A bridge with a view

K.V.S. Krishna on panoramic journeys on the Adyar bridge, the wild expanse of Besant Nagar, and lessons with Maria Montessori

September 08, 2009 09:27 pm | Updated 09:27 pm IST

My association with Madras goes back to 1939. My father, who was moving to Sri Lanka, was looking for schooling facilities for me and my brother. That landed me, barely six years old, at the Besant Memorial School (the school was started by Dr. G.S. Arundale in 1934 in line with the wishes of Annie Besant). I was a direct student of Maria Montessori, and a hosteler. Damodar Gardens (on Besant Avenue, where the KFI’s The School is now located) was my home for the next 11 years; with me and my brother travelling to Sri Lanka during vacation. We had a great time, with the entire territory of the Theosophical Society to roam about. During PT classes, we would be made to run from the hostel to Elliot’s beach memorial and back. In those days, there used to be permanent sheds put up on the beach for the European community to change and go for a swim.

After the Besant Scouts camping ground, it was just a stretch of arid waste lands and one could see the Elliot’s beach memorial clearly. The present Olcott School playground was also the playground for our school then.

Besant Avenue used to be desolate; after crossing the Avvai Home, there were only paddy fields on the left till the present Aavin junction. The next big building after the Damodar Gardens building was that of the Maharaja of Travancore’s, near where Padmanabha Nagar is.

From the junction, one had to take a right to get to the old Adyar bridge. A police station was located on the corner, almost adjoining Olcott School, where one day a policeman caught me and my friend Shyam travelling doubles on a cycle. That was a big offence those days. The police issued a notice asking us to appear at the Saidapet Court. We confessed and were fined Rs. 10. Imagine the police pulling up two 10-year-olds!

The only big industry in Adyar was the Neepa Soap Factory, on the way to Lattice Bridge, and it was owned by Rangachari. His only daughter Meera, several years senior to me in school, was a good painter, and she used to invite all her painting classmates to her house, which now houses The Andhra Mahila Sabha’s hospital complex. Mr. Rangachari was fond of birds and he had more than two dozen cages in his garden.

The number of people who had cars in and around Adyar was few. Dr. Arundale, the then president of the Theosophical Society, had a Humber; while C.T. Nachiappan (well-known Madras photographer) owned an Opal. In the early 1940s, there were no motorcycles on the road, except those with the Army. In fact, even cycles were a rarity.

Those were the days when Kalakshetra was in its infancy. Dance dramas were held at the open air theatre, close to the Theosophical Society headquarters. Dr. Arundale used to preside, and I have seen Rukmini Devi dance.

In 1946-1947, what is today Gandhi Nagar, was a desolate stretch with prickly pear, Opuntia cactus and grass growing right up to St. Patrick’s School, located on the banks of the Adyar River. There was a small dilapidated temple. The Adyar bus stop was across the triangular park, where cattle used to graze lazily. During WWII, buses used to run on charcoal, and on a wet day they would have trouble starting. These infrequent buses would charge three or three-and-a-half annas up to Parry’s Corner. The Adyar bus number then, as now, was 5. I always liked to peep out of a bus window to see the ocean when travelling on the Adyar bridge.

During the great floods of 1942, my parents, who had come from Sri Lanka, were stranded in T. Nagar at a friend’s home, and we had to leave them and go to Adyar on a tonga, bag and baggage, ploughing through the flood waters to reach Damodar Gardens.

We used to walk up to Lattice Bridge, and take a boat to Mahabalipuram, overnighting in the boat. The boats were poled by the boatman walking on the boat’s roof or pulled from the canal bank.

As kids we used to play cricket under the Adyar Banyan Tree. As students we used to go to the Bharata Samaj temple every other Friday to sing bhajans. There was no idol, only a flame, though the pillars were ornamented with images of deities.

Damodar Gardens was the last outpost of Madras. None of the townships south of the place existed then; there were only vacant lands, with the dilapidated Thiruvanmiyur temple gopuram visible for miles.

(As told to SHIV S. KUMAR)

K.V.S. KRISHNA Born on September 14, 1933, this Agricultural Sciences graduate from Benares Hindu University worked as a planter in the Nilgiris, Kerala, Cameroon, and Papua New Guinea. A Fellow of the Indian Society of Plantation Crops, he has been a consultant in Uganda, Guatemala, Australia, the U.K. and Scandinavia

I REMEMBER

In September 1941, while organising a programme at Kalakshetra, the Dutch commercial artist and photographer, Conrad Woldring died of electric shock at the Theosophical Society theatre. I particularly liked him, as he used to keep a good stock of sapotas.

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