May 30, 2016, Chennai
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Today, if someone says that Saidapet is synonymous with elephantiasis would anyone believe it? They might think that the Adyar River flowing there should be the reason. But when elephantiasis was prevalent, the Adyar River was very clean indeed. In those days, in Saidapet, quite a number of washermen steam-washed the clothes in large urns kept there, rinsed them in the Adyar River and dried them in bright sunshine.
The increase in the Chennai population has proportionally increased the number of washermen and the clothes they wash. The size of the Adyar banks has shrunk today. But in that available space we see thousands of clothes being dried up and it is a very special scene to view. The open sewer lines along the streets have vanished in Saidapet.
Even now the main streets and houses in Saidapet resemble those of a traditional small town. Large multi-storey buildings and apartments have not yet occupied the area. There was a time, when the construction of more than one floor was banned in Saidapet. The reason for that was its proximity to the airport. These regulations have been liberalized to a large extent now. In Guindy, which is close to Saidapet, large, tall buildings have come up.
Karaneeswarar Temple and the washing area in the Adyar River are not the only aspect that adds fame to Saidapet. An educational institution makes Saidapet very distinguished. That is the Teachers' Training College that has completed 100 years, whence thousands of trained teachers have come out and enlightened lakhs and lakhs of students. This college, located in an extensive area, has buildings that are spacious and beautiful. Since one building is in a dilapidated condition it has been kept closed. Efforts are being taken to renovate that building.
Just half a kilometre away from the Teachers' Training College there is another spacious institution. The former imparted intellectual education to students, while the latter gave physical education. The YMCA school at Saidapet is a training centre for the physical education instructors. This is also a very reputed institution.
In the past 20 years, dozens of Tamil and Telugu movie shootings have been held in this open field. In these 20 years in our film industry, if the hero has to share a few words with the heroine then there should be 50 identically clad persons dancing behind them. It is a compulsion for the heroine too. To accommodate 50 persons at a time for them to dance and to do somersault and all such acrobatics a large open space is inevitable.
The Saidapet swimming pool, maintained by YMCA, is also famous. There was a time when there were only two swimming pools in Chennai. One is the swimming pool on the Beach in Marina. The next one is the YMCA pool at Saidapet. If one wondered, "How can water be green?" it implies that he hasn't seen the Saidapet pool.
Retro Chennai from Asoka Mithran looks back at Chennai, in fact the Madras as it was known and existed. The column traces the city's lifescape at various points of time.