Chennai team documents Madras’ old indigo name boards

Shorthand School, at Kutchery Road, Mylapore in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: R RAVINDRAN

Deep within Triplicane’s belly, is a shop called Madras Edible Stores. The small space, currently being run by the third generation of the founding family, has something special about it. It is its indigo name board with white lettering.

Kaushik Kumar from Akarmaa Foundation, an organisation that works in the fields of education, environment, design, and heritage, interacted with the owners as part of Indigo Boards of Madras, their collective research initiative. “They told me fascinating stories about how the shop was started many years ago by their grandfather,” says the 30-year-old.

Indigo boards, remnants from the British era, continue to hang from rusty nails at some of Chennai’s oldest business establishments. “These boards are historical markers,” feels Kaushik. “They show how much a city has evolved over the years; they are urban planning tools.”

Akarmaa did all its on-field research before the pandemic started: the team visited these establishments, spoke to people concerned, collected stories about the locality and how it has changed over the years.

Touch of history

“We’ve been documenting these boards for five years now,” says Kaushik, adding that they have so far recorded 50 of them in Triplicane, George Town, and Mylapore, and plan to explore Aminjikarai as well. “These boards are unique to Tamil Nadu; I have not come across them in other States,” he adds. “Cities such as Madurai and Mayiladuthurai do have such boards, but they are not exactly of the same indigo colour as seen in Chennai.”

Chennai team documents Madras’ old indigo name boards

The boards, explains Kaushik, have a glossy coating of enamel on tin sheets. “Those days, most of them were made at Madras Enamel Works in Sowcarpet,” he adds. Gradually, most business establishments switched over to hand-painted metal boards, and then came the garish flex boards that we see today.

The old boards add character to an establishment. “Imagine an iconic place like the Dabba Chetty Shop in Mylapore with a flex board. It doesn’t fit, right?” he asks.

Chennai team documents Madras’ old indigo name boards

Apart from shops, Kaushik points out that in some parts of the city, such as Adyar, we can still come across indigo old boards that read ‘Wait for Taxi’.

“Neighbourhoods such as Mandavelipakkam and RA Puram too still retain the old indigo boards,” he adds. “We can find them in certain places if we look closely.” The Akarmaa team plans to map indigo boards across Tamil Nadu. “We plan to make this resource open to all; anyone can add details of the boards they come across,” he explains.

What purpose does this initiative serve? Kaushik pauses, and then adds: “Ultimately, when we interact with these shop owners, we hope to instil a sense of pride in them about the vintage name boards they retain. Hopefully, they will continue to keep them.”

The best thing about these boards, according to Kaushik, is that at the bottom where the address is mentioned, all of them have the word ‘Madras’.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 12:25:26 AM |

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