Jammi Buildings, more than just a landmark in Chennai, soon to be demolished

Updated - July 10, 2024 12:31 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 10:21 pm IST

Jammi Buildings is not only a landmark for those living in the Mylapore-Royapettah area, but was also a centre of a pioneering Ayurvedic medication. File photo

Jammi Buildings is not only a landmark for those living in the Mylapore-Royapettah area, but was also a centre of a pioneering Ayurvedic medication. File photo

Jammi Buildings (yes, it was always plural) is to be demolished soon. Not just a landmark for those living in the Mylapore-Royapettah area, it held within it the history of a pioneering Ayurvedic medication. It was a jewel in the Art Deco style, and above all, it was a lesson in how to build office space keeping Indian conditions in mind.

It was the headquarters of Jammi Venkataramanayya & Sons. The founder, born in 1872 at Vizianagaram, became a disciple of ‘Kaviraja Vadlamani’ Suryanarayana Sastrulu, a celebrated Ayurvedic practitioner of the same town. Those were the decades when infant mortality due to liver and spleen diseases, in particular infantile cirrhosis of the liver, was very high. Jammi Venkataramanayya worked out a specific remedy for this.

Medicine in sachets

Going by what is written in ‘Down Memory Lane’ by T.T. Srinivasamurti, the inventor went from house to house selling the medicine in powder form packed in sachets. This came to the attention of Dr T.S. Tirumurti, Srinivasamurti’s father, who in 1923 had been appointed as the first Professor of Pathology at the Andhra Medical College. He got a few samples tested and was impressed by their curative properties. It was he who encouraged Venkataramanayya to move to Madras and by 1927 he made the shift and established his business there. Jammi’s Liver Cure soon became the rage. It was widely advertised in periodicals and dailies (complete, it must be admitted, with some frightening hand-drawn images of children afflicted with liver disease) and also on the radio. Sales offices were opened in various parts of the country. The offices in Madras were initially on Salai Street, Mylapore. In 1938, Venkataramanayya acquired a plot of land at Kodambakkam for the construction of what was termed the Jammi Pharmaceutical Factory, but he died a year later. It was probably also in his lifetime that the site for the company’s offices and clinic was acquired at the Mylapore-Royapettah intersection.

Venkataramanayya’s sons, J.L. Narasimham and J.V. Badrinarayana, continued the business from 1939. The factory at Kodambakkam was inaugurated on December 27, 1949, by T.S. Tirumurti. The Hindu in its issue of December 28 reports that M. Bhaktavatsalam, then Minister for Public Works, Government of Madras, unveiled a portrait of the founder. There is no corresponding report of the inauguration of Jammi Buildings. But an advertisement in 1951 still records the office address as Salai Street and another in 1952 offers office space to let in the ‘newly constructed Jammi Buildings, Royapettah’. That enables us to fix the year.

Space maximised

The architect (was it L.M. Chitale?) deserved an award for the design of Jammi Buildings. It is a trapezoid plot, tapering towards Mylapore, and the space was maximised by three wings along the periphery, enclosing an open courtyard. Cars drove in from Royapettah High Road into this courtyard where a giant portico with its rear to R.K. Salai and the main staircase block behind it welcomed visitors. Pedestrian access was from V.M. Street. With its curved verandahs and edges, round porthole windows and raised concrete bands, the three-storey building looked like an ocean liner. The stairways, offices, and corridors were always well sunlit and plenty of air flowed in. A giant tree in the courtyard offered shade.

The building in recent years became a warren of offices on rent, Jammi Pharmaceuticals Limited probably not needing so much space. Unplanned extensions marred its once sleek outline and the flyover alongside destroyed the frontage. It remains a gateway to the past, but not for long.

(V. Sriram is a writer and historian.)

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