T-Nagar – Something we don’t know!!

Today it may be among the busiest shopping areas of the city, with just a few stately homes remaining in it to narrate its past glory as a well-planned district. And what little history there is in the place is rapidly vanishing. It is at a time like this that the book, Thyagaraya Nagar, Andrum Indrum, written by well-known businessman and long-term resident of T’Nagar, Nalli Kup­pu­­swami Chetty, has come out. And it makes for a very interesting read.

Did you know that many Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu, including M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa, were once residents of this area? M.G. Rama­chandran had his office on Arcot Road and K. Kamaraj and Rajaji both resided here. If this be the track record, it may not be surprising if, soon, all ­aspirants to the CM’s post ­decide to acquire a home in T’Nagar believing it to be the harbinger of good luck.

If J. Venkatanarayana Nai­du, who was once Commissioner of the Madras Corporation, gave his name to a thoroughfare in this area, who were Govindu and Nathamuni after whom also streets are named? They were labourers who died in a landslide while digging in T’Nagar for the construction of drains over 80 years ago. The Corporation decided to honour them this way. Besides, the area has roads named after several members of the Justice Party. Indeed, the T in T’Nagar stands for Thyagaraya, in memory of Sir Pitti Thyagaraya Chetty, one of the Justice Party founders.

T’Nagar was once known as East Mambalam, which is why, rather like West Bengal, we have a West Mambalam with no sign of an East Mambalam. In earlier days when land was cheap, the entire area was owned by one Subra­mania Iyer, who was a station master. A hundred acres was in his possession. What he did not own was a large lake where Valluvar Kottam stands today. Worried over poor returns on his land, the station master sold it all off at throwaway prices! And today land is impossible to get in the area.

Why Pondy Bazaar? The first shopping complex in the area had ten shops in it. This building was put up on Sir Thyaga­raya Chetty Road close to Geetha Café. This was done by Chokkalinga Mudaliar, a realtor from Pondicherry, which is why the area became Pondy Bazaar.

This and several other fascinating details dot the book. ­Besides this, there are brief life sketches of famous actors, doctors, publishers, businessmen and writers who lived in
T’ Nagar. The histories of ­famous schools, music sabhas, business establishments, eateries and shops are given.

It is apt that Nalli has ­written this book. The famed business began in this area in 1928 when Nalli Chinna­swami Chetty set up shop here. Later his son Narayanaswami Chetty and grandson Kuppu­swami Chetty have run the business. Kuppuswami Chetty or simply Nalli as he is known has of course made a larger name for himself than merely as a businessman. He is also a patron of arts and culture. The Nalli residence above the shop on Nages­waran Road, facing Panagal Park, has remained unchanged. Its art deco façade, always gleaming white, is a landmark and has been witness to the changes in T’Nagar, among the most dynamic areas of the city.

Courtesy: MadrasMusings.Com
By: Sriram V

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