Threatened by the Metro

Updated - November 13, 2021 09:40 am IST

Published - January 30, 2011 04:25 pm IST



Several questions are being asked these days about the hurriedly-conceived plans for the Metro Rail. But what concerns this column are the apprehensions expressed by INTACH Chennai about the possible threat it poses to heritage buildings on a stretch of Mount Road, or Anna Salai if you will.

Some months earlier, some of the senior parishoners of St. Andrew's Kirk had met the Metro Rail authorities and had pointed out that Metro Rail's Poonamallee High Road line posed a threat to the unique well foundations of the Church.

The authorities showed appreciation of the situation and had IIT Madras engineers look at the problem and graciously accepted their advice to choose a less-threatening alignment 100m away.

Sadly, this column learns, the same understanding was not shown when INTACH members met the Metro Rail leadership.

INTACH, it is learnt, specifically pointed out that plans to raze buildings behind listed Poompuhar to site one Mount Road station involved pulling down a bit of Madras history. The buildings behind Poompuhar now belong to the Government Press, but they had been, from 1798, the home of the Lawrence Asylum Press, which Government had started to train orphans for work in the Government Press.

It was from here that in 1800 there commenced publication of the once-famed Lawrence Asylum Almanac , an annual that was an invaluable compendium of updated Madras information, a glimpse of one of them making the viewer long for a similar publication today.

Also likely to be threatened by the heavy piling work for the station are Poompuhar's neighbours, Higginbotham's, and its sister company, Associated Printers.

Higginbotham's, on the site from 1844, moved into the well-appointed home it now enjoys in 1904. Associated Printers premises began as the home of the Madras Times in 1911 and got its present name when The Madras Mail merged with it in 1921.

In these three complexes is a large part of Madras's printing and publishing history — and that deserves a better fate than threats that can be averted by better rail alignment and station positioning.

The Metro Rail's position is that it has got expert structural advice and none of its work on the station — for which, of course, the Government Press buildings have to go — will threaten the neighbouring buildings.

But, what will be the effect of constantly-passing trains on old buildings? There doesn't seem to be an answer to that. In fact, if such train movements could endanger old buildings, there are a number of other old buildings on the Mount Road alignment that become cause for concern. These include BharatInsurance Building , Addison's, Simpson's early home ( Cuddon , now Gove , Building ), and the Thousand Lights Mosque, among others.

I wonder whether there couldn't be a wider dialogue on this whole issue instead of this rush Metro Rail and the authorities seem to be in.

Who's Boddam?

After learning about INTACH's concerns over the Metro Rail's alignment threatening bits of the city's heritage, I took a look at the map it has put up on its website and found there could be several other historic buildings along the Mount Road as well as Poonamallee High Road tracks whose owners might need to worry about what the consequences of the vibrations caused by the frequent passage of trains, and during the process of station and pier building, could do to their properties.

But while that worrying begins, I've started worrying over the fate of May Day Park which Metro Rail proposes to use as some kind of stockyard. It has been announced that three years on, after the Metro Rail has been commissioned, the Park will be restored to its lush greenness. Now that's welcome news, but what's going to happen to Justice Boddam's statue in the meantime and later? Boddam, who? I hear.

Given Justice Boddam's record in the High Court, where over 75 per cent of his judgements delivered there were overturned in the Court of Appeal, not restoring the statue to where it has stood for a number of years and hiding it away in the storeroom of a museum would not cause too many people any concern.

But his admirers may have something to say about that. He got on well with the Muslim community and was, for several years, President of the Anjuman. In recognition of this contribution many Muslims and several lawyers he particularly favoured collected the money to put up the statue when he retired in 1907 after serving 11 years on the Bench.

The statue was originally sited opposite the Gymkhana Club gates and was one of the first to be moved after Independence, finding a new resting place near Napier Park, which is now May Day Park.

When Boddam retired, he left unsung by most who frequented the High Court. He took the Bombay Mail to catch his ship in Bombay, but died on the train. He was brought back and buried in Madras. Writing years after his death, Sir V.C. Desikachari was scathing about him, He wrote, “He was to retire at the expiration of the long vacation on the handsome, if not well earned, pension of £1200 per annum…. This learned Judge of all Judges has had given to him in benighted Madras, the honour of a marble statue on Mount Road to immortalize his memory.”

Sir P.S. Sivaswami Aiyar was a little kinder. He wrote, “Boddam was very quick, witty, full of humour and pleasantry but he had the unfortunate failing of making up his mind at too early a stage and taking a one-sided view and shaping subsequent developments of the case according to his own prepossession.”

So, where does that leave us with the statue that will have to be moved one of these days?

In the light of his signal contribution to the Anjuman, a location there could well please all.

When the postman knocked…..

* K.V.S. Krishna, once a planter for many years in the Western Ghats and then in Papua New Guinea, tells me that coffee (Miscellany , January 17) can be successfully grown in the plains of Tamil Nadu, using grafted seedlings of the appropriate variety.

So, coffee being grown in Madras did not surprise him. About 40 km from Madras, not far from the Bangalore Highway, he adds, he'd seen coffee Arabica being grown under coconut trees in a grove..

And, higher yields were being achieved.

Further on that road, he'd seen grassland converted to a Silver Oak (Grevellia) plantation in which Arabica coffee had been planted.

Krishna speaks of Silver Oak also being grown in Tambaram.

And, of a person from Kerala living in Madras, growing pepper vines on his coconut trees and ‘harvesting' a good crop. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised about the inventiveness of Man.

* The memorial to the battle of Porto Novo (Miscellany, December l3, 20l0) still stands in the campus of the Centre for Advanced Study in Marine Biology, writes Dr. D.B. James, who had lectured at the campus recently. He adds, “It is a small structure and does not need any special maintenance.” Now, if only the Centre would send me a picture!

* “During a visit to Fort St. George, I heard a guide mention that there was an Arsenal where the British stocked large quantities of ammunition. But, he didn't know much about it. Could you tell me something more about it?” asks Deepti Sen from Kolkata.

There was indeed a building in the Fort called the Grand Arsenal and it was located between Wellesley House and Admiralty, (or Clive) House .

It was built on the site of what was called Writers' Building , where the Writers (clerks) used to live and where Robert Clive the Writer attempted to commit suicide for the first time. Legend has it he was a bad shot!

The Garrison Engineer, Col. Patrick Ross, designed the arsenal and it opened for use in 1772. It was built on inverted arches by contractor John Sullivan for 28,000 pagodas (about £10,000 then and about a hundred times that now).

It was used as an arsenal till 1931 after which it became military offices, which it still is.

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