100th post – The birth of a city and the birth of a blogger
The number 100 is always special as it denotes a milestone.To me it denotes the birth of a traveller and a travel blogger .All these posts spanning destinations,pouring out memories , talking to locals ,researching trivia,posting pictures,waiting in anticipation to see responses and creating my own circle of blog mates have brought me here.But I am just a beginner unlike my other blog mates who have been a constant source of inspiration to me .
I would like to acknowledge them here who have helped me on this journey – Celine, Priyank, Pijush, Mridula, Aaarti, Ajeya, Gill, Indrani, Gopal, Alok, Anil, Arun, Anu, Siva, Cuckoo, David, Dharma, Jeevan, Kalyan, Kamini, Mark, Matt, Shantanu, Nandan, Mitr, Ceedy, Vishesh,Stephanie ,Wendy and VJ. There are many others whose names are not here and I apologise if I have missed out – I dont just look forward to their comments , but every feedback and appreciation counts..Thank you for being there.Today I feel that I have more friends through my blog than in reality. And that is what inspires me to go a step further, to better each post and appreciate the posts of others.
I have always been travelling as a child as well and even as a professional and my mother used to say that I have wheels under my feet and that I could never sit still.But I was never a serious traveller as in I was never serious about travelling. It was always one of those things that I enjoyed like icecreams and chocolates.
I started this blog without knowing what a blog is . I was not even a travel buff then. It was mainly an outlet to write as writing was an integral part of me and I had given up writing around the time I started this blog. And of course, I thought it was cool to be a blogger.
I used to be a freelance writer when I was in college and I worked for a community newspaper in Madras aka Chennai way back in the 90s . That was my first start up experience and we almost felt like we were the founders of the paper.My freelancing came to an end after I was lured by the broadcast and online media and somewhere down the line, a part of me slept while I got into the shoes of a 24 /7 media professional ( Nothing to do with NDTV )I set up and launched other companies, but did nothing to launch myself. This blog was just there and since holidays happenned once in a while, posts followed them.
If you see my archives , I started this blog in January 2005 (yeah..its taken me 3 + years to get here) and I have just 8 posts there and in 2006 another 3. 2007 was when I started taking blogging seriously and in a way, my trip to Tawang brought out the traveller in me..Until then, travelling was just to have fun or to be different for the sake of being different. .Even my media assignments took me places and I enjoyed doing video travelogues and stories in the early days of my career, but without any specific focus on getting into that space.
However, I soon learnt how to make friends, how to appreciate other’s posts and how to build yourself as a blogger. I still remember a rap from Mridula when I asked her to include my name in her list of travel bloggers and she said, will do but please post something. She was right, I hadnt posted anything from January 2007 to June 2007 . But 2007 was the craziest year in my life and I forced myself to take a sabbatical towards the latter part of the year to rethink my journey in life. And then the posts followed and I travelled and slowly became a traveller . A vagabond looking for a certain direction and in turn became a serious traveller and travel writer. 88 posts in about 16 months.
I have a lot of people to thank for who took me on several trips..my family, my uncles and cousins and friends who even tolerated me during the trips and my quest to work harder on their holiday .And all of them are religious readers of my posts – including every comment. The Karwar trip with Sharath, the Hoysala trail with my uncle and cousin Lalitha, The Chola trail with another uncle and my mother along with a lot of inputs from friends, Siva and VJ ,the Coorg trip with my friend Kamalee and the Singapore trip with my parents are the highlights of this year’s travels so far. My husband still says he got his slip disc because of these trips ..and yes, the Europe trip last year was a great milestone in making me feel passionate about heritage and I turned that interest into understanding my country’s heritage and culture. (My mother is still shocked – she says Ive never visited so many temples ever in my life..I seemed to have beaten the family record )
I became a travel writer and I have written for a few publications – Simplifly, Jet Wings, Bangalore Mirror, Bengaluru Pages, The Metro Plus of the Hindu, Brunch, Indian Express are some of them..and there are still a few projects waiting to be published. I have done quite a few trails like the Hoysala and the Chola trails (partially) which have still not got documented here. I will be launching a new travel web site soon which will have those trips documented..but the backpacker lives on..
However this long post is not over. I am sorry as it wasn’t meant to be about me , but about the birth of a city which in many ways has moulded me and given me an identity that will never wear away – no matter which part of the world I travel and where I live.. A city called Madras, also called Chennai. A city that gets me overwhelmed and emotional. A city that I crave to live in and miss every moment ..The city I call home no matter what my pincode says.I dedicate my 100th post to Madras and Fort St George which was and is the nucleus of the city.
Birth of a city
The city is both young and old at the same time. Perhaps no other city has such a unique feature. Or perhaps this is the story of every other city in this country and world. I wouldnt know. The settlement called Madras is hardly a little more than 3 centuries old, but the villages that got added to this settlement is probably centuries older . However I will not attempt to write about the history or the formation of the city, but will etch out the story of the settlement only – this narrow strip of land, a small village which is now the metropolitan city .
We never really know if anything called Madras or Chennai or Madraspattinam or Chennaipattinam actually existed or not. No one has any concrete evidence on the origin of the names . There are several stories on the same and I will come back to it towards the end of this post.
During the 17th century ,South India was under the rule of the Vijaynagar empire and the local Nayaks were holding sway. Probably this piece of land was under the control of the Vijaynagar chieftains who were ruling fron Chandragiri, 180 kms away from Madras. The Europeans had landed and the Portuguese, the Danes, The Dutch and the French had already established their connections and controlling various small settlements.
The British arrived here rather late and they needed a small strip of land to set up their East India Company and trade with the locals. They arrived first in Masulipatnam in 1611 and obtained land in 1626 in Armagadon (modern Durgarayapatnam) about 100 kms from Madras. Francis Day who was one of the traders here realized that this was not a secure fort as there was constant wars with other European countries. He set out to look for a place on the Coromandel coast and along with his boss, Andrew Cogan built Fort St George, named after the patron saint of England.The two Indian aides who made this possible were Beri Thimmanna , who later on became the chief merchant and Nagabattan, the gun powder maker of the company.
Day struck a deal with the local chieftain Venkatappa Nayak with the help of his aide and got a piece of land as a grant where they could fortify and store merchandise. This deal was apparently signed on August 22, 1639 and hence it is celebrated as Madras Day. (However there are still some debates wrt dates and please free to add them in the comment section.Since I didnt attend the Fort walks during the Madras Day celebrations, these are researched from ASI documents.)
This was a sandy strip of land about 5 kms in length reaching out from the present day harbour to the River Cooum and the Buckingham canal .Cogan and Day dismantled the fort at Armagon and sailed in three ships with 50 persons and 25 soldiers and arrived at Madraspatnam on 20th February 1640.
The construction of the fort began and so did a new settlement come up near the fort with several local artisans . The two settlements came to be called the White Town and the Black town respectively. The White town was inhabited by the English, Portuguese and Armenians and an outer wall was built around the fort on all three sides except the west where the river Elambore was flowing.
The Black Town stretching to todays NSC Bose Road and Broadway with the native traders and artisans grew rapidly that it is estimated that by the end of the 17th century , the population in this settlement called Madras was 80,000.
The initial structure of the fort took 13 years to build and it was squarish with corner bastions.A domed structure was at the centre where the present day Secretariat stands and it was the residence of the governor. If you go to the Fort Museum today in the Fort St George complex, you could see various illustrations showing how the Fort St George had evolved over the years.
For instance the famous St Mary’s church where Robert Clive apparently got married can was built in the fort complex in 1680. I will come back to this beautiful church, which you can see even today and is the oldest surviving building of the British.
More structures were added to the fort complex between the 17th and 18th centuries. A new fort house was built, “the grand house on Charles Street” – Robert Clive’s house , a Town Hall, a Parade Ground, a mint, a hospital , court and even offices came up. It was a late Sunday afternoon when I walked around the Fort uninterrupted..only the sun was merciless. The street names were still preserved and so were the old residences within the fort.More buildings, old residences, including Wellesley’s ..It was ironic merging the colonial flavour with the current local political colour
Back to history. The French from Pondicherry defeated the English and captured Madras in September 1746 and they ruled for about 3 years and destroyed the Black town. New settlements came up as well away from the fort. When the East India company regained ownership following the treaty , the generals started fortifying the area and the fort was virtually rebuilt. The King’s barracks was added in 1755 , the small river was diverted and three main gates were built – the Sea Gate, the Wallaja Gate and the St George Gate. A vaulted chamber was built in the walls and cisterns were built to support 6000 men with water supply. I quote ASI here when it says that “the entire reconstruction was at a cost of Rs 7,700,000/- at that time”.
The Company by then was the virtual ruler of Carnatic and in the meantime, this little settlement grew .Villages were added or annexed as the rule may be or were given away as grants between 1676 to 1749. Triplicane was the first given on rent by the Golconda King,then came areas like Egmore,Purasawalkam, Tondiarpet,Tiruvottiyur, Nungamabakkam,Vepery, Vysarpadi, Ennore,Periapet, Perambur .Chintaripet was formed while Mylapore and Santhome became a part of the settlement called Madras.
The Madras Presidency became more powerful as Fort St George became the seat of power. It had its share of raids during the world wars – attacks from the German cruiser SMS Emden during the World War1 and by Japanese fighter planes , but the powers to be were not dented. During the war years, Adyar, Guindy and Saidapet have been added along with Mambalam, West Mambalam, Aminjikarai and Ayyanavaram.The settlement had finally grown into the metropolitan city of today
Buildings of Fort St George
The Secretariat Buildings
The Seat of power today was the seat of power during Day’s days.This has seen several modifications and renovations, notable among them being the colonnade which connects the Fort Square and the Sea gate. The colonnade was where the merchandise was stored and the French had demolished it and taken away the pillars to Pondicherry .It was rebuilt only to be pulled down again later .
The Exchange Building
This was the hub of all trading activities and was built in the 18th century.There were offices, warehouses,auctions and library . The long room was used to hold public meetings for lottery drawings and general entertainment.There was also a coffee shop and other committee rooms.
A lighthouse was later erected here on the roof of this building which glowed at the height of 90 feet above sea level.It later became the Officer’s Mess and now it houses the Fort Museum which is one of the best museums I have seen. The Long Room is the Portrait Gallery and should not be missed .
St Mary’s Church
This deserves a separate post, but nevertheless, here is a short note.Built in 1680 with local subscriptions, this is one of the oldest Protestant Churches in colonial India.A very beautiful monument, it still stands on the Church Street.
It has a reproduction of the famous Raphael painting-The Last Supper and here is where the register shows the marriage records of Robert Clive.It is interesting to note that the church was probably designed by a gunner, William Dixon and the roof was built to withstand the gunfire from sea and land.
Clive’s House or Admiralty Building
The great house on Charles Street was where Robert Clive lived and it is a three storied stately mansion. The long hall was used as a banquet and it was apparently owned by an Armenian merchant in the early 18th century. It was purchased by the Company as they did not want Armenians inside the Fort. Today it houses the office of the ASI.
The Grand Arsenal and King’s Barracks
The former is built to store ammunition and the latter to accomodate the King’s Regiment to defend the fort.Today it is a property of the Army.
Madras or Chennai ?
This is not a question I pose to the purists and those with a strong language fervour. No body really knows why it is called Madras .Did the agreement between Francis Day and Nayak mention Madraspattinam ? It is said that the grant did and the story goes that it was named after a local fisherman, Madarasan who apparently was the helmsman of the village before it was granted to the British. Or maybe there was a madrasa in the locality. The story behind Chennai was that the Nayak wanted it to be named after their father Chennappa Nayak.Or possibly there were two kuppams or small villages called Chennapattinam and Madrasapattiman and they were eventually merged to call Madras , only to be renamed as Chennai.. Does it really matter today ?
Thanks for the patience and for reading this very long post. This is possibly the longest so far and I would like to acknowledge the ASI for their efforts in documenting the history of the fort from where this information has been sourced from.