Precisely 39 years ago, on the evening of July 1, 1973, a public function took place near Gemini Studios, at the intersection of Nungambakkam High Road and Mount Road. It was a very pleasant evening — the temperature had dropped drastically from 38.5 degrees the previous day to 32.9 — when chief minister M. Karunanidhi, wearing the trademark laughter on his face, pressed a button to inaugurate the longest flyover in India.
At the function, Karunanidhi christened it as Anna Flyover, after his mentor C.N. Annadurai. It’s a different matter that people still refer to the bridge as Gemini Flyover, perhaps because during the time of its construction, Gemini Studios was already a towering institution in Madras and the name got easily embedded in public mind.
Karunanidhi, in his address, also thanked the contractors and labourers for constructing the four-lane flyover in 21 months. Education minister V.R. Nedunchezian and PWD minister S.J. Sadiq Pasha, who shared the dais with Karunanidhi, also made speeches, following which, at 9 p.m., police vehicles led the general traffic onto the flyover, marking its formal opening. The wheels of time kept turning. Then one day, in January 2001, I arrived in Chennai and took the same flyover while on my way from the railway station to a lodge in T. Nagar. The wheels kept turning.
Last Wednesday, I did not hear the deafening sound when an MTC bus carrying about 40 passengers smashed through the parapet of the flyover and landed on the road, but I did feel a knife in my heart when I heard the news of the accident.
The flyover, to me, is like one of those dashing uncles you have grown up admiring and believing that they are infallible — the same uncle on whose rock-solid shoulders you take a ride as a child.
But Gemini Uncle, it turned out, is no longer rock-solid. It allowed a speeding bus to tear through its parapet. And so I felt sad.
Now when I take the flyover, I look out for the spot where it was hit by the bus; and when I go under it, I instinctively watch out for the buses overhead. It is the same human instinct that makes you duck when you go under the flyover while turning into G.N. Chetty Road from Mount Road.
At this particular point, the flyover begins to descend and the roof of the passage is quite low, but not low enough to touch the roof of your vehicle — and yet you tend to take the evasive action while going under it.
Gemini Flyover has been standing at the centre of my life in Chennai ever since I came to the city 11 years ago. Everything that has mattered to me or still matters to me today, lies within five-kilometre radius of the bridge — my home, my office, the beach, the bookshops, the libraries, the malls, the theatres, the pubs, the bars, the restaurants, the boutiques.
Why just me. The Chennai that matters to most Chennaiites also lies within that charmed radius. Gemini Flyover is deeply ingrained not only in the road map of their lives but also in their consciousness. Remove this five-kilometre circle from the map and the city will return to the days of Elihu Yale — well, almost.
Today Chennai is a city of flyovers — Karunanidhi himself would have lost count of the number of flyovers he has inaugurated since that pleasant evening in 1973 — but Gemini Flyover will always remain a first for Chennai and therefore special.
Gemini Studios, whose contribution to Indian cinema is immeasurable, is long gone (in its place stands Park Hotel today), but here is a flyover that has singlehandedly kept the name ‘Gemini’ alive.
Let’s raise a toast to it — doesn’t matter if it takes an accident to make us realise how integral the flyover is to our lives.