Up early this morning - really early - for a marvellous heritage walk with Madras Inherited (a big shout out to Ashmitha and Muna). We gathered at half-past-six, just as it was getting light, and ended the walk two hours later with a traditional Tamil breakfast (dosa, idli, sambar, vada, coconut chutney. fantastic filter coffee) in a local mess or cafe.
We walked through Triplicane in Chennai's inner city. It has an ancient Hindu temple, a commanding mosque and the palace of the Nawab of Arcot. It also has a reputation as an area where incomers to Chennai congregate, because it's central and you can get cheap accommodation amid the congested back streets.
But this walk focussed on the houses of Triplicane, and the amazing mix of architectural styles you can find if you look around you: traditional (both religious and secular), neo-classical, Ind0-Saracenic, Art Deco (quite a lot of this, delightfully) ...
And Indo-Deco. Think a fusion cuisine sort of thing as applied to architecture. The sharp lines and perpendiculars of Art Deco with some archetypally Indian elements added. Take the image above - the sun bursts are a staple of Art Deco, but the swastika is 'desi'.
I was taken by the detail - the ironwork on doors and balconies, the lattice-style screens to shield tiny verandahs, all the care with which designers crafts people and householders have marked out their property and given it distinction.
But we started with a dekko - an English slang loan word from Hindi, where 'dekko' is an imperative meaning: look! - at an old traditional single storey building, with clay tiles and much patched up roof. Several of these buildings survive, though most have been replaced by three- and four-storey houses.
On the roof, you can see a rather battered terracotta head. This was placed to ward off evil spirits.
If I was an evil spirit (I'm not!) I'm not sure this fairly genial likeness would be enough to keep me at bay - but perhaps it has helped to keep this building standing when so many others of its kind have gone.
The man whose house this is clearly takes great pride in its antiquity. But it's an open question how much longer these almost anachronistic architectural remnants of an earlier era will survive.
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