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Updated: September 17, 2013 09:41 IST
Hidden histories

Remembering the man who saved the Marina

Sriram V.
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Statue of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar on Marina beach
Special Arrangement Statue of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar on Marina beach

This year marks the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the birth of V. Krishnaswami Aiyar, the firebrand lawyer, and judge of the Madras High Court.

In a brief lifespan of 49 years, he left an indelible impress on the social fabric of the city as well, establishing several landmark institutions that still endure.

As was mentioned in this column (April 3, 2012), his was the first statue to be put up on the Marina, inside the Senate House Park. Next week, on September 23, the statue, all cleaned and spruced up, will be re-unveiled by Justice V. Ramasubramaniam. Most importantly, the plants that had hitherto hidden the statue’s view of the Marina would have been neatly parted, so that V. Krishnaswami Aiyar can once again see the beach he saved.

It was in the 1890s that the South Indian Railway (SIR) began working on a loop line that would connect Mylapore with Guindy and the Fort Stations. Two alternatives routes were suggested, the first running along the Buckingham Canal and the second on the Marina. The former idea was abandoned after it was discovered that the railway line would swallow “half a mile of the Guindy race course” and that a “train thundering overhead would frighten the horses in the paddocks”. And so the Marina line was agreed upon in 1889. The Corporation of Madras gave its blessings shortly thereafter.

The Secretary of State in London sanctioned the scheme in 1902, and work was all set to begin when on April 1, 1903, Aiyar organised a massive public meeting to protest the idea. He pointed out that a railway line running along what was one of the vital lungs of the city would be disastrous as it would cut off all access to the sea.

The size of the meeting shook the administration. The Madras Chamber of Commerce and Madras Trades Association were quick to withdraw support to the scheme, with H. Scott, chairman of the Chamber writing that the construction would “irretrievably ruin this public and popular pleasure ground. While possibly contributing to the convenience of a few, it would be an abiding nuisance and eyesore to the very large number of people who daily frequent the Marina.”

The Corporation too, developed cold feet and wrote a letter of protest.

It was in vain that the SIR responded with the assurance that the railway line would be well out-of-sight, concealed by a hedge and that the stations would be built in a “good style of architecture so as to not be eyesores.” But Aiyar and his group of protestors proved implacable. The Government abandoned the idea. The Marina was saved.

Interestingly, Aiyar was not averse to the railway line running along the Buckingham Canal, which he presciently predicted would end up as a glorified gutter anyway. Seventy years later, the Buckingham Canal’s bed became the route for a railway line – the MRTS, which today links Mylapore with the southern and northern suburbs.

More In: Chennai | News | Columns

What a sight it would have been for the commuters om their eraly morning journey to see Marina doubling up as the largest public toilet in the city and well utilised

from:  srinivasan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:00 IST

incidently he was the man who preserved Sanskrit language in this part
of the country by founding Sanskrit college in Mylpore chennai

from:  T.S.Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 06:41 IST

Why the thought of gutter always linger in our mind when we talk of
waterways such as buckingham canal? while clearing the canals free from
encroachments, simultaneously protecting the same should have been
included to prevent status quo. It is simple to keep some stretches for
storing rain water and bunds as parks to offices adjacent instead
blaming public and government.

from:  sc nehruroy
Posted on: Sep 17, 2013 at 13:38 IST

But it is a moot point,that the politicians of the later era,have effectively converted the beautiful beach into a cemetry by burying their leaders there.And,there are leaders hoping to get their place in!Hope,at least now a full stop will be put into this practice.

from:  Dr.Kumar
Posted on: Sep 17, 2013 at 11:56 IST
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