Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 13, October 16-31, 2021
The recently unveiled Tamil Nadu budget allotted Rs. 5 crores for scientific excavation at archaeological sites at Sivakalai, Keezhadi and Kodumanal. In addition, there was an allocation of Rs 16.6 crores to the State Archaeology Department. Besides this, there was an announcement that the findings from sites such as Keezhadi would be housed in a ‘world-class museum’. All of this is to the good for it shows that the Government, which has for years paid lip service to the causes of history and heritage, apart from instances where political mileage could be milked, has now woken up to its responsibilities of passing on the past to the future. But as to how this money will be spent remains to be seen. Past track record does not fill us with much confidence.
Even in this recent announcement, there was more emphasis on regional pride than on scientific study. There was plenty of chest thumping on ancient Tamil culture – which is right in its own way but should not be at the cost of factual study. Talk of deep-sea excavations at Sangam-era harbours such as Korkai and Azhangankulam is all very well but we only need to see what was done with Kaveripoompattinam or Poompuhar to know what misguided parochialism can do. Today, apart from a few structures of doubtful architectural merit constructed a few decades back, there is nothing to show the antiquity of the place. Hardly any visitors include it in their itinerary and perhaps rightfully so. And yet this too was once promised to be made a showpiece out of. Last year, the Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India promised to digitally recreate Poompuhar but there has been no action since – perhaps the elections had something to do with the announcement and the subsequent inaction.
As for world-class museums, we have heard enough of that sort of declaration. There is not one museum in Tamil Nadu that can even remotely claim to be of that standard and in this we include the much-touted Government Museum at Egmore. There is no consistent policy that can continue across political regimes. The previous Government in power saw a Minister of Culture interacting with captains of industry and virtually cajoling them to adopt parts of the museum. There was great reluctance on their part, and one of them in strict confidence informed Madras Musings that in case there was a change of regime all that money would go to waste as the new Government would want to scrap anything associated with the previous one, no matter what the merits of the scheme. That is exactly what has come to pass – all schemes concerning the museum are now in cold storage.
If that is the fate of the museum in the capital, those in other locations fare far worse. Their monthly footfalls are in single digits, not counting the ones in Thanjavur, Madurai, and a couple of other locations. The displays are tacky in the extreme and many have nothing of value. Most deserve to be closed. It is in this context that promised world-class museums need to be evaluated.
Among Asia’s largest perishable good markets, the Koyambedu Wholesale Market Complex (KWMC) was in the news last month following reports that traders had dumped unsold stock of vegetables and flowers on the road. Wholesalers pointed to a drop in demand, underlining that apart from other factors, commercial demand from hotels and catering services had dropped by 50 per cent during the pandemic – a figure that is presumably recovering at a slower rate than expected given the volume of wastage. The President of the Koyambedu Market Licensed Merchant’s Association S. Chandran said in a quote to The Hindu, “We receive the same quantity of products daily. We cannot keep the stock for more than one day as there will be demand for fresh stock.” Earlier in May this year, it was reported that the Koyambedu market generated 250 tonnes of vegetable wastage on a daily basis.
A paper published in 2020 states that around 5 to 10 per cent of goods arriving at the KWMC are wasted due to inadequate cold storage facilities even though such a unit was established in the complex as far back as 1994; in fact, a sum of Rs. 2.14 crores was allocated to renovate the facility in 2018. Different varieties of produce need to be stored at different temperatures but, traders claim, the protocols are not adhered to as required. Spillage, poor transportation, handling and unloading and low-quality packing material are also named as factors leading to wastage at wholesale points. The paper further pointed out that in 2014 alone, Tamil Nadu wrote off fruits and vegetables worth Rs. 8,100 crore. Such a loss affects not only the farmers but stakeholders across the entire supply chain including retailers, consumers and of course, the economy.
Tucked away under the massive MA Chidambaram Stadium is the historic Madras Cricket Club which turned 175 this year. During the course of the writing the coffee table book on the institution, your editor thanks to young researcher Karthik Bhatt managed to lay his hands on the golden jubilee brochure of the MCC, released in 1896. With that it is now possible to document each of the clubhouses that the MCC has resided in. (Further details in page 4 under Lost Landmarks).
Though the Madras Cricket Club was established in 1846, it was only in April 1866 that it moved to Chepauk, the location with which it remains associated ever since. Within a month there was talk of building a pavilion for the Club. The design and execution were entrusted to the then top-ranked architect of Madras – Robert Fellowes Chisholm, Consulting Engineer to the Government. Funded through donations, work began, at an estimate of Rs. 2,000. In true Chisholm tradition, and it must be admitted as is the case in most architectural estimates, the actual far overshot what was budgeted, coming to Rs. 3,700. But donations had gone up too, to Rs 3,100. The balance was quickly made up and a pavilion described as “a little red-brick wood verandahed” was soon ready at the northwest corner – which in today’s terms means the intersection of Wallajah and Bells Roads.
September 12 marked the death centenary of one of the greatest poets of the country, Subramania Bharathi. His fiery writings evoked the nationalistic spirit amongst the masses and greatly inspired them in the cause of independence.