Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVIII No. 11, September 16-30, 2018
From being a much vaunted city of firsts, Chennai certainly appears to lag right behind everyone else when it comes to heritage conservation. The latest metro to steal a march over it is Kolkata, which is close to completing the restoration of two magnificent structures, both built in the colonial era. What is more, there are creative programmes in place for both the buildings, so that they are kept in continuous use. You just need to compare this with what is happening here in Chennai. Our city has sadly lost it on matters concerning heritage.
The Currency Building in Kolkata, constructed in 1833, was a near ruin for years. Its dome had collapsed and there was even a move to demolish it. Metcalfe Hall, built in the 1840s, was in relatively better shape but it too faced an uncertain future. Matters came to a head when work began on pulling down the Currency Building. The city’s Corporation brought in INTACH and a plan was worked out for restoration. The maintenance and restoration was handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which embarked on a painstaking conservation exercise. It is interesting to note that the Superintendent of the ASI at Kolkata was once in service here.
The work is almost complete. The Currency Building will now sport a glass roof and an entire wing will be made over to the National Gallery of Modern Art. As a city that boasts of a thriving art culture, Kolkata could not ask for more.
Metcalfe Hall, a magnificent pillared edifice, is also undergoing restoration. It had suffered from indifferent maintenance for years, dumped with several books and records. Post restoration, it will be home to an exhibition titled ‘From Calcutta to Kolkata’. This will trace the history of the city, from its colonial beginnings to the present day.
On the other hand, what do we have here? There is no functioning municipal body and even when it was, it paid no attention to heritage. The CMDA has been forever dithering on a so-called listing of heritage buildings. An inspired judgement of the High Court of Madras was rendered toothless by a subsequent litigation that also unfortunately emasculated INTACH. The end result is that countless heritage buildings are facing an uncertain future. Several have already been demolished. There is complete indifference and apathy.
Periodic large offers of catch would depress the market and middlemen are bound to exploit the weak holding capacity of the fisherfolk. There should be a government procuring mechanism with appropriate storage facilities that can offer a minimum support price with freedom to the sellers to avail of better deals outside. Assurance of a market at the end of the voyage at a reasonable price is needed for a minimum period of three years till the new mini-entrepreneurs overcome their initial fears and attain proficiency in their operations.
The first time I crossed it, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.
Every year, for the ‘Madras Day’ season ‘Mylapore Times‘ hosts an event for school students.
It is called the ‘Heritage of Chennai’ contest. The idea behind it is to encourage teams to go out of their classroom and study a specific aspect of our city that has a history.
Over the past 14-odd years we have covered many areas – from markets and neighborhoods to streets and places of worship and prayer.
This year, the theme was ‘Natural Heritage’. The theme required extra legwork – a metro does not have rivers and hills, water bodies and forests all over the place. So it took some coaxing and prodding to get as many schools as we could to go that extra mile to sign up for this contest.