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On the trail of the Cycling Yogis

August 07, 2017 11:36 am | Updated 11:36 am IST

Released over the weekend was a book I had briefly referred to on July 10. Now that I’ve a copy, I recommend you get yourself this slim booklet by the Cycling Yogis. If you are interested in exploring Madras and discovering something new or interesting around every corner, this is for you, cyclist or not.

Most of its 40 trails, every one of them already followed by Ramanujar Moulana and his cycling yogis, have something new even for me. I only wish the text was more comprehensive, but that’s me the researcher; for others, it is more than adequate to indicate a place’s or monument’s significance.

Going through Madras by Cycle and its alphabetically listed trails, I found on the Flagstaff Trail, one in the Parthasarathy Temple’s parking lot, with the plaque ‘Erected on Independence Day 15/8/1947, The Triplicane Youth Congress’. I wonder whether they still celebrate Independence Day there; if they don’t, the 70th year of Independence might be time to start, particularly with a survivor of its raising, if one is still with us. Then there’s the Dutch Flagstaff, which I learn is what St Thomas’ Pole, behind the San Thomé Basilica, should be called. “The only remains of Dutch interest in the area, it was once closer to the Cathedral,” the booklet says.

On the Obelisk Trail, there’s a mysterious obelisk at N4 Beach, a popular weekend venue, in Kasimedu. Why the obelisk, no one knows, unless it is an old boundary pillar, but N4 recalls the numbering of a police station once here. Another obelisk new to me is by the Poondi Reservoir, marking its opening by Governor Sir Arthur Hope on June 14, 1944. Poondi also figures in the Prehistory Trail, being home to India’s first exclusive museum at a Prehistory site. Established in 1985, it houses Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Megalithic remains found around Poondi.

Ending the book with the X Trail, the Cycling Yogis take you to Boot House near the Madhavaram milk factory. One of two in the country (the other is in Kamala Nehru Park, Bombay), it was once popular with visiting children; now in disuse, it’s decrepit. Other Xs marking the trail are the carved remains of old lampposts at Elephant Gate Bridge and near the Triplicane temple, vintage signboards like one for the Nandanam Extension Scheme, near the Nandanam Arch, and a blue enamel one in Mandavelipakkam, typifying once-favoured street signage styling.

Making it easy for today’s trail followers is a QR code on every page which, when scanned, links with the GPS coordinates of the particular trail. Trouble with the links? Contact or cyclingyogis . For copies of the free booklet, try the same or

The Cycling Yogis, who promote cycling and an interest in heritage, teamed as a non-profit initiative on April 24, 2012. Besides Madras, they’ve cycled to Pondicherry, Salem, Vellore, Chandragiri and followed the Cooum. Next year, they hope to celebrate Gandhiji’s 150th birthday cycling to Porbandar over a fortnight.

When the postman knocked…

Mariam Ram writes how her grandmother’s diaries (Miscellany, July 24) came to her. Elliamma Mathen left them to her two sons, Babu and George, who in turn, gave it to their sister, Sheila Sista. From her, some documents went to a niece, Eliamma Thomas, the rest to another, Mariam Ram. When Eliamma Thomas found, between 2004 and 2008, that the papers with her were deteriorating, she gave them to Mariam. Aware that Aunt Sheila, the youngest Mathen child, had wanted them placed in the public realm, Mariam explored various archives. When she met KN Panicker, the historian, he urged her to give them to the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) where they’d be studied more than in Delhi’s Nehru Memorial Library.

In October 2009, Mariam and Elliamma Thomas presented the documents to the KCHR, which digitised and catalogued them. They can now be viewed at index.php?title=KCHR: Diaries_of_Eliamma_Matthen

SV Ramakrishnan adds, “There are several other sources for those interested in the Travancore National and Quilon Bank affair.” He lists I Have Borne Much by CP Mathen, Triumph and Tragedyin Travancore by A Sreedhara Menon, Reminiscences by KC Mammen Mappillai, and No Elephants for the Maharaja by Louise Overkirk. To these I’d add Duty, Destiny and Glory by A Raghu and Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar: A Biography by Saroja Sundararajan.

Swasti Bharathi, on the trail of Madras Photography (Miscellany, July 17), was thrilled finding another foreign photographer, an American at that, who had established a studio in Madras in 1909. Much digging later, she found, to her chagrin, it was in Madras, Oregon, USA (Miscellany, March 3, 2003). Madras Checks, long before Bleeding Madras, had more places than one in the US being called Madras. She got straightened out after reading Madras by Steve Lent, a book about Madras, Oregon. It helped her find John Olaf ‘Ole’ Hedlund, who started a studio there in 1909 and kept busy till 1912 specialising in postcard photography. He also extensively photographed the arrival of the Oregon Trunk Railroad. Lent’s book states, “Hedlund sold thousands of postcards to local homesteaders and provided a remarkable photographic history of the area.” That’s what Wiele, Klein and Peyerl, the Nicholas Brothers, and Albert Penn, Willie Burke and Linnaeus Tripe did for Madras and South India. A similar exercise, photographing Madras in the new Millennium, was done by D Krishnan; it’s a pity he has not been able to find a sponsor to publish this remarkable record which a hundred years hence will receive the same interest those mentioned above have attracted in the last 50 years.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes, from today

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