Chennai that was Madras is a very dynamic city. The local male population (and in this the Man from Madras Musings does not include himself) may have a partiality to be supine especially after imbibing the libations of the local TASMAC outlet, but the statues are forever on the prowl. Take for instance Cornwallis – what a story his statue could relate if only it could speak. From Fort to First Line Beach to Connemara Public Library to Fort is quite a journey. Similarly, Lords Willingdon, Ripon and Ampthill have all moved, as have Kings Edward VII and George V. Here today, gone tomorrow is the motto by which they have all stood around. Even old Neil, not the most popular among the locals, went walkabout and finally rests, like the men of Madras (not including MMM of course), horizontally.
The statues of Indians have not been exceptions to the rule. Swami Sivananda played hide-and-seek at the University, now vanishing, now appearing, rather befitting his mystic status and it is only in recent years that he has chosen to remain, relatively unmoved so to speak. Nehru moved too at Kathipara, wandering in a confused fashion under the four-leaf clover flyover before coming to roost in a corner. Periyar grew taller, or at least his pedestal did, until he could get a good view of traffic as it rolled on top of Gemini Flyover. That was presumably to enable him to duck in time whenever a bus went out of control on top of the grade separator, which so MMM understands, is Corporation-speak for flyover. Kannagi was another mover and shaker. She vanished overnight, no doubt tired of standing with one arm raised, aiming her anklet at Triplicane. A doppelganger surfaced on Mount Road where it still stands. In the meantime, the original Kannagi came back, now on a new pedestal that bears the legend ‘Perfection of Chastity’. In the interim she rested horizontally in the Museum’s vault, maintaining a safe distance from Neil.
Anyway, given that so many of these statues have moved, it is no surprise that old Sivaji Ganesan too had to make a journey. There came a dark moonless night when the Corporation or the PWD sent men over to have the great thespian shifted. In the witching hours of midnight, they worked with crowbars and chisels no doubt, uprooting the great local Garrick and taking him away. “Is this gait? Is this the gait? Is it not a play being staged?” no doubt hummed the great aigrette among actors, after one of his hit songs, when he was bundled unceremoniously on to a truck and carted off to distant Adyar.
MMM, not that his opinion matters in anyway, is quite happy that this has happened. The statue was hardly a tribute to the old man. Its gold paint was tacky and, as for the posture, it was quite ridiculous, making the actor look like the average Madras resident, out enjoying the evening breeze. It could be a statue to any uncle. And, moreover, it was a distraction at an important traffic junction. Kudos to whoever removed it – the Corporation or the PWD. You guys rarely work, but when you do you make sure you leave your impress.
Not so happy are various political outfits that threaten to raise a ruckus demanding return of the statue. No matter that it now stands under a roof, in a secluded garden and so is probably better off than where it was, inhaling the fumes from millions of vehicles and being a toilet for the birds of the area. The shift was a blow to Tamil pride, argue the politicos, rather like the ban on bull-sports. One of them, who specialises in posters of himself, all showing him with arms crossed and a grim expression, immediately put out posters featuring the statue, and himself by its side, arms crossed and face in a grim expression. He, the poster said, would not rest till the statue was back on the beach. The man clearly has a busy life ahead.