Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 16, December 1-15, 2021
The Man from Madras Musings believes strongly in the protection of culture and heritage. He believes that there is only so much of give and take that can exist, beyond which there is a necessity to draw the line. But in all of this he is of the view that basic courtesies can exist – this is something that extremists on both sides of the divide, namely the rabid right and the loony left can do well to cultivate. In MMM’s view there is very little to choose between either of these – they are all peddlers of intolerance in one form or the other.
This was more than forcibly brought to MMM’s mind when he, and a camera crew of two, went to a historic shrine for some documentation. Now, MMM, whatever else may be his faults, is a stickler for due process of the law. Being well aware that video documentation of such precincts is a sensitive subject, he had made it a point to apply for permission from the trustee of the place and that had taken around six months to fructify into an assent. He then had to await the convenience of the administrative officer of the premises, who took time to identify a suitable date. But finally, it was all done – a letter from MMM had been accepted, taken on record, and permission granted. And so, MMM and camera crew went to the place.
Mind you, MMM is a born pessimist and he all along had this gut feel that something would go wrong. This presentiment was proved more than correct within a few minutes of setting up of the camera. The recording had not even begun when two toughies landed up and demanded to know what MMM and team were doing. To this MMM replied that a recording was in progress for which permission had already been taken. This was clearly not to the liking of the duo, one of whom immediately shouted that he had seen the crew taking pics of the sanctum. Since the shoot had not even begun and because MMM had already given an undertaking that sanctum was not part of the coverage, he tried explaining this. But by then quite a crowd had collected, all of whom were of the view that MMM and team had come to steal the place of some antique.
It was then that it occurred to MMM that he had not asked the two men as to what was their locus standi at the place. He did so and was told that they were custodians of the premises and that any shoots of this kind needed their permission. What then of the official sanction that MMM had received, asked MMM. To this the response was that they did not believe that MMM had obtained any permission. By this time the crowd was getting restive and MMM decided that it was best that he called the administrative officer over. Fortunately for him, that functionary not only answered the phone but asked for MMM and the two custodians of heritage to go over to the office.
When MMM announced this the two were clearly not happy but decided to tag along, the crowd following, an elderly man in the group being particularly vociferous that this was a law-and-order matter. It was a wonder that no kangaroo court had been set up and judgement of lynching passed by then. On entering the administrative officer’s room, that funcionary asked the two as to who they were. MMM at this point could not control his astonishment. Why, they had said that they were custodians of the place he said. It was the turn of the administrative officer to be astonished. He said he had never set his eyes on them before. That ended the matter and the crowd melted. MMM and crew were escorted by an officer of the shrine for the rest of the shoot which went off peacefully. But the elderly gent decided that he had to tag along. And so he did, muttering imprecations all the while. At one point he said he knew the trustee well and so perhaps he ought to call and inform him of what was happening. To this MMM said he had the trustee’s phone number and would gladly dial it on his phone. That ensured the elderly gent vanished as well.
While MMM is not in any way questioning the right of these self-appointed custodians to protect their favoured shrines, he would suggest that they identify real culprits – those who take pictures on the sly, scribble names on walls and paintings, deface sculptures and above all, eye antiquities.
The Man from Madras Musings was sunk in what can only be described as a slough of despond. There were the incessant rains to begin with and then, when he went across to Fort St George, he discovered that the Last House on Snob’s Alley had reached its end – in short, MMM had seen the last of it. It was enough to sink the most optimistic of heritage enthusiasts.
It was while MMM was deep in his grey thoughts that the telephone rang. TrueCaller revealed that it was a TV journalist. MMM answered most reluctantly, the last thing he wanted to do was to speak to a crew that had no idea as to what it was that was being covered. But it was his turn to be stunned – the lady at the other end was very well informed and spoke knowledgeably about several monuments inside Fort St George. She wanted to record MMM speaking about each of these places she said and so could she please fix a time and place for the same. MMM perked up immediately. This was clearly a new beginning. Here was this informed source wanting to do a serious study of the monuments and it was clearly MMM’s duty to help.
But first MMM, and this is where MMM, in MMM’s opinion, made his first error, wanted to know as to how the lady at the other end had such an exhaustive list of buildings in Fort St George. From a list of protected monuments that the ASI releases periodically was the answer. MMM was most impressed. And then he clearly made what in retrospect was a blunder – Why did the lady want MMM to record his ‘bytes’ on each of these buildings he asked. And then with a glimmer of hope he asked if the Government was finally taking steps to now restore each of these places.
No, came the answer. That was not the case. Was not MMM aware of a practice in most media houses of arranging for obituaries and tributes for well-known persons long before they actually die? MMM said he was. Well, said the lady, this was exactly what was being done, only it was being done for buildings. Given that all of these structures would collapse one by one given their state of maintenance, the channel was pre-recording obituaries for each of these so that they, the channel, would not be caught short as and when they, the buildings actually fell.
MMM’s slough of despond just got deeper.
It was Perhaps Greatest Writer who once, as the Man from Madras Musings recalls, wrote of a stately home of England where in summer the river lay at the bottom of the garden and in winter the garden at the bottom of the river. Chennai seems to be more or less at that stage. Next fortnight hopefully will see drier days. Till then, chin up, and stay afloat.