Thursday, 15 May 2014

Madras High Court Heritage Walk

On Sunday morning bright and early at 8 am a large group of us gathered near the old Light house within the Madras High Court campus. The event was a heritage walk cum talk organised by Intach and the gathering of over 50 people were mostly architects, history enthusiasts, journalists or Intach members. The talk started off at the base of the Light house. Built in 1834 and faced with beautifully dressed granite it is in the shape of a large fluted doric column. It has a spiral stairway inside and a pile of firewood was lit each night at the top as a signal to approaching ships.

I was under the impression that we would walk through the building and then there would be a talk later in a hall. That's what I had understood from the invite but as it happened there were short talks about specific parts of the campus and its history right through the walk which lasted 2 hours in total. So right from the start I kept getting five minutes here and there and sneaked in these quick sketches.
From the Lighthouse we walked along the Eastern side of the main building. Sujatha Shankar, a senior Architect and Convener of Intach Chennai took over the talk at this point and started talking about the detailing and the style. The happy marriage of brick and granite that forms the building language.

The High court building took many years to build and doubtless many people contributed. But it's design is mainly credited to Henry Irwin and she spoke about how he was deeply influenced by previous works by Robert Chisholm (in fact just along the beach at the Chepauk Palace and Senate House). The High Court is generally acclaimed as one of the best examples of Indo Saracenic Architecture and we went up close to an arched opening on the east face where she enumerated the many ways in which it was a confluence of various styles.

We then moved into the East Portico. The building has entrances in all 4 cardinal directions but the East gate is currently kept locked up. Mr. Rajah, an Advocate with the high Court and part of the High Court heritage committee took over talking about the history of some incidents at each of the locations we had passed. The gate itself, which I tried to capture as a background in this sketch was beautiful 3 dimensional wrought iron work. But since we couldn't get into the building from here we walked around to the North Portico.

Along the way, we stopped at this statue of Sir Bhashyam Iyengar who was the first Indian acting Advocate General. Mr Rajah pointed out interesting trivia like the fact that the correct formal attire for an Indian like Mr Iyengar was - Silk turban, Robes, Panchakacham (dhoti) and shoes and so this is how he is portrayed in his statue

Our first stop inside the building was the High Court Museum. It has a vast collection of documents, plaques, various objects and furniture used long ago in the courts and this room at the back that is set up with the original furniture. I could only get a peek in and then we were off to the Madras Bar association Library.

Once again Mr Rajah regaled us with many historic tales and anecdotes to try and give us a picture of what it meant in those days to be a member of the Bar, the kind of people they were. Some tales of abject corruption but equally as many of high integrity and honour.

Finally we were also shown the Chief Justice Hall, a very ornate courtroom and with so many of us inside I decided to try and sketch the ceiling as I couldn;t quite look across the hall. The first chief justice was Sir Thomas Lumisden Strange, apparently a great man who was incorruptible and highly regarded,  and a huge portrait of him hangs on the wall facing the Judges, supposedly reminding them of what they need to live up to.
The ceiling itself had a geometric pattern of wooden frames holding up a cardboard painted false ceiling that looked rich and ornate. The same kind of 4-8-16 geometries were seen in a lot of the Jali work and metal work all over the building.
Intach plans on holding this walk and opening it out to all citizens every 2nd Sunday of the month. I would highly recommend it!
And on a final note - I finished another sketchbook! That's the second one to get over this weekend.

Monday, 12 May 2014

People sketches at Marina

After a hectic week of work, I found our CWA group was meeting at Marina beach on saturday evening. I decided to try and focus on sketching people like I did some time back at the park.  But somehow the architect in me always gets drawn to straight lines and perspectives so just to get that out of the system I did a quick one of "Endrum Vasantham Cool Bar" a shack that sold water and soft drinks on the beach.
Then I told myself firmly "only people!!"" and loosened up with this sleeping guy. After that I turned around 180 degrees exactly where I sat and before I knew it another perspective sketch. Oh no! What's wrong with me :(
An hour had gone by and I could stay at most another hour. By then I realised I was on the last 3 pages of my sketchbook so I decided to make it count.
Lot of people just come and sit on the promenade wall as its the largest free open space with great breeze.
By then we were a group of 6 or 7 sketchers so I sneaked one of Kandaswamy. That guy in the upper corner was on his phone the whole hour and probably longer after I left.
And I finally reached the last page of my sketchbook. It's a fat one that I inaugurated in June 2011. Felt great to reach the end and then flip back and look at the journey. By 7.30 I wrapped up at the beach and headed to a friend's house for dinner. Their daughter is six and a half months old and moves with blinding speed on the floor!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Sunday was supposed to be an interesting sketching event and I was sick at home. Over and above that, I was upset that I hadn't found time to try anything I had learnt the previous week at Dhruba's workshop.
Now my house sits right opposite a Kalyana Mandapam (Community wedding hall) and this is another source of constant irritation. Loud music and drums at 5 am, firecrackers bursting at 11 pm, clean-up trucks and water lorries honking at 2 am and terrible double parking and traffic congestion year-round. You can build anything anywhere in my city if you grease the right palms.
So Sunday morning, when my frustration at missing the sketching event was getting compounded by loud drum beats coming in from across the street, I decided to cut my losses and did a quick pencil sketch of this guy standing in the portico of the Mandapam. The drum is not a mridangam. It is played standing up and accompanies a Nadaswaram. It sounds pretty good when its not 5 am.