As part of the Madras Week 2013 celebrations, The Hindu's Chennai Central Facebook page hosted a chat with Sriram V., chronicler and writer, on Friday, August 23. The topic under discussion was ‘CHENNAI - PAST FORWARD’. Sriram answered questions for more than an hour. In excess of 19,000 people viewed the discussion.
Prashanth Mukundan: Do you think the Railways and the larger public have done anywhere close to what they can when it comes to restoring the Royapuram railway station to some modicum of glory?
Sriram V.: Surprising that the Railways should allow Royapuram to rot and now they want to demolish it! Consider how well they have preserved their stations everywhere else.
Harish Kumar V.: Are there any buildings still existing in Chennai built by the other European settlers (apart from the British, I mean)? I'd hazard a guess with Santhome Basilica, I suppose.
Sriram V.: Good question. Fantastic question actually. My answer would be almost none. But the Armenian Church was built by Armenians. The present San Thome church is largely 1880s built and so has no Portuguese influence. But some of the older churches in Mylapore and Santhome retain Portuguese influences. The YMCA building on the Esplanade was built with American aid.
Chandrika Ramachandran: What happened to the Lake in Nungambakkam, which is now a thickly populated residential area?
Sriram V.: Like many lakes it was filled to make way for a housing colony. The biggest such instance is the filling of 70 acres of the Long Tank in 1924 to make way for T Nagar.
Karthikeyan Ravikumar: If you were in a situation where you are allowed to save/preserve/renovate only one structure in the city, which would it be and why? Do you think India in general and South India in particular lags behind when it comes to preserving heritage structures and the documentation of its history?
Sriram V.: I would restore Chepauk Palace - it is the first example of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture and gave rise to an Empire style of building used in several parts of the world. Heritage lags behind because nobody considers it important. It is like the way we view trees, enemies to modern development.
Ramesh Gopal: We are moving away from traditions on the one hand and want to preserve the past in the form of heritage structures on the other. Is that not a contradiction?
Sriram V.: No. (Great question). Why are we preserving our classical arts? Is that also not a contradiction in terms? I think we always need milestones to look back and see where we came from. This is very important. Moreover, these structures all need to be put to use in present day context. They have to therefore be a part of our development. They should not be shut up and be made mausoleums.
The full chat can be viewed at http://thne.ws/fbchat-Madras374.