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Vol. XXV No. 11, September 16-30, 2015

Archives: Vol. XXV No. 11, September 16-30, 2015


What’s heritage, and what’s not…

by The Editor

The past few years have seen a spate of writings on heritage, accompanied by a lot of media attention. This has naturally resulted in a huge amount of interest concerning old buildings, especially among the reading public, though this has admittedly not resulted in much action on the ground. It has, of course, created an enormous dislike among the bureaucracy about what it terms ‘heritage activism’. That body of officials would be most happy if there was no opposition to the complete demolition of all heritage structures, to facilitate their replacement with modern highrise. Unfortunately, this hostility is only enhanced by those who, even if in a well-meaning fashion, brand any reasonably old structure as heritage and begin questioning its removal. This makes any heritage activity appear obstructionist. The latest in this series is a newspaper article that mourns the proposed pulling down of the Esplanade police station.

A careful reading between the lines would reveal that the structure in question was built only in 1961. It is a modern PWD building that replaced an earlier structure even then. It is this 54-year-old structure that the Government proposes to replace with a modern building. What is the heritage value of the existing structure? None probably. And whatever there was earlier probably vanished with the demolition in 1961.

What cannot be denied, however, is that a police station has existed in the area since 1856. This needs to be commemorated. The Tamil Nadu Police has in the past displayed a sense of history – it has not only preserved its headquarters by the beach, it has also retained the old bungalow in Egmore that served as the Police Commissioner’s Office even after a multi-storeyed building came up alongside for the same. It is to be hoped that when it constructs a new police station at the Esplanade, the department will put up a plaque commemorating the history of the place. That would be more than sufficient.

While on the subject of new buildings for old, it must be pointed out that the Police has a chequered history when it comes to their stations. The one at Flower Bazaar made way for a tasteless piece of modernity. The Mount Road station was demolished but replaced by a new structure that vaguely recalls the architecture of the old Spencer’s showroom. The Grame’s Road station was retained in full, as there was sufficient space to the rear, where a new building has come up. The most fortunate among all of them is the Triplicane Station on Wallajah Road. This heritage structure, once the langar-khana of the Nawabs of Arcot, has been splendidly restored, ironically when all heritage buildings surrounding it – Government House, Cooum House, the bandmaster’s house, Gandhi Illam and Kalaivanar Arangam – were all demolished!


…but must people live in fear of it?

By A Special Correspondent

There are three reactions to heritage – some love it, and these are most often those who have no stake in it; the second variety is completely indifferent, this is largely the Government that sadly controls most of it; and some would rather wish it away, these are the private property owners who find themselves saddled with something they do not want and, more importantly, something they cannot profit from. Last month saw matters coming to a head at Pallavaram where residents protested against the heritage status that they feel has been imposed on their neighbourhood. A lot can be done by the Government to dispel any fears, but by keeping silent, it is only flaming discontent with heritage being the ultimate victim.

This matter in Pallavaram has been pending for over seven years now. It was in 2007 that plots of land were sold to people, all of them having purchased properties with the intention of developing them for residential purposes. The sale deeds were all registered as per due process.


Know your Fort better


The ECHS Hospital (Picture: Ramakrishnan Mohan)..

We have in the last two episodes focussed on two principal buildings on Charles Street – the Great aka Admiralty aka Clive House and Wellesley House. This extremely broad thoroughfare has very few buildings on it today. Between Clive’s and Wellesley’s houses is a large edifice belonging to the army and accessed through an arched gateway. This must have in its time been an important building. On the opposite, i.e. the eastern, side runs a long colonnaded building for most of the street’s length. This is today the Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Service (ECHS) Centre of the Fort, but in its long years of existence has served several functions, most notable of which is that of the Town Hall for Madras. This was where the important residents of the Fort met to discuss and decide on important matters concerning the city. But this was not the only building to serve this role in the Fort. It was also till recently the embarkation headquarters for the Southern Command of the Indian Army.


Street Life

An occasional column by a British freelance writer on her eight years in Madras
It’s early morning in Kotturpuram and the residents of my street are beginning to stir. Security guards, roused from sleep, drag reluctant pedigree pooches around the block, watched by street dogs who raise a desultory eyelid, and then return to slumber. The dawn mosquitoes square their shoulders in preparation for the first walkers and from the nearby mosque the muezzin proclaims the greatness of his god.


The Leather King

The book* is a fitting celebration of the legacy of A. Nagappa Chettiar, a pioneer of the leather industry in India.

Nagappa Chettiar, it is surprising to find, was not even a matriculate and “spoke haltingly in English”, to quote retired IAS officer Dr. G. Sundaram, and yet was a trailblazer of the leather industry. The distinct look of Chettiar, always clad in white shirt and white dhoti, even in the presence of suited-and-booted foreign visitors, subtly speaks of his conviction to stick to his roots.