The Youth Flock to Madras Musings

April 27, 2016

As it steps into its 26th year, Madras Musings is happy to find that the maximum number of greetings and best wishes for its continued existence has come in on social media – the preserve of the young. This makes us most happy for we believe that by making an impact on the next generation, we have carried forward the concerns over heritage – both built and natural – as well as over our city to the guardians of the future. This by itself is a victory for us.
It was only in the last issue that we made it known that we as a publication have completed 25. Ever since then, we have received countless messages on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter wishing us well. We thank every one of these people and promise them that we will live up to their expectations. At the same time, we also express our gratitude to these young people who have dispelled the notion that concerns about heritage and the city are exclusive to the elderly. This is a definite sign of changing times.
Let us take for instance Facebook forums that discuss our city. The Madras Local History Group is perhaps the best known. The focus is chiefly on uploading photographs of our city’s past and the volume. The variety that has been dug up from various online and offline sources is simply amazing. This remains one of the busiest groups with uploads happening all times of the day and night. Singara Chennai looks at various places in our city that add colour, vibrancy and beauty. There are other groups that specifically concentrate on waste reduction, environment and water bodies. On the blogging front, there are numerous writers who devote columns to their areas of interest within the city – its arts environment, theatre, temples, and general city history. Mention must also be made of people like Ramaswami Nallaperumal and R Shantaram who add a photograph every day to the World Wide Web from our city and have been doing it for years.
The walks and tours are another success story. Gone are the days when Mylapore or Beach Road was the only choice for a heritage walk. Hundreds of routes have been mapped across the city and, on any given day, chances are that a group of volunteers have set out for some unknown spot, making a picnic outing from it. The bulk of these people are young and adventurous.
Which brings us to this oft-quoted opinion of some people that heritage is against progress. If that be so, what would these people have to say about the young people who combine exciting, cutting edge jobs with a passion for searching out the past? These are people who are as enthusiastic about their work as they are in attending a temple or a beach festival and posting photographs about it on platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. Are we to assume that all of them are against progress?
These young persons only strengthen our basic philosophy – heritage and progress are not antithetic. They complement each other and while it is necessary to look ahead, this need not be done by wiping out the past. Sadly, our political masters have not yet woken up to this fact. Not one party has even made a mention of heritage conservation in its manifesto for the upcoming elections. Or of how to make Madras a better city. Today’s generation demands sensitivity and an all inclusiveness and this can best be demonstrated by adapting heritage to serve current needs as we have maintained all along. The sooner those in power see this, the better for our city.

Egmore, from overhead

April 26, 2016

This morning I was at a multi-storey building in Egmore. Looking out of the window I realised how green the place is. Here are some not-so-great pictures taken from my cellphone.

This is the not-so-green Rajarathinam Stadium

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The Ceebros building towers over the Museum and Eye Hospital Complex.

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The eye hospital

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The Connemara library seen from a distance

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Can Mylapore become a heritage precinct?

April 25, 2016

imageAsk any tourist as to what is the first destination he or she has in mind when they visit our city and the Mylapore Kapaliswarar Temple will most likely be the answer. For most Chennai residents, this ranks high as a place of worship, as evinced by the vast numbers who throng the shrine on a daily basis. On festival days the numbers swell to unmanageable proportions.

The shrine is maintained well the year round and has, in the last month, undergone a spectacularly successful consecration.
Several crores are spent on its upkeep and deservedly so. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its environs, to which the authorities and the general public pay the least attention. The surroundings have degraded terribly over the years.
The cultural quotient of the Mylapore area ranks very high. No other locality in Madras better symbolises the city’s its ethos and heritage. Adding aura is the Mylapore Festival, unique in its design and conduct. During this festival every January, the locality surrounding the temple transforms itself. It becomes a beehive of activity for the thronging crowd, which turns its gaze towards valued memories of the past, having fun alongside. The same is true of the temple’s annual festival that takes place in March/April.

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The civic amenities around the temple are no match for the crowds. For disaster management during festive times, temporary measures are put in place, with roads leading to the temple blocked and a posse of policemen posted to manage the crowd. Toilets and medical help are woefully inadequate even during normal times. During the annual Arupathumoovar festival, tonnes of garbage are produced, and these need to be cleared to make the roads usable for traffic again. The business establishments, ranging from high-end jewellers and restaurants to petty shops selling a variety of series for adults as well as children, have made North Mada Street a commercial hub. The shops put up on the temple tank’s periphery obscure its sight at the ground level. Over the years many of these makeshift shops have become permanent. Thus, while the tank and tower make for good emotional appeal, for a good view of either you need to go up the high rise structures that have, sadly, been allowed on the four streets.
Would it not be a good idea to convert the space in the perimeter of the temple into a heritage quarter and call it Temple Square, or Kapali Square, if you will? First, the four Mada Streets should be off limits to motorised vehicles. For the elderly and the disabled, electric cars can be made available for mobility around the streets. Second, hawkers on pavements and petty shops should be removed from these streets and accommodated at specifically earmarked spaces, making space on the roads available for walkers and cyclists. Third, all the commercial establishments, especially on North and South Mada Streets, need to stop encroaching on the pavements. Fourth, now that the Corporation is in the process of installing mobile toilets around the city, the four Mada Streets need to have at least two in each of them to maintain public hygiene.
A closer view of the temple tank will reveal that it has a promenade on its inner periphery, at least along the south, west and north faces. When first planned, this appears to have been a walkway with ornamental light posts that still survive.
What has since happened is that these paths are cut off by high fences and converted into rubbish tips. Can these not be opened for public use?
It is high time the administration begins thinking of how it can transform Mylapore into a model that other localities such as Triplicane, Tiruvottriyur, Tiruvanmiyur and Purasawalkam, all built around temples, can follow.

This article was co-authored with Venkatesh KrishnaMoorthy

 

Cancellation of today’s Academy concert

April 22, 2016

The concert of Ashwath Narayanan stands cancelled as he is stuck in Dhaka owing to flight disruptions. A fresh date will be announced shortly. Inconvenience is regretted.

Hidden histories: Treating a transgender or The curious case of Ann C

April 22, 2016

It was the year 1862. R.S. Mair, MD, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, Deputy Coroner of Madras and Surgeon, Infantry Volunteer Guards, Madras, was at home when an Englishwoman of 21 years was shown into his residence …

Source: Hidden histories: The curious case of Ann C

Today at Music Academy

April 22, 2016

6.00 p.m. At the Kasturi Srinivasan Hall – “Syama Sastri Day” – R. Aswath Narayanan (Vocal), L. Ramakrishnan (Violin), N.C Bharadwaj (Mridangam) – Programme under the endowment of family members of Late Sri M R Narayanaswamy. All are welcome.

Down Silver Jubilee Way

April 20, 2016

And so Chief, here we are, on our 25th anniversary. Congratulations to you and as several in the city and elsewhere acknowledge, had it not been for you, we would not have become so conscious of our heritage. Those in administration from what MMM understands also agree to this, only they are rather petulant about it. Their attitude to heritage has always been akin to what Henry II felt about Thomas Becket if you recall. And MMM must say they have been doing a great job of ridding themselves of all heritage buildings.

 

But be that as it may, MMM would like to join in the chorus of congratulations. On this occasion, MMM would also like to remember Chief, your own good lady, who always took a keen interest in matters pertaining to Madras Musings. She it was you will recollect who would always notice when we made a mistake in the issue number of our publication and both you and MMM would tie themselves into knots in response and perspire freely from every pore. And that brings MMM to the quarter million dollar question Chief, are you quite sure it is our silver jubilee? No chance of any errors in number? All right Chief, you can relax, it was only a rhetorical question and one that MMM owed your good lady. We have over the years after all been very factual except when it comes to our dates. Remember the time Chief when we published the date of some event in the Dates for Your Diary section as February 30? MMM believes that a group of our faithful readers is still out there somewhere lost in a calendar, trying to locate the venue.

 

But then again, it feels as though it was only yesterday that all of us embarked on this journey, led by you. In all the thanks that you poured forth Chief in the last issue you forgot one significant contributor – namely the postman and his Department of Posts. They too in MMM’s view deserve our gratitude though we have looked askance at their methods of delivery. But it cannot be denied that amidst flood, sunshine and heat, they have borne aloft our MM and ensured it reached the wide readership. Talking about them always makes MMM laugh – for it was they who ensured we made our free magazine into a paid one. And it was rather befitting Chief that they flung a rather moth eaten Act, one that pertained to the 1800s, an era that our publication is rather fond of, to tell us that we could not circulate freely. We did change thereafter and our faithful readership did not mind forking out some money.

 

And so here’s to you Chief and the beloved publication. May there be golden, diamond and platinum jubilees and after that centennial, sesquicentennial and quasquicentennial celebrations. MMM has reached the limit of the words he knows for landmark anniversaries Chief but he is sure that Madras Musings will last for many years after these as well. And so, ladies and gentlemen, a toast, to our dear Chief and our Madras Musings! As these are days when prohibition is being thought of MMM raises his glass of buttermilk in a toast. Or should he opt for palm toddy? On that happy note, let us proceed to other matters.

An Electoral Roundup

April 19, 2016

Ever since the electoral code of conduct kicked in, every one of our political parties is on its best behaviour. There are no posters or graffiti disfiguring walls and no cutouts and hoardings line the routes the leaders take to office. Of course, the Man from Madras Musings is fairly certain that these people must be sorely missing these eulogies and panegyrics but then that is the price to pay to have a job that requires a renewal of contract every five years. There is otherwise very little otherwise to complain about these modes of ‘gainful’ employment. 

The police are in full swing checking all cars in the city. MMM too was stopped in a dark thoroughfare and asked to open the boot of his vehicle. MMM’s friend who is of a cheery disposition asked the force if they would care to take a selfie with MMM and himself to which the lady officer in charge smiled graciously and said that would be done anyway if cash was found in the car. MMM duly opened the boot to find that this was the day when his good lady (also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed) had placed what appeared to be a hundred different bags in the boot, including her handbag. Now MMM’s wallet is never known for containing anything more than small change but with his good lady it was an entirely different matter altogether and so it was with a silent prayer that MMM watched the officers search. But the number of bags proved too much of a deterrent and having taken one look at MMM and friend they opted to shut the boot and wave the car on.

 

There are many hopefuls doing the rounds for a party ticket. So too did a neighbour of MMM’s who happens to be the local Lord Bountiful, practising his charities with an eye on popularity. For several afternoons he set up a water and buttermilk dispensing pavilion that also featured a high decibel music system that belted out songs in praise of the One Great Leader. The thirsty hordes flocked to the pavilion and drank to their fullest. But then when the party list of candidates was published MMM noticed that his neighbour was not on it. The pavilion was taken down and the services dispensed with. MMM presumes that the buttermilk of human kindness had turned sour.

 

Sour reminds MMM of fermentation and that in turn brings to his mind the stuff that cheers. It appears that all parties in the fray have decided that imposing prohibition is going to be their chief electoral promise. It looks like the State is all set to go dry no matter who comes to power and by that MMM does not mean the water crisis. MMM wonders what will happen to the vast populace that has come to look upon its daily tipple as a matter of right. Perhaps they will all go on the wagon and once on it will direct it towards the erstwhile French colony that is our neighbour as they did in the past when prohibition was imposed. MMM is sure there will be lot more material for this column in the months to come.

 

But if the fluid that oils electoral machinery goes dry, what will aid the digestion of the other electoral offering – biriyani?

Know Fort St George – 24, What ails it?

April 15, 2016
The Fort, as seen from Rajaji Salai

The Fort, as seen from Rajaji Salai

Stepping out of Fort Museum into the sunshine and humidity that our city is known for, we return to the 21st Century. Our tour of the Fort is done and it is time to go home. We walk back through the narrow pedestrian bridge over the moat on to the steps and the main road, where a pedestrian signal light, the only one working in the whole of the city, helps you to cross the road to the parking lot.

There is lots more to see in the Fort – the Garrison Theatre in which the army staged its plays and invited outside troupes to perform for their entertainment, there is a building rather intriguingly called Clive’s Library with which he had nothing to do, and there are the Navy’s offices. All of these are no doubt wonderful buildings but none of these is open to the public, which is all rather sad. For that matter, there is a lot more to be seen in the Fort that we cannot really access.

To get an idea of the acreage that is out of bounds you need to view a rather ugly but functional model of Fort St George made out of wood, which is on display in the Fort Museum. Nobody is clear as to when this was made, not even D M Reid who in his Story of Fort St George merely speculates that it could have been commissioned sometime late in the 19th Century. This was till the 1940s in a room beside St Mary’s together with the display of the church’s plate. When the museum was commissioned in 1946, it was moved there. Viewing this model you come to realise that almost 50 per cent of the Fort cannot be accessed, which means we also do not know what has happened to the historic buildings that stood/stand there. We do know that Clive’s Library is in a precarious state and may crumble at any time. Proposals for its restoration move forward at a snail’s pace. Its owner, the Navy, cannot seem to make up its mind.
Which brings us to the core problem of Fort St George – it suffers from multiple ownership. The Army, the Navy, the Legislature, the Tamil Nadu Government and the Archaeological Survey all occupy parts of it and claim complete suzerainty over the areas under their control. Some buildings under the ASI are perhaps the best maintained and remain true to their historicity, but that cannot be said of all. Certainly most of the structures in St Thomas Street, including Last House, are in a shocking state of disrepair while some such as Arthur Wellesley’s house and the Chaplain’s house, have collapsed altogether. What makes the loss doubly sad is that many of these edifices were standing till a couple of decades ago, when technology to save them certainly existed. It is sheer inaction that caused their decay and ultimate fall.

Elsewhere, those in charge of what they own continue to make changes in whatever fashion they feel is right. The ASI is rarely consulted. We have already seen the story behind the Namakkal Kavignar Maligai’s construction. But that was not the first instance. Even in the 1950s, the State Government had thought it fit to build a new secretariat that completely blocked off the rather magnificent rear view of the old Assembly building. The construction had one redeeming feature that the Namakkal Kavignar Maligai did not – it was of the same height and width as the older building fronting it and so did not stick out like a sore thumb. A couple of years ago, the Army began a lot of civil work in the neighbourhood of the King’s Barracks, using heavy-duty equipment to drill the ground. The ASI protested mildly and the matter was reported widely in the press after which the work appeared to have been suspended. The Army has also declared its intention to move out of the Fort, but at present it is being remarkably slow about it.

Not that any move from the Fort is essentially to its good. We have the not so long past instance of the State Government building itself a swank new secretariat on Anna Salai/Mount Road and moving over. It was then widely perceived that the parts of the Fort it occupied would be handed over to the ASI but that was not to be. The Institute of Tamil Studies moved in and during the brief period that it was in occupation did untold damage by dragging steel cupboards that it had brought all along the wooden floor of the erstwhile Assembly building. Soon thereafter the Government changed and the party that came to power moved back into Fort St George. The new Government made a half-hearted attempt at trying to get World Heritage status for the Fort but this failed chiefly because the place is in no position to conform to the stringent norms that are stipulated for such accreditation.

It is not really necessary that the Fort has to become a ghostly museum.It is perhaps better off being occupied and being treated as a living entity. But what is necessary is that those in occupation recognise the historic value of where they work from and take pride in it. Certainly, the State Government can impose a blanket ban on pasting posters, tying banners and rampantly littering the Fort. It can impose discipline in the matter of car parking – there is enough and more space opposite the Fort and cars can all be asked to move there after they have dropped off their important occupants. In these days of cell phones, summoning a chauffeur-driven car is not a difficult task. Those without drivers can walk across the road to the Fort after they park their cars and, in the process, become aware of the difficulties the average pedestrian faces when coming in. The Army and Navy for their part can paint their buildings and take up some basic maintenance on them. As for the ASI, it can move faster – clearing the vegetation, taking up urgent repair work, and restoring what has collapsed. It can also keep the moat clear of all the debris that is currently making its way into it.

What can the general public do? For a start they can begin visiting the Fort more frequently and in larger numbers. There is, unfortunately, a misconception that the place is out of bounds for visitors. This is not true. Anyone, and this includes people of all nationalities, can walk in after signing in the register kept at the entrance and being checked by a metal detector and a bag scan. There is no entrance fee for the Fort at large’ the Museum alone requires tickets which can be bought at the counter. It must be kept in mind that the museum is closed on Fridays and that the church cannot be visited during service, especially on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, the Fort is open on all days. A large number of footfalls in the Fort will ensure that the Government becomes more aware about the necessity to maintain the place. It will also mean that we as a people care for our heritage.

The Fort may have started out as a colonial enterprise but let us not forget that our elected Governments have been functioning from here since 1947 and even prior to that, since 1921, we have had provincial governments run by Indians in place here. Many landmark legislations have been enacted in this precinct and that by itself is sufficient reason for ensuring its maintenance and continuity. Ultimately, it depends on we, the people. Let us strive to preserve our heritage and make it available for future generations.
Concluded

 

This article was the last in a 24 part series on Fort St George to commemorate its 375th year. The earlier posts can be read from the following links:

 

  1. The Fort, Its Topography
  2. The Flagstaff
  3. The Sea Gate
  4. The Moat
  5. The Cornwallis Cupola
  6. The Assembly cum Secretariat
  7. The Parade Square
  8. The Barracks
  9. The Great House on Charles Street
  10. Arthur Wellesley’s House
  11. Charles (and James) Street
  12. The Church of St Mary’s
  13. The Yard of St Mary’s Church
  14. The Interior of St Mary’s
  15. The Funerary Monuments in St Mary’s
  16. The Romance of Church Lane
  17. St Thomas Street
  18. The Wallajah Gate and Bastion
  19. The Arsenal
  20. St George’s Gate
  21. Middle aka North Gate
  22. The Namakkal Kavignar Maligai
  23. The Fort Museum

Waiting for Metro MRTS link

April 13, 2016

At long last those in control of our public transport systems appear to be waking up to the possibilities. Five years after it was proposed by the Tamil Nadu State Government, the Indian Railways has given an in-principle nod to the merger of its Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) with Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL). This, as and when it takes place, will mean greater connectivity and optimal utilisation of both systems of public transport, thereby taking pressure off the roads that are at present choked by private vehicles. However, all of this may take quite a while before becoming reality.
The MRTS, originally planned to link Beach Station, Velacheri, St Thomas’ Mount, Villivakkam and Ennore, was conceptualised in the 1970s. Work however did not begin till 1984 and proceeded thereafter at a leisurely pace till 2007 with much escalation of cost in between. Today, it runs between Velacheri and Beach Stations, the fate of the extension to St Thomas Mount being uncertain owing to land acquisition issues and the rest of it abandoned owing to the Metro Rail project. When planned it was estimated to carry 6 lakh passengers a day but at present handles around 1 lakh chiefly because of several deficiencies in its execution – the most important being the lack of last mile connectivity with other forms of transport. It is also an environmental disaster, for it effectively occupies much of the bed of the Buckingham Canal within the city, thereby cutting off all chances of that water body being revived. It however, enjoys the distinction of being India’s first elevated rail network.

The Metro Rail, which is partly operational, though much of it is still under execution, will when complete, it is envisaged, have five operational lines. At present, work is ongoing on two lines only – Washermanpet to the Airport and St Thomas Mount to Chennai Central. The first will run chiefly along Anna Salai before moving into North Chennai while the second will be along Poonamallee High and the Inner Ring Roads. It is therefore evident that if the MRTS and Metro lines are to link up, they need to do so at St Thomas Mount alone and therefore much will depend on how the MRTS completes the final phase of its planned route. There is no talk as yet of a linkage at the northern end. This will become essential and perhaps the best option would be a feeder service between Chennai Beach and Fort Stations – the former being on the MRTS route while the latter is on the Metro route.
Whatever be the troubles of connecting up, this merger is a welcome move. This will ensure that a form of integrated passenger transport exists along the east coast, the centre (Anna Salai) and the west (Poonamallee High Road), the three arterial routes along which there is much movement of traffic.
Much will, however, depend on how soon we get the common services going. There will need to be integration of ticketing and, more importantly, rationalisation of fares – Metro Rail is considered to be costly as compared to the subsidised fares on MRTS. There is also a wide difference in rolling stock – would the upmarket office going commuter want to travel in the battered MRTS coaches? The Metro wagons, on the other hand, are the latest in technology.
Ultimately, both will need to address issues of last mile connectivity – the MRTS is an abject failure on this front while the Metro has held out a number of assurances that have not yet become reality. The integrated system will succeed only if it ensures a hassle-free ride for its customers. It is to be hoped that the consultant who is being appointed to study the merger will make this the most important aspect for consideration.


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