death of the bunglows

About forty years ago, when Rs 200 a month was a princely salary, back then when 25 paisa still had value, when chennai had only a handful of cars, when Chennai had only a handful of signals. Chennai’s only shopping mall then was Spencers. Back in those days, people would be scared to drive down to Adyar after 7 pm, when it was a nothing buy empty expanse of land. Back then Alwarpet, Poes Garden, Boat Club Road, and Gopala Puram, apart from Purasaiwalkam were the posh areas where the ‘lakshadipathis’ of Chennai lived. They managed to get huge plots of land at throw away prices. This was the time when the return on land was much lower than return on fixed deposits. The middle class areas were T Nagar, Mambalam, Mylapore and parts of Purasaiwalkam, where smaller modest houses were built, not huge monsters.

In this time, the houses in the posh areas were really big, the wealthy then would build houses on 10 ground plots, just to get an idea of how big these houses were, nope SS Vasans house is an example of colonial architecture (built before independence), most of the bunglows I’m reffering to were built after independence, in the 50s and 60s. There is a house close to that which is a perfect example. On Dr Radha Krishnan road, opposite to Nilgiris, just after Woodlands, there will be a compound wall, almost 10 feet high, just walk along the house, that is how big usually a bunglow was, try and take a small peak inside the compound through the narrow gaps in the gate, and this happens to belongs to the TAFE group, if I’m not wrong it is Mallika Srinivasan’s house.

Where I currently live, between Alwarpet and Mylapore, was filled with such big ostentatious display of wealth. Where huge walls, and iron gates told one to clearly stay out, visitors, who weren’t know to the owners weren’t welcome, they weren’t meant to be welcoming buildings. Over time, the joint family concept disappeared, brothers no longer wanted to live under the same roof, they preferred the nuclear families, and slowly these houses became huge responsibilities to maintain, too big for the nuclear families. They sold these huge houses to flat promoters. The first flats made their appreance in this area back in the late 80s, when a flat was sold for Rs 2 lakh, thus began the invasion of flats into this area. In my street, my house was considered a small house, there were houses with huge gardens, big trees, where I’ve played cricket as a kid, and all these houses over time were sold to flat promoters, now my house is amongst the few independent houses.

The earliest flats were primarily middle class housing, meant to cater to those who couldn’t afford houses, but then independent houses were still preferred by those who could afford them. Apartments or flats then were associated with ‘housing boards’ or public housing schemes. Slowly, around the 90s, convenience of the flat seemed to win over the costs of maintaining a bunglow or an independent house. Thus begun the invasion of the flats, slowly this middle class housing option became fashionable, and expensive. Today, the nature of the flat and the area, reflects the residents wealth and social standing, a deluxe flat in the same my area now costs Rs 1 crore, its still as expensive as a bunglow was then, it is as much a show of wealth and social standing of its residents as a bunglow was then, but it lacks the colour that a bunglow had, it doesn’t have those huge drive-ways, or the lawns, or the huge gardens.

Apartments have today taken over the city, bubglows are a dying breed, with just a handful remaining, the rest have all given way to apartments.

7 Comments so far

  1. G V Balasubramanian (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 12:16 am

    Vatsan, the bungalow you are referring to next to Woodlands on Radhakrishnan Salai is the place where Mr A Sivasailam and A Krishnamurthy of Amalgamations Group live. If i remember right the name of the bungalow is SUDHARMA


  2. suppamani (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 7:34 am

    Here it is mentioned about Vasans House -Vasan bought Sivaganga Maharaja’s Palace before his dauther’s mariage and the same was celebrated there and the palace was subsequently christened as “GEMINI HOUSE”


  3. vinod (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

    Yes, Sudharma is indeed the name of the house. And if I’m right it was built by Late Mr. Anantharamakrishna Iyer, the father of Mr. Sivasailam and Mr. Krishnamurthy. Mallika Srinivasan is Sivasailam’s daughter married to TVS Motors head honcho Venu Srinivasan.


  4. ss (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 2:32 pm

    There was a massive home on Venketakrishna Iyer Road — Navauja. After all these years, I can still remember the name and picture the place. The ‘outhouse’ itself was the size of large estate.

    There were also the ministers’ residences on Greenways Road. I had a chance to enter one of them a long, long time ago. Again, I still remember the name of the house, ‘Hovingham’. The drive from the road to the house seemed to take five minutes!

    There were the homes on Sterling Road that belonged to the Southern Railway. Many of these were constructed pre-1947 and were modeled after British country estates. One house had a largee, square room with a wooden floor. Only after I went abroad did I realize that the room was intended for ballroom dancing.

    Then, of course, there was Grayshott in Bishop’s Garden.


  5. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 8:33 pm

    SS: You triggered quite a flood of memory! Those Railway houses, called the Sterling Gardens, still exist in very good condition, yes with the wooden floors intact.


  6. vatsam (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2006 @ 8:34 pm

    @ SS yes,
    they do exist, some beautiful examples, along with the buildings inside TS, especially LEDBEATER CHAMBERS ( i hope the spelling is correct)


  7. Ravi (unregistered) on July 24th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    Vatsan, nice post again. Pray that you don’t give in to the “preying” flat promoters!! I love the old bungalows esp the ones with the curved balconies. You get to see quite a number of them in Adyar (Gandhi Nagar) – the area starting from Malar Hospital towards Buckingham Canal. I read somewhere that Adyar then was developing as a posh year where famous actors/actresses and IAS officers would build houses. But sadly, even here flats are replacing these buildings. Infact, until recently the plot just next to Malar had a bunglow which now stands demolished. If you notice, the plot is full of huge mango tress – all will be gone in case a flat erupts there!!



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