Senate House slides into decay


The Man from Madras Musings could only put on a quizzical expression and leave it at that. But inwardly he was seething as he is sure are most of the corporate houses and the alumni of Madras University who contributed in cash and kind towards the restoration of Senate House. As MMM has written earlier, the building, was sealed off owing to sheer cussedness and petty politics just before its restoration was completed in full and has since been out of bounds to everyone. There are horror tales of the interiors rapidly deteriorating and an impeccable source from within the University has confirmed to MMM that the place is now being used as a dumping ground for answer papers which is exactly how it was being used prior to the restoration.


And what riled MMM considerably was the recently held stellar convocation to coincide with the conclusion of the 150th year celebrations of the Madras University. It has always been the tradition in any university worth its salt that convocations are held in its convocation hall. And there are many universities around the world that would give anything to have a convocation hall/senate house like the one that Madras University possesses. And yet where was the convocation held? In the University Centenary Auditorium just next to Senate House. The reason given is that Senate House was ruled  out on security considerations. Considering that the President of India attended the inauguration of the 150th year celebrations in Senate House, MMM is puzzled as to what Senate House lacked by way of security.


Anyway, MMM, now an ardent practitioner of yoga, has decided to sit like ‘patience on a monument and smile at grief’. And smile turned to laugh when he saw the numerous digital banners being put up all along the side-walks of Beach Road to coincide with the convocation. There was a huge one, repeated at regular intervals, which appeared to have been sponsored by the University itself for it was sans any political affiliations and guess what was the backdrop for the banner design? Senate House, no less!


The various political banners added colour and ‘visual noise’, though MMM wondered as to what was their place in a University convocation. They also blocked off most of the side-walk and ensured that people had to use the road. Apart from those that extolled the virtues of mothers, fathers, suns, stars, rulers, chieftains, kings (of hearts), deities and just about any feudal character, there was one that said “XYZ party welcome’s”! Surely a University convocation would merit better attention to where an apostrophe is to be used.


Among the various events that took place in connection with the celebrations was the laying of the foundation stone for a new arts and language block. MMM hopes and prays that those in charge realise that all previous constructions in the Chepauk campus have been done in styles that harmonise with the Senate House. A new tasteless multi-storeyed monstrosity can ruin what has been a lovely skyline for over a hundred years.



The Chief sets a blistering pace


“How does he do it? And at his age?” asked a sweet young thing the other day. The Man from Madras Musings while initially taken aback realised that this was a question asked in wonder and awe at the Chief’s record of books this year. In the last twelve months, there has been a book on the Madras University, a volume on Senate House, one on the Port Trust, “Born to Dare” which was a biography of Lt. Gen. Gill, the book on the Connemara Hotel, the Gazetteer on Madras and now the book on Ashok Leyland. The last three have seen the Chief set a new record of sorts, for these have been released on three consecutive Sundays. MMM who prides himself on being privy to the Chief’s projects knows that there are more on the anvil. Here’s more power to your pen Chief! Or should MMM say more power to the two fingers that type out the words on the ancient typewriter?


Parents – police yourselves


The last few days have seen the Man from Madras Musings frequenting a place that is quite close to a prestigious school, which like most such institutions of a reasonable vintage is located in a cul-de-sac and was built in the days when not many children came by car. But now the times have changed and hardly any kid comes in by cycle or on foot. And MMM, perched in an eyrie well above road level was able to see the kind of chaos that builds up each morning and evening in the narrow alley that leads to the place.


The school has done its best. It has built an exit gate on the road at the other of the school so that cars can drive through during opening and closing times, rather than reverse in the cul-de-sac and add to the chaos. They have put out notices asking parents not to get out of their cars but pause just long enough for their children to get off and then drive on towards the exit. There is also a policeman stationed at the entrance to the school just to ensure that traffic is orderly.


With so many regulations in place, the area is a nightmare both mornings and evenings and MMM has come to the conclusion that it is the parents and chauffeurs who contribute the most to it. Some will not drive through the school and take the exit on the next street, they prefer to reverse in the narrow space available (and sometimes not available), make three point turnings and honk and plough their way through the traffic that is building up behind them. Some parents indulge in long and lingering farewells which involves getting off the car (and this sometimes includes a doddering grandparent or two) and proceeding in a body to the gate where some words of advice are given to an increasingly embarrassed child who is all eager to enter the building and be rid of it all. All the while the car is idling, with irate parents hooting and cursing behind. Then there is a third variety where the child takes ages to get off the car. The door will be opened and all will be set for the star to emerge, but the personality takes its own time. MMM suspects that such children brush their teeth, have their baths and wear their clothes in the car just before getting into the school and which is why they take so long.


If all this is not enough, some parents and chauffeurs consider it their duty to pass some time of the day in idle banter with the policeman, no doubt commiserating on the terrible traffic discipline in the city.


At the end of it all, MMM realises that what Chennai needs is better traffic discipline and not more flyovers. If only there is an appreciation of what happens to traffic in case someone suddenly makes a U turn or pauses to answer a phone or simply decides to cut across lanes, the city would be a better place to drive in.