CHENNAI: By now, Teynampet isn’t even a distinct word to the average Chennai citizen. It’s a sequence of syllables that we’ve collectively agreed upon to associate with the area that stretches from Raintree Hotel to the American Consulate, Savera Hotel to Fab India and Fat Boy. However, if you were to pause to read into the name, would you tie to the sturdy thennai? Well, the area is believed to have derived its name from the words thennam (coconut) and pettai (place or colony). The long lost abundance of coconut groves is said to have given this area its name. While Teynampet today may not wear such an agrarian look, it still be the coconut hub of Namma Chennai — as indicated by the 40 tonnes of coconut waste collected from the area every day.
Like Teynampet, several others parts of the city also derive their name from native plants and trees. Highlighting this and the stories behind it is Design Foundry’s postcard series, The Madras Toponymy. As part of Madras month celebrations, the design and marketing agency honoured the city’s legacy by etching its green history on their artistically illustrated postcards.
A green tribute
Emphasising the reason behind zeroing in on the theme, Anita Mahadevan, who co-founded the agency with husband Mukund Venkatraman, says, “The name of the postcards pays an ode to the early toponymists who were storytellers and poets. They are essential to why these names came about. They spoke about the beauty of a place and wrote about its soul through the flora and fauna that thrived there. They crafted poems and built myths around the fruits and flowers that the land bore. In Chennai too, this tradition lives on through the charming names of its many villages and streets.”
Through the cards, the team hopes to look back at the cultural significance of nature. Each set of postcards contain eight cards with unique illustrations depicting each place. They have managed to cover Pelathope, Mangadu, Mambalam, Triplicane, Teynampet, Purasawalkam, Vepery, Koyya Thoppu, Pulianthope, Panayur, Athipet, Poonamallee, Perambur, Alandur, Thiruvalangadu, Iluppai Thoppu, Irumbuliyur, Thiruverkadu and Thirumullaivoyal in Chennai.
“We started with 20 sets of postcards and sold out immediately. There’s been great response from Chennaiites and art lovers. There’s a lot of creativity that has gone into designing the cards, right from the design element to the choice of palette. We wanted the elements to look as indigenous as possible. For instance, in Pulianthope, named after the tamarind trees in the neighbourhood, we wanted the tamarind seeds to look like the local variety and not the western version. Sourcing information was also crucial. While it’s practically not possible to include all areas, we’ve tried our best in bringing out diversity,” notes Anita.
Packed with a message
Besides presenting a reaffirming story of the city, the team is confident that these cards will inspire people to preserve and revive the nature and indigenous species of the city. “The green cover of the city has been diminishing drastically in the recent past due to encroachments. But, we believe that everybody in our city has a green thumb and that’s evident from how much gardening has picked up as a hobby during the lockdown. We request the citizens to pay as much attention to the ecology of their neighbourhood too,” she insists.
The design and content team have constantly been in touch with connoisseurs of Madras to ensure genuine information reaches the people. “A lot of these stories were told orally, so much of the information has been distilled over the years. We thought Mambalam was named after mango groves, while it was named after the sacred maha bilva trees guarding a Shiva temple. This should also kindle the curiosity of people to probe more into their areas and local history. It’s a learning process for us too,” she suggests.
Based out of Cholamandal Artists’ Village, the four-year-old agency is hoping to collaborate with many artists for more such meaningful projects. Meanwhile, you can encourage them by pre-ordering these postcards and posters and celebrate the exuberant charm of our past.
Priced at `500 per set of 8 postcards. For details, visit @indesignfoundry