The late Chief, on whom may there be peace, had a habit – any time The Man from Madras Musings brought to him some news item on the city, he, the Chief, would smartly lob it at MMM asking him, MMM, to write a story on it. “Why don’t you do a piece on it?” would be the stock response of the Chief and then, MMM would get on with writing. During the course of a long association with the Chief – of two decades, MMM must have carried hundreds of stories to him and be greeted with a “Why don’t you…?” MMM never minded because he always felt that that stock remark of Chief’s was more a blessing, an encouragement for MMM to write more.
In sharp contrast, MMM has no sympathy with the armchair enthusiasts and social media warriors who come to MMM with the same ‘Why don’t you…?”. He therefore ignores messages that he receives from various people stating that some building somewhere is on its last legs, and so could MMM do something about it. MMM knows that these so-called whistle-blowers have no real intention of doing anything by way of saving heritage. They think they have done their job by sending a two-line message and expect MMM to then get on with the actual heavy lifting. In 99% of the cases these people would be quite taken aback if MMM responded by asking them what they proposed to do about it.
And so, it was a couple of months ago that MMM received a call from a heritage enthusiast with a military background. The condition of the barracks in Fort St. George he said was shocking state (tell MMM something new thought MMM on hearing this. The Chief, and later MMM, have written till they were blue in the face on this subject only to receive no response from either the army, the Archaeological Survey of India, or the TN Government). Could MMM do something about it he asked. MMM having counted to ten asked the caller as to what he proposed to do about the matter, considering that he was from the army himself. To this the man replied that he could fix a meeting with the commanding officer for MMM and himself. MMM asked him to do so. It has since been two months since that conversation.
This of course is nothing when compared to more recent occurrences. Rumours are rife about a crown(e) jewel among five-star hotels in the city shutting down to make way for high rise and MMM has received messages asking if he cannot prevent the sale seeking protection under the Heritage Act. MMM could barely control his laughter – to claim protection under heritage laws for a fifty-year-old commercial structure that did little more than carry on with its business would be irresponsible behaviour in the extreme. And in a State where even four-hundred-year-old buildings can claim no protection, what are we talking about over here?
But that was not all. A beloved publishing house of the city is (really) closing down and MMM sure enough received messages asking if he could not consider taking it over and keep it going. The sender of one message assured MMM of his, the sender’s support, stating that he would keep buying books brought out by the publishing house if MMM saved it. Why did the sender not do so earlier so that the publishing house did not have to come to such a sorry pass is quite a mystery to MMM. The next message MMM is sure of receiving will be as to why MMM cannot purchase a vast piece of prime property belonging to an industrial house that is known for its True Value Service, which is now up for sale. The asking price is after all only a paltry Rs 550 crores.
Truly, the “Why don’t you…” question of the Chief has lived long beyond him.