We live in a city where great leaders walked; where decisions that changed the fate of the country were taken; and where movements that shook the very roots of the Raj started. There are several places in Chennai that played an important role in the freedom struggle. Akila Kannadasan visits three of them…

No. 2, Cathedral Road, Mylapore

Background: Subramania Bharati visits Gandhiji at No. 2, Cathedral Road, Mylapore in March 1919. It is around 2 p.m. Gandhiji is reclining on a bed and conversing with his personal secretary Mahadev Desai. Bharati strides briskly into the room with an “Enna oi!” to V. Ramaswamy, who is at the entrance.

Bharati: (After a vanakkam, sits next to Gandhiji on the bed) Mr. Gandhi, I am speaking in a meeting at Triplicane beach at 5.30 this evening. Would it be possible for you to preside over it?

Gandhiji (Finds out from Desai that he has another programme that evening): I cannot come today. Can you postpone your meeting for tomorrow?

Bharati: That can’t be done. I take leave, then. My blessings for your movement, Mr. Gandhi.

(Bharati leaves, just as briskly)

Gandhiji enquires who this man was.

Rajagopalachari: He is our ‘Desiya Kavi.’

Gandhiji: We must take good care of this man. Isn’t there anyone in Tamil Nadu to do so?

This extraordinary meeting that tells us a lot about the two great leaders took place at the residence of C. Rajagopalachari, who had rented it from Kasturiranga Iyengar, then editor of The Hindu. Gandhiji stayed there during his visit to the city. The episode appears in A. Ramasamy’s Tamil Nattil Gandhi.

In the dawn of March 23, 1919, when Gandhiji was staying here, an idea fluttered into his mind — like a dream. He informed his host of his vision — that of a nationwide hartal. The idea was that the people of India observe a fast, engage in prayer and hold public meetings in a peaceful manner on April 6. Thus was born the Non-Cooperation Movement. Now, Hotel Chola Sheraton stands in place of this house. A memorial stands by it — a reminder of its historic past.

Tilak Ghat

This spot by the Marina Beach once reverberated with the voices of great leaders during the Freedom Movement. It was the place to go to if you wanted to be charged with patriotic fervour. For, leaders regularly held meetings here. People came by the thousand to listen to the voices of Gandhiji, Rajaji, Tilak, Annie Besant, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subash Chandra Bose, Bharati and Kamaraj. The place was named Tilak Ghat by Subramania Siva. Tilak Ghat saw listeners smile, weep and cheer as the voices of men and women who would change the nation’s history boomed from across the stage.

Gandhiji once referred to the beach on which Tilak Ghat stood as “This dear old beach of Madras…” Here, he spoke at length about non-cooperation, against the Rowlatt Bills, in support of youngsters involved in the Neil Statue Satyagraha… It is said that over 5,00,000 people assembled to listen to him on April 8, 1921. Men and women listened in respectful silence to Gandhiji’s sharp voice, as waves beat against the shore at the beach.

Hindi Prachar Sabha

It was almost 5 p.m. when Gandhiji entered Hindi Prachar Sabha, T. Nagar for a prayer meeting. There was a huge gathering of women at the entrance, waiting to welcome him with an arti. One of them requested him to speak a few words in Tamil. To which, according to Tamil Nattil Gandhi, he laughed out aloud and said: “Enna, Tamizha? Theriyume” (“Tamil? I know it”). Most of Gandhiji’s prayer meetings took place at the Hindi Prachar Sabha. He visited it first on June 13, 1936, when it was under construction. Kanthimathi was a little girl when she took part in the prayer meetings at the sabha. “Gandhiji sent his son Devdas Gandhi to set up the sabha to propagate Hindi in 1918,” she says. The 81-year-old recalls how Gandhiji sang Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram and Vaishnava jana to at prayer meetings. “People would repeat after him.” His voice, she says, “was beautiful.”

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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