I have just finished a plethora of phone calls on the fire at the Bombay Mutual Building, NSC Bose Road. Nowadays whenever anyone from the press calls I am pretty much certain it has something to do with either a fire at or a demolition of some heritage building.Thankfully, this was a fire restricted to one floor.
The sorrow of the fire and the rage at it having been avoidable set me researching the building’s history. And as always, there is a very interesting past.
In 1837, the Madras General Assembly School was begun by the Rev Anderson. With the arrival of the Rev Miller, the School began a college which was referred to as the Central Institution. In 1877, this became the Madras Christian College. By the 1850s itself however, the institution had shifted to the Esplanade area.The site occupied by Bombay Mutual was the place where Anderson Hall was located. Originally intended as a Church when planned in 1859, it became a lecture and examination hall after renovation in 1887. Photos of that period show it to be in the Indo Saracenic style.
In 1937, the college shifted to Tambaram. Anderson Hall was bought by the Travancore and Quilon National Bank Limited. When that bank failed the same year thanks to some wheeling-dealing by Sir CP Ramaswami Iyer, the building was acquired by the Government of Madras and auctioned off. The highest bidder was the Bombay Mutual Insurance Company, which having been founded in 1870 can claim to be the first insurance company to be incorporated in India.
Bombay Mutual operated out of Andersons Hall till the 1950s. When it decided to build a new edifice it contracted the work to Coromandel Engineering of the Murugappa Group. The art deco classic was completed in 1955 and inaugurated by the Governor of Madras. In 1956, Bombay Mutual became a part of LIC which now owns the property.
Sadly, for all that LIC has wonderfully preserved its heritage buildings in Bangalore, Calcutta and Bombay, it does not care for what it has in Madras. A few years ago it demolished the last bits of the old MCC buildings on NSC Bose Road. It tried demolishing Bharat Insurance Building and that was challenged by INTACH in court. The judgement went in favour of INTACH and subsequently P Chidambaram, then Finance Minister, promised to restore the building. When he left to become Home Minister, LIC appealed against the Madras High Court judgement and the matter now is in the Supreme Court. In the light of this past, what is to be expected in the case of Bombay Mutual?