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Vol. XXXI No. 12, October 1-15, 2021
The picture of the decorated Ripon Building for Madras Week Celebrations brought to my mind how Madras City was beautifully decorated on the occasion of the First Republic Day. As a college student, I wandered throughout the night to enjoy the colourful decorations of all landmarks of the City. Listening to D.K.Pattammal’s Aduvome pallup paduvome, which was played at every nook and corner, I dreamt of the beautiful days to come.
Mr. J.S. Raghavan’s letter in MM, September 16th on “Ministerial meek and ego trips” prompts me to share my own experience on the subject sixty years ago as a 22-year old Research Student.
My father who built his own house in T. Nagar died prematurely in 1943 after a year’s stay there, leaving behind his wife and eight children. I was just five then. As we could not survive on our own, we all moved to my grand-father’s bungalow on Luz Church Rd., Mylapore. The house was rented out. In 1953, it was acquired by the Govt. for the occupation of their senior officers and the then Collector of Chingleput occupied it. In those days, the Collectorate of Chinglepet functioned from the premises where the Magistrates’ Courts are now located!
In 1959, as my grand-father could not manage the large bungalow and five of my elder siblings either had got married or were out of Chennai, we thought of selling it and moving into our T. Nagar house. To do this, we had to get our T. Nagar house out of Government Acquisition.
With no connections in the Government either among relatives or friends, we were wondering how to get this done, particularly since it was occupied by a senior bureaucrat who may not like to be disturbed. At that time, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Sri. M. Bhakthavatsalam, was residing nearby on De Silva Rd. My mother then recollected that Mrs. Bhakthavatsalam had been her senior by two years in school but they had been friends. My mother said we will meet her and seek her help. Both of us went there a few days later and could easily meet her. She readily remembered her old association, heard our position and told us that she would talk to her husband and we could come again a few days later. When we went there a few days later, she took us to the central open court-yard where we saw Mr. Bhakthavatsalam seated on a chair in a dhoti and a towel around his body having a hair-cut! He heard us and told us to go to the Secretariat and meet the Home Secretary a week later with an application for release of the house from Govt. Acquisition.
We accordingly met the Home Secretary and presented our application. When we met him after a few weeks, he told us that the Housing Minister had to act in the matter and he had passed on the papers with his recommendation.
The then Housing Minister was Mr. Kakkan. A week later, we went to the Secretariat and could easily meet him. As we entered his room, I was wondering in which language I should speak. Not being sure, I boldly asked him Sir, Tamizh le pesanuma illai Englshile pesanuma? “As you please,” he replied. I decided to speak in Tamil so that he would realise that my name may be strange, but I was very much a local man. He heard us patiently and told my mother “Have a little patience, Amma. I will certainly help you. I can’t ask a Collector to vacate the house immediately. I’ll have to find another suitable house for him.” We thanked him and returned. Three months later we got the house for our own occupation.
Incidentally, grand-father’s 12 ground property was sold for Rs. 1,13,000 of which Rs. 13,000 was for the bungalow!
Enjoyed reading through all the articles and particularly the Cryptic Quiz on Chennai! It was thematic (Madras centred) and personalities with long names were cleverly hidden in anagrams. Full marks for the Setter!
Cdr. R. Ganapathi
The recent Master Plan for Mylapore announced by the HR&CE Department of the Tamil Nadu government has left people with many questions. To meet its goal of ‘re-developing the properties owned by the temple,’ it proposes to build a multi-level car park, marriage hall, and various other facilities in the place of the low-rise agraharam houses surrounding the Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple. The news coverage following the announcement underlined the heritage value of the area under the proposal and urged the inclusion of suggestions from the public; it is believed that the authorities are considering other alternatives at the moment.
In short, the proposal has let loose the proverbial cat among the pigeons, rekindling an age-old debate about ‘Conservation versus ‘Development’. Development and its resultant urbanism are subjects that sit on a slippery slope; for all cities, at all times, are a continuous work in progress and cannot claim an ‘issue-free’ existence. Conservation, on the other hand, is a vulnerable subject that needs to constantly fight to stay alive. It is always the heritage areas that first come under attack -they are blamed for being outdated and occupying disproportionately large areas while being difficult and expensive to maintain, hence constantly falling into a state of disrepair. They always pose a moral dilemma.
In the case of Mylapore’s redevelopment proposal, both sides seem to be evenly matched and capable of throwing equally heavy punches.
The team for development has quite a few valid questions on its side. How long can a city cling onto heritage before the latter collapses against demographic and market forces? Can a 21st-century lifestyle be lived in a dated building? Is a physically dying heritage space more important than the preservation of the functions carried on within it?
As for conservation, there are quite a few points in its favour, too. Will the precinct lose its heritage value as development will leave the temple as the sole entity with historic, architectural, social, and cultural significance and not the precinct? How do we document and preserve the construction techniques and materials in these residences, that are inherently environment-friendly and sustainable? We will lose valuable knowledge systems if this bare minimum isn’t done. Does a redevelopment proposal really solve a problem or does it merely shift it elsewhere? Will the various buildings not be incongruous with the majesty of the temple, no matter how sensitively they may have been designed? Should this proposal be evaluated in isolation or should it be seen as an integral part of the larger city fabric?
Does not the proposal – with its multilevel car parking, kalyana mandapams and other high-end facilities – smack of being pro-rich, and ironically, anti-poor? Will the proposal not increase congestion and population density in an already crowded area? And will this not have a ripple effect with repercussions on both residential and commercial real estate prices? How does one evaluate intangible issues, the trickiest one being – what happens when the car parking capacity becomes insufficient?
Experience from other parts of the world points to a single verdict: Heritage areas must be decongested and set free; they must be landscaped and pedestrianised. Above all, the proposal must be democratic and must pay heed to the entire cross-section of voices from different community groups, income groups, occupational groups and age groups. A top-down proposal simply cannot work. If anything, it will only exacerbate matters and create a bigger mess.
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