Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 13, October 16-31, 2022
Mumbai has done it. In 2018, thanks to a concerted effort by citizens and a sympathetic Government, the city’s Gothic and Art Deco precincts were accorded UNESCO’s world heritage status. Since then, the movement to protect the city’s heritage structures has only gained ground. While the challenges of protecting the buildings, especially those in private hands continue, it cannot be denied that there is a growing awareness in the city about built heritage. Chennai has lagged behind considerably in this. For all that it is considered the birthplace of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and has several examples still standing, there has been no move to seek world heritage status, given that the Government here, no matter who is in power, is forever deliberating over whether it needs to protect what it feels is colonial heritage, which by itself is a worthless doubt to have when it can happily cash in on such structures by preserving and promoting them. The fate of Art Deco is even worse.
This art form, for rather than an architectural style it came to revolutionise design of many other things including furniture, silverware, jewellery, printing and textiles, evolved in the early 1900s in Europe and America and had its heydays there till 1928 when it slowly began giving way to modernism. The designs however came to India only in the late 1930s and from them on held sway till the mid-1950s at least. Over that period, cinema theatres, public buildings and residences were constructed all across the country in Art Deco. Bombay, now Mumbai, admittedly had the largest number but close on its heels came Madras. Mount Road had a whole line of cinema theatres, First Line Beach and NSC Bose Road had several towering insurance, banking and commercial edifices,
According to a report released earlier in August by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Tamil Nadu suffered the second-highest number of road fatalities in 2021, with the state recording 15,384 casualties in 14,747 accidents. Titled Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India – 2021, the document also revealed that Chennai accounted for the highest number of road accident deaths amongst the metros in the country at 5,034 fatalities. It is significant that our city is at the top of this list for the third year in a row.
While there is no doubt that Dare House is the most iconic Art Deco building of the city, what is interesting is that the art form had already made its presence felt prior to the construction of that edifice. Dare House was constructed between 1937 and 1940 but the city’s first building in Art Deco style was already functioning from 1936. That was the Oriental Assurance Building on Armenian Street.
PS-1 is all the rage at present. I use the word rage advisedly, but it does seem the mot juste given the reactions and discussions that have since erupted (to put it mildly). But what role did Chennai or Madras have in its creation? Plenty. Kalki was after all a man from Madras – it was here that he wrote most of his immortal works. It shaped him, and most certainly influenced his writing as well.
During the early years of my marriage, I was introduced to family history, of days gone by, of the associations my husband’s family had with stalwarts during the colonial rule, and it was truly fascinating. We walked in the Theosophical Society every day whenever we visited Madras, and all the landmarks were pointed out to me by Kittu my husband. The people I visited there belonged