Monday, August 03, 2009

Queen Mary's, Presidency - Anna Varki takes a stroll down memory lane

There's a huge swell of participation forming for Madras Week this year. The buzz is already on. Prema Kasturi, one of the coordinators, called me the other day to say how she was being flooded with calls from schools and colleges wanting to participate. I had put her on to Jailaxmi Ramamoorthy, principal, Vaels Vidyashram in Pallavaram, who was keen to have her school roped in. And now I understand that the school will also be conducting a city history project in September-October.

Prema tells me that two of the colleges participating this year include Queen Mary's and the Madras Christian College. Her mention of Queen Mary's led me to find Anna Varki's reminisces of the institution. This is also a tribute to people like Anna who are all for heritage conservation and value things of the past. Over to Anna:

A couple of weeks ago, there was an account of what was going to happen to dear old Capper House where Queen Mary’s College was born – the first women’s college in the erstwhile Madras Presidency (closely followed by Women’s Christian College). QMC produced the first women graduates. QMC is my Alma mater. I am narrating the sight I saw when I took my son, my daughter in law and grandchildren to show them the prestigious institution I had studied in once upon a time…

We entered the portals and I was appalled at the condition of the buildings. Capper House was not a surprise as you (Mr S Muthiah, city historian, possibly) had warned me it was going to be demolished. The rest of the blocks – Pentland, Jeypore Stone, plus the central block housing the principal’s domain, was unkempt and wild - no broom has moved over it for some time. It was an appalling sight – the condition of the building was such that it hadn’t seen paint for years and it was covered with patches of moss. The front garden was covered with shrubs and very unkempt. To my grandchildren and to all of us, it looked like a haunted building. My architect son’s comment was: “This is what they do when they want to demolish a building …ruin it so that the verdict is that it has to be pulled down.”

I didn’t explore the rest of the premises… and as for the swimming pool (imagine a college in very early 1900s with a swimming pool!) I had been warned it was a garbage dump. Sadly, we left to look at Presidency College, where I studied, my husband studied, and which produced stalwarts like Sir C. V. Raman and Chandrasekher, many outstanding doctors, parliamentarians and politicians. We drove in, before being stopped at the gate to look around. The dear old Fyson clock had patches of moss. The red-brick outer structure was dull. Each window and door was painted in different colours - some white, some blue, some green. These were really grotesque: window shades - most of them dilapidated.

My children were taking photographs - the window shades were broken. Two watchmen came running - they were out drinking tea. “Sir..Sir, are you from the media - please don’t report us!” I told him I had once upon a time studied here. His reply was, “Andha kalam elam poche (All those days are gone).” I asked him why the place was not painted.
Apparently tenders are called, but the money perhaps goes into somebody’s pocket.

We had a ditty: “Queen Marians never die, never die, they only fade away…”

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