Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVII No. 24, April 1-15, 2018
The Victoria Hostel, Presidency College.
Our State Government (and yes, there is such an entity functioning) works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. Just when you thought all hopes on heritage were lost, it has come up with a few pleasant surprises for conservationists and activists, in the latest Finance Budget, passed in the Assembly in the month of March. While these are positive signs, it would have been far better if the Government had also come up with a clear directive on what needs to be done with heritage structures not falling within the purview of the State Archaeological Department (SAD) and what are the plans for implementing such a directive.
But first, the good news. The Government has sanctioned funds for the restoration of two heritage structures in the city and one more in the districts. And all of these are buildings of the colonial era, thereby indicating that at last our administrators have begun to consider structures built during that period to also be worthy of conservation. The Queen Mary’s College and the Victoria Hostel on Presidency College’s campus in Chennai and the Kumbakonam Arts and Science College will all be restored at a cost of Rs 26 crore.
All of these come under the heading of manna in the wilderness, for these had all been given up as lost causes by those interested in their welfare. Ever since the QMC campus was not made over to the Government to build a Secretariat, it was wilfully neglected. Its central Capper House was allowed to collapse and several other buildings on the premises were left to deteriorate, no funds being allotted for their restoration. That there is now a willingness to let bygones be bygones is a cause for cheer. The Victoria Hostel is in what can be only termed as an appalling state and students living in it have frequently launched protests to highlight their precarious existence. The Government had toyed with the idea of demolition and it appears better counsel has since prevailed. As to the college in Kumbakonam, a Chisholm masterpiece, with the river by its side an integral aspect of its design, a presentation on its condition done by conservationist Girija Viraraghavan made those present wonder as to how any structure could be so neglected. It is heartening to note that this building too will see better days.
After the GST is vested in the newly constituted body of State Finance Ministers, the Central and State budgets do not evoke the IPL-kind of expectation and excitement on budget eves. However, still of interest is the impact on household budgets and on the type and quality of public services offered for the well-being of citizens.
Compared to the 2017-18 Tamil Nadu Budget, which was a incoherent flurry of allocations, such proposals as have been set out for 2018-19 are more meaningful although, in the latter, a sign of seriousness over the state’s tightening finances is missing. Nevertheless, Chennai has cause to cheer over some of the Budget proposals.
The Pallikkaranai marsh-lands of 690 ha in the City has been given Rs. 167 crore for eco-restoration over a span of five years. It is better late than never to save what is left. This is a unique expanse of space consisting of stretches of open water, shallow water, islands and mud-flats attracting a variety of birds that explore, inhabit and breed in these surroundings. It is a great pity that what was once spread over 6,000 ha has been reduced to just 690 ha because of indiscriminate encroachments and real estate vandalism. The project includes the most essential provision for barring further incursions. But we cannot help wondering, within the limits of technical requirements, why the project cannot be completed in a shorter period, say, three years. The fear is that what is stretched for so long is likely to fade out of serious focus. And longer the exposure, events have a knack of overtaking human plans. This project, if completed swiftly, would add much value to Chennai’s environs.
San Thomé High Road is a busy thoroughfare today with cars, buses and two-wheelers careening through it at all times. Hardly anyone in those vehicles is likely to pause to reflect that they are driving through what was once a fortress, complete with high walls, gates and bastions. And it had had its share of battles as well. In its time, it was twice the size of Fort St. George. Which is perhaps why the English disliked it intensely.
On paper, the Portuguese-built San Thomé fort has survived. Two maps of it are in existence, the first by Captain Pedro Barretto de Rezende, made in 1635, four years before Madras was founded. A map with no scale, it shows a rectangular fort with four gates, one at the middle point of each of the four sides. There were four churches within the Fort, apart from the Cathedral, and these were St. Paul’s, St. Dominic’s, St. Augustine’s and Our Lady. The last one has been tentatively
R. ‘Dan’ Aravamudan
On September 28, 2014, the launch of Mangalyan, India’s first home-grown mission to Mars, was a spectacular success. No other Mars Mission had succeeded in its very first attempt. ISRO had developed all the technology required for the launch from scratch. It was undoubtedly a remarkable achievement for the team of scientists at ISRO led by R. ‘Dan’ Aravamudan.
A landmark institution in West Mambalam is the Ahobila Mutt Oriental Higher Secondary School that started functioning in 1953 at Kothandaramar Koil Street. This was a dream project of N. Srinivasachari who had been a teacher par excellence and had retired as Headmaster of Ramakrishna Mission High School (North Branch).
N.Srininivaschariar was the adopted son of Sri Vasudevachariar, popularly known as Maharishi Vasudevachariar, founder of the Ramakrishna Mission High School (Main), the one opposite Panagal Park, T’Nagar (started in 1932) and various other educational institutions in the T’Nagar area. Srinivasachariar joined the Ramakrishna Mission High School soon after it started and later taught English with great proficiency. When the North Branch of the High School started functioning at Bazullah Road, T’Nagar, he took over as Headmaster of the School.