Will Chennai be able to save a 300 year old Plaque connecting it to its Armenian Past …?

The plaque is the last living relic of the Marmalong, the first ever bridge built over the Adyar river in 1726 by Armenian trader Coja Petrus Uscan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you take a walk across the busy roads of Saidapet in Chennai, chances are that you would cross what is perhaps one of the oldest living relics that connects the city to its Armenian past.

To the uninitiated, it may look like an unremarkable slab of stone on a pale green crumbling wall. However, this ordinary looking slab of stone is in fact a 300-year-old plaque that belonged on the pillars of one of oldest bridges in the city.

Marmalong Bridge, the first ever bridge across the Adyar river, was commissioned in 1726 by Coja Petrus Uscan, an immensely wealthy Armenian trader. Uscan, who had decided to settle in Madras after coming to the city in 1724, paid 30,000 pagodas from his own money to build the bridge and another 1,500 pagodas for its upkeep.

“Uscan was immensely respected and perhaps was even one of the only non-British allowed to stay in Fort St George or the White town. A devout believer in St Thomas, Uscan wanted more people to visit the Saint Thomas Mount, and therefore removed the two impediments – the river and the lack of steps – by building the bridge as well as 160 steps to the mount. This was the initial purpose of the bridge. But all that soon changed as the Marmalong Bridge became crucial to the expansion of the city, especially towards the South,” says Chennai-based novelist and historian Venkatesh Ramakrishnan.

Mount Road came after the bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mount Road, around which the city developed, came 60 years after the Marmalong bridge.

Named after Mambalam, one of the villages near the Adyar, the Marmalong Bridge perhaps laid the foundation stone for the city as it led to the emergence of the Mount Road, around which Chennai developed.

“It was only natural that a road followed after a bridge was built. The British built the Mount Road in the 1800s, around which the city grew. So, in a sense, the bridge led to the city’s birth and is very close to its heart,” Venkatesh adds.

However, the Marmalong only lives in our memories today. Where the arched bridge of Uscan once stood, a concrete replacement called the Maraimalai Adigal Bridge now exists. There are no traces of this Adyar-Armenian connect but for the last living relic – the plaque commemorating Uscan’s construction of the bridge.

With inscriptions in three ancient languages – Persian, Armenian and Latin, the Uscan plaque was established in memory of the great nation of Armenia and is a tribute to the people who helped build the city.

“The Armenian inscriptions are on the lower portion of the plaque. It can’t be read because the writing has faded with time and neglect,” according to Venkatesh.

Crusade to preserve the plaque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The neglected plaque stands near the Saidapet Metro construction site. 

Displaced from its original site, the plaque faces the perils of urbanisation and is further threatened by the metro rail work that is underway.

Years of neglect and development in the area has buried the stone in layers of debris. In fact, the bottom of the stone has disappeared under the ground as the road levels have been rising every year due to re-carpeting, Venkatesh laments.

With the construction of the Saidapet Metro station underway, historians who are fighting to save the plague urge the CMRL to give the stone a place of honor in the metro station.

Highlighting the importance of preserving such relics, Venkatesh says, “The Armenians have contributed immensely to this city. I believe it is important to preserve all traces to this link. It is really unfortunate that while the Uscan stone stands neglected, another plaque at the Fourbeck Bridge is preserved by the Architectural Society of India,” he said.

A dedicated group of Chennai historians have launched a Facebook page “Retrieve Uscan Stone” to draw attention to the issue and save the plaque.

“The Saidapet Metro work is too close to the plaque. We have been urging the officials to move the relic to a better place, may be a museum or a memorial site. We just don’t want to lose a precious piece of the city’s history,” Venkatesh says hopefully.

Source….https://www.thenewsminute.com

Natarajan

 

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Meet Muruganantham, the real Pad Man…

His low-cost machines that make sanitary pads have earned him international recognition. A Muruganantham’s story is now being told on the big screen as Pad Man

A Muruganantham’s life is a haze of interviews to newspapers, TV channels and radio stations. His phone doesn’t stop ringing and his wife sees him only during meal times. To the world, he is a social entrepreneur; ‘Pad man’, ‘Menstrual man’; ‘The man who wore a sanitary napkin’: the low-cost sanitary napkin machine that he created is changing the lives of thousands of women across the world.

But at his home in Coimbatore, he’s a busy father whose bonding time with his daughter is during his work tours —he takes her along since he’s rarely home; an elusive husband with whom his wife seeks an appointment —she says this jokingly to us, but there’s truth in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just the same

There’s a Bollywood movie about him that’s releasing this week and he has gained international recognition. But the man is matter-of-fact about his celebrity status. “My work remains the same,” he says, seated in the living room of his rented house. “Tomorrow, I will walk into a remote village with my machine and no one will recognise me,” he says. “Nothing has changed or will change.” But the cause that he upholds —to take sanitary pads to every nook and corner of India —is gradually gaining momentum. In another 30 years, Muruganantham is sure that he will ensure 100% penetration.

It’s like breaking a massive mountain with a sledgehammer singlehandedly—the stigma surrounding the subject is as such. Which is what makes his story interesting. Muruganantham recalls how his obsession to research on sanitary napkins earned him nothing but ridicule from those around him. “My fellow villagers thought I was a vampire,” he laughs. “I came close to being tied up to a tree.” Muruganantham wanted to create low-cost sanitary towels.

His work took bizarre turns —he strapped onto himself a machine fashioned using a football bladder that pumped out blood into a sanitary pad that he wore. He was that mad scientist the world just didn’t understand. In 2006, when his innovation won an award from the then President Pratibha Patil, his life changed forever.

“My machines now run in 4,800 points in India and in 29 other countries,” he says. His story has appeared in several foreign language publications—Hebrew being one of them. It’s only natural that it be made into a feature film.

Now a feature film

Pad Man, directed by R Balki, featuring Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, and Sonam Kapoor, presents Muruganantham’s journey from a school drop-out to a social entrepreneur. “It does have ‘masala’ elements, being a Bollywood film,” says Muruganantham. He worked with the crew for over three years, helping them set up his machines on the sets and demonstrating his work.

The story is set in Madhya Pradesh and not Tamil Nadu. Muruganantham feels that only then will the cause have a pan-India reach. “I did have Tamil filmmakers approach me,” he says. “But I didn’t want the film to be confined to one part of the country.” Elusive that he is, it took a while for actor and writer Twinkle Khanna, who has produced the film, to pin him down for a conversation. “She contacted me in 2015,” says Muruganantham. Khanna featured Muruganantham in her 2016 book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad.

Pad Man is the first feature film that talks about women’s monthly period,” he says. With barely any knowledge of Hindi, Muruganantham managed to effectively convey his thoughts to the team. “It helped that director Balki and the cinematographer PC Sreeram knew Tamil,” he says.

Despite his wide network of employees and volunteers, Muguganantham personally travels with his machines to train women to make sanitary napkins in regions affected by extremism. He rolls off names of villages that many may not have heard of — Dhamtari, Lakshmipuramu, Gajroli, Tehri… Many girls in such villagers don’t attend school due to lack of awareness and access to sanitary pads. Murugnanantham is changing that. This is the best thing about his innovation—that a village girl who shut herself at home simply because she menstruated, can finally go to school.

In all these years of working on menstrual hygiene, what Muruganatham finds most difficult to deal with, is the superstition surrounding it. “Women in rural India have the strangest beliefs surrounding the monthly period,” he says. He is trying to break these by educating them. In a tribal village in the Nilgiris, women believed that if they used a sanitary towel, their eyes will be taken away. Muruganantham says, “A girl used it for two months and told her friends ‘Look, my eyes are still intact’.”

Source…Akila Kannadasan in http://www.the hindu.com

Natarajan

 

Kolkata’s Howrah Bridge Turns 75! Did You Know It Survived a Japanese Air Attack?

In 1946, a census was conducted to count the daily traffic footfall on the state-of-the-art Howrah Bridge. The figures registered were 27,400 vehicles, 121,100 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle.

Contrast the above information with a 2007 report, which showed a daily flow of 90,000 vehicles, out of which 15,000 were goods vehicles.

The iconic bridge in the world is regarded as the “Gateway to Kolkata” since it connects the city to Howrah, and turned 75, this February. Of course, the bullock-carts of yesteryears have been replaced with high-end luxury cars.

Apart from being a pathway for various modes of transport, this iconic suspension-type balanced cantilever bridge has been the backdrop of many intense film scenes. Remember Ajay Devgn getting gunned down while riding a bike down the bridge in Yuva, or the dramatic Durga Puja celebrations under the bridge, as depicted in Gunday?

Many movie scenes used the bridge in the backdrop, starting with Bimal Roy’s 1953 classic Do Bigha Zameen, to Garth Davis’ Academy Award-nominated 2016 film Lion.

The Howrah Bridge made quite the impact before it was fully constructed. One night, during construction, workers were removing muck, trying to fix a cassion. The entire mass plunged 2 feet, and the ground shook. The intense impact caused a seismograph at Kidderpore, to register an earthquake. Interestingly once the muck cleared, many interesting objects of value, like anchors, cannons, cannon-balls, brass vessels, and coins dating back to the era of the East India Company were found.

Commissioned in 1943, the Howrah Bridge had a quiet opening. Even though it was a pioneering construction, a behemoth much ahead of its time, the Government decided to play things down, due to the fear of a Japanese air attack, since World War II was raging during that time.

A gigantic technical marvel, ahead of its time

One unique feature of this enormous bridge is that no nuts and bolts have been used in its construction. The steel fabrication has been riveted into place to hold the entire span of the bridge over the river Hooghly.

26,500 tonnes of steel, mostly supplied by Tata Steel, single monolith caissons of dimensions 55.31 x 24.8 metres, with 21 shafts, each 6.25-metre square, and sixteen 800-tonne capacity hydraulic jacks, amongst other materials, were used in the construction of the bridge.

Walk along the bridge’s massive length, and you will feel dwarfed and insignificant, for a good reason. The structure has a central span of 1,500 feet between centres of main towers and a suspended span of 564 feet. The main towers are 280 feet high above the monoliths and 76 feet apart at the top. The anchor arms are 325 feet each, while the cantilever arms are 468 feet each.

The bridge deck hangs from panel points in the lower chord of the main trusses with 39 pairs of hangers. There are cross girders, stringer girders, and floor beams that complete the intricate construction. Any bridge sways in the wind. The Howrah Bridge has special expansion and articulation joints, to compensate for turbulence.

A mammoth maintenance routine

Naturally, a structure this huge, serving as a roadway to so much transport, needs to be kept at its optimum condition. You’d think that the bridge would need a natural disaster to shake its foundations, but regular daily life puts a strain on the structure.

The maintenance of this gargantuan bridge is no easy task. Just ask the Kolkata Port Trust, which, post a 2003 investigation, spent Rs 5,00,000 annually, just to clean the bird droppings that were corroding joints and other parts of the bridge. In 2004, it cost Rs 6.5 million, to paint the 24 million square feet of the bridge, using 26,500 litres of aluminium paint and zinc chromate primers.

A cultural icon that would not be here today

We might not have had the same Howrah Bridge, if it ironically, weren’t for World War II. Before its construction, a global tender was floated, and a German company turned out to be the lowest bidder. Increasing hostilities in 1935 resulted in the German contract being cancelled, with the tender going to India’s Braithwaite Burn and Jessop Construction Company Limited.

The same war, which saw the bridge come to life, also threatened to destroy it. While the war was in full swing, India found herself in the position of a de-facto ally to Britain and the Western Allied Powers. Naturally the Japanese, part of the opposition, bombed Kolkata from 1942 to 1944, trying to destroy the bridge, and operations at the seaport. The British responded swiftly, even turning Kolkata’s Red Road, into a runway for Spitfires to take off.

The quiet hero during this time of crisis was the 978 Balloon Squadron. The British set up balloons, attached to the ground by several steel cables. These balloons prevented bombers from going low and hitting targets. The planes would get stuck in the cables and crash. The Japanese Air Force flew many sorties over Kolkata, bombing the central business district and the docks.

As many as 131 bombs were dropped on the 10th, 16th and 28th of December 1942 and 17th and 23rd of January 1943. The attack on 23rd was the most devastating with over 70 bombs being dropped over the dock area and the casualty on that day was nearly 500.

Let us appreciate this giant superstructure, which has stood tall for aeons.

Unfortunately, today, the most significant threat the iconic Howrah Bridge faces isn’t from Japanese fighter planes or their bombs, but from corrosive spit containing tobacco, pan-masala and other acidic, poisonous ingredients.

A 2011 inspection by Kolkata Port Trust authorities, calculated the damage—a total of Rs 2 million had to be spent, to cover parts of the bridge with fibreglass, to avoid corrosion due to spitting.

Spitting remains the biggest threat to this bridge, and a 2013 report in The Guardian mentions the bridge’s Chief Engineer, AK Mehra, who said that the slaked lime and paraffin in the poisonous spit are highly corrosive. In some areas, the steel pillars have been damaged by as much as 60 percent.

During World War II, when Kolkata was under attack, worried citizens, with a bag full of Vaseline, and bandages, would run to air-raid shelters, after safely hiding their earthen jars which contained their drinking water supply.

Those citizens if alive today, would surely be surprised when they realise the iconic Howrah Bridge which survived the Japanese bombing might not survive the Indian habit of spitting.

Source…www.the betterindia.com

Natarajan