The Royapettah police sta-tion has been part of the regular beat of The Man from Madras Musings. By that he does not mean he is a Known Delinquent (KD in local parlance) but simply that he passes by it almost on a daily basis. For that matter, MMM recalls passing by it even when he was a stripling, a mere mmm, so to speak. He even recalls in those days, and here those who are younger Than MMM will forgive him for slipping into anecdotage, which is the surest sign of dotage, a signboard that used to be on one of the sidewalls of the station. This was to ostensibly encourage safe driving and featured a family of five – father, mother and younger child on a scooter with grandmother and older child in a sidecar (remember those?). The message implied that Father was responsible for the well being of everyone in the vehicle(s) and so he better drive carefully. For some reason, that picture has remained in MMM’s mind. Probably because the characters portrayed looked extraordinarily happy.
Be that as it may, the point at issue is not the signboard but the police station as a whole. Over the years it had been allowed to deteriorate, those in occupation complained of lack of space and modern amenities, and so it was high time that the place went in for a makeover. In the past this would have meant wholesale demolition, but, what with the Chief hammering home the message of conservation, attitudes have changed. That led to a new breed-people who talked of preserving old buildings but invariably condemned them to a fate worse than demolition-converting them into museums that nobody visited. But not so the Royapettah police station. It was announced that the police would move out, the older part of the building would be renovated, newer bits would be demolished to make way for still newer bits, and, finally, the police would move back. Everyone who is someone in the world of conservation was delighted. None more so than MMM who conveyed the news to the Chief with a hey nonny no and a hot cha cha.
Work began shortly thereafter. The police moved out and the annexe was pulled down revealing a beautiful gothic rear side of the old building. Shortly thereafter, work began on a new annexe that promises to seal the rear of the main building forever and is quite likely, from what it appears now, to be the ugliest building on the entire stretch – and, mind you, there is no dearth of ugly structures on this road. A large area fronting the police station has been cordoned off to house the construction equipment. But nobody appears to be bothered about the side of the building. This has housed for years a run down white van that probably was confiscated by the police and never claimed by the rightful owner, if ever there was one. Over time, the building and the van seem to have developed an affinity and it is most likely that the van itself is considered an integral part of the building. Or perhaps the walls rest on the van, which if moved will cause the whole edifice to tumble. The local populace views the van as a convenient rubbish dump and it will astonish you to know the kind of stuff that rests alongside it – plenty of sawn down trees, a sofa set or two and, sometimes, even a discarded water closet. Political parties view the van as an extension of the wall space and paste posters on it.
So, naturally, given its importance, the van has not been shifted and remains where it his long been, despite the hectic construction happening alongside. Last seen, the local cattle have begun to view the cordoned off area in front of the police station as a natural pen and have moved into it. The other day, a couple of cows fought with each other over a plastic bag and provided much entertainment to all. It remains to be seen as to how the entire restoration will pan out. So, watch this space for more.