The Marina Beach and my Grandfather

The Marina beach is the prime promenade of Chennai, and occupies a special place therefore in the hearts of Chennaians. I have pedaled there on several occasions. It is much more pleasant to ride there than in other parts of the town, at least away from peak traffic hours, since the Corporation tries quite hard to keep the promenade clean.  Plus, the ocean is, as always and as everywhere, a very soothing sight.

The beach itself runs for thirteen kilometers, and is mostly sand.  It has a reputation for the opposite, but the times I have ridden along the promenade, the beach has been very clean.

The beach has special significance for me because of its connection to my grandfather. He was a civil engineer, who retired as the head of the Public Works Department (PWD) of the state.  For most of his career, the British were in power, so his bosses were English, and possibly Scottish. His office was along Marina beach, in the PWD headquarters.  I remember an incident he would describe often: some big shot mucky muck English dude comes over all the way from England, and for five minutes after entering my grandfather’s office, he is unable to say anything at all, he is so impressed by the view of the beach and the ocean from my grandfather’s office. “I say Venkataraman, how can you get any work done at all in this office?” he asks in the end.  My grandfather would always grin when recounting the story.

Here is the entrance to the PWD.  It is one of the many beautiful buildings the British left behind that I mentioned in a previous post.  Image

I tried to imagine where my grandfather’s office could have been, and then figured it most likely was in the wing immediately to the right of the entrance way.  Here is that wing: Image

My grandfather was connected to one other building along the Marina, although indirectly.  For a brief period, he taught engineering at the University of Madras (as Chennai was then known as), except that he taught in the Guindy campus where the engineering college was located.  The headquarters of the University of Madras however is located along the Marina beach, pictured here:Image

My grandfather was possibly the most influential person in my life.  To him I owe my love of mathematics, and my love for language. During the summers that I would spend with him, he would give me mathematical puzzles to solve, and would read aloud English poetry to me.  He had a library full of English poetry, English novelists of the 19th and 19th century, and mathematics.

I also got my love of bicycling from him. He gave me my first bicycle, when I was I think eight years old. It was every boy’s nightmare.  It was to begin with a girl’s bicycle, made in England, which he then painted a bright shade of green. To make matters worse, it was small.  Now this was India in the mid to late sixties, where there was basically one kind of bicycle: large and black.  There were very few women’s bicycles around then, and if there were any, only women rode them. So, this bicycle that my grandfather gave me made me stand out, and I suffered endless teasing.  But thanks to that bicycle I learned to stick it out, to dare to be different, and to be comfortable being different.

My grandfather died nearly thirty years ago. But I still miss him. Here is he, with my grandmother:



7 thoughts on “The Marina Beach and my Grandfather

  1. Lovely post, Al. Now I know why you love Chennai!
    Btw, your grandfather looks so much like your dad (it’s the other way round I guess:-))

  2. Love the post.
    Those buildings really are beautiful! I’ve spent lots of time at the Presidency College. (Don’t ask why) and the University registrars’ offices – when I had to transfer myself from Hyd to Chennai.

  3. I too love Chennai as I have visited this city on two ocassions and love the Marina promenade. Its very clean. I did lots of shopping in Spenser Plaza , ate tasty S.Indian food at Sarvannan Bhawan, paid my respects to Lord Tirupati Balaji. Lovely city. Yr grandfather looks regal and grandmom lovely in her south Indian nine yard saree.

  4. Hey Bharath,

    Another wonderfully evocative piece. Enjoyed reading about your grandfather. Most especially about your relationship with him. Thanks for revealing those little but important details.

    Growing up in Madras, all of us knew of the Marina Beach as the second longest beach in the world. Some things are better not questioned. I remember many an evening sitting on the berm portion of the Marina beach and being soothed, nay hypnotized, by the sounds and the motion of the waves. Looking out to the sea and seeing a line of lights of the ships waiting to go into Madras harbor. Another favorite memory is listening to the hawkers selling “thenga, manga, pattani, sundal” and of course buying and enjoying those munchies. Yum.

    I had a slightly different experience from you with a ladies bike. I rode a black, sturdy ladies bike right through high school. I guess my friends, like Partha, were of a more sympathetic nature and never teased me (now you know why we continue to keep sweet Partha as a friend). I also had the added benefit that sometimes girls would come and ask to borrow my bike – that in a school where the girls never talked to the boys. The little pleasures of an adolescent boy!

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