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Friday, April 20, 2012

Chennai - Largest Bus Station

In one of my previous posts I covered the Asia’s largest Perishable Commodities Market at Koyambedu (Chennai) and now here comes the largest Bus Station in South Asia. Incidentally this is also there at Koyambdu and that too very close to where I was residing. It so happened that we were proceeding to visit the market and en-route I could catch a glimpse of a huge structure. It appeared as if a very large boat has been put upside down over a building. Needless to say that I enquired. I was told that it is the Bus Terminus. The driver seemed to be more enthusiastic. He said Sir, it is as big as an Air Port. Since we had driven quite far from it, I decided to have a see some time later. The opportunity came the same day evening.

It was just adjacent to  the SAF Games Village where I was putting up so I ventured to take a walk accompanied by my son, who had arrived that morning. Walking on the main road caused a little discomfort because of the construction activity of the Chennai Metro Project.  
The Bus station called Chennai Mufussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) is 500 yards inside from the road. The architecture of the front building  was some thing unique but there were several  sign boards and structures which were obstructing a clear view. The moment we entered the front hall,  we were confronted by the Security. This was never anticipated. May be we were questioned for we were not carrying any bag or baggage. That was good and admirable. We were overwhelmed to see a very huge hall with shining tiles on the floor and without any rubbish scattered. No doubt the premises have been kept very clean. The aesthetics of the  interiors of the passenger area has blended with the architectural design perfectly. We were not able to reconcile with such kind of a thing. The image of Bus Stands/Stations stored in our permanent memory failed to recognise this. This beauty was something  alien. But it was there!

We proceeded further to have an idea about the buses and the facilities thereat.All the facilities needed by passengers are in place. There were locker rooms where passengers can lodge their luggage, an ATM for drawing money, dormitories AC and non AC could be rented, eating joints, Coffee/Tea stalls, Magazines/News papers, wheel chairs for the disabled, a super market, clean toilets and what not. As our driver had commented, this just seemed to be an Air Port with all securities on alert.

The inner yard had several platforms. We took the first one which had around 33 bays for buses to enter. Most of them had buses waiting for departure. Every bay had indication boards in English and Tamil and the buses also displayed their destinations. It was really very easy even for a foreigner to identify the bay which could take him/her where ever one wished to go. Many of the buses we came across were long distance ones going to or coming from  different states. The platforms for destinations within the state were different. In all there were 6  platforms but we also saw buses stationed outside this area.

The Bus terminus has an area of some 36.5 acres (148,000 m2). We understand that the terminus handles around 500 buses at a time 3000 buses and 2,50,000 passengers a day. Really unbelievable. The parking space for vehicles seemed to be quite comfortable and then there is a double basement parking structure to accommodate nearly 3000 two wheelers.

We walked to the extreme end of the terminus and took a right turn which opens on the Kaliamman Street. All the buses go that way and there is a shaded pathway for pedestrians. From there we went to the junction  on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road and came to see an outlet of a renowned sweet shop. Could not resist buying some sweets for children at home. It was already dark by that time and while passing through the road, we could get a snap of the Bus terminus which looked beautiful when it was lit.

It was Mr. R Sudhir Kumar who actually made me to make out a post on this wonderful Bus Station. Sudhir is a wonderful photographer too and has a beautiful blog here.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A Guest Post by PN Sampath Kumar,
       Cochin Shipyard, Kochi.

When life in our two bed room small apartment started becoming boring without much activity other than his studies and routine TV programs, prompted by some TV program, Achu, my son, started pestering me to buy a pet for him.

A pet, in the form of a Dog, as appeared in a TV commercial, a pug, was the imminent option that occurred to him. The life in an apartment has got its own limitations and he was well aware that keeping a dog with us had its own problems. Then came the idea of  getting a parrot. A bird that talked, answering you and engaging in dialogue with you would be an excellent option. More over it is not very costly. He has seen birds being sold at market places and roadsides in our city, though illegally. I pretended to avoid all these ideas. Also I tried to convince him against it explaining how cruel it would be to cage a bird. At last he abandoned the concept half heartedly cursing me for my miserliness. Deepa also promptly joined him. She will not leave any opportunity to taunt me for my attitude.

One evening, after a hectic day out, at home, I was greeted by both mother and son at the doorstep with broad smiles on their faces. Achu took me near the glass jar with water in it, kept on the table wherein I found a creature swimming. It was a turtle. Though curious to observe the cute little one swimming and occasionally resting on the big pebble placed in the centre of the water, I pretended to be serious and kept away. I had a feeling that as time passed, they will lose interest and the duty to take care of him will end up ultimately on my shoulder. I told them that.

The turtle feed was available in the market. They have bought it. They have done the preliminary study to find out the quantity and periodicity of feeding him. As expected, Achu’s early school timings did not permit him the liberty of taking care of him in the morning. He was supposed to feed him daily in the morning. And I pressed him into the duty by compulsion. Deepa will not do that.

And slowly the little turtle became our family member. He made us feel his presence felt by tapping on the sides of the glass jar as if he was asking for the feed whenever any of us reach near him. We named him “Nellikka Pappu”. We in fact had lifted the name from narration in a TV program about the story of a mischievous boy.

One evening back home I was  surprised to find a neatly displayed aquarium in place of the old Jar. Deepa had bought one. She had arranged it with some sand in the bottom, some colourful pebbles in the middle and a bigger pebble in the centre to act as an island for him to take rest. She also arranged it with some artificial plants in the back to create a feeling of being close to nature. Though not very receptive of any (wasteful) expenditure, I approved it. Good, the guy deserved some more space and comfort. He was dark green in color. The star like design on his back with white borders made him look beautiful.

Water needed to be replaced regularly. Considering the difficulty in physically lifting the tank and the risk of my son breaking it, I took over the cleaning work on my own. While cleaning the tank, I brushed his back with an old tooth brush provided by Achu. He reluctantly allowed us to do so like a boy refusing to take bath. Achu enjoyed keeping him on his palm and he enjoyed the tickle it provided while walking on the palm. Whenever left free on the study table, he would hurriedly walk towards some book to hide himself. It was always fun watching him in action.

His growth was phenomenal. Within few months, he became double the size that he was when he first came home. The star designs on his back became more prominent and the red patches on both sides of his cute neck became brighter.

In the mean time, the food packet that Deepa had bought earlier got exhausted and while searching for a new packet, we came across a locally made product. We tried that with good results. He continued to greet us by tapping whenever approached nearer. The new product should have been tastier. In his eagerness to swallow the whole piece given to him by hand, he bit me with his small but prominent set of teeth. It was fun lifting him with the worm sized feed bitten on the one side. It reminded us of the drawing in the Amar Chitra Katha, on the famous story of the tortoise who travelled from one pond to another, with the help of his swan friends.

In our daily household chores, we did not notice his getting started disinterested in food. All those days, I used to drop two-three long pieces of feed in the morning and rush to office thinking that he will consume it whenever he felt hungry. He had lost his appetite. He never demanded food. No tapping sound heard.

Achu’s neighbourhood friend Kaachu and her mother opined that it would have gone on hibernation, a phenomenon which is common with turtles. But we never wanted him to be on hibernation. We wanted him with us, making the tapping noise, eating food and playing with us. I tried to force feed him; but of no use. He never responded.

One evening back home, Deepa came screaming “the turtle is dead”. I did’nt want to face the inevitable. I argued that he was on hibernation and not dead. But within me, I too started slowly believing that he is not going to come back.

Turtles have many lives. Each time they go on hibernation and come back, it is a new life for them. That is why they live for very long years.

I wanted to give some more time for Pappu to come back to life. But no miracle happened. Deepa started troubling me to remove it from home which I never wanted to do. I blamed them for all that had happened. It was they who brought Pappu home and it is for them to decide what to do with it.

At last during this weekend, I agreed to do the last rites of Pappu, but with some conditions. It was the right time for me to negotiate. I made her agree to my demand of clearing the aquarium from home and not to rear a pet at home, which she half-heartedly agreed.

I took his motionless body out of his home and placed on a piece of paper. Before covering it I examined him once again in and out with the precision of a Doctor, with the last hope of his making some movement. He didn’t move. Suddenly I found traces of blood on the paper he was laid. It was all over.

I took him like a baby in my hand to the water in front of our apartment, left him there and returned. I dared not to look back. He has gone on a very long hibernation. If he returns back to life he will be a new born turtle with an unknown past. He should never remember us who deprived him of his freedom.

Bye my dear friend. Be in your world. Whenever I feel like meeting you, I will come to your world. I will never be selfish enough to keep any pet animal to decorate my drawing room.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Armenians in Chennai

With a population of around 4 million, Armenia is a small Country in central Asia which once was a mighty empire. It gained independence and became a Republic after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991. India’s Armenian connection could be several centuries old for one Thomas of Cana is said to have visited South West India sometime in the 8/9th century  CE. He is said to have been an Armenian and was accompanied by several families. Though not much is known about him, he is some times referred to as a merchant and sometimes as a Bishop. A group of Catholics in Kerala also claim to be his descendents.  Incidentally Armenia happens to be the first country in the world to officially embrace Christianity way back in the 4th century CE.
Unlike Jews and Parsees, the Armenians did not look to India for asylum or shelter, they came in  to trade and  make money.  During the 16th century CE, Mughal Emperor Akbar invited Armenians to settle down at Agra with all trading rights. Over a period of time the population grew and  Agra had a sizeable Armenian population. They also settled down at Surat and became renowned merchants. Likewise they spread to other cities as well,  trading mainly in precious stones, jewellery, silk and spices.
Chennai has an Armenian Street and still is known by that name. However there are no Armenians to be found as such. All that remains is a beautiful Church dedicated to St. Mary, reminding their glorious past. In this business area of George Town they lived peacefully, with their own houses,  lower portion of which served as a store house for their merchandise. The said Church is amongst one of the heritage buildings of Chennai. During 1668 they had a temporary Church built of timber within the precincts of Fort St. George. In 1712 they had a permanent structure but immediately thereafter the city of Chennai came into French possession for some time. During the French reign the Armenian Church is said to have been demolished but some say that it was done by the British. Eventually in 1772 the present Church came to be constructed on a piece of land belonging to a wealthy Armenian.   It had his private chapel and cemetery. It is only because of the existence of this Church that the City could connect to those Armenians who once roamed around. Incidentally their population all over India is around 350 only and the largest number being at Kolkata. It is their Church at Kolkata which takes care of the Chennai Church and its upkeep through a resident care taker.
Existence of an Armenian Street and a Church thereat was well known to me and possibly I have passed through the street many times  when I was young. But then I did only loafing around. Peeping into the past as an obsession developed much later. But even when that dawned, my stays in Chennai used to be too short and confined in a particular area. This time, I had plenty of time and could bank on my brothers help to move around with a personal conveyance. I landed on the Armenian Street one day and looked around. Yes there were the doors that lead to the Armenian Church as I could gather from what was written above. Unfortunately the door was closed. On enquiry a pavement vendor asked me to come at 5.00 PM but while I was conversing I found the door being opened and a watchman coming out. On enquiry the watchman told that I need to come between 9.30 AM and 2.30 PM. He frustrated all my pleas and attempts to get in. Incidentally the door and the walls were so high that one can not get even a glimpse of the Church behind.

A week later I once again visited the street but this time the doors were pretty open and I was well within the time span prescribed for visitors. A gentleman who was sitting inside welcomed me with all courtesies. He was Mr. Trevor Alexander, the caretaker belonging to the local Anglo Indian community.
The above one is the Bell Tower
This is the Church  (from Wikimedia)
Immediately upon entry, the imposing structure that greets you is that of the Bell Tower and it is the one  which gets portrayed to denote the Church. The real Church is a humble one with practically a flat roof just on its right side. There was a wooden ladder leading up to the tower but people are not being allowed for fear of the ladder crumbling down. Mr. Alexander took pains to restrain me suggesting that apart from being old, the ladder is too steep and one may encounter fatal falls due to giddiness. Perforce I thought it would be wiser to go by his words.

Erected in memory of Mrs. Coromsimee Leembruggen
On the right there is a corridor adjoining the Church. Some wall hangings could be seen with a marble plaque embedded into the wall to commemorate the visit of their Patriarch in 1963. It was serene inside the Church with St. Mary at the Altar and a candle kept burning. I was at peace with myself and relished the quietness. Beneath the Altar there were miniature paintings depicting the scenes from Jesus’ life. At the other end there was a balcony for the Church Choir group to be seated.

Once again outside the Church, the area is covered by a number of Frangipani trees bearing large white flowers. Probably the decomposed bodies of around 370 Armenians buried under the soil are providing extra nutrients to the trees there to grow so well. All the graves are at the ground level and it would be difficult not to walk over them unless some one cares to see the inscriptions they contain. As an exception there is a well elevated and well maintained grave of Reverend Harutyum Shmavonian who breathed his last in 1824. It was he who brought out the first Armenian journal in the world  "Azdarar" in 1794. I was curious to have a look at that journal, alas!, not a single copy exists at least at the Chennai Church. It was here that the Armenians of that time prepared a draft constitution for an independent country in 1781. Ironically  Armenia became independent only after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union in1991.
It would be of interest to learn that Armenians unlike other Christians do not celebrate X’mas on the 25th of December. They are Eastern Orthodox Christians and claim to have been celebrating X’mas on the 6th of January much before the date was prescribed  in 325 AD. They continue that tradition. So are the  Orthodox Church of Russia but their date being 7th of January.
While returning home, I was too sorry for not having climbed the Bell tower which still has 6 large bells weighing between 150 to 200 kgs. The oldest one was cast at London in 1754 by the makers of Big Ben which was recast at Chennai (known as Madras at that time) in 1808. This bell is said to bear an inscription in Tamil. 

Incidentally the Armenian Association of India is planning to celebrate the 300th year of the Church during this year.