380 years and she is still at her prime. The city has been a source of inspiration, joy and most importantly – emotion. And to do this year after year for 380 years is quite something.
That is the spirit of Madras, and the Madras Bulls motorcycling club was celebrating her birthday on the 25th of August, 2019.
This was the 15th year of MBMC’s participation in the Heritage week celebration. The Madras Day ride is dedicated to celebrating the deep heritage, the unending stories and experience the rich treasures of the city. It is a half-day event that covers a few important landmarks that we pass through on a daily basis, but this time, stopping to understand its history, prominence and importance to the city. For some of us who have lived here most of our lives, a ride such as this opens our eyes to know the city more and also an insight into some of the visionaries of the city.
Hari, the madbull historian had identified a few places and with the given agenda, it sounded like a fun day to see the sights and sounds of the city. The ride was divided into 2 segments with lip-smacking lunch in between.
My family was in Madras to spend time with me and with all that I had been talking about the MBMC, my cousin was quite kicked to be part of the Madras Day ride this year. Saturday went by at the Surfing festival at Covelong and Sunday looked very sleepy given that we went to bedpost 230AM and hoping that the alarms do its job.
The ride scheduled to start off at 8 AM from Hotel Ashoka at Egmore promptly started at 930AM ( Madbull standard time). Thanks to Ranga’s phone call, I woke up 10 minutes before the ride out time. He had called to give me an earful as he was the only one at the venue. Well, now that I was wide awake, it was time to get ready and get out as soon as possible.
Jeru and I were out of the house 30 minutes later throttle wide open – Hotel Ashoka in mind. As I neared Greames road, I thought if I should head straight to Royapuram station considering the ride was to start at 8 AM, but then again, there was that very small thought of “What if the boys are still there”? Tearing into Pantheon road and taking the U-turn into Ashoka, I was happy for the ” what if ” thought. All the boys were still there, and Ranga didn’t look too happy 🙂
Without wasting time, we quickly ordered breakfast and the most essential coffee for Jeru. 15 minutes later, we were finally awake. Food in our tummies, caffeine in our bloodstream, we were ready for the 15th Madras Day ride. The station Master at Royapuram was busy with his morning tasks (God bless his soul) and that explained the rather lazy breakfast for all of us.
Close to about 930 AM, we were finally rolling out, and it was exciting to be out there. Memories took me back to times when we used to have about 40-50 Royal Enfield’s rumble the roads of Madras, all in parallel formation riding from one historical location to the other. Cops would hold traffic to let us pass, media vehicles would zoom ahead covering the motorcycles, members all geared and riding proud. With the multiple political and demographical unrests, such formation rides were seen as something negative and hence we had to split up into small groups.
Back to the present, we were riding past the commercial side of the city to the more rustic side of North Chennai. Periyamet, The Ripon building, the Central railway station, Madras Medical College, Parry Building, the head post office, Mint flyover and then into the Royapuram Railway station. It was a short ride, but a good one.
The Royapuram railway station is the oldest working railway stations in the sub-continent and the first railway station of South India. The station was in a state of poor negligence over the years but was restored and opened to the public in 2005. It is now well maintained and has a strong commuter base that uses the facilities on a daily basis. The history of this station dates back to June 1856 and has been active till date. The entire station spans over 70 acres, but our visit was limited to the station and the heritage of the station.
Hari spent some time sharing the rich history and the importance this station has played in the evolution of Madras. During the course of explaining Royapuram and its surroundings, he highlighted the first store in Madras to introduce ice creams to the city – Kunhiraman General stores. Our antennas were buzzing to try out the place. This store dates back to the ’50s and their mango ice cream is legendary. Also around the station were two prominent places of history. One was the St. Peter’s church and the other is the Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar E Meher, popularly known as the Royapuram fire temple. Both these places were in walking distance from the station.
The Royapuram station is small, but to an observant eye, there is plenty to notice. The building, the scaffolding, the plaques, the pillars among others is a sight to see and appreciate. The sun was beating down on us, and the appetite of ice cream drew us to the shop.
Modern-day retailing had no place in this place. There was a central cash counter where you pay, get a token and then go to the counter desired to pick up your goodies. They did not have the mutton samosas yet, but the ice creams were available. Finally getting the tokens and picking up the ice creams, the wait for worth it. I am a sucker for the mango flavour and this one right here was a winner.
At Rs. 30 for a cup ( or a cone), the taste of the ice cream is full-bodied and yummilicious, unlike the commercial crap we get these days which we pay almost 4 times the cost. North Madras has that charm and this was the testament of simplicity and honesty.
From Kunhiraman stores, we kept walking towards the St. Peter’s church. This is one of Madras’s oldest churches and has a significant piece of history being built by fishermen from the area.
The paint scheme and the impeccable maintenance shows the amount of love the locals have for the church. There was a football match in progress and some of us who were too tired to walk settled down to watch the game. The remaining lot walked up further to see the fire temple.
( pic of the fire temple courtesy Leo John)
The entry to the sanctum sanctorum is restricted to Parsi’s and Zoroastrian’s for the holiness, while outsiders can view the temple from outside. History records that during World war 2, where North Madras was evacuated, lights were put off, the fire temple refused to put down the fire and despite the odds, it survived the war. Wikipedia records the fire temple is regularly fed five times a day during prayers by the priest to keep the fire burning.
In a 2 kms radius, we had seen so much of history of the city along with some delicious ice cream. The day had just started. Our next stop was the St. Andrews Kirk at Egmore.
The Kirk has so much of history and heritage that they have a person dedicated who leads groups through the history and importance of the church through the tides of time.
The Sunday service had just finished, so we were able to meet up with some familiar faces. One of them was Sam Daniel of NDTV among others. NDTV used to travel with us during the Madras day rides during yesteryears and the coincidence of meeting Sam at Church during the Madras Day ride could not have been better.
I have been to the Kirk multiple times. But this time was different. While Naveen was sharing the history of the church, the ingenious architecture of having 150 wells dug and filled with brick and mortar, the mitigation plans put in to maintain authenticity to earlier construction, I was quietly circling the aisles of the church. My grand-aunt was a leading music conductor at the Kirk for a long time and a highly respected person. Read more here. Some members of the congregation were curious to see us in black tees stroll about and engaged in small conversation about God’s grace in our lives.
The tour was still on, Naveen and some of the boys were lost in time, Jeru and I were lost in the tranquillity of the place and stealing a few winks, while few others were just lazing about.
The tour was over, the customary photograph taken and it was time to head into the second half of the day.
Unlike most Madras day celebrations, this one extended post-lunch. We received an invite from the Royal Madras Yacht Club to visit the premises for the view and high tea. We had about an hour to go before we rode out to the harbour.
Lunch plan was simple – Biriyani at Kalyana biriyani, Egmore and then head out to the RBI building before we ride into the port.
The biriyani was lip-smacking and all of us were near passed out. Clock- a- ticking, we got back on to the saddle. This next bit of the ride was quite special. So, unless one has an invite from the port authorities or from the yacht club, one cannot ride/drive your own vehicle through the wharf. If that wasn’t special enough, add the fact that there were about 25 motorcycles riding in together, parking against the setting sun and admiring the view of the port. To Jeru and me, that felt darned good.
The Royal Madras Yacht club is one of the most prestigious sporting and social club. It was founded in 1911 and is located in Springfield Wharf, a dedicated to the founder – Sir Francis Spring. Visiting this club after so many years brought back memories. Way back in 2011, a small group along with the host, Manoj Chacko went into deep sea for fishing. We didn’t really catch anything, but the experience was awesome. To see a sunken ship in the middle of the sea, circling through the rust and just being at seas was an experience in itself. And after 8 years, I was back here – on Irene.
The view around the pier was akin to stepping into a whole new world. A submarine rusting away in the waters, a chartered boat that hosts parties for a swanky price, a few cargo ships parked in the corner, the waters glistening as the sun burnt the shore and the 20 odd of us walking around like excited children. The day felt swell already. High tea was served and if history was right, this was a real privilege for all of us gathered there. The place had so much of royalty and charm, but yet simplistic in construction and design.
The city has so much to see, experience and feel that it goes right through your bones. Chennai could be the new Madras, with all the lights, the commercials and the flamboyance, but at the heart of it all, is Madras – the soul and fire of every madrasi, experienced a slice of the city’s warmth and felt the love. And in true madrasi style – there is no place like North Madras to experience it all. ( when I mean all, I mean being street smart too).
The sun was setting and it meant one thing – the day was getting over and we had to head back. The ride back to our individual homes were greeted with the commuters enjoying a Sunday evening. Riding past the Marina beach – another icon of the city, we were soon back on familiar territory getting lost in the labyrinth of modernization and commercial establishments.
Till we meet again for the next Madras Day celebrations – may you celebrate your 380th with all the pride and joy possible.
More of the pictures at https://bit.ly/30zaYk9. Cheers and Happy Birthday Madras.