The Cooum: Madras' engine of growth, industry

I might now be just a meandering river flowing for over 70 kilometres before draining into the Bay of Bengal.

But a couple of centuries ago, I was an important part of the growth of the city, luring people in power to settle down near my banks. Not just homes, but nearly everything that is notable in the city even today and those that have vanished over time, took shape on my banks all those years ago.

Hospitals, hotels or movie halls were all clustered around my banks. When the East India Company wanted to build a port, they selected a site close to where I join the Bay of Bengal. I am not a perennial river and I was mostly dry around Anna Nagar-Poonamallee area, depriving people of navigating on me throughout the year, unlike Buckingham Canal, where transportation was more active.

Like any other modern city, or towns that sprung up earlier, Chennai’s growth centred around my meandering route in the heart of the city. The Dhubashis of Chennai prospered after they settled down beside me in Egmore. I made sure that the weavers who settled down in Chintadripet got enough water.

Did you know that that the first car and bus to be manufactured was in Simpson, so close to me? Businessmen of East India Company and officers of the Raj started building their palatial houses and palaces in the verdant surroundings I created, be it Marshalls Road, Casa Major Road or Montieth Road.

But my crowning glory is Fort. St. George and even today, it is the seat of power. The Connemara Hotel, Spencer’s Plaza (though rebuilt after the fire) and Higginbothams are still my inseparable companions.

Till about 30 years ago, people on boats used to glide down when the tide was gentle. There used to be laughter and fun-filled evenings. But, those were the good old days. People are now finally noticing me. Heritage lovers, environmentalists and even young children want me to get back to my pristine days. I am told cities and towns across the world and elsewhere in India too have restored many rivers that were as polluted.

Will my time too come soon?

Sources: Venkatesh Ramakrishnan, Chennai Cooum Group; Vasanthi Vijayakumar, Professor, Department of History, Madras Christian College, East Tambaram; CMDA; and The Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume

Madras Week: Thus Spake Cooum

>Celebrating Madras Week

Over years, Chennai’s own river, the banks on which Madras arose, 376 years ago next week, has meandered on, stoic in the face of the assaults on it.

>Madras thrived on her banks

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>The scene of great battles

A city grew on the banks of the Cooum, but did you know that they have been sites of the clash of civilisations?

>For them, Cooum is not synonymous with sewer

The Cooum, as strange as it might sound to some, still remains a lifeline to many villages in Tiruvallur district.

>Cooum snippets

In the first-person account that follows, one R. Premsingh writes, “I wish to draw the attention of the Corporation authorities to the stinking smell emitted by the Cooum river.”

>Cooum: Madras' engine of growth

Nearly everything that was and is notable in the city took root along my banks, from the houses of the powerful to the centres of commerce

>Staving off the sewage threat in Cooum

Chennai Metrowater seems to be trying to actualise the big dream of cleaning Cooum river through small steps.

>What's in a name?

A group of history enthusiasts has brought a fresh perspective to the image of the river.

>When crocodiles swam free in Cooum

If you walked by the Cooum about a 100 years ago, you may just have spotted the Cooum crocodile

>Cooum: High tide of artistic expression

From cinemas and bookstores to theatre performances and architectural marvels, I have witnessed this great city reaching new creative heights over many decades.

>Chennai Corporation to play a key role in Cooum makeover

Following a resolution by the Chennai Corporation Council this summer, the civic body is set to do a study on the restoration of heritage landscape along the Cooum river.

>On Islands Grounds and the Cooum

Do you know that Island Grounds owes its name to the Cooum?


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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 7:44:22 PM |

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