Beach House, then and now

In the last issue of Madras Musings and the present one, we have serialised Karthik Bhatt’s two-part article on Sir S Subramania Iyer an early legal luminary, who gave up his knighthood in protest against colonial policies though this is not remembered or celebrated the way Rabindranath Tagore’s return of his title is.

Subramania Iyer resided in the latter part of his life at Beach House, which is today part of the Queen Mary’s College campus. Not much is known as to whether he built this bungalow or whether he was a later occupant. In style it follows the architecture of Capper’s House, which was the first residential building to come up on the beach, was the core of the QMC campus, and which was sadly allowed to deteriorate and collapse a few years ago. It also closely resembles a second structure, also on the QMC campus and variously known as Military Engineer’s or Shankara Iyer’sBungalow, the two names and the history of that building still remaining a mystery. 

My old features Beach House in all its glory and dates to 1918. It was sourced by Karthik from the book on Sir Subramania Iyer’s speeches published that year and which he used as reference for his excellent two-part article. The new was taken a few years back by me. Declared ‘structurally unsafe’ (always a prelude to neglect and eventual demolition), it has remained standing for more than a decade after that!! It is given a periodic coat of whitewash both physically and figuratively for that is the way the authorities would like us to believe that they are caring for the heritage building. Closer inspection from the road reveals that the roof of the upper storey is missing but the structure is quite solid. 

Why this historic property cannot be conserved and put to use as a classroom for QMC students is a mystery. Alumni recall the joy of attending lessons in this structure. Ironically, the entire QMC campus is recognised as a Grade I heritage precinct by the High Court of Madras.

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