Chennai is easily the most pet friendly city in the Southern hemisphere. The Madrasis cherish their pets so much that they’ve named at least 22 of their 298 pin code zones after pets. From Alwarpet to Washermanpet, they’ve paid homage to herbivores and carnivores of all classes and creeds. They’ve even gone to the extent of creating a rap song themed around their pets!
Which brings us to the most trivial question of the day: where and how did this obsession begin? Well, ‘pet’ as you all know is the anglicised way of saying ‘pettai’ (the Tamil word for ‘market place’).
When the Brits got their act together in Madras, around 1693, they created the first ‘pet’ by rechristening Tondiarpettai as Tondiarpet – which incidentally is a tribute to the Muslim saint Thondiar aka Kunnangudi Masthan Sahib.
Being a cotton-focused enterprise, the East India Company extended the use of this suffix by carving out Chintadripet (derived from ‘Chinna thari pettai’ or small weaver’s town), a township dedicated to weavers, spinners and washers. Vannarapettai or Washermanpet must have been the logical next step. And then the likes of Sowcarpet (sahukar-pettai or money lender market), Jolarpet (the railway base built by Englishman Jolar) and Kosapet (potter’s market) must have sprouted.
Mimicking the ways of the British, many villages and towns across South India, followed this template. Thus was born Somvarpet (Monday Market) in Coorg, Saidapet (a nod to Sayid Khan, the army commander of the Nawab of Arcot) in Chengalpet, and Begumpet (named after the sixth daughter of the Nizam) in Hyderabad.
As you can see, over a period of time ‘pet’ evolved from being a ‘market’ denominator to becoming the generic descriptor for a township. Robertsonpet and Andersonpet near Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in Karnataka, capture this trend beautifully.
In Chennai, Chromepet (the home of Chrome Leather Company), Chetpet (the area around Namberumal Chetty’s 99 residences) and Teynampet (the land abounding with coconut trees) are some fine examples of the development.
Unfortunately, the ‘Pet’ toponym never took off in North India. ‘Nagar’, ‘Basti’ and ‘Mandi’ were the equivalents preferred instead. One wonders why the Hindiwalahs were so petrified!