Madras Week 2019: Know your Chennai

Madras Day 2019: Where the Adyar flowed, quiet and unpolluted

A photo from The Hindu archives shows marooned residents of Kotturpuram tenements after the Adyar breached its banks in November 1985.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

R. Jagannathan, now 50, moved to Kotturpuram in 1972 as a toddler when his father was allocated a 200 sq. ft. unit at the then biggest apartment block constructed by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. Over the next five decades the locality transformed from an isolated, sparsely-populated area into a plush locality where real estate prices are among the highest.

An aerial view of the Kotturpuram bridge

An aerial view of the Kotturpuram bridge   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam


The geographical area identified as Kotturpuram can be seen comprising two localities — Kottur, a village that has in existence since centuries, and Kotturpuram that developed in the past half a century. The contrast between the two has not fully blurred. While Kottur has pockets of middle-income and lower-middle-income population clusters, the remaining area is predominantly higher income, except for the TNSCB flats.

Madras Day 2019: How Chennai grew from an English settlement

Old residents of Kottur remember the time when it was an idyllic village along the Adyar river with agricultural land, cattle and boat services across the river. Only a few remnants have survived. The grave of Hazrath Syed Baba Fareedudin Shahid Rah below a huge peepal tree, reportedly constructed few centuries prior to when the area was under the Nawabs of Arcot, is now tucked in a nondescript corner among residential bungalows.

“Except for a few wealthy Muslim families living here, not many come for prayers regularly. On some days, families that lived here decades before, but have now migrated elsewhere, come,” said a security guard employed in a nearby bungalow.


The Ponniamman temple has been in existence for at least a few centuries, say locals. “The roof of the sanctum sanctorum is, interestingly, dome shaped, in line with Islamic architecture since it was probably built with the support of Muslim rulers. Only in the 1990s were ornamental designs added to the dome,” says J.V. Mohanakrishnan, whose family has lived in Kottur for generations.

Though Kottur was added to Chennai Corporation in 1948, its transformation to present-day Kotturpuram can be attributed to the State government’s active intervention in the early 1970s in promoting it as a residential area, using TNSCB and Tamil Nadu Housing Board.

TNSCB relocated around 1,800 families from slums elsewhere to apartment blocks inaugurated on June 11, 1972, by Sarvodaya leader Jayaprakash Narayan. In 1973, TNHB began introducing housing schemes for middle and high-income groups in a section of the area, which went on to become Kottur Gardens.

Lack of connectivity

While the population began to rise, the lack of a bridge across the river connecting Turnbulls Road to Kotturpuram remained a concern since residents had to go all the way to Maraimalai Adigal bridge in Saidapet or Thiru. Vi. Ka. Bridge in Adyar to cross to the other side of the city.

“Many people who booked flats with TNHB did not move in due to lack of connectivity. I moved in 1985 with one of the original allottees transferring ownership to me. We had only one bus route — 18B,” says Nimmu Vasanth, a long-time resident.

Mr. Jagannathan said that, in the absence of a bridge, pedestrians used a ledge on the pipeline laid for the Veeranam drinking water scheme, to cross the river. “An accidental slip meant death,” he said. A report in The Hindu on August 2, 1981, quotes the residents as complaining to the then Local Administration Minister P. Kolandaivelu that 12 persons had drowned in such accidents. The bridge, which was on paper for about a decade, and under construction for around seven years, was inaugurated on April 2, 1988.

S. Arulanandam, a retired Additional Superintendent of Police and resident of Kottur Gardens, said that the construction of the bridge was a watershed event. Another such watershed project was a non-starter. In 2003, the then AIADMK government proposed a Secretariat complex on 43.2 acres in Kotturpuram, triggering opposition from a section of residents who feared losing their land. The DMK-led government that came to power in 2006 scrapped the proposal and instead constructed the Anna Centenary Library.

Prone to flooding

However, for all its ‘development’, Kotturpuram is an area prone to flooding. While TNSCB flats, constructed in a low-lying area, have witnessed flooding many times in the past, the worst was during the Chennai floods in 2015 when nearly all of Kotturpuram was inundated. The floods showed that the rich were equally vulnerable. “The floods should make policymakers rethink about allowing further growth as many real estate developers are vying for property to build multistorey apartments,” says Mr. Arulanandam.

 ‘I am seen as an outsider now’

My family has lived in Kottur for at least six generations. I was close to my grandfather, who told me stories about his childhood here. I was born in 1965, when the Adyar river was not polluted and Kottur was a village secluded from Madras, with plenty of cattle. My grandfather was a vaithiyar, who gave concoctions he prepared as medicines.

 Mostly people stung by scorpions came to him. He never let us go near his 'medicines.’ Only on the day he died, I could inspect them and, to my amusement, found that it was ordinary potassium permanganate.

We swam in the river. We took boat rides to cross it since the bridge at Kotturpuram came only in 1988. Five paise was charged for a one-way ride. Once wealthy people started moving here, selling milk to them became a source of income. I used to take the cow by dawn and milk it in their premises. One of the families I sold milk to was that of Carnatic singer M.S. Subbulakshmi.

Standing on Gandhi Mandapam Road now, if I shut my eyes for a minute, the place transforms vividly before me into the serene village of my childhood.

With the transformation of Kottur into Kotturpuram and the influx of people, I am seen as an outsider now.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:14:48 PM |

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