Madras Week 2019: Know your Chennai

Sylvan surroundings give way to buzzing streets

A photograph taken in 1980 shows a bullock cart making its way down Harrington Road, at right, a view of Chetpet bridge   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives/R. Ragu

Think Chetpet and what comes to mind are the many species of trees on Harrington Road, the bustling roads filled with students from the many educational institutions and the restaurants, shops and apartment complexes that have mushroomed in the area. 

“Back in the 1980s, Harrington Road used to have so many rain trees and it would actually be tough to even see a shadow on the roads, the canopy was so vast. This was a residential area dotted with bungalows,” says K. Nadarajah, a resident of the Harrington Road, First Avenue. The area has one of the most active residents associations in the city - the Harrington Road Residents Association - which has been actively involved in the area’s civic and infrastructural development.

His paints a picture of an area with quiet roads, lined with numerous trees. “There used to be a railway crossing here before the Harrington Road subway was built. Many of us here began to see a marked change in the area from the mid-1980s where apartments and commercial establishments began to increase in number,” he says. Harrington Road and Spur Tank Road, in particular, housed beautiful bungalows and villas, say long-time residents. 

Among the notable establishments that became big draws were Shoppers Stop and the Kailash Parbat restaurant, which continue to be frequented by people from several parts of the city. 

Chetpet is believed to have got its name from T. Nambperumal Chettiar, a builder who was involved in the construction of several landmark buildings in Madras, including the Connemera Library, the Egmore government museum and Victoria public hall. He is believed to have settled in Chetpet in the mid-1850s and bought a lot of land. Harrington Road, 15th Avenue, was initially called  Raja Mannar Avenue after his son, before its name was changed. 

Several residents of the area remember the Cooum river, passing through the area, as a pristine waterbody. In 2009, an article in The Hindu states that there was a plan back in 1960 to link the the Cooum with the Adyar river at Chetpet. The proposal did not materialise. 

At present, the Greater Chennai Corporation is working on initiating a nature trail along the banks of the river from Monroe Bridge, Chetpet,  to College Road, Nungambakkam, which promises to delve into the ecology of the area as well as the history of the river. 

Park perk

Another waterbody in the area, the Chetpet Lake, has brought much joy to residents as well as the general public from the nearby areas in recent years with the inauguration of an Eco Park on its banks in 2016. The 16-acre park, which has a water spread of 9.1 acres, has fishing, restaurants, boating facilities and, more recently, the Chennai public aquarium. 

“The walking track around the lake sees a lot of residents in the mornings and evenings. This truly was a welcome addition to the area as we feel the waterbody is cleaner now,” says S. Varalakshmi, a resident of Dasspuram. 

Unique facilities are not new to the area. Before the 1950s, the area had a reading room. Photographs of the room show a quaint structure with sloping tiled roofs built near a circle where the community used to meet regularly.  Both of these were demolished in later years and, at present, the Chetpet signal stands in its place.

Options galore

Chetpet is home to several schools and colleges and among the oldest is the MCC Higher Secondary School. Connectivity through railway as well as buses meant that the famous school attracted students from across the city. “In the early 1980s, there were not many schools in the city and MCC school as well as the Seva Sadhan school were among the most well known the city,” says G.J. Manohar, headmaster of the school and an alumnus. The Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao Matriculation School, Sherwood Hall School, Maharishi Vidya Mandir and Union Christian School are among the other prominent institutions in the area at present. 

"Our traffic woes have steadily increased over the years. Many areas in Chetpet - Harrington Road in particular - were known for how peaceful and quiet they used to be. Sadly, this isn't the case anymore," says Mr. Nadarajah.

The presence of schools, hospitals as well as shops has meant that Chetpet has emerged as a locality favoured for its central location and proximity to other parts of the city. 

“There, however, are still are some infrastructural irregularities that need to be addressed. Several residents in and around McNichols Road don’t have regular water supply and there has been a persistent issue about sewage overflows,” says V.O. Balagangadharan, a resident. He, however, predicts that the area will only expand from here on and emphasizes on the need for proper planning.


'Clean waters, fresh bread and tranquil roads'

First person - V. Chithranath, Chetpet

Chithranath, resident of Chetpet

Chithranath, resident of Chetpet   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu


I was born in 1949 in Chetpet and my family moved into the house I currently reside in, in 1950. My father worked as a manager at T. Nambperumal Chetty and Sons and they were responsible for the construction of several buildings in Madras. The office of the company still exists at a building called Crynant in the area and this bungalow was where my sister had her wedding reception back in 1962. 

Several people back then used to go to the Cooum to take a dip - that is how pristine the waters used to be. Present-day McNichols Road used to have several shops and hotels when I was growing up as well. Astoria Hotel, the famous Hansa Ice Cream Parlour which used to be frequented by us MCC school students, Ghazali Stores and Saravanan Chetty shop. CVK Bakery located there was renowned for its soft bread, and I remember how someone used to go door-to-door on a cycle, selling it. The Karukaathamman temple here had an annual festival which we used to look forward to. This has continued over the last few decades and last week, many of us long-time residents attended the temple festival. 

Many of us who grew up in the area either studied at the Madras Seva Sadhan School or MCC. One of the oldest Malayali clubs outside of Kerala was established in Chetpet and my family has been a long-time member. 

The quiet roads and greenery, which used to be among the defining characteristics of the area, might have given way to rapid commercialisation, apartment complexes and traffic, but for many of us who settled in Chetpet decades ago, we will not go. Such is our connection with the area.

Today's Picks

C.P.R. Institute of Indologial Research: Exhibition of rare pictures of Old Madras, Eldams Rd., Alwarpet, 10 a.m.

Quiz: 1st Edition of Madras Quiz, Lady Sivaswamy Ayyar Girls School, Mylapore, 2 p.m.


A Madras retrospective

Sylvan surroundings give way to buzzing streets

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:18:42 PM |

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