Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXV No. 8, August 1-15, 2015
Why is it that, unlike in several places abroad, heritage buildings in India have to become museums in order to survive? Is there no way that they can be treated as living instances of our past and be put to good use after proper reconstruction? These are questions that renowned architect and sculptor Gautam Bhatia raised in an article in The Hindu (one of the supporters of Madras Musings) quite recently. That found a ready echo in our mind, as the situation in Chennai is no better.
While there are certainly more number of instances where we have successfully demolished and obliterated our built heritage, there are a few cases where we have done some restoration. And almost without fail, post the conservation effort, we have either locked these structures up or have made a hash of trying to convert them into museums that nobody visits. Take for example the Connemara Library. The old wing was being used as a reading room for several years. It was then locked up for a few more years before a very authentic restoration exercise was embarked upon. On completion, the building was thrown open to the public as a magnificent showpiece, sans bookshelves and reading tables. This lasted a week and then the building was closed forever.
King’s Barracks in its heyday. (Courtesy: Vintage Vignettes)
The Parade Square has barracks fronting it on three sides – the south, west and north. In the initial years of the Fort, and Madras, the soldiers camped outside the Fort and there were several complaints about their many “notorious Actions (and villainous crimes)”. In 1684, it was decided that the garrison ought to move into White Town, or the Fort.
It was on July 17, 1996 that our city officially changed its name from Madras to Chennai, the legislation coming into effect on August 1 that year. Nineteen years have passed since then and this may be a good time to see what has been achieved by this.
So, why are we going ga-ga over the Metro?
As if we poor little creatures have now been gifted a plush service. As if the best transport line is now ours. As if we can now boast to the world of a new big possession.
Poor little creatures, take this – we are told.
I was not enthused to be among the hundreds who went on the Metro’s first-day, first ride.