There was a time when if a voice, and in particular a female, one had called The Man from Madras Musings over the phone he would have been at his best, all courtesy, charm and what have you. Call it age, or whatever, but nowadays it is more with a sense of weariness that MMM responds, for his gut feel is that the caller, no matter of which sex, is yet another reporter, or so-called researcher, who is seeking the obvious and by that MMM means readily available information that a good Google search should provide. And in most cases MMM’s hunch has proved correct.
Such was indeed the case last week. A voice, female, called and laid on the flattery rather thick. It declared that it read everything that MMM wrote. Hearing it, MMM had a strange Othello like sensation for had not Desdemona on hearing his tales given for his pains a world of sighs and sworn in faith that ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange, ’twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful? Only in this case it did not invoke in MMM any divine passion. He merely asked rather brusquely as to what the voice wanted. And to this the voice had a tale that made MMM wonder as to whether he ought to laugh or weep.
It transpires that ten years after the Hon’ble High Court of Madras passed judgement that the Government ought to get serious about heritage conservation, there is finally some action. Only it is not of a progressive nature. The High Court relied on the report of a Committee which included the Chief and which had listed four hundred and odd heritage buildings of the city. The team, as MMM recalls correctly, burnt the midnight oil by way of putting together that report, neatly dividing the buildings by area, category, heritage value and appending a brief note on the history and architecture importance of each structure. This was the report the Court threw at the Government and asked it to follow the same.
The Government it transpires felt that the report was not good enough and no doubt not put together by a team that had good credentials. It has therefore commissioned a set of architecture colleges in the State and entrusted the task of a fresh listing to their students. They have been mandated to come up with a list of 100 buildings, “neatly dividing the buildings by area, category, heritage value and appending a brief note on the history and architecture importance of each structure” which as you can see was the exact basis on which the earlier report was done. And the students are on the hunt for experts to assist them.
It was one of these that called MMM and cooed to him. In response MMM asked the voice as to what help it needed. It said it required information on the history and heritage value of each building, neatly divided by area and category. To this MMM asked if the voice was aware of the existence of the earlier report, which was available as a free download on the internet, which provided information on the history and heritage value of each building, neatly divided by area and category. The voice said ‘yes’, it was aware and was using it but was wondering if MMM had any more info to be added. It also said that a couple of (in MMM’s view) wannabe historians who chiefly rely on Google for their research had been of immense help. To this MMM regretted that he would not be able to add anything more by way of info after such experts had been signed up. The voice was not willing to take no for an answer. There was a hint of a purse of gold. MMM then came up with what is always a sure shot exit – he asked the voice to send him an email giving details of which buildings it wanted information on, neatly dividing them by area and category. The voice hung up.
If this is the way the Government proposes to go about heritage conservation, God save our heritage buildings.