An introduction to Besant Nagar

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Besant Nagar has been my home since 1999. Well, it’s not that I’ve actually stayed there all this while, but it is what I use to fill any form that asks me for a “Permanent Address”. At the present, how ever, I am a resident of both Besant and Anna Nagar, something that came out of a pre-nuptial agreement. No. Not the formal American style legal document thingie. This was just a desire to change this whole “Bahu leaves her house behind” tradition. We started out by first eliminating the “Gotra Change/Transfer” step (read about it here) in the wedding. After the wedding, we decided to spend time in both my parents’ as well as her parents’ homes, till we move into one of our own. So, it’s weekdays at Anna Nagar, and weekends at Besant Nagar.

So why a post about this seaside suburb, one might ask. My youngest brother, the one studying to be a journalist has been given this assignment to do a photo essay on Besant Nagar. Since I am his official chauffeur over the weekends, I thought it might be fair to utilize some of his material to come up with a Jalsa Guide to Besant Nagar.

General Hawa

Generally, there is a lot of hawa (wind. breeze) in Besant Nagar thanks to the Bay of Bengal, which has, over the years deposited what is known today as Elliots Beach. This is the beach where thousands of Tam-bram Maamas (wearing shorts and sneakers) and Maamis (wearing sarees and sneakers) take morning walks. The choice of sneakers reveals an important fact. Parents of software-in-the-USA-L1-H1 types wear Nike/Reebok. This is because those are usually available in refurbished/discount sale factory outlets. Parents of MS/PHD/IIT types, on the other hand, wear New Balance. Pricier and snootier, although the same sweatshops in SE Asia make all the three.

Morning Breakfast and Evening Tiffin

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There are broadly four categories of eating joints in Besant Nagar.

Full, pure, Tam-Bram approved Vegetarian.

If these restaurants were people, they would be wearing sacred threads. Eden, Vishranti Hot Point, Murugan Idli store.

Tam-Bram partially approved, (garlic) Poondu-using North Indian places

Tam Brams will heartily tuck into Pnjaabi food that is loaded with garlic. But Chettinaadu Kaara Kuzhambu is a no-no. Dhabba Express, Clay Oven. Khaana Khazana. Cozee da Dhaba

Hardcore, Tam-Bram unapproved Non-Vegetarian.

Kaaraikudi. Daawat (Halal only), Prime Roaster (The Subway right next to it is losing some serious Tam Bram business because of the slowly rotating rotisserie chicken that is on display here)

“Squeezing money out of the poor unsuspecting software bachelors” multi-cuisine

The kind of restaurants that serve Sizzlers, Szechwan Hakka Noodles and Paneer Shashlik. Cascade, Giorgio and Pupil Burgers

Geography

Besant Nagar is greener than most suburbs, simply because almost half of it is inside the Theosophical Society, which, as a policy, tends to disallow the general public and local government from mindlessly chopping trees inside their campus.

The main artery of this suburb, the tree-lined Besant Avenue, serves as a testing ground for Bajaj Pulsar, Yamaha and Hero Honda bikes’ acceleration capabilities.

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The four boundaries of this suburb are:

Elliamman Koil

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In case you are wondering why the popular Ashtalakshmi temple does not feature here, it is because geographically and pincodically, that temple is located in the nearby suburb of Thiruvanmiyur, a shady locality (It is full of trees) that is nowadays entirely populated by IT bachelors working at Tidel Park.

Velankanni Church

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The Bay of Bengal

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What you see above is the famous Karl Schmidt memorial, built in memory of a Dutch sailor who lost his life while attempting to rescue a drowning swimmer. Another interesting thing about Elliot’s beach. The crabs. Or the lack of them. 15 years back, when the entire population of Chennai was not trying to squeeze themselves into the beach on Saturday evenings, Elliot’s beach used to teem with small crabs. Not the kind that bite. The kind that tickle as they run over your feet and into their small holes in the beach sand. But they are gone now. One has to visit the secluded beaches (at least so far) on the East Coast road to see them nowadays.

The Adyar River estuary

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Besant Nagar is a study in contrasts. A melting pot of the Old Madras and the New Chennai. Maamas and Maamis. Teenagers on fast bikes. Boyfriends and girlfriends sipping lime mint cooler (one glass, two straws) in the Fruit Shop. Right across at the Vinayakar temple, a “Horoscope Exchange Meet” conducted by the Besant Nagar Brahmin association.

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  1. Random sightings of Krishnamachari Srikkanth
    (num thalaivar-pa),
    Kitti (Mani Ratnam’s MBA buddy-muslim dad in Bombay) at the Chinese resto,
    Cheeyan Vikram’s house,
    Shooting for ‘Gajini’ in the first line beach road
    Robin Singh on his bike at Shastri Nagar;

    Sudha Raghunathan and TNS (accompanied by his disappointing voiced son TNK )kacheri-s during the season.

    Swami purappaadu with full voiced mantra ghosham with the entourage chattering away in “In How-ston, they have have a samooha Navaratri golu..”

    New YEars eve and the noise of revellers heading to the beach.

    The general shut down of area around Vazhappadi Ramamurthy’s house when he was alive and elections were in the air.
    (Good Riddance!)

  2. Totally unwarranted statement about Tiruvanmiyur. Understand your freedom of expression but it does irk people who actually
    ‘live’ there to hear it described as ‘seedy. My parental home is there and I admit it is not anywhere close to Besant Nagar ( However, I had no idea the area was trying to be Besant Nagar). Not everyone can afford to stay in Besant Nagar. I grew up in Tiruvanmiyur and now with OMR coming up and Tidel Park, our area has made a humble uprising as well.

    temple is located in the lowly, nearby suburb of Thiruvanmiyur, a seedy locality that tries very hard to be Besant Nagar, but fails completely.

    1. LOL! Lowly suburb of thiruvanmayur?! where the land prices start at 8,000Rs only?
      Thats as lowly as some parts of hong kong!
      Hope you also know tmayur is an integral part of chennai metropolis and the corporation office for south chennai(bessie included πŸ˜‰ is located here….
      By the way thiruvanmayur is better off being populated by techies than say bessie for instance being populated by fisherfolk and slumdwellers…
      Besides some of the most awesome development in chennai oflate has been done here and not in besant nagar!
      TIDEL PARK anyone? IT highway? The ECR also starts here!
      The only thing good about bessie was the beach…which is now crowded by all anti-socials and junkies..thank you i think i’ll pass!
      Try valmiki nagar(another thiruvanmayur area ;)) beach thats where the action is at!Thiruvanmayur anyday baby!
      Oh and anna-nagar is trash by the way!Seriously you should have married someone out of thiruvanmayur!
      you would’ve spent both your weekends and weekdays here!

      Finally i wanna say thiruvanmayur does’nt need to try to be bessie or anything else…that would be totally downhill!
      Its the other locales which should emulate thiruvanmayur.
      By the way if someone wants a house swap i am game but only if your house is located in ibiza πŸ˜‰
      Cheers!!!

  3. Soundar,
    Nice additions. Robin Singh drives a Hyundai Accent nowadays

    Su,
    Apologies. The intent was to start a flame war between BNites and Thiru-denizens but I realize that it’s a little corny. I have altered that. Do take a look now πŸ˜‰

  4. Nice photo essay…especially loved the B&W snaps!

    I’ve been to Cathedral Road and Tidel Park several times, but never to Besant Nagar…oh yes, and to the Fisherman’s Cove – I believe on Covelong Beach?

    Thanks Mahendra. Yes. Fish cove is on Covelong Beach, now Tamilized to Kovalam beach.

  5. Besant Nagar is calm and peaceful. There’s not much traffic here because you can’t go through Besant Nagar to any other area. However the weekends tend to see a lot of traffic around the beach.

    A lot of people I know live here which makes it somewhat fun.

    I don’t like the fact that people think only very rich people live here. Land prices are incredibly expensive, yes. But some people settled here early on and they are still around.

  6. the Karl Schmidt memorial- i always wondered what it was for! love the food at eden!

    what about planet yumm? that’s where the first madras bloggers meet was held πŸ™‚ also the goalpost, at the turning in front of Verona’s (if my memory is right) where for a long time we used to chill out after classes. not in the collective memory of many… but a landmark all the same.

    Bessie rocks. it’s one of the most pleasant suburbs of Chennai to reside in. Of course, we kids had to settle for Annanagar (too!), but if only there were an Elliot’s beach there… sigh.

  7. also to be mentioned is that the Karl Schmidt memorial features frequently in kollywood movies…or used to. πŸ™‚

    ..nice pics. freezing time in b/w.

  8. You have warmed the cockles of my frozen heart.

    This is coming from a person who was raised in Besant Nagar and lived there for almost all her life (only to move to a different continent, but hey).

    πŸ™‚

  9. Hey,
    After 21 years in Chennai and 4 years at Anna Univ(3.5 years of that in Elliot’s beach)..i didnt know that the wall on the beach was actually a memorial! *sigh* everyday you learn something new!

  10. Am a NRT (non resident Tamilian) and spent most of 2007 in Kalakshetra Colony in Bessie… this post brings back the memories πŸ˜€

    How come aarupadai veedu murugan kovil is missing?!

  11. Besant Nagar was ealier known as South Madras neghbourhod in 1968 when the first flats in the present 4 th Avenue was constcted by the Housing Board. Thse were priced at Rs 17000 later revised to 22 thousand. Therresidents. Ther was practically no trasport from there to Adyar and we waled the distance daily.. We the residents of the present 4 th Avenus met one day and named the place as Besesant Nagar in view if the proxmity to The Theosophical Society and to honour Annie Besant, and informe the government ,corporation, pa=ost master gereral ond the other concerned authorities . The nme stuck and became oone of the best localities in Chennai.We also prevented a slum coming where the Rjaji Bhavan stands which was originally planned to be a Parkt The place where St Johns School stands today was designed a recreation center. We established a Vnayakar temple there and this was shifted later to the present location Oe groung costed Rs 5000 that time !

    1. I stayed in Besant Nagar between 1969 (CPWD Quarters) near St John School, and 1991 (26th Cross St). The 1970’s Besant Nagar was a lovely one. Like other localities in Chennai, Besant Nagar thickly crowded due to landmarks like Beach, Temples…

      S. Karthikeyan.

      1. Hi Mr. Karthikeyan,
        Stayed in Besant Nagar at the same time in CPWD Qrs (12/2). Name is Venu also called NAIR. Played lot of cricket, Ball Badminton, Volley ball and TT. Any vague memories?

        1. I just stumbled upon in this site. I too stayed around that time, 18/2. Venu, i remember you (more than the name it was “12/2” which triggered my memory!). My name is prakash. Any recollections?……..

  12. Beautiful B&W photos, nice articles and posts. May I also add: there were only 4 bus routes connecting to the “main city”!! in the 70s, open grounds (where we played cricket) and a drama stage between 26th and 27th streets, the Vinayagar temple was a side-walk affair by the compound wall next to the CPWD quarters – before Ashtalakshmi temple was built. My village-folks always asked me “how do you go to Madras from here? They never believed B. Nagar to be part of Madras. I always have a soft spot for dear ol’ Madras and Besant Nagar.

  13. Thanks..nice post..got initiated and wrote a similar post myself as well …still have to continue…….u were the initiator anyway πŸ™‚

  14. Ashtalakshmi Kovil in Tiruvanmiyur?? I seriously doubt that…Kalakshetra also has the 600090 pin code

    Vishwanathan Anand when he’s here on holiday from Mallorca…at least used to…His parents used to live in the house next to the IOB Besant Nagar branch…

    Do you also hate it when people call Elliot’s Bessie??

  15. Awesome write up with those even better photos… My first memory of Besant nagar was when St.John’s moved their hostel from Mandaveli to Besant Nagar school on 2nd cross street…. this was way back in 1983 (i was in my 5th class)
    When we used to visit Elliots beach, the only shop which was around was Cozzy and it used to be closed during the afternoons. Our man Friday,Daljit Singh, would come running from his house just to open the shop when he sees a crowd…
    its a little too crowded nowadays…

    1. Hello! we are students of architecture from School of architecture and planning, anna university. We are doing a study on besant nagar. So we would just like to have any old pictures you may have of it. OR any other memories of the area and the beach. Please do share with us, my email id is abikalyan411@gmail.com. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  16. Hello! we are students of architecture from School of architecture and planning, anna university. We are doing a study on besant nagar. So we would just like to have any old pictures you may have of it. OR any other memories of the area and the beach. Please do share with us, my email id is abikalyan411@gmail.com. πŸ™‚ Thank you

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