Up early this morning for a heritage walk round Royapettah, an inner-city district of Chennai. Royapettah means the district of the rulers. There's still a palace here - the Amir Mahal, the home of the Prince of Arcot (I hope to be blogging about that later) - but the garden houses, the palatial bungalows in their own grounds, which once distinguished the area are now long gone.
In their place, just under a century ago, came up smart vernacular housing using the new building material of cement plaster and often gently influenced by Art Deco. Many of these too have gone, and those that survive are sometimes in poor repair, but there are some real treasures still to be seen.
This is one of the more imposing examples - a corner house with columns, balustrades and parapets, and incorporating a lovely sunrise motif in the jallis, the latticed plaster work.
Here's another corner building, fronting Pycrofts Road (many of the main roads in central Chennai still retain the name of the British colonialist or trader who once lived nearby). It's called the Summer House, though no one's quite sure why. And it bears some of the traits of Art Deco, not least the narrow vertical windows.
Alongside the light imprint of Art Deco are buildings of a similar vintage which are part of quite different architectural traditions. Some show a hint of the gothic ...
... while others are just altogether crazy!
Swami's Summit, it seems - and the property owner happened to be on the walk, so we have this on good authority - was visited by Gandhi. Which prompted the construction of a peak above the summit (not sure that makes sense terminologically, but then not much about this building does).
And a big shout out to our guide, Tahaer Zoyab of the pathbreaking heritage initiative Madras Inherited, whose architectural expertise made the morning so memorable. We had the good fortune to be able to go, impromptu, inside a few of the houses ... what a wonderful city Chennai is!
And the walk was part of the admirable India Heritage Walk Festival,
Elections are just around the corner here - so it's the season for outsize political wall paintings, one of my favourite aspects of Indian politics. I came across one such work in the throes of composition in the back streets of Chennai.
It's good to see that some parties are sticking with the more expensive and time-consuming paintings, rather than just making do with posters ...
... which as you can see don't have anything like as much scale or impact.
This wall had been marked out for the DMK, the main opposition party in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which (helped a little by its alliance with Congress) is expected to do well when voting is held, probably in April and May.
When I suggested to the artist that his mural was in preparation for the coming elections, he got quite defensive: "no, not for elections", he insisted. Then the penny dropped!
India's powerful Election Commission places strict prohibitions on campaign wall paintings and all sorts of other once-standard election practices. But the dates of the general election have not yet been announced. So I suppose that the DMK hopes that this spot of street art will be seen as normal business rather than part of the election campaign. Hmm ...
The wall painting is of Stalin, the new leader of the DMK, and his late father, M. Karunanidhi, who was the longstanding party patriarch and spent in total the best part of twenty years as chief minister of Tamil Nadu.
Yes, I did say Stalin ... no, people here don't think it's at all strange ... well, this Stalin was born four days before the other Stalin died and was named after a leader who was widely admired in India at that time ... so, in South India, it's the given name rather than the inherited name which people go by ... his full name is Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, which you have to admit is a bit of a mouth full ... and yes I guess it could be seen as remarkable for a man called Stalin to come to power in the 21st century, but not in Chennai where he is probably the most popular political figure out.
I'm glad we've got that all sorted!
When I again passed by the mural half-an-hour later, a bunch of local DMK heavyweights had come round to inspect the work, and to instruct the artist which other party figures should feature.
They brought round a likeness of a DMK former mayor of Chennai, M. Subramaniam, to ensure that the painter could manage to make him recognisable,
And then, of course, they all posed for a photo.
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