Archive for the ‘Madras Week 2012’ Category
I am now sitting in office sipping green tea. I needed it. The events of this morning alone… But before I get there let me share moments of joy.
The last two Madras Week events went off very well indeed. Dr Biswakumar kicked off the Chennai Heritage Madras Musings Lecture series with characteristic style and panache on the famous doctors of Madras. The event took place at the GRT Grand on the 19th. Humour and fact were wonderfully mixed. For some reason my camera settings got corrupted and I could only manage a couple of very poor pictures.
The hotel had put out a good spread and those in attendance were appreciative. The contingent of freeloaders was of course present in full strength but that is par for the course.
Last evening, the programme was at the Hyatt with Nirmal Shekar of The Hindu in conversation with Ramanathan Krishnan, the one and only Indian to make it to a Wimbledon Semi Final. It was a wonderful evening. A 100 strong audience, a great venue, a fantastic spread and some straight-from-the heart speaking by Tennis Krishnan. It was good of Nirmal to get Mrs Lalitha Krishnan to come on to stage as well. The audience loved it. N Sankar of the Sanmar Group presented mementoes.
This morning I was invited to speak at the Queen Mary’s College. I was asked to be there at 10.00 am and so naturally made it by 9.55 am only to find that things were on course for a 10.30 kick-off. So I wandered around the campus and what I saw saddened me. Ill-kept heritage buildings, garbage here and there, graffiti on the walls and an overall apathy towards what would be a dream campus. There was no power and so I made my speech sweating profusely. Each year it happens. First it was the speech at Studio Palazzo on Chisholm when the fuse blew. Last year it the Madras University Music Department’s steam-bath cum Black Hole of Calcutta rolled into one. And this year this event has drawn the short straw.
During the speech I strongly admonished the teachers and the students for keeping such a shabby campus. Ten years ago it was this very same college where students protested spiritedly and saved their campus from demolition. For what purpose? It now appears that at least two heritage structures – Beach House (Sir S Subramania Iyer’s bungalow) and Sankara Iyer’s bungalow are slated to be demolished as they are in a precarious state. How did they become like that? Owing to bad maintenance of course. Do we see any private university or the IIT or the IIMs like this? Even my alma mater, Delhi College of Engineering with its tiny campus, was always clean.
I suggested that for regular dusting and cleaning, the students themselves could pitch in and not wait for the Government to do something. I also said that they must band together to make their campus plastics free. I don’t know if my speech made any difference. And if the girls here are going to become immune to the filth then what of the future?
I came away profoundly depressed. Which is why the tea…
Yesterday’s walk tracing the old Town Wall of Madras went off well. We had a record 45 people. Beginning from the front of the High Court we went to see where the seven gates stood. In the process we also took in several other sights – the Madi Poonga (built on the wall), the seven-wells pumping station, the old jail, the Monegar Choultry, Stanley Hospital, Padmanabha Talkies (soon to be demolished) and the Paramananda Doss Chota Doss Gujarati Dharamshala. Breakfast was as usual at Saravana Bhavan NSC Bose Road. I must say my reputation for ending on time was dented somewhat. I got carried away in my tales and we finished breakfast at 10.00 am, a full hour behind schedule.
Last evening Sushi Ravindranath, Mohan Raman and I attended the launch of KRN Menon’s autobiography, A Madras Merchant’s Life and Times. I haven’t read the book as yet and so cannot comment on it, but the quality of speeches at yesterday’s event was top class, especially Muthiah’s and Menon’s. Its a pity the event was not as well-attended as I expected. The Freemason’s auditorium is a gem, there is ample parking space and yet it never gets full. I wonder why the public shies away.
This morning we had Mohan Raman leading the faithful on a tour tracing the locations on Mount Road where film theatres once stood. We did not venture into the southern half of Mount Road and so what we covered included The Sun, Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald, Anand and Little Anand, The Globe (later Alankar), the Warwick, Wellington, Plaza, Chitra, Gaiety, Casino, the Lyric (later the Electric and then Elphinstone), New Elphinstone, Paragon, Anna, Shanti and the Devi lot. Just four survive. I could not help noticing that almost all the theatre barring two or three were begun by Parsis, Gujaratis, Englishmen and Telugus. Mohan was in his element. We ended with breakfast at Saravana Bhavan within Shanti.
A few common threads across yesterday and this morning. Both walks were trying to recreate memories out of thin air. The landmarks have all vanished. Will heritage tours soon become phantom trails? And the pile-up of garbage, the stench, the noise levels and the frequency of public nuisance (shitting/pissing) is all frightfully off-putting.
This afternoon I had a call from a leading TV channel asking if I was the “Muthiah who is the article-writer in The Hindu”. Frighteningly ego-flattening.I said no and disconnected. None of the above is true.
Dr Biswakumar has just sent me his powerpoint presentation for the evening’s talk. It promises to be good.
Photos of Fort Wall walk courtesy Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy.Also many thanks to Karthik Bhatt for volunteer work during the walks.