side of the road and touch the grey stems of the trees; and even at night, when the full moon throws a lacework of patterns upon the roadway.  The road ends abruptly at the entrance to the grounds of the Adyar Club, losing itself in the crossway called Chamier’s Road.

The compound of the Adyar Club slopes down to the Adyar River – one of those smooth, still backwaters, like the Cooum, that begins as a watercourse, and spreads out into broad reaches.  It is a natural boundary to the suburbs of Madras on the south, and is unpolluted by drainage.”

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 67-68
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

Buckingham Effect

April 2015

SO2 – 16 ug / m3
NO2 – 21 ug / m3
RSPM – 89 ug / m3

“At the end of the eighteenth century, when the country was beginning to settle down and before railways were projected, the East India Company spent some thought and money upon the making of canals.  As early as 1802 the waterway to the north was opened and much used.  In more recent times a great deal of the material that was once carried thus has been diverted to the railway; but bulky country products such as firewood, palm leaves, cocoanut fibre, and bamboos are still transported by the leisurely barge that is towed and punted between the high banks of the canals and over the glassy water of the Cooum.  Appearances are nowhere more deceptive than in the East.  The canal looks like an ideal stream for the house-boat, but it is hot and stifling.  The sea-breeze sweeps over its high banks, rustling through the trees with a sound that is suggestive of coolness and shade without touching the surface of the still water below; and the mosquito is the only creature that feels thoroughly happy in the muggy heat.”   

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 76
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

The Island

April 2015

SO2 – 14 ug / m3
NO2 – 18 ug / m3
RSPM – 85 ug / m3

“Good dressing goes a long way towards giving dignity to a woman; good bridging does the same for a river.  The Cooum is spanned by no fewer than ten bridges between Chetput and the sea.  Nine of them are of stone and worthy of a Presidency town.  The tenth is by no means ugly, but being of iron it is less picturesque.  It is on the marina, where it carries the road across the mouth of Cooum.”   

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 79-80
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

Triplicane Assemblies

July 2015

SO2 – 16 ug / m3
NO2 – 23 ug / m3
RSPM – 150 ug / m3

“Between Georgetown and Mylapore is Triplicane, the Mohammedan quarter of Madras.  Through the centre of the suburb runs a wide street, which is said to have been laid out by the French in the seventeenth century during their occupation for a few years of Mylapore.  The houses in Triplicane are of the same character as those in the back streets of Georgetown, insignificant in appearance and not more than two storeys in height.  Their occupants are dhirzis, small shopkeepers, and dealers in wares from the north of India – the silks and stains of Indian make, embroidery, and gold thread.”     

On the Coromandel Coast
Page 128-129
Mrs. F.E. Penny
1908

Kapaleeshwarar Temple

June 2015

SO2 – 15 ug / m3
NO2 – 20 ug / m3
RSPM – 65 ug / m3

“Mylapore is an important place in Vaishnava, Saiva, and Jaina tradition and the Vaishnava Saint Peyalwar is connected in popular tradition with a sacred well in the place.  It is the favourite residential quarter of wealthy Indians, including a number of high officials and prosperous Advocates.  The beautiful Car Streets running round the temple and the ornamental tank to the west of it are lined with substantial houses, while Luz Road leading from the Cutcherry Street to the Luz Church and beyond to Mowbray’s Road, is lined with fine bungalow-residences, being in fact the West end of Hindu Madras.”     

The Official Handbook of the Corporation of Madras
Page 73
Ed. F.E. James
1933

Presidency College

June 2015

SO2 – 13 ug / m3
NO2 – 19 ug / m3
RSPM – 31 ug / m3

“An old engraving now hanging in the museum of Fort St. George in Madras depicts an early landing there of a group of British traders.  The square riggers in which they have arrived are anchored far off the sandy beach, and the passengers have been transferred to rowboats, two of which are having trouble with the surf.  An Indian woman, with a baby astride her hip, gravely watches the landing.  A group of Indian fishermen sit on their own tiny boats made of hollowed logs (like the boats that Madras fishermen still use skillfully in the same surf).  From one rowboat, several Britishers in waistcoats, cutaway coats, and high black silk hats are wading to shore, unhappily lifting their trousers in the vain hope of keeping them dry.  A lady in a long dress with ruffles, a feathered hat on her head and a parasol in her hand, is being carried over the waves by two coolies, naked except for their loincloths and the rich brown of their skins.  Nothing could more vividly suggest how alien to the land were the newcomers – two cultures meeting in the midst of salt spray.”   

India – A World in Transition
Page 53
Beatrice Pitney Lamb
1963

Madras Port
April 2015

SO2 – 13 ug / m3
NO2 – 17 ug / m3
RSPM – 65 ug / m3

“Madras possesses no natural harbour and the present artificial construction has been described by its creator, Sir Francis Spring, as ‘a challenge flaunted in the face of nature’.  An attempt was made in 1862 to meet the ‘serious disadvantage of the absence of any natural harbour at a port where the surf is continual’, but the construction of a screw-pile pier. In 1876 work was begun on a harbour sufficiently large ‘to hold nine steamers from 3,000 to 7,000 tons’ and when it was nearing completion in 1881 a devastating cyclone washed away half a mile of the breakwaters, threw the two top courses of concrete blocks into the harbour, burled over two of the Titan cranes used on the works, lowered and spread out the rubble base of the breakwaters, and washed away one and a half miles of construction railway.  Undeterred by this disaster the engineers, after consultation with ‘a committee of English experts’ , returned to the fray.  In 1884 building was begun again and in 1896 a harbour ‘on practically the original design’ was completed.  It was ‘just two walls, shaped like the jaws of pincers, running out into the sea’, with the entrance, 500 feet in width, facing eastwards.  But nature had another weapon in reserve with which to meet the ‘challenge’ – less dramatic than the cyclone, but exceedingly troublesome.  Surf-driven sand accumulated from the south and silted up the harbour entrance, and ti became necessary to close the eastern gateway, and a new entrance was made in the north-east corner of the harbour and protected by a breakwater which projected on the sea-side to the north of this new harbour mouth.  This arrangement has proved satisfactory up to the present.”     

A City in Transition
Page 18-19
C.W. Ranson
1938

Kathipara Junction
April 2015

SO2 – 16 ug / m3
NO2 – 20 ug / m3
RSPM – 60 ug / m3

“The electrification of the South Indian Line for a distance of eighteen miles outside Madras city is a new enterprise which is likely to have an increasing effect on the development of the city.  A number of new stations have been erected in connection with the electric train service and this suburban track serves an area within the city and on its outskirts which is capable of considerable residential development.  The electrified line strikes westward through the city from First Line Beach, passing through the residential area of Egmore, and then turns almost due south, skirting the edge of the recent town extension area of Mambalam and thence through Saidapet, St. Thomas’ Mount to Tambaram.  The tendency of recent years for the ‘greater Madras’ area to develop rapidly on the southern side of the city is likely to be still further accelerated by this new provision of cheap and speedy transport.”     

A City in Transition
Page 18
C.W. Ranson
1938

Race Course

May 2015

SO2 – 15 ug / m3
NO2 – 17 ug / m3
RSPM – 49 ug / m3

“Perchance however our readers would like to step out of the Fort, and see a little of the country around. They must not go far, for the Company’s dominion only extends about a mile inland, and no man is allowed to go more than three miles from the Fort without permission of the Governor. Possibly however they may merely wish to go and peep into the gardens, where Writers and Factors occasionally assembled to drink down the sun, and sing such jolly ballads as “Ho Cavaliers,” “Brandy nosed Noll,” “Cheery ripe,” or “Chevy Chase” according to the humour of the times. But even then we should advise them not to go too far. What they are likely to see will not do them much good. They had better stay with us, and look out upon the country around from the old ramparts of Fort St. George.

Fort St. George and White town were thus synonymous terms. In Europe the quarter was known as Fort St. George; but in India it was called White town, from its being occupied by Europeans….. To the north of White town was the much larger quarter which was occupied by the Natives, and which for the sake of distinction was called Black town. Here the houses and population had rapidly increased in numbers; and the streets bore a very different appearance from the collection of bamboo huts which rose up during the earlier days of the colony.

Such then were the White town and Black town of Madraspatanam in the reign of merry king Charles…. The times were rough, and the distance from Europe, and the absence of such female society as would have polished manners, rendered the little settlement rather tumultuous. Drunkenness, dueling, gaming, and licentiousness were all too common….”

Madras in the Olden Time
Page 56-60
J.T. Wheeler
1861

Adyar River

May 2015

SO2 – 16 ug / m3
NO2 – 19 ug / m3
RSPM – 47 ug / m3

“In 1871 Madras had plenty of room for expansion within the limits of the municipal boundaries, and large areas of what was technically the ‘town of Madras’ must have presented an entirely rural appearance.  In the possession of these extensive and largely undeveloped tracts Madras has enjoyed a great advantage over other Indian cities such as Calcutta or Bombay (especially Bombay) where the obstacles to lateral extension have forced a vertical rather than horizontal development.  Until comparatively recently, Madras could be accurately described as a one-storied city, and if its immense distances created transport problems, they at least delivered the city from ‘sky-scaling’ tendences and the huddled dreariness of the Bombay ‘chawl’.”     

A City in Transition
Page 47
C.W. Ranson
1938

Old Mahapalipuram Road

May 2015

SO2 – 15 ug / m3
NO2 – 17 ug / m3
RSPM – 60 ug / m3

“The Special Housing Committee made one specific recommendation regarding the extension of the city boundaries, namely, that the Adyar area to the south of the existing city boundary (1935) should be included within municipal limits.  This is a comparatively undeveloped area containing many acres of potential housing sites, and the recommendation that it should be included within the city’s administration is sound.  It is desirable that the city limits should be extended in advance of development.  The tendency in Indian civic development has been for building to take place before the extension of administrative control, and when such extension ultimately takes place new slums have been incorporated within the city limits.  The Madras Director of Town Planning has described this tendency as a ‘fundamental error’.  If the extension takes place before development the opposition of residents in the extension area does not arise. 

Such an extension, implying the development of new housing areas on the fringes of the city will make imperative the rationalization of the present chaotic transport arrangements and so ensure that cheap and efficient means of conveyance are available to all parts of the city.”     

A City in Transition
Page 139-140
C.W. Ranson
1938

Fort St. George

April 2015

SO2 – 14 ug / m3
NO2 – 18 ug / m3
RSPM – 85 ug / m3

“The total area of the city is 29.396 square miles.  At the centre of the base of this rough semi-circle is For St. George.  Its ancient military glory is largely departed, and though solid bastions still stand as reminder of more stirring times, the Fort today contains only a small detachment of troops.  It provides, however, a home for the Secretariat of the Government of Madras, and thus remains the head-quarters of the Madras Presidency.  Around the Fort is a belt of underpopulated territory most of which has been reserved the use of the military authorities, including on the south-west, the Island – a large gract of open land surrounded by two arms of the river Cooum, which runs through the city in a series of wide loops to enter the sea immediately to the south of Fort St. George.  Immediately outside this zone, which surrounds the Fort and separates it from the city proper, lie the most densely populated areas of Madras, and beyond those areas an outer semi-circular fringe of what may be roughly described as suburban areas.  The irregular distribution of the city’s population is largely accounted for by the fact that madras is made up of three or four distinct urban units and many little villages – the whole held loosely together by a web of communications which radiate from Fort St. George outwards towards the circumference with, of course, many intersecting roads and streets.”         

A City in Transition
Page 14-15
C.W. Ranson
1938

King Institute

June 2015

SO2 – 13 ug / m3
NO2 – 19 ug / m3
RSPM – 31 ug / m3

“Old Madras!  What a multitude of associations are called up by the simple words; what curious pictures of the past flash before our eyes.  Those who are old themselves will recall the days of their youth; the good old times of Elliot, of Munro, or of Lushington, when Hotels and Clubs were not, but when boundless hospitality, aristocratic exclusiveness, choice scandal, and occasional duels were the order of the day.  But our present object would rather be to recall Madras in an age long antecedent to these comparatively tranquil times.  We would endeavour to picture Madras as it was some two centuries ago; when Members of Council rode about in bullock bandies, and the guards of the President were armed with bows and arrows, swords and shields; when gentlemen wore large hose, “peasecod bellied” doublets, preposterous breeches, and hats with conical crowns and bunches of feathers; when the ladies, very few in number, wore long waisted stomachers and powerfully starched ruffs; when the Fort was nothing more than a fortified Factory, in which the Factors and Merchants bought and sold, gave their orders, and made their payments, just like any merchant firms of modern date; when all took their meals together, attended daily prayers, and lived like a little brotherhood, who were all kept under by a strict discipline, and who, but for the attractions of burnt wine, punch, native beauty, and occasional quarrels, may be said to have lived as sober and God fearing lives in this Presidency, as were led by their brethren in Leadenhall Street or Cheapside.”         

Madras in the Olden Time
Page 1-2
J.T. Wheeler
1861

Mount Road

April 2015

SO2 – 16 ug / m3
NO2 – 21 ug / m3
RSPM – 89 ug / m3

“The only other place for the meeting of European residents at that time was the Mount Road.  It was “smooth as a bowling-green, and planted on each side with banyan and yellow tulip trees.”  It was then the fashion for all the gentlemen and ladies of Madras “to repair in their gayest equipages to the Mount Road, and after, driving furiously along, they loiter round and round the Cenotaph” – to the memory of Lord Cornwallis-” for an hour, partly for exercise, and partly for the opportunity of flirting and displaying their fine clothes, after which they go home, to meet again every day in the year.”         

Memories of Madras
Page 266
Sir Charles Lawson
1905

St. Thomas Mount

June 2015

SO2 – 15 ug / m3
NO2 – 19 ug / m3
RSPM – 39 ug / m3

“I own that I never parted from a place which pleased me but I felt a melancholy sensation in the reflection that I might never see it again.  This sensation was most acute on my leaving Madras, where I had met with the kindest hospitality from considerable persons, of religions and countries widely separated; from Hindus and Mahomedans, from Persians, and in particular from my own countrymen, when I reflected that I should never more revisit them, or the land which they inhabited.  Full of these melancholy reflections, and at the same time of gratitude for the kindness I had experienced, I went on board… The moon shone with all her lustre, and by her light I could faintly see the extensive Fort and Custom House of Madras, the Black Town, and some of the adjacent villages, where I had spent many very pleasant days.  I retired at length into my cabin, after bidding my friends at Madras an affectionate farewell.”         

Memories of Madras
Page 272
Sir Charles Lawson
1905

The Roads
April 2015

SO2 – 15 ug / m3
NO2 – 18 ug / m3
RSPM – 86 ug / m3

“I do not know anything more striking than the first approach to Madras.  The low sandy shore extending for miles to the north and south, for the few hills there are appear far inland, seems to promise nothing but barren nakedness, when, on arriving in the Roads, the town and Fort are like a vision of enchantment.  The beach is crowded with people of all colours, whose busy motions at that distance make the earth itself seem alive. The public offices and store-houses which line the beach are fine buildings, with colonnades to the upper storeys, supported by rustic bases arched, all of the fine Madras chunam, smooth, hard and polished as marble.  At the short distance Fort George, with its lines and bastions, the Government House and gardens, backed by St. Thomas Mount, form an interesting part of the picture, while here and there in the distance minarets and pagodas are seen rising from among the gardens.”

Lady Callcott, 23 March 1810

Memories of Madras
Page 264
Sir Charles Lawson
1905

Cooum Curves

April 2015

SO2 – 18 ug / m3
NO2 – 24 ug / m3
RSPM – 90 ug / m3

“A piece of land along the shore, a mile broad and six miles in length.  It had nothing apparently to commend it.  It was devoid of beauty of scenery; it had no harbour, although there was good anchorage in its roads.  It was nothing but a dreary waste of sand, on which a monotonous sea broke in a double line of surf, giving it an inhospitable look, which is retains to this present day.  A shallow lagoon-like river, running parallel with the sea for a short distance, formed the protection needed on the land side from predatory tribes of horsemen; but otherwise the river was useless.  It afforded no shelter for ships; and its brackish waters were of no use for irrigation purposes.  It often emitted an unpleasant and unhealthy effluvia from the rotting seaweed lying in its loathsome black ooze.  The river, confined to narrower limits int the present day, with some of its mud bands reclaimed, is scoffingly dubbed “The Silvery Cooum.” 

To atone for its defects, it has a trick of assuming in the tropical sunset a fascinating beauty and fairness.  Its smooth waters reflect the gorgeous colours of the sky; the blue smoke of the wood fires in the native huts spreads an aetherial azure haze over the palms and banyan trees on is banks, and the eye of the artist is equally delight as his nostril is offended when he gazes across its broad bosom.  When the sky is purple with the gathering clouds of the monsoon, the Cooum ruffles its waters into a sheet of silvery grey ripples, and it gleams in its setting of dark green like a polished mirror of steel; even the black wet ooze glistens with delicate shades of pearl.”

Fort St. George Madras
Page 9
Mrs. Frank Penny
1900

Marmelong Movement

April 2015

SO2 – 20 ug / m3
NO2 – 23 ug / m3
RSPM – 121 ug / m3

“In 1804 the [Marmelong] Bridge wanted widening and strengthening.  It had been originally built for the accommodation of foot-passengers and small country carts.  But during the war with Tippoo it had frequently been used by the Company for the passage of troops and heavy artillery in preference to the more laborious road through the river bed and ford.  The Vestry was asked to do the alteration, but refused on the ground that their trust said nothing about rebuilding, but on repairing.”

Fort St. George Madras
Page 70
Mrs. Frank Penny
1900

MRC Nagar

May 2015

SO2 – 14 ug / m3
NO2 – 18 ug / m3
RSPM – 35 ug / m3

“Elihu Yale’s name is best known in the present day in connection with Yale College in America.  In gratitude for munificent donations towards its endowment , the authorities called the institution after him.  Elihu came out to India as a young man, drawing a salary of five pounds a year as Writer in 1672.  When he stepped into power he was a seasoned Anglo-Indian, having been already fifteen years in the country….

The chief event during Yale’s governorship was the foundation of the Madras Corporation with a Mayor and Aldermen.  Child had pushed it on with persistence, believing that it was the only solution to the difficult question of the town conservancy.  He even went so far as to send out the maces and swords without waiting to hear whether the Corporation had been successfully formed, and gave orders for the making of gorgeous robes of office.”

Fort St. George Madras
Page 108-110
Mrs. Frank Penny
1900

St. Thomas Metro

May 2015

SO2 – 18 ug / m3
NO2 – 20 ug / m3
RSPM – 65 ug / m3

“The greatest enemy to the Europeans was the sun, aided by the intoxicating arrack of the country.  Besides the poison contained in the spirit, its deadly effect on the brain deprived its victim of all prudence, and he fell by the roadside in a drunken sleep; the pitiless Indian sun completing the deadly work the arrack had begun.”

Fort St. George Madras
Page 172
Mrs. Frank Penny
1900

Anna Nagar

May 2015

SO2 – 17 ug / m3
NO2 – 35 ug / m3
RSPM – 74 ug / m3

“Sewage is of high economic value as it contains substances which go to enrich the soil.  At present for want of sufficient land nearly four-fifths of the City sewage is being wasted by being let out into the sea.  The Corporation may have to go about 4 or 5 miles to the north of the City to obtain sufficient land to deal with the whole of the City sewage, and the income derived from such a farm will not be sufficient to meet even the interest charges on the capital cost of land and works required to convey the sewage to that distance. 

A less costly scheme to deal with the sewage in a more profitable way is being worked out.  This is  the ‘Activated Sludge’ process.  The basic idea is to imitate the processes of nature and to separate the foul sewage into fairly clear water and sludge by using air and various bacterial forms. 

The clear water is let out into any water course without causing any offence or used for irrigating gardens.  The sludge is dewatered and sold as manure to agriculturalists.”     

The Official Handbook of the Corporation of Madras
Page 109-110
Ed. F.E. James
1933

Adambakkam Lake
February 2015

SO2 – 21 ug / m3
NO2 – 25 ug / m3
RSPM – 70 ug / m3

“Electric Traffic Controllers – Electric traffic controllers were introduced to cope with the ever-increasing traffic in the City.  At present, there are two controllers, one at the Bodyguard junction.  These were designed by the Corporation Electrical Engineer and manufactured and erected at the cost of the Corporation.  These are worked every evening between 6 and 10 by the Police officials.  A similar controller on an improved method for use at Round Thana, Mount Road, is being manufactured.”     

The Official Handbook of the Corporation of Madras
Page 143
Ed. F.E. James
1933

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