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Vol. XXXIII No. 14, November 1-15, 2023

Our Readers Write

She flew to join our forest!

On a weekend visit to tree-lined Delhi many years ago,  I happened to meet up with some tree activists in a busy college canteen to lament over our woes and celebrate our highs over cups of steaming tea. Since I was always on the lookout for indigenous species nurseries, I was recommended to visit their go-to haunt, the Rajdhani Nursery.

Quaint and old-worldly, its efficient helpers deftly appeared and disappeared into green nooks, and I got lost in the nursery’s fragrant floral pathways. I chatted with the owner about various indigenous tree species, and when he discovered that I wanted to take them to Chennai, he shook his head in firm disapproval. The indigenous but rare ones I had chosen were about 4 ft tall. But he soon relented when he saw my face fall. “Don’t worry ma, we will do what is possible,” he said and instructed a helper to remove the soil at their base and tie them firmly with rope and moss such that the roots would remain undisturbed even through the slightest upheaval of transport. He handed over the precious packet to me with a kind smile. 

It was only after the euphoria quelled that I realised I was travelling back by air. The safest way to transport the saplings was for them to travel in my checked-in baggage or suitcase; my clothes, I decided, could be hand baggage. And that is how my beauties travelled to Chennai!

The picture is of one of them, the Kusum (in Hindi) or Poovan (in Tamil). In her early months, she did have some trouble settling down in our urban forest. There was even a rather stressful encounter with an adolescent stag that almost killed her! Those were anxious days for us. I remember how one of our senior volunteers took special care of her, engaging her in deep, heartfelt conversation while she revived from the encounter. And presto, our young Kusum was back on track a few weeks later! Now over 10ft tall, she is gloriously beautiful, an iridescent beauty who towers over her neighbours. And to think she actually travelled to Chennai in a suitcase! 

* * *

The Poovan or Kusum (Schleichera oleosa), is also known as Ceylon Oak, or Lac tree. Named after Swiss botanist J. C. Schleicher, the species’ name means ‘rich in oil’. The tree is native to South Asia, but is also found in some parts of Southeast Asia. A large tree with a shade-spreading crown, it is drought hardy and well-known for its new leaves that are a distinctive bright red.

Kusum oil is a type of oil extracted from the seed. It is used for various purposes such as hairdressing, cooking, lighting, and as a pain-relieving massage oil in traditional medicine. Also called Koshamra  in Ayurveda,  its bark  is  said to be an antioxidant and is used in mitigating rheumatoid arthritis and headaches. It has been reported to possess antimicrobial and anticancerous properties too, and is also a source of biodiesel.

Shobha Menon

Skyscrapers of Chennai

The LIC building is a 15-story edifice in Chennai that serves as the southern headquarters of the Life Insurance Corporation of India. It holds the honour of being the first skyscraper built in the country and is, therefore, an important landmark in the city. Back when Chennai was still Madras, people were quick to proudly point to the LIC building as the tallest structure in the city. 

The LIC Building in its younger days.

The LIC building at present-day Anna Salai came about as a perfect amalgamation of creativity and urbanisation, at the dawn of the era of high-rise buildings. Designed by London-based architects H.J. Brown and L.C. Moulin, it symbolised the region’s switch from lime-and-brick construction to concrete columns. The building is also known for using the pile foundation technique for the first time. Work began in 1952, but the architects withdrew from the project in 1957. The reins were handed over to the Chennai-based architect L.M. Chitale and the construction was completed on August 23, 1959. The 54-meter high LIC building ruled as the tallest structure in the country for two years before being overshadowed by Mumbai’s first skyscraper, the 80-meter Usha Kiran building that came up in 1961. However, it managed to hold onto its distinction as the tallest building in Chennai for over 35 years before being surpassed by the 71-meter Hyatt Regency building on the very same Anna Salai in the mid-1990s. 

Although Chennai’s construction boom saw the coming up of several modernised structures. The Hyatt Regency hotel was designed in 1986 and the project commenced in 1989. The Oberoi group took over the construction initially, but the project briefly stalled as the group stepped back. The 18-story building was fully completed in 2011, after which the Saraf Group took over to launch it to the public as the Hyatt Regency hotel we know today. One of the main features of the building is the glowing atrium, awash in sunlight. The hotel has almost 325 rooms in total along with several event rooms and a convention centre. Today, it stands as one of the best five-star luxury hotels in Chennai.

The city is also home to the 140-metre Bayview Tower constructed by the House of Hiranandani in Navalur, OMR. The same construction group has also built Anchorage at Egattur, a 45-story  residential complex that rises to a whopping 160 meters. Then there’s the aesthetic 102-meter TCS Signature Tower at Siruseri, designed by the Uruguayan architectural firm Carlos Ott. An ariel view of the building reveals the shape of beautiful butterfly wings with a central spine. It can accommodate up to 30,000 employees and is built with energy-efficient measures.

The tallest building in Chennai today is the Tower H of the SPR Highliving District residential complex at Perambur. The architectural marvel rises to 161 meters and is built on 63 acres of land. With 45 floors, the gated township offers space for both residential and commercial purposes. It is the epitome of luxury with almost 60+ world-class amenities, and stands tall as a picturesque landmark in the city. 

C.K. Subramaniam 
1595 J block, Anukul Apartments
Anna Nagar West
Chennai 600 040.

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  1. calicut krishnan subramaniam says:

    Flying high. Remembering the fire accident there.

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