Brodie’s Castle, sketched by Vijaykumar for the book Fifty Historic Residences of Chennai

For all the talk about Swacch Bharath and the necessity for cleanliness in public spaces, we appear to be doing very little by way of addressing the most impressionable target audience – students. Most college campuses, in particular the ones run by the Government, present a sorry picture of neglect and bad maintenance. Given the general squalor that abounds, how do we expect our students to grow up to be responsible citizens.

Take the Presidency and Queen Mary’s College campuses. Both are in terrible shape with very little attention being paid to their upkeep. It is a wonder that students continue to study at these places. Perhaps they do not have any choice in the matter. The hostels are in worse shape and the protests by students staying in them are regular affairs. The Teachers’ College, Saidapet lost at least a couple of its heritage buildings to Metro Rail and what is left is dilapidated.

But this is not all. It also appears that the administration is forever trying to build upon whatever empty space that is available in these campuses, thereby destroying the very atmosphere that such institutions are supposed to have. The Lady Willingdon Institute has a new block built, thankfully in sympathetic style, alongside the older building. The University of Madras’ south campus along Kotturpuram has managed get rid of whatever tree cover it had by way of putting up new structures. The latest to join the long list of casualties is the Arasu Isai Kalluri aka Government College of Music located at Brodie’s Castle, on the banks of the Adyar.

This has for long been a sylvan campus, despite its rather indifferent maintenance. The college is housed in the main building, the offices of the Vice Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu University of Fine Arts are in an annexe and there is also a splendidly maintained but sparingly used Tagore Film Centre, owned by the National Film Development Corporation. A vast amphitheatre, built a decade ago, occupies yet another part of the campus and is completely in disuse. The whole place has a sense of peace and quiet and students practice their art in the open apart from the classrooms.

All this atmosphere will soon be destroyed if the Government has its way. The Chief Minister has announced in the Assembly a plan to lay a road through this campus so that Greenways Road can connect to Durgabai Deshmukh Road on the Adyar. Ostensibly meant to ease congestion at the Greenways Road junction, its prime purpose is to allow Ministers and senior Government officials in the area faster access to their residences. The plan if implemented will mean vehicles will use this as a road to reach Adyar Bridge. The entire campus will be destroyed and the college can scarcely function.

This is also seen as a means to get the college to leave Brodie’s Castle. The Government has allotted 32 acres of land in Sholinganallur for the institution but it is reluctant to move as the faculty feels students will be put to great hardship if they have to travel that distance on a daily basis. It is understood that both the Fine Arts University and its neighbour, the MGR Sathyabhama College, have protested against this plan by the Government. It is not clear if such representations will have any effect. For the record, Brodie’s Castle is also recognised as a heritage structure by the High Court of Madras. But such considerations have meant little for even larger and more prominent buildings. The college and its present home stand threatened and there is very little that can be done about it in the face of official apathy.

You may also want to read this story on Brodie’s Castle