T. Nagar a planned town and a sought-after residential locality. One can hardly imagine Ranganathan Street as Agraharam or absorb the fact that T.Nagar’s land value was as low as Rs. 500 per Ground.
Ironically, the article shapes up at a time, when the Tamil Nadu Urban Infrastructure Services Limited and international consultants are charting out T. Nagar re-development plans. In fact, Thyagaraya Nagar was the first ‘planned’ town in Chennai.
When Justice Party came to power, Madras Presidency Government as part of its town planning activities initiated the setting up of a modern town, Thyagaraya Nagar, in 1923. It was carefully established with earmarked facilities such as housing area, parks, schools, hospitals, temples and shops. The new town was completed by draining out the Long Tank (Long Lake) by 1925. The lake extended from West Mambalam (then Mambalam) to Vallurvarkottam. (Roads — Lake View Road, West Mambalam and Lake Area, Nungambakkam bear testimony). Mambalam village came to be called West Mambalam. which has been the settlement for middle-class families. Thyagaraya Nagar (T.Nagar) had Mambalam High Road on the west, Mount Road on east, Bazullah Road on north and Burkitt Road on the south.
With a Park (Panagal Park) at the centre, roads radially branched out to accommodate houses and shops. The then T. Nagar was peaceful and the land value was Rs. 500 per round. Even when T.Nagar was developed, Corporation drinking water was provided through underground channels.
T.Nagar’s personalities (Heroes of T.Nagar)
Most of the roads in T.Nagar have been named after Justice Party leaders and personalities who brought laurels to the place. The area and the busy Thyagaraya Road has been named after Sir Pitty Thyagaraya, who is considered as the father of Justice Party. Raja of Panagal, the then Prime Minister of Madras Presidency, has been honored with the central park carrying his name and statue. Natesan Park, T.M. Nair Road and Nageswara Rao Street were named after Justice Party leaders Natesa Mudaliar, Dr T.M. Nair and Nageswara Rao respectively. Similarly, Habibullah and Burkitt Road named after Corporation Commissioners, Thanickachalam Street after a lawyer and Usman Road after Governor Sir Mohammed Usman and Melony Street after the president of Madras Corporation, Moloney. Duraisamy Road has been named after the famous eye specialist Dr Duraisamy. Ranganathan Street was named after the Deity by a resident.
Interestingly, Govindu and Nathamuni Streets have been named after two labourers who lost their lives in a landslide while constructing drainage in T.Nagar. Engineer Madley, who was in charge of drainage work at T.Nagar, has been honoured by naming a Road after him.
There are two references to how ‘Pondy Bazaar’ got his name. It is said that the market ‘Soundarapandia Bazaar’ was named after Justice Party politician W.P.A. Soundarapandian Nadar. The other suggests that the name has the origin from a shopping complex called – — Pondy Bazaar — which was one of the initial commercial set up here, (next to today’s Geetha Café). One Mr. Chockalinga Mudaliar, from Pondicherry built it in 1933.
T.Nagar was developed with many number of schools. Some of the old ones include Sarada Vidyalaya, Ramakrishna Mission, Holy Angels., etc. Organisation such as Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya Samithi (where Mahatma Gandhi paid a visit) to the institution) and Hindi Prachar Sabha, hold national importance. Art and literature developed side by side with many sabhas and publishing houses coming up here.
T.Nagar bus terminus was the first depot to come up inside the city. Its location, in close proximity to Mambalam Railway Station, was an added advantage. With pucca pacca connectivity, T.Nagar developed into a place of commerce. These advancements also attributed to ‘Advantage’ T.Nagar. V.I.Ps preferred to stay here. Personalities who lived here include V.V. Giri, Kamarjar, Rajaji, M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, Kannadasan, ‘Theerar’ Sathyamurthi, N.T. Rama Rao, writers Sandilyan and Na. Parthasarathy.
Reminders of the old town
Most of the buildings in T.Nagar were built in art-deco style. Many beautiful bungalows are intact and maintained well on G.N. Chetty Road. Other ones include Nalli Silk showroom (built in 1928) and 100-year-old residence of actor Sivaji Ganesan on Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Road.
Gone are the days
People from various parts of Madras used to gather everyday for 7.15 radio news broadcasted in the public radio at Panagal Park. Adjacent to the park functioned a vegetable market, fondly called — ‘London Market’. The 50-odd shops sold vegetables of local and foreign origin between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Rangathanan Street was once a residential area with just three shops — Kumbakonam Vessel Store, Kalyan Stores and Lifco Books Shop (which functions at the same location even today). Siva Vishnu Temple was the key temple of the Mambalam Village. Foxes used to bang the doors of houses located near Mambalam Station at late night. It is also said that buses used to ply on Ranganathan Street.
Mobile Post offices used to function in 1950s and 60s with T.Nagar as the last pick-up point prior to reaching airport.
A van in a post office set up with staff members used to visit six places in the city between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. It offered services such as late night money order, express delivery and speed post. Stamps, envelops and cards were also sold. People could drop letters in the box. It was immediately picked, sealed and put in designated bags. Fire Hoses were set up at various spots in Venkatnarayana Road. They were marked FH and were used to pump out water in times of fire.