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

Vol. XXXIII No. 16, December 1-15, 2023

Short ‘N’ Snappy


What’s in Chennai place names?

Plenty apparently – at least that is what The Man from Madras Musings has learnt in recent times. This arises from a series on the various postal identification number (PIN) codes of the city and the broad history behind each locality. The episodes are literally byte sized but the comments received make for interesting reading. It also reinforces MMM’s firm belief that we Indians prefer our past to be mythological and not factual. It seems that living in la-la land is what everyone likes.

Given that there is no consensus as yet on how and why we got the names Madras and Chennai, it is only to be expected that even less will be known about the etymology of places within the city and its outskirts. Not so say those who have made it their full-time occupation to come up with tales on how and why each area got its name. In this MMM initially tried pointing out that in the absence of inscriptional or documented evidence these stories are just that – stories, but he was met with such virulent opposition that he decided it was best to keep quiet and enjoy a good laugh at some of the so-called explanations given.

Did you know for instance that Sayyid Shah and Jaffer Khan were brothers and so when it came to division of land the elder got Saidapet and the other Jaffer Khan Pet? Before you take a deep breath at that one let MMM assure you that a counter to the origins of Saidapet has come hot off the griddle. What rubbish is all this saar attributing everything to Mohali history says another correspondent. (It took MMM quite a while to realise that Mohali stands for Mughal – the depraved chapter in our past that we are forever trying to erase even as we wear clothes from that era, eat food of that culture and use words in plenty from the language of the time). Saidapet takes its name from Sadayu Varma Pallavan says this person.

There is more to come. Rajakilpakkam gets its name from a Pallava king descending from the Madambakkam temple tower to address the masses says yet another message. And as for Anakaputhur, referred to in old texts as Anaikottuputtur the explanation is quite simple – the Pallavas or Cholas constructed a dam on the Adyar (then no doubt a torrential and perennial river rivalling the Ganga) and so it was Anai (Dam) Kattu (constructed) Puttur. Even poor Korattur has not been spared. Apparently it gets its name from the saint Gnanasambanda losing his slippers (koradu) somewhere and finding them at this place and so it became Korattur. And all over the city there are temples being discovered, with names conveniently twisted to explain the etymology of localities. It is no point arguing that these temples came up long after those places were mentioned in inscriptions for as you know all shrines in and around the city are 2000 years old anyway.

Having received all these pseudo histories MMM made bold to ask every one of the memory keepers as to what the source for their information is. The invariable answer was that they have heard elders in the family say so and when asked to be more specific it is always a grandfather. No doubt, the old man spent his time after retirement in poring over the city map and entertaining himself by spinning yarns on how they came about. MMM too is now rapidly approaching that age though of grandchild there seems no immediate prospect. He has decided to embark on a journey of making up histories, all of which he plans to write down. That way nobody can say there is no factual basis. And MMM’s grandchildren, as and when they appear, can make hay.

Summoning MMM

Did you know that the plural of summons is summonses? The Man from Madras Musings knew of this a long while ago but is throwing it in here for good measure so that this column is educational apart from being time pass. But summonses are what came to mind when MMM’s phone rang, and having rung, kept on ringing. Even after the call had died away, the same caller was back, again, and again. Clearly this was a government number for as MMM has so often written in this column, the authorities when they need to reach you are usually relentless. The reverse is true as well – you need to be relentless if you want to reach those in authority.

Having rather perversely allowed the caller to call a certain number of times, MMM decided to call back. And sure enough it was a panjandrum whom MMM knew in a previous incarnation – of the panjandrum that is. The person had since been transferred to yet another department and was now working under So-and-So IAS he said. The utterance of that name was done with a wealth of emotion and many subtle layerings – there was deep reverence, extreme pride at being so close to such an Exalted Highness, patronage that he, the panjandrum was calling MMM on behalf of such a personage, urgency in that he had matters of pith and moment to attend to and so could MMM please be quick etc. It reminded MMM of Mr. Collins in Pride and ­Prejudice whenever he spoke of his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

There was a conference the next day said the caller and it was the command of his boss, the above named So-and-So IAS, that MMM come over and address the gathering. “Just come for an hour saar,” said the caller. “We want you to entertain us.” MMM took a deep breath.

“No,” he said.

There was a shocked silence at the other end. The caller could not believe his ears. This puny MMM was defying the mighty So-and-So IAS? There were splutters and gurgles like a car with starting trouble.

“But Saar,” came the cry and MMM could see that a capital letter had been used in place of the small ‘s’ in saar by way of cajoling. “How can this be?”

MMM had to make his meaning plainer – he said he was travelling the next day which he in reality was.

“Can you not cancel it for our So-and-So IAS?” came the plaintive response. MMM had to disabuse the caller of such a notion. Clearly it was news to the man that there are other things in life more important than a summonses from a high up in the world of authority. MMM and panjandrum parted with expressions of regret and MMM rather suspects that he will very likely be written of with disappointment in the despatches.


That our State is quite prosperous is often brought home to us by our Government. But in the view of The Man from Madras Musings, it is brought home even more powerfully by the recent gilding of many of our statues. Swami Vivekananda was the first to turn gold and he was closely followed by Annie Besant and Kannagi. Now the pandemic is spreading and MMM has to say he does not like what he sees. But then, who is MMM in the greater scheme of things?

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