Madras Week 2019: Know your Chennai

The Making of Madras: One locality at a time 

A photograph from The Hindu archives showing residents in Nanganallur fetching water from a hand pump; a view of the First Main Road in the locality today.  

August is an exciting month for Madras, now Chennai. It was 380 years ago that the British East India Company purchased Madrasapattinam from an Indian. A sleepy hamlet that the British set their sights upon is now a bustling metropolis, always in a state of flux, and yet, by all accounts retaining its original character, even as the old gives way to the new.

The Hindu will try and provide you a peek into the world of Madras — of rice fields, peacocks, multiple lakes and the odd stately building in the Indo-Saracenic style — to see how the village made it to the town, and the town to the city. Every day, for the next six days, we will take you on a journey to the past, and weave our way down to the present, to a particular pin code in Chennai, a locality that has changed so dramatically that its old-time residents can barely recognise it .

Nanganallur goes from quiet backwater to a bustling hub

The Nanganallur locality originated out of the residential cooperative movement, helping fulfil the dream of thousands of middle class families to own a plot. As a mark of respect to those cooperative movements, the streets have been named after those societies — Nanganallur Building Cooperative Society, The Hindu Colony, SBI Colony, Voltas Colony, MMTC Colony, Lakshmi Nagar, and Macmillan Colony among them. Housing layouts were formed out of agricultural fields of Thalakancherry village in Nanganallur.Unlike the Nanganallur of today with flats and civic infrastructural facilities, the residents then had to struggle for basic civic amenities for several years.

The Making of Madras: One locality at a time 

The locality once administered by the Alandur municipality suffered from bad roads, absence of piped water and virtually no public transport facilities. The backbone of the locality’s development was active participation of several residential welfare associations to improve civic amenities.R. Gururajan, a resident of Civil Aviation Colony, built his house in 1979.

The retired official recounts that the only bus service available was 18C (which is still in operation), which used to get caught for several minutes at the railway level crossing located near the Palavanthangal station. Though a bus terminus was available at the junction of State Bank Colony, bus services were few and far between, he added.Mr. Gururajan said the locality, which actually went by the name Nangainallur after the famous Sri Raja Rajeswari temple located in the locality, over the years came to be called Nanganallur.

The locality in the 1980s, marked by few individual houses scattered here and there, had open grounds aplenty. He said the residents were endowed with green and lush surroundings of cultivable fields along with giant open wells.

Crossing blues

V. Narayanan, one of the oldest residents of Lakshmi Nagar, remembers a long line of vehicles getting caught at the level crossing near Palavanthangal railway station, as the railway gate would be closed for more than an hour.The founder president of the Lakshmi Nagar Residents Welfare Association said the level crossing being the only access road to Nanganallur was replaced with a subway after a number of residents went on a protest near the level-crossing.Over the years, as Nanganallur became a prominent residential locality because of the presence of a college, schools, shops and also a number of temples, the problems of non-availability of public transport and bad and narrow roads persisted.

The persistent effort put in by one man, P. Krishnamurthy of Hindu Colony Association, paved the way for the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) to start operating more buses.Residents' welfare association members point out that the merging of the Alandur municipality with the Chennai Corporation in 2011 and the formation of the southern arm of the Inner Ring Road by linking the Thillai Ganga Nagar subway paved the way for improvement of civic infrastructure facilities.Though civic infrastructure facilities remained backward, the Alandur municipality received appreciation for one project — the underground drainage system.

The active support given by the residents welfare associations in the 1990s provided the backbone for the Alandur municipality to successfully commission the UGD under private-public partnership.V. Rama Rao, a social activist in Nanganallur, said the reason for the success of the UGD project was the contribution of ₹5,000 by every house owner even before the commencement of the project. Nanganallur has prospered on all fronts with several supermarkets, restaurants and banks setting up shop over the past few years. But a few shops remain etched in the memory of residents including the likes of Roja Medicals and Chidambaram Stores. 


‘Living in the midst of paddy fields’

First Person - N.L. Madhavan, Nanganallur

N.L. Madhavan, Nanganallur

N.L. Madhavan, Nanganallur   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


When I came to Nanganallur in 1966 to live on 4th Main Road, the locality was surrounded by paddy fields. Our family stayed in a rented house in the first layout formed by T.P. Srinivasa Varadhan, who was Headmaster of Hindu High school, Triplicane, along with the then MLC, Dr. Chellappa. Initially, Nanganallur layout had only six main roads and 48 streets after which a number of layouts by different cooperative societies came up. Transport was one of the main problems as the residents had to depend on suburban train services and the nearest railway stations were St. Thomas Mount or Meenambakkam. The only school in the area was the Nehru High School, which was run in a thatched roof building. I can see that the transformation of Nanganallur has been very fast and sudden.

Today's Picks

  • C.P.R. Institute of Indological Research: Inauguration of exhibition of some rare pictures of Old Madras, Shakunthala Art Gallery, C.P. Art Centre, Eldams Rd., Alwarpet,10 a.m.
  • Press Institute of India: Screening of film on ‘The Anglo-Indians of Madras,’ Case study Pallavaram, 2nd Main Rd., Taramani CPI Campus, 5 p.m.
  • Young Indians, Express Avenue and Confederation of Indian Industry:Panel discussion on Namma Chennai Namma Gethu, Central Atrium, Express Avenue Mall, 6 p.m.

A Madras retrospective - Dated 22-08-1955

The Making of Madras: One locality at a time 

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 10:14:22 AM |

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