Among the best maintained in the city are Madras War Cemetery and War Memorial
Chennai: Chennai has a number of memorials for great people who have left their imprints in the State’s history. But these memorials, which bear a testimony to the State’s fight for preserving its language and culture, are not living symbols of the State’s history.
Patronage is poor for memorials and museums for the State’s various Chief Ministers such as Kamaraj, Bakthavatsalam and M.G. Ramachandran. The sprawling, verdant Gandhi mandapam complex in Guindy witnesses unwanted visitors who misuse the premises. It houses six memorials, four for men who ruled Tamil Nadu and two for martyrs who fought for Independence and for preservation of Tamil language. A new building, built at a cost of Rs. 19.50 lakh for Dalit leader Rettamalai Srinivasan, is nearing completion. The project is incomplete as the Government has not been able to procure a full-size photograph of the leader for designing a statue, an official said.
Many of the memorials contain only laminated photographs and many have no captions. In the ‘Mozhipor Thyagigal’ mandapam, photographs of people who died fighting for preservation of Tamil language reveal nothing of the history of the struggle. The Anna Museum on Kamarajar Salai on the Marina Beach has explained his contribution, to some extent. Even in the Martyrs Hall, the photographs of nationalists who fought for Independence do not carry their names.
The roof of the Gandhi Museum and Library, built in 1979, is falling apart. The building contains a bronze-coloured statue, a chandelier, an oblong wooden table, a few chairs and a shelf of books on the first floor that is closed to the public. In several places the perpetually leaking roof reveals the iron rod scaffolding. Inside the museum the plywood of the shelf holding a wooden chakra is stripping away.
As the adjacent Rajaji Memorial and Library is closed to public, people use the premises to eat lunch and snooze. It is also a secret rendezvous for couples. Graffiti adorn the walls. The Ambedkar memorial in R.A. Puram gets visitors only on the leader’s birth and death anniversaries but the library gets no visitors, a staffer here said. In the beautifully landscaped area, a few discarded bottles and cups can be seen.
In the Kamarajar Illam and the MGR Memorial in T. Nagar, articles, used by or gifted to these leaders, are on display. The Government bought Kamaraj’s house and the Public Works Department maintains it along with other memorials.
The MGR Memorial, maintained by the MGR Memorial Charitable Trust, was once the official residence of former Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran and converted into a memorial. “We have retained much of the original colour scheme,” says M. Rajendran, trustee. “Visitors like to take pictures in front of MGR’s car and the lion he reared. We collect licence fee for photographs and sale of books and VCDs. The fee covers postal charges and registered post.” An attraction is the MGR movie songs that are played all day. These memorials could have sound-and-light shows and televise episodes from the lives of these leaders, as is being done in some parts of the world.
S. Gopalakrishnan, founder-director, Centre for Contemporary Studies, says, “The Tamil Nadu Tourism Department can arrange lectures by experts on the subject of heritage. This will encourage more people to visit the memorials.”
The Periyar Thidal in Vepery commemorating Periyar and his ideals is vibrant. Maintained by the Dravidar Kazhagam, the organisation holds meetings, publishes periodicals and sells books on the premises. The Thidal has a reference library, coaching and study centres, a hospital and a marriage bureau, says Kali Poongundran, general secretary, Dravidar Kazhagam.
Among the best maintained memorials in the city are the Madras War Cemetery in Nandambakkam and the War Memorial on Kamarajar Salai. The War Memorial is maintained by the Indian Army and the Madras War Cemetery by the Commonwealth Governments. N. Rajarajan, manager of the cemetery, says that more than 1,000 names of soldiers, who laid down in the World Wars, including those who died here while returning home from battle, have been listed on a wall inside.
No public facilities
Unfortunately one of the deterrents for visitors is the lack of public facilities.
The Gandhi mandapam complex has only one black plastic water tank and a few Government staff to maintain the premises.
On most days the main gates remain closed to prevent misuse.
The entire complex is a picture of neglect with garbage strewn in less frequented areas.
Every year, the Government releases funds, based on the estimates given by the Public Works Department, which is in charge of these buildings.
Last year, Rs. 26.23 lakh was released for repair and maintenance work of the various memorials in the State.
This year, Rs. 43.45 lakh has been sanctioned. The works for which funds have been granted include repair works at the Rajaji memorial, the Gandhi museum, the martyrs’ manimandapam and the Bharathi memorial in the city. A senior official says the Government is working to provide water and toilet facilities but as lakhs of rupees are spent each year on repairing the buildings, there is not enough money for other works.
(Contributions from R. Sujatha, J. Malarvizhi and Kannal Achuthan.)