Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVII No. 3, May 16-31, 2017

Discovering a neighbourhood

– Vincent D’Souza

A small shrine dedicated to Lord Vinayaka on the landing step of a small block of apartments, fronting a busy road. On the opposite side, a shrine for Mother Mary embedded into the boundary wall of Dhyana Ashram.

The former, a more recent structure, the latter a few centuries old. Two sides of a city neighbourhood sandwiched between San Thomé and Mandavelipakkam which goes back in time, to many centuries.

Recently, on a Sunday, I was with a group of heritage enthusiasts who are attempting to create a cultural map of the Adyar river. From its source to its drop into the sea.

The Sunday tour was to be a recce of sorts.

The idea was to take a close look at places on the banks of the river that have a history of their own. We were restricting ourselves to the northern zone of the Adyar Creek.

A Christian quarter dominates one end of this neighbourhood. And I am familiar with it, having had long sittings with a few residents whose grandparents came to settle here. In this once sandy expanse of groves, settled the early Christian converts. And in this space arose houses and churches which these people made their own.

These people carried their culture and traditions to their new home and place of worship and this intense loyalty left sharp imprints in this part of our city.

Life revolved around the church. And the people had a say in everything. Even in the manner in which festivals of patron saints were celebrated, rights of elders and the place of the religious.

There is evidence of the history of this neighbourhood in the church and on and off the streets of this area.
The tiled street houses have made way for huge blocks of apartments. And yet, the practice of planting a framed picture of the family’s patron saint on the door or doorframe continues.

The celebrations of the feast of Saint Lazarus are now shorter in duration and less grand but the practice of the cars (ther) carrying the images of the saints stopping at the houses of the elders of the once-dominant community is followed. That Sunday as we walked through the inner streets of this area – Lazarus Church Road, Malayappan Street and Madha Church Road, the thin layers of the past showed themselves up.

And then, we were in a new zone – Mandavelipakkam.

Once dominated by a palace, a hotel and a film studio, then by the sprawling bungalows of the wealthy and then, developed by the City Improvement Trust as part of this city’s planned housing projects for the middle-class.

Today, the area still offers large plots for development as apartments.

Fascinating are the histories of our neighbourhoods. – (Courtesy: Mylapore Times.)

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