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August tribute to Chennai turning 369

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Past glory: (From left) Historian S.Muthiah, retired IAS officer B. Vijayaraghavan and writer V. Sriram at the launch of ‘Historic Residences of Chennai’ on Sunday.
Past glory: (From left) Historian S.Muthiah, retired IAS officer B. Vijayaraghavan and writer V. Sriram at the launch of ‘Historic Residences of Chennai’ on Sunday.

Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: With Chennai, erstwhile Madras, turning 369 on August 22, writer V. Sriram launched his book ‘Historic Residences of Chennai’ on Sunday as a tribute to the heritage of the city.

In this book, the author has documented 50 heritage homes which once housed distinguished residents such as C.V.Raman, Raja Annamalai Chettiar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, M.Ct.Muthiah Chettiar, Kovur Sundaresa Mudaliar and others. The book has pencil sketches by artist V.Vijayakumar that capture the finer architectural details of these structures.

Handing over the first copy to historian S.Muthiah, at an event hosted by the Madras Book Club and publisher Chandra Sankar, retired IAS officer B. Vijayaraghavan lamented about heritage buildings being in a bad shape and how the relentless pressure from land developers is hard to resist for the owners of these buildings.

“Public apathy is also a reason why heritage buildings suffer in the city,” he said. He pointed to the government’s “lukewarm attitude” towards preserving such buildings.

“I felt it was important to write about them, so that the generations to come would at least know these structures existed. Or else, we would only hear their names, as the structures themselves get destroyed over time,” Mr. Sriram said. He said demolition need not be the only way to deal with a heritage building, the maintenance of which incurs a significant cost for its owner. He cited the instance of V. Karpagalakshmi, a journalist, who converted her ancestral home on Eldams Road into an art gallery and was able to preserve it and generate a good income from the structure. “Such initiatives,” he said, “can go a long way in preserving our heritage.”

Mr.Vijayaraghavan spoke about the need for a heritage act in the city. He said that the proposed Heritage Bill gave the government powers to acquire a heritage building, prevent its demolition through district heritage committees and constitute a repair fund from which a one-time grant could be given to restore these structures. The Bill also allowed the government to conduct repair on structures marked as heritage buildings and recover the cost from its owner later.

Historian S.Muthiah pointed out that heritage was a new phenomena world-wide and there was still hope for Chennai city and India at large in this regard.

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