The State Government has announced plans to build on the Marina a memorial for former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. There are muted debates about whether a personality convicted in a corruption case deserves a memorial on the beach. We leave that aspect to others to discuss, while we record our discomfort with honouring people who have a proven record of misuse of public office. But what we are completely against is the conversion of the beach into a series of memorials for departed leaders.
The trend is of course not new. While Annadurai’s may have been the first grandiose memorial on the beach, it has been a practice to erect statues on the beachfront at least since 1912, when V. Krishnaswami Aiyar’s was the first to be put up outside the Senate House. The 1968 Tamil Conference added those of many scholars who have contributed to the language but it must be admitted that most of these statues are of doubtful artistic merit. The creation of a memorial to Anna was above controversy largely because of that leader’s charisma and it was built at a time when space was aplenty and there was not much concern for the environment. The memorial to MGR did not pass by so smoothly as there were many who criticised its location and subsequent design. They could not have then foreseen that it would one day be remodelled on what can only be termed as classical with strange additions including something that looks like an upturned version of his party symbol topped by a golden prancing horse. The same makeover bestowed on the Anna Memorial something that looked like a miniature Arc de Triomphe. The proposed memorial for Jayalalithaa too is as Tamil as the above – the monument will have a phoenix flanked by lions!
All over the city, we have several memorials to departed leaders, none of which are in any way attractive to the average tourist or the local population. In Guindy we have monuments to Gandhi, Rajaji, Kamaraj, Bhaktavatsalam, Rettai Malai Srinivasan and to the Unknown Freedom Fighter. There is an Ambedkar Memorial on Greenway’s Road, desolate for much of the year. Sivaji Ganesan has one on the same road, close to the Adyar River. There is one to Moopanar on G.N. Chetty Road. Add to this houses of leaders Kamaraj and MGR and you get the picture of many memorials with very little in them to attract anyone. Not one of these can be put to any practical use as venues for conferences, school events or exhibitions. And then there are countless statues cluttering various street corners, parks and other public spaces. Most of these are denied even the most cursory maintenance. Some need to be caged for their protection.
The trend of building memorials on the Marina is most detrimental to the city. If more and more of these are to come up with time, and there is no reason why others will not demand such markers for themselves or their leaders as and when they pass on, the beach will become a series of monuments, with hardly any space left for public recreation. In a city that is becoming increasingly congested, choking off such lungs with useless buildings is something that cannot be encouraged. Given this, it is quite amazing that the CMDA and the National Green Tribunal, never the fastest of bodies when it comes to giving their okay, approved the proposed memorial with alacrity.
There is also the cost of the proposed memorial – Rs 50 crore – to be considered. With succeeding budgets painting an alarming picture of the State’s economy, where is this money to come from? It cannot be assumed that the late leader’s party is paying for it.
The late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had emphatically stated that he desired no memorial. And yet that was the first thing that was built after his passing. Given such an obsession with building monuments and not carrying forward the good work of departed leaders, we, and the Marina, have hardly any hope.