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

Vol. XXXI No. 8, August 1-15, 2021

A look at some of the tiny marvels of Pavithra

Chariot of the Gods

I was fascinated the first time I saw Valluvar Kottam. Well, wouldn’t you be, if as a nine-year-old you saw a giant chariot? As it was, I was spellbound by regular-sized chariots at temple festivals and this one was humongous, with steps that people could climb and explore within. Despite aching legs and exhaustion, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

A few years later, I learnt that it had been the brainchild of the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi in the 1970s, built by the legendary Ganapati Sthapati and had been inaugurated in April 1976; that the entire chariot itself was a massive replica of another famed chariot, one in Thiruvarur; that it contained all 1330 couplets of the Thirukkural in the Kural Mandapam; and that the wheels alone were 11 feet in diameter and 2 feet in thickness.

When I decided to draw Madras’s famed sights, it was one of the first attractions I chose. I had a whale of a time with the details, especially the roof. But perhaps the best part was the tiny man trying to “push” the chariot. Perspective, you see. I wonder if he knew that it was stationary and couldn’t ever be moved?

PS: Of course he was imaginary!

Details about the miniature: Black and White; Pen and Ink.
Dimensions: Approximately: 5.5” X 2.5”

Jewel in the Crown

The first time I attempted to find Chepauk Palace, my driver and I drove in endless circles around Victoria Hostel Road, finally coming to a stop behind a dignified red-brick structure. “Madam, I asked everyone, and this is the palace,” my driver informed me, flinging out his hand with a flourish.
In front of my dismayed eyes stretched a long clothesline, hung with underwear.

Pavithra Srinivasan with her miniatures on display at the Madras Literary Society.

This, I felt, could not possibly be the Chepauk Palace. It may no longer be the fantastic creation dreamed up by Paul Benfield, embellished with awe-inspiring cupolas, arches, curlicues and columns, and no longer the much-vaunted residence of the Nawabs of Arcot – but I defied any palace, old or new, to greet me with underwear.

I spent the next three years hunting the area in vain. So mythical seemed this historical structure that I despaired of ever seeing it – and my disappointment worsened each time some heritage enthusiast exulted that he or she had glimpsed its glory and walked in its hallowed grounds.

And one day, as I was rumbling along Wallajah road, returning to the beach, I stopped at a traffic signal. My bored eyes drifted above the tree-line – above the flyover – and landed on a turret. And there, in front of my dazed, unbelieving eyes, rose the top of Chepauk Palace, a glorious façade of red, white and ochre, set off by the rich green of trees.

Although I eventually did visit Chepauk Palace, its first view was what held me in thrall – which I’ve presented through this miniature. Happy Madras Week!

Description: 3.5” by 5” approximately
Medium: Steadtler Fineliners, colour.

The Palace of Books

This palace opens its ornate doors only once a year, for a limited number of days – usually coinciding with World Book Day, which is April 23 (also St. George’s Day on which Chennai’s Fort St. George reached completion) – when the average citizen can step through hushed corridors and into a large, ancient chamber of books. The columns are huge; their arches delicately decorated with swirls and curls that make you gasp in wonder.

The books are old, so old, harking back to an era of wasp-shaped evening coats, watches on long chains, cambric dresses and dove-grey gloves.

But there’s magic here as well: the magic of entering Aladdin’s cave, of discovering treasures; of marvelling at a cornice or the startlingly colourful shadows thrown by stained glass windows; of admiring the knowledge gathered here since 1896, in a library named after Lord Connemara.

The colours made me want to draw at once – but for the first time since I began ­miniature work, I was hesitant. How on earth was I ever going to bring out the wonderfully intricate designs, or the sheer richness of the décor? But the difficulty of the work was itself a ­challenge, and I set about it, albeit in slightly bigger format. I’d like to think it worked.

Description: 7.5” by 5” approximately
Medium: Steadtler Fineliners, colour.

Gama Rays

There’s an old saying in Tamil: Moorthi sirithaanaalum, keerthi perithu. Something could be insignificant in form, but immense in fame. I’ve come across my fair share of monuments and heritage sights in Madras which would be an accurate representation of the proverb, but perhaps very few fit the description more than the legendary Gem & Co, today an irrefutable part of old George Town.

They’re the pen specialists, producing the finest tools in writing since 1920; originally begun by M.C. Cunnan and Venkat Rangam Chetty, they were the purveyors of the unique Gama pens – but the shop itself is unassuming, tucked away amidst a welter of other stores on the busy NSC Bose Road. If you’re not really looking for it, it could easily escape you, rather like one of J.K. Rowling’s magical shops in Diagon Alley. Unfamiliar with North Chennai (at that time), I managed to miss it twice, before finally zeroing in on it.

Oddly enough, my interest in this pen company was fuelled, not by pens – but by one of Madras’s most intriguing and horrifying murders: that of Aalavandhar, a man who was summarily dismembered in August 1952 – and who happened to have been a pen salesman with Gem & Co. Once I’d gone beyond the gruesome details about his decapitated head buried on the Royapuram beach, I visited the shop myself, and fell in love not just with its old world charm, but also the incredibly colourful banners and hoardings that announced its presence.

Blue, green, yellow and black clashed gloriously in the concrete jungle even as the interiors were a stately brown and black; it was too tempting a combination to pass over. So here it is.
Needless to say, I bought a couple of pens as well, in cherished memory.

Description: 3.5” by 5” approximately
Medium: Steadtler Fineliners, colour.

The Old Curious House

As a little girl and then later, getting to know Madras, the first thing my mind conjured up at the mention of St. Thomas Mount was the church, and the stories connected to said church. Later, when I explored the area, I discovered that it was far from just a church and its environs; this place, with its old world colonial homes and its clear aura of British residency, was fascinating – perhaps because in no other neighbourhood I’d seen was it so obvious. It was like being transported into another world.

It was as I was turning a corner of the road that led to the base of the Mount that I glimpsed this house. I had no idea who had lived there; who had built it – or if even anyone lived in it now. All I knew was that its proportions, juxtaposed with the tree and the skyline, made it a lovely subject. Which is how I captured it.

I’d still love to know its story.

Description: 2.5” by 4” approximately
Medium: Black and White Micron Pens; 0.20mm and 0.35mm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *