While structures on Queen Mary's College campus cannot be demolished as per law, they may collapse from neglect
A recent visit to the Queen Mary’s College (now a deemed University) campus filled me with sadness about the status of upkeep of the premises. In any other part of the world, such a vast area uniquely positioned by the sea and full of heritage structures, would be a dream academic campus. Not so here it seems. The oldest building of QMC, no longer exists. That was Cappers House, one of the few buildings of the colonial style that preceded the Indo-Saracenic. Capper’s House was neglected and once a part of it collapsed, was abandoned. It was subsequently razed to the ground and Kalaignar (merely Kalai since 2011) Maligai took its place. By itself it is not a bad-looking building, though I consider its dome, which looks exactly like Harbhajan Singh’s turban, to be most out-of- place.
But what horrifies me is the way Beach House is being treated. Cordoned off and abandoned, it is, I understand, to be demolished. This building was once the residence of Sir S Subramania Iyer (1842-1924). A leader of the Madras Bar, he in 1888, was the first Indian to be appointed as Government Pleader and Public Prosecutor. He acted as Chief Justice thrice – in1903, 1905 and 1907, the first Indian to do so. In 1907, he took premature retirement owing to failing eyesight. But that was not all there was to Sir Subramania Iyer. He championed the cause of Indian freedom. During the First World War, he sent a letter to US President Woodrow Wilson stating that as long as England’s practices with respect to its colonies was at variance with principles of democracy, the US ought not to support the war effort. This caused a furore but Subramania Iyer’s response was typical of the man. He returned his knighthood, a fact not as well publicised as Tagore’s return of the honour.
Subramania Iyer was a Theosophist. Followers of that movement built a memorial hall for him in Raja Hanumantha Lala Street, Triplicane. His statue, erected in 1935, is outside the University Senate House. Given all these facts, would any historically sensitive city allow this man’s house to be demolished?
The entire QMC campus is listed as a Grade 1 precinct in the High Court’s list of protected buildings all of which come under the CMDA’s Heritage Conservation Committee. Such structures cannot be demolished. But they may collapse following sustained neglect and lack of maintenance – which is what is happening to Beach House. Rather ironically, this was the campus that was saved some years ago when it was considered a likely site for a new Assembly. That was thanks to spirited protests by the students. Where is that spirit now?