In an Instagram post, a Chennai history enthusiast explains how areas like T Nagar, a popular shopping hub, and Nungambakkam, which is home to sites like Valluvar Kottam, were born on a filled-up lakebed. The post is accompanied by fascinating maps of the area from 1893 and 2017, as well as an old photograph of Loyola College overlooking a lake, which is now the parking space of the college. In another post, the curator stuns city residents by revealing how Margazhi festivities, which are synonymous with Mylapore today, were held in North Madrasâ€™s George Town in the early 1930s, contrary to popular belief.
The page: Madrastically_Yours. The curator: 22-year-old student Krishna P Unny. What started out as a page to post appealing photos that Krishna clicked during heritage walks in the city soon turned into a forum to capture the quirky tales of the city and explore lesser-known details about the culture, history, architecture, politics, and pretty much every aspect that has shaped Madras and its people.
Speaking to TNM, Krishna, who is doing her final year Masterâ€™s in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Performance Arts at Ashoka University, recounts that she started the page in mid-2018. â€śI moved from Palakkad to Chennai after Class 10. I did Class 11 and 12 in Kalakshetra Foundation, where dance and music performances, and heritage walks were organised frequently. My interest to learn about the culture and history of the city started there,â€ť she says, adding that her introduction to the academic side of Chennaiâ€™s history happened during her graduation.
â€śI did my Bachelorâ€™s in History and Tourism from Stella Maris College. The curriculumâ€™s reading list included books by historians. It was a whole new world for me to explore,â€ť Krishna points out.
But Krishna also says that the interest towards history was cultivated in her from a much younger age. â€śI have been a history enthusiast since childhood. My aunt is a retired history professor from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam,â€ť she says, adding that growing up listening to stories her aunt narrated about going out on excavations, and reading about kings, archives, and ancient writing systems like the Brahmi script always excited her when she was in high school.
Vintage photos of architectural sites and photographs from archives accompanied by detailed captions make up the Instagram page. In 2020, Krishna had curated a series for Madras Day where she provided insights about the firsts of the city in different fields ranging from the first car, flight and train to the stories behind the first womenâ€™s magazine and the first woman to get elected to the Madras legislature. Madras Day, after all, is that time of the year when the city comes alive to celebrate its past. Comprising 10 posts, Krishnaâ€™s series was a hit among followers.
â€śFor Madras Day, I try and challenge myself to come up with a post every day or start a series. Otherwise, I donâ€™t follow a schedule for posting. I note down topics whenever I come across articles and books with information that can be curated, and post it whenever I find the time. I would definitely like to post more regularly,â€ť Krishna says.
With her inclination towards research, Krishna goes on to observe that while curating information for a post, she is particular about attribution and careful about not posting reductionist versions of some of the themes.
â€śThere have been instances of both local and international history pages getting details wrong. I think it is important to not depend solely on one source for information but rather approach it holistically,â€ť she says. Krishna also adds, â€śIt is human to err but the onus is on creators to be cautious about not diluting the information while discussing sensitive subjects. It is also pertinent to accept constructive criticism and make the necessary changes when readers â€“ novice or expert â€“ point it out.â€ť
Krishna says she is deeply inspired by the works of late historian S Muthiah, city historian V Sriram, and social media posts by Madras Literary Society, Madras Inherited, Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai, architect planner Thirupurasundari Sevvel and Madras Musings, along with the Madras Local History Group on Facebook.
Though itâ€™s been a few months since Krishna has posted on the page, she says that she plans to focus more on North Madras in the coming days. â€śI have been occupied with my research paper that has to be submitted as a part of the academic curriculum but I want to spend more time researching and finding information about North Madras,â€ť Krishna says.
She further shares, â€śThere are many stereotypes associated with North Chennai. It is mostly absent from academic discourse but there is so much to explore in terms of its culture and history. I recently attended the Margazhiyil Makkal Isai and was fascinated. I would love to understand more about Gaana, parai and oppari music.â€ť