The areas of Vepery, Poonamalee and Periamet, close to Chennai Central station, are a heady mix of old world charm and the bustle of people and their trade. Considering the frantic pace that life moves at here, it is no surprise that monuments of history, some at least a century old, are overlooked and forgotten. As part of the heritage mapping exercise here at Transparent Chennai, we sought out these buildings last Saturday. Right opposite Ripon Building on Sydenham Road, where we started our exercise, is the Periamet Government Post Office. It is difficult to spot at first – the name board is nestled between loud and colourful signs breathlessly listing the services of their respective enterprises. But the red sign sits there stoically amidst this chaos with the proud yellow letters that spell “India Post”.The beautiful yellow building suddenly manifests itself in all its imperial glory.
From here we walked to the Madras Veterinary College, where we were initially denied entry by an especially grumpy security guard. Fortunately, the college has multiple entries, so we confidently strode in through the next gate. The imposing, brick red central block – almost a 110 years old – now stands behind its horn-shaped successor, built in 2003, named the Centenary Pillar. An interesting feature of the archways on the main building is the wrought iron murals of different animals. Behind the main building are the newer, less imposing blocks. Here, we did not find architectural marvels, but a sprightly little pug that quite effortlessly owned the area while being treated for glaucoma.
The CSI Harwood Raw Memorial Church is another long walk from the College, and is quite easy to identify with its brick facade capped by a cross. The Sri Veera Subbiya Gnana Thesikendra Swamigal Madam is supposed to be quite near the Church, but despite persistently walking around the area in dizzying circles, we could not find it! Finally, after asking one of the passersby, we were crushed to find that the Madam was demolished in favor of a swanky multi-storied building to serve the same purpose.
These areas, we noticed, have a large Muslim presence that flourishes alongside other faiths and cultures. Our next stop was Prasanna Venkatesa Perumal temple. To get here, we had to wind our way through narrow by-lanes and twisting paths, led by a friendly Telugu Muslim woman for our guide. The streets are lined with tanneries, butcher shops, bakeries and homes that speak of long histories. The profusion of Perumal temples in the area led to some confusion, but we eventually found the temple on our list. Close to the Perumal temple is what remains of the Gothanda Ramasamy Bhajani Math. We stood undecided in front of the dilapidated stone structure – unsure of whether we were at the right place – until two curious men walked over to confirm that this indeed was the Math. One of the men told us that the Math was around even during his great grandfather’s time, but because of consistent looting and plundering by bandits, the temple was forced to close down. The idol of Lord Rama alone was moved to the nearby Perumal temple.
By this time, our legs had turned to lead and the sun beat down on our backs quite unrelentingly. We dragged ourselves to the other side of the Chennai Central station to reach the Chennai Sorting Office on Walltax Road. Again, it displays the characteristic red brick exterior with printed arches and glass windows. However, it looks badly in need of repair and touch-ups. The Madras Medical College is not far from here, and despite the weekend, it was quite crowded. Here, the administration block is crowned by a dome that serves as a clock tower. The campus is dotted with greenery, so we sat under a tree quite pensively until we were able to convince ourselves to get up again. We wrapped it up for the day with what we thought was a well-deserved soda break, under the watchful gaze of the sturdy Chennai Central station.
Written by Pranathi Diwakar, Intern at Transparent Chennai and student at IIT Madras