Madras Day – Food for Thought

I visit Madras almost every month, but this trip has been rather special. Although I was around for just a handful of days during the festivities, I still managed to attend a few events . A couple of walks, talks and a great food festival with plenty of history.

The Taj Connemara, now donning the new look of Taj Vivanta added a flavor of Raj during this period by the food festival. Although I was a vegetarian, it was interesting to know about the origin of some of the dishes – The Railway Lamb Cutlet to begin with . Little did I know that the vegetarian cutlet that I relished in the Brindavan Express owed its origins to the Lamb Cutlet which was a specialty of the  Railways . The names of some of these dishes of the Anglo Indian cuisine was rather fascinating. Grandma’s Chicken Country Captain for instance . Being a vegetarian, I did try the main rice dishes and then contended myself with a sumptuous helping of the Caramel custard and Bread Pudding, another signature dessert of the Anglo Indian Cuisine .

Chatting with Karuna Amarnath of the Taj, I learnt a bit more about the heritage of the hotel. A choultry for instance meant an open hall with a roof near a river where travellers could spend the night.The Choultry Plain was the name given to the Headquarters of the British Army and the house that stood here near the River Cooum was called the House on the Choultry Plain. Today I was digging into some great food in this house which is now the Taj. The House on the Choultry Plain did become The Imperial Hotel in the 19th century and later on took the name of Albany and Connemara before becoming the Taj and Taj Vivanta. I was of course, extremely interested in this little bit of trivia regarding the change of name from Albany to Connemara.

The official version is that the hotel took the name of Connemara from Albany in the honour of Robert Bourke,the Baron of Connemara who was also the Governor of Madras in the 19th century.. However the story goes that Lord Connemara’s many flings and affairs with women got on to the nerves of Lady Connemara who stormed out of the Government House and took refuge here in Albany . Soon, after she left, the hotel was renamed Connemara in her memory and not after her Lord. I have lived in the vicinity of this hotel and dined here for so many days and yet, it took a Madras Day Special post to hear some juicu pieces of gossip along with history.

The rest of the days were spent in some interesting talks  – I attended one on the history of theatre in Madras by PC Ramakrishna of the Madras Theatre group. I went for a couple of exhibitions – one was at the City centre which had a display of some wonderful old photographs from the archives of The Hindu. I spent an afternoon walking into Armenian Church taking some photographs. I also went for acouple of heritage walks – a Wallajah special  by S. Anwar, documentary film maker and another brilliant walk down Mint Street, with Sriram V , editor of Madras Musings. Both of them deserve separate posts .

I would like to thank all those who sent in guest posts for Madras day celebrations. Every post enriched my blog and I am glad to see so many people passionate about the city .

Coming up next – The heritage walks


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