The Man from Madras Musings was at Tranquebar last week. And he felt exactly like the unnamed central character in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, when she dreams of having gone back to the family home only to find it a mouldering ruin.
Time was when Tranquebar meant hope for the heritage activists of our State. There was a smart hotel, run by a chain that specialized in transforming old edifices into hostelries. A foundation from Denmark was spending money on restoring some of the old houses and had made a showpiece out of at least one street where it hoped it could entice tourists and scholars from its home country. The Danish fort had been given a makeover and had a museum of sorts, which was better than nothing. The two churches were gleaming. The sea lapped the coast. A pleasanter spot you could never espy.
But all that is a fading memory now. The State Government, after a high profile launch of Tranquebar as a tourist destination a decade or so ago, has done nothing to promote the place. The number of visitors has dwindled. The smart heritage hotel is run down now and having given up the lease on one of its two properties, operates with only half the original number of rooms it had. The Governor’s Bungalow, which was to function as an immersion centre is perpetually locked. The old Shiva temple, which was perennially threatened with erosion by the sea, was given a most unscientific restoration and has lost its heritage feel. What is worse, it has now sprung a twin, a second shrine as it were, to which the deities have been shifted and where a priest intones hymns in the most atrocious Sanskrit. If at all any of the edifices are doing well, it is the two churches and there too, it appears that the congregation is small.
Now what took MMM there you may ask. Well, he had sung the glories of Tranquebar to a couple of his friends from up north and they had seen pictures of it as well. They decided that it was a place they had to visit. A week before they arrived, MMM was warned by other friends that the hotel in Tranquebar was not really an option to stay. And so MMM booked himself and friends into a resort from where Tranquebar was a backbreaking two hours journey by car.
Arriving at the place rather expectantly, MMM found his heart sinking into his boots. But he made a brave show of it. He shepherded his friends into the fort museum only to have the man at the ticket counter asking MMM if he and his friends really wanted to go in. There was nothing worthwhile in the museum he assured us. From the there on, the rest of the visit went steadily downhill. The showcase street of restored houses was the biggest shocker of them all. It appeared that the place, devoid of usage, had rapidly disintegrated. True, the houses still stood. But that was the most you could say in their favour.
If at all there was a saving grace, it was the sea. As MMM gazed at it, he realised that it had seen several phases in Tranquebar’s history. Perhaps better times will return. But with our State Tourism Department being in charge all that appeared a distant possibility.
It has been a fortnight of disappointments for the Man from Madras Musings, at least as far as heritage locations are concerned. Driving up to Alamparai, he was turned away by the police who said that the place was out of bounds owing to murders having taken place among the fishermen there. It was then that MMM saw this signboard.