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Recounting tales that shaped city's growth

Staff Reporter
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Historian S. Muthiah recalls the historic wonder that was Madras

Historian S. Muthiah speaks on ‘Madras - Its past and its present', in Chennai on Tuesday. — Photo: R. Ragu
Historian S. Muthiah speaks on ‘Madras - Its past and its present', in Chennai on Tuesday. — Photo: R. Ragu

If ‘Madras Week' is all about reminiscing about the cherished past of the city, what better way to do so than have a master storyteller recount tales that shaped the growth and ways of the city.

In a function organised by the Public Relations Society of India (PRSI) on Tuesday, historian S. Muthiah recalled the historic wonder that was Madras by showing pictures of its past, and contrasting them with visuals that tell its present story.

“It was just about three square miles of land then, in 1639, with a few fishing hamlets, and the surrounding town of Mylapore. There were nearby villages though, called Nungambakkam and Thiruvanmiyur, separated by paddy fields and scrub jungles that we call Raja Annamalaipuram and Guindy National Park today,” said Mr Muthiah.

“It was not necessarily a better or a worse Madras, but it indeed was a different Madras then,” he said, adding “Every institution in modern India has its origins in that three square miles of land,” before he brought out the facets of the city's contribution in the fields of education and administration.

The Hindu Photo Editor D. Krishnan spoke about the ancient methods of photography when glass plates were evenly spread with ‘collodion,' and pictures were mandatorily taken before they dried. “Every photographer was accompanied by five to six assistants then to carry those bulky wooden cameras and huge glass plates.

He also spoke about the collection of photographs of the city, ‘Vintage Vignettes,' taken around 1880-1930 using such techniques.

“Tram railings, types of motor cars and number plates on vehicles on the pictures helped us identify when and where these pictures could have been taken.”

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