It is not often that a book gets to make it to the first page of Madras Musings. In fact, the late Chief would maintain that book reviews need to be in their proper space somewhere in the middle of the magazine. But even he would, we are sure, make an exception when it is Madras Week and two of his close friends, namely Manohar Devadoss and Sujatha Shankar have collaborated on a wonderful book on the city. Yes, Madras Inked, Impressions of an artist and an architect, is now ready and having perused it, we feel that there could be no greater tribute to the architecture of our city than this.
Chennai and its environs have been a crucible of construction styles from time immemorial. Where were the first cave shrines of the Pallavas sculpted? Right here, in Mamandur. Where was Indo-Saracenic as envisaged by the British given form? In the city. Where did Art Deco make its appearance in India as early as in 1938 – in George Town with the L.M. Chitale designed Oriental Insurance Building. Where, outside of Chandigarh is one of India’s finest examples of modernism? In Royapettah and we are referring to the Music Academy. Sadly, we must also acknowledge that today Chennai can also boast of some of the ugliest buildings possible. But be that as it may, our past was glorious. This book seeks to capture some of that glory in ink – drawings and words.
To readers of Madras Musings, both Manohar and Sujatha are no strangers. The former, a brilliant artist whose vision progressively deteriorated owing to an incurable eye disease, has for years, until his ailment made it impossible, captured many of Chennai’s and Madurai’s architectural and natural beauties in his drawings – perfect in their proportion and perspective. Of the stuff of legend is the way Mano took care of his wife, Mahema, who following a road accident remained a quadriplegic for over three decades. Legendary too was the spirit of Mahema that did not allow her to remain homebound despite her disability. Ever immaculately turned out and ever cared for by Mano, she attended most social events and maintained open house, till her passing in 2008. Between them Mano and Mahema perfected the art of giving – each year the couple designed greeting cards featuring Mano’s sketches and Mahema’s notes, and the proceeds went to charity. As did the proceeds from the sale of his books. The two, and he, after her passing, have remained beacons of positive thought and loving affection.
Sujatha Shankar, one of the best-known architects of the city, is a perfectionist. For her everything in life has to be just so, which sometimes can drive those less inclined, and which includes you editor, somewhat crazy. But the end result has always been worth the wait. She is presently the convenor of the Chennai chapter of INTACH and under her leadership, there have been plenty of events – talk shows, events for children and exhibitions on heritage and culture.
When two such people collaborate, the result is bound to be worthwhile. And Madras Inked is a delight. The focus is on Mano’s sketches, with historic details of the featured building/scene given by Sujatha, followed by personal notes by him. The layout and the flow of the book is a heritage enthusiast’s joy as it gradually takes you on a journey of Madras’ skyline and some of the beloved markers that dot it.
The book, published by the CPR Publications, of the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, was made possible owing to the support of the Chennai Willingdon Corporate Foundation, an initiative of several leading corporate houses of the city that assists socially meaningful projects. The book is priced at Rs 2,500 and all proceeds go to assist charities. The publication will be released by HE the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Banwarilal Purohit, on Thursday, August 19th.
The book is an ideal read for those who wish to know more about the architectural and scenic skyline of Chennai and its surroundings. Post release the book will be available on sale on Amazon and book shops such as Higginbothams.