Good start to Madras Week
V. Sriram is quickly making space for himself not only as a writer on Carnatic music and as an entertaining speaker, but also as a delightful storyteller. Indeed, the tag ‘Chronicler of Madras” lies on him already and it is likely to remain and get enhanced as the years roll by. That is, if he keeps churning out prose as prodigiously as he has been doing the past few years.
Madras Week could not have got off to a better start than with the release of Sriram’s book, Historic Residences of Chennai, which focuses on the fast vanishing bungalows of the city and features a random sample of heritage homes that survive against all odds.
The book is a free-for-distribution publication brought out by Kalamkriya Limited, part of the Sanmar Group that has been in the forefront in the fight for conservation of heritage in Chennai. It was thanks to the initiative taken by N. Sankar of the Group that Madras Musings continues to appear every fortnight, a journal edited by the redoubtable S. Muthiah that espouses the cause of heritage conservation and restoration of old buildings like no other.
B. Vijayaraghavan, former bureaucrat, who released the book in front of a packed hall at the Connemara, said that having a Heritage Act alone is not enough; there are likely to be many issues that cannot be decided easily – for example, which buildings would you protect and which would you exclude? He pointed out that government prefers to put heritage on the back burner and stressed the need for a sustained campaign by heritage lovers and people in general to produce lasting results. He also added that today's generation is more at home with shopping malls and multiplexes than with heritage. A pertinent point I thought.
Muthiah, in spite of fighting many a losing battle all these years, said that heritage conservation is not something that is as old as the hills, as many people seem to think. It primarily arose as an important aspect only after World War II when the Germans found many of their stately buildings in ruins. And fighting for such causes has never been easy. But he urged more people to come forward in support of heritage conservation - it is a subject that will yield rich dividends, he was convinced.
Sriram, of course, was as irrepressible as ever. The reasons he described for old bungalows in Chennai facing the hammer were hilarious and had the audience in splits.
This book is Sriram’s fourth. His first, Carnatic Summer, on the lives of 22 exponents of Carnatic music, was released in 2004. It was followed by The Devadasi and the Saint in 2007, a biography of Bangalore Nagarathnamma. This year, he co-authored with V. Subrahmaniam, a biography of the legendary Carnatic musician Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer titled Semmangudi Life: Music.
As Muthiah mentioned today, it is good to see Sriram veering a little away from Carnatic music to a broader canvas, a canvas that encompasses heritage and ordinary people as well.
Picture shows the front cover of Sriram's book. V. Vijayakumar's pencil sketches on the cover and in the book are simple outstanding.