December 4, 2023

It’s extraordinary how issues come collectively. August is right here, and when that occurs, my ideas flip in the direction of Madras Week. It looks like yesterday when S. Muthiah, together with Vincent DeSouza and Sashi Nair, got here up with this concept, and but 19 years have passed by. It would make Chief, as I all the time referred to Muthiah, very completely happy. He all the time believed that any initiative wanted time to develop, and on this, he included the heritage motion. Repeatedly I’d lament about some buildings being demolished, and he by no means misplaced hope — the time would come, he would say.

Certain sufficient, evidently what he mentioned has come true. All around the metropolis, I see government-owned heritage buildings being restored. There are questions being raised over whether or not these are being accomplished scientifically and whether or not the restoration is being documented. Whereas these are legitimate issues, what’s heartening is that these edifices are usually not being floor to mud. Rajaji Corridor, the VP Corridor, the Veterinary School constructing, the Mint, and Chepauk Palace are all in numerous phases of restoration. I can see Muthiah smiling and saying, “I advised you so.”

The expansion of curiosity in heritage can also be extraordinary. The media protection is intensive, together with social media. Newspapers now commit area to heritage buildings. And there once more, for my part, Muthiah had an unlimited function to play. By means of Madras Musings, now fortunately in its thirty third yr, and his columns in The Hindu, he saved his curiosity in Chennai’s heritage alive and made positive that an increasing number of folks obtained attracted by it. On this regard, I contemplate his Madras Miscellany column, which he wrote for nearly 20 years for The Hindu, to be significantly important. He simply didn’t hold it restricted to his writing; he made it a participatory train, and that accounted for its large success.

A wonderful run

There was the Postman’s Knock, which was the subhead beneath which he acknowledged contributors to the column. He gave credit score the place it was due and was beneficiant in praising anybody who gave him new info. And he was gracious when some folks despatched in corrections. What extra did a column want for its success? It had an excellent run. And it have to be added right here that he by no means missed a single week. The articles have been deliberate earlier than he wanted to journey. A column appeared even the week after his spouse handed away. The primary 10 years of Miscellany have been compiled right into a e book, and the remaining, I’m positive, would discover a prepared readership in the event that they have been ever introduced out as a quantity.

What’s there to be written after his immense corpus of labor? He himself indicated the reply as soon as in a dialogue — a lot, he mentioned. The town is all the time rising, and so it creates historical past on a regular basis. And as he additionally astutely noticed, a lot of what’s documented stays caught within the colonial period. There’s much more to be accomplished, after which there are all the time subaltern research, which might be limitless. He went on so as to add that whereas consciousness about heritage is rising, it’s nonetheless superficial. Much more must be accomplished in order that it turns into a part of our collective consciousness.

So it’s with these targets in thoughts that I take up scripting this column. I dedicate each phrase that’s written right here to Madras which is Chennai and to Muthiah, the person who outlined what the heritage of town meant for me.

Extra to observe within the coming weeks.