Madras Week Diary 19th August 2012

The curious enthusiasts

Yesterday’s walk tracing the old Town Wall of Madras went off well. We had a record 45 people. Beginning from the front of the High Court we went to see where the seven gates stood. In the process we also took in several other sights – the Madi Poonga (built on the wall), the seven-wells pumping station, the old jail, the Monegar Choultry, Stanley Hospital, Padmanabha Talkies (soon to be demolished) and the Paramananda Doss Chota Doss Gujarati Dharamshala. Breakfast was as usual at Saravana Bhavan NSC Bose Road. I must say my reputation for ending on time was dented somewhat. I got carried away in my tales and we finished breakfast at 10.00 am, a full hour behind schedule.

At Madi Poonga

Last evening Sushi Ravindranath, Mohan Raman and I attended the launch of KRN Menon’s autobiography, A Madras Merchant’s Life and Times. I haven’t read the book as yet and so cannot comment on it, but the quality of speeches at yesterday’s event was top class, especially Muthiah’s and Menon’s. Its a pity the event was not as well-attended as I expected. The Freemason’s auditorium is a gem, there is ample parking space and yet it never gets full. I wonder why the public shies away.

Once the Warwick Theatre

This morning we had Mohan Raman leading the faithful on a tour tracing the locations on Mount Road where film theatres once stood. We did not venture into the southern half of Mount Road and so what we covered included The Sun, Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald, Anand and Little Anand, The Globe (later Alankar), the Warwick, Wellington, Plaza, Chitra, Gaiety, Casino, the Lyric (later the Electric and then Elphinstone), New Elphinstone, Paragon, Anna, Shanti and the Devi lot. Just four survive. I could not help noticing that almost all the theatre barring two or three were begun by Parsis, Gujaratis, Englishmen and Telugus. Mohan was in his element. We ended with breakfast at Saravana Bhavan within Shanti.

Mohan, perched on a Safire gatepost

A few common threads across yesterday and this morning. Both walks were trying to recreate memories out of thin air. The landmarks have all vanished. Will heritage tours soon become phantom trails? And the pile-up of garbage, the stench, the noise levels and the frequency of public nuisance (shitting/pissing) is all frightfully off-putting.

This afternoon I had a call from a leading TV channel asking if I was the “Muthiah who is the article-writer in The Hindu”. Frighteningly ego-flattening.I said no and disconnected. None of the above is true.

Dr Biswakumar has just sent me his powerpoint presentation for the evening’s talk. It promises to be good.

Photos of Fort Wall walk courtesy Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy.Also many thanks to Karthik Bhatt for volunteer work during the walks.


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