Surya Narayana Street blends into Ennore Express Road (State Highway 114) as obtrusively as a Bret Lee taking over, mid-over, from a gentle-paced club-level speedster. The traffic picks up noticeably fearsome yards of pace, and a signage screams out the treacherousness inherent in this section: It is accident-prone. Police posts heave into view: A booth put up by the H4 Washermenpet police and then one manned by the H8 Thiruvottiyur police. Containers trundle on a route earmarked for them. Motorists and the local population have a snappy name for this section of the highway: ‘N4’. Its calling card to the wider world is the N4 Beach.
Now, step back and call this popular imagery to mind. An occupied nest plonked in the crook of a lone tree standing precariously in a rock thrashed by surging waters of a waterfall has communicated a notion of peace amidst turbulence. On what is called the ‘N4’ section, a bus stop parallels this imagery of peace. It is a weeny little brick-and-mortar bus stop, one marked by trelliswork. A mattress and pillow indicate it doubles as someone’s place of rest, and that someone is around. The temporary occupant notes the bus stop is however hugely functional, with two route numbers — “4” and “8” — halting there. His sentence barely completed, one MTC bus — a “4” service — halts, disgorging one passenger. Within the next couple of minutes, a knot of commuters gathers around the bus stop. They date the bus stop variously with the majority of them settling on “around 30 years”. There is probably no way of finding out the exact number, but it has Madras written all over it. It should be preserved through the year, with the same reverence with which Madras is honoured around the city’s founding day.
Near Valluvar Kottam
By continuing to latch on to its “old home”, a bus stop outside Valluvar Kottam offers an unintended but nevertheless befitting tribute to Madras. The brick-and-mortar facility seems well-preserved, and the concrete chairs with circular seats are quaint — and too low-slung — to elude notice.
As if for contrast, a modern steel bus shelter stands nearby glinting in the sun. Other spots in Chennai sport this combo: an old brick-and-mortar bus shelter serving alongside a modern bus shelter, both equally well.
On TTK Road
One encounters this combination, the old and the new — Madras and Chennai — serving commuters in tandem, at TTK Road Ethiraj Kalyana Mandapam bus stop.
The old bus stop is patronised as much as the modern one, but the latter would do better with some repairs, specifically plastering work on its roof. Age is evidently weighing down on this facility, and in one place, its bones — read ‘steel rods’ — are showing. One of the greatest tributes to Madras would be to identify and preserve the “pleasantly anachronistic” bus shelters across Chennai, as they are as a living reminder of the past. The best place to search for the past and secure it is the present.
From the archives
The scourge of deadbeats and stray cattle occupying bus shelters in the city dates back to “Madras”, even the far reaches of it.
In a report from July 1987, The Hindu notes how two bus shelters on Oliver Road in Mylapore present an incredible picture, one devoid of this problem. It credits this welcome change to Udhayashankar Memorial Trust that was maintaining these facilities that came complete with ornamental plants. The man behind this bus shelter-maintenance project was freedom fighter “Thookkumedai” Rajagopal, who had undertaken it to honour the memory of his son, Udhayashankar, who died in a road accident.
During 1989-90, there was a pronounced attempt to move from brick-and-mortar bus shelters to shelters made of fibreglass. The preference was fuelled by the inability of the concrete shelters to keep people from pasting posters on them. A March 1989 report from The Hindu draws attention to a fibreglass bus shelter installed by a tyre company at a stop opposite Music Academy.
In April 1990, The Hindu reported a comedy of errors of how a fibreglass shelter put up in front of P.Orr and Sons on Anna Salai was ludicrously positioned right under the extended shelter of the building itself. The Hindu adds that the authorities woke up to error quickly and removed the bus shelter from the location.
Madras on the roadside
Though parked inches outside humanity’s everyday world, they serve people from those margins, functioning somewhat like frontline workers. They are the trees, the bus stops, stormwater drains and plaques, among others. In the light of the upcoming
Madras Day, through this month, The Hindu Downtown will feature examples of these “frontline workers” who have a connection with Madras. They could be anything that served us, standing on the roadside, when the city was Madras, and continue to serve us in Chennai.
You may write in to us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org