How Madras Inherited is inspiring residents to care about heritage conservation
Architects conduct walks across city, hold workshops, organise vital initiatives
Welcome back to The Chennai Emailer — a local journalism project that brings out original human-interest features & news compilation from Chennai. It’s run by me —Mohammed Rayaan😊
I’m currently pursuing the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism (City University of New York).
I started this newsletter as my passion project to bring out the best of local journalism from this city that I call home. Today, I am delighted to present the second edition. The newsletter includes a curation of top news of the week and one original feature story in the end. Hope you enjoy reading!❤️
(Top news of the week from June 5 to June 10 curated from The Hindu and The Hindu BusinessLine)
😱In the last few days, Covid-19 cases are slowly rising across Chennai. The city and “three neighbouring districts account for majority of fresh cases”. The State Health Minister Ma. Subramanian said, “The reason is the waning immunity of those who have completed nine months after second dose of the vaccine”.
💉Likewise the Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan warned that cases are bound to rise if “precautionary measures are not reiterated”. In a step to quickly control this slow but gradual rise in cases, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) is stepping up “administration of booster doses”.
👩🏽⚕️Meanwhile, nurses across the state are not happy; those recruited through the Medical Services Recruitment Board (MRB) staged a State-wide protest, including here near the Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital, demanding regularisation of services. 🚭In other health news, here’s a food for thought — can petty shop owners serve as anti-smoking activists?
A lot has happened related to the environment in the city in the last week. 🔥The Perumbakkam wetland has seen a couple of fire accidents in May and in the first week of June. 🦜This article suggests that “ground-nesting birds bear brunt” when such events occur.
🛰️Speaking of fire, Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Siva V Meyyanathan said that the government is planning to use “satellite technology to monitor saplings planted to increase forest cover” and also “to control forest fire”.
♒Meanwhile, at the Pallikaranai marshland, residents are worried due to the “appearance of pink water”! Authorities have started to monitor the situation. 🌊Also, the GCC has set September 30 as the deadline “for completing flood mitigation project”. Corporation Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi has asked officials to “strictly monitor the quality of work”.
🌳The city saw a few awareness and environmental cleaning projects too. The Chennai Customs organised a tree plantation drive while over one tonne of trash was cleared from Thiruvanmiyur beach. To mark World Environment Day, Numeric, a leading UPS manufacturer, also embarked on a sapling plantation drive near Perungudi railway station.
💛GCC launched bag vending machines at the Koyambedu market. If you want a manjapai, then insert a ₹10 coin and get the bag. Plans are on to install more such vending machines across the city.
🔌In other news, oil marketing companies are planning to “set up around 900 e-charging stations in Chennai” in a bid to “encourage users of electric vehicles by offering such facilities”. 🤖 To solve manual scavenging, IIT Madras has developed a robot named HomoSEP that can “homogenise the hard sludge in septic tanks through custom-developed rotary blade mechanism and pump the tank slurry using a suction mechanism”.
🎾Sports & 📚Education
♟️TN is all set to host the 44th Chess Olympiad commencing at Mahabalipuram next month. “Over 2,000 players from over 180 countries are to take part in the international event, between July 28 and August 10”. 🐴Chief Minister MK Stalin on Thursday released the logo and mascot ‘Thambi’ — a knight dressed in a veshti, posing with a vanakkam gesture! 🔦An Olympic-style torch will mark beginning of the Olympiad. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) said that “the torch relay will begin from India and will travel across all continents before reaching the host city”.
🛠️The State government will “train nearly 50,000 college students with knowledge in computer science, electronics and IT domains, skilling them on problem solving using technologies”. 🖥️Meanwhile, the ICT Academy is all set to focus on new age technologies. It plans “to embed foundation skills like problem solving, critical thinking, design thinking, project management, communication into technology programmes”.
🏆Madras University was placed in the 541-550 rank band in the QS World University Rankings 2023 and the Education Ministry lauded the achievement.
Some new facilities in the city: 🍼In the coming weeks, the Chennai Metro Rail will open up “breastfeeding rooms” at important stations including Chennai Central, Thirumangalam, Alandur and Egmore. ✈️Also, officials say that the Chennai Airport’s “new terminal will likely be ready in August”.
🚃On the other hand, the Tambaram-Velachery light rail project has been put on hold and the reasons behind the move are explained here. 🛤️The Chennai division of the Southern Railway observed the international level crossing awareness week from June 3 to 9. 🔧Check out this fun piece on the Integral Coach Factory which “rolls out over 4,000 coaches annually, catering to both domestic and international demand”.
🧠“Most young first-time offenders, who had committed petty crimes and were imprisoned at Saidapet sub-jail, reported substance abuse and had personality issues,” a team of psychiatrists and social workers of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) has observed.
⛺Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities (IRCDUC) has “done a mapping of settlements along the Buckingham Canal between Cooum and Adyar rivers in a bid to document their present status and encourage the government to explore in situ development options.”
🏘️About 443 Irula tribal families were given house site pattas. “The ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of 172 houses at a cost of ₹8.22 crore held at Malayankulam recently brought joy to the families that live in poverty.”
🐶Dog licensing rate in Chennai district continues to be at an abysmal low. “Only 1,300 pet owners go in for a license every year; the document has to be renewed annually. Licenses are linked to coverage of anti-rabies vaccination.”
🚨Law & Order
Ever since the gruesome murder of a senior couple living in Mylapore, residents across the city are on edge with many expressing concern if crime is rising. 🚓However, Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police C Sylendra Babu counters the criticism. In this interview, he explains “the steps taken by the police to prevent crimes and to ensure women’s safety, the drive against rowdy elements and operation ganja vettai”.
👮🏽The city has seen a few new police appointments. SIs likely to be promoted to fill vacancies. Commissioner of Police Shankar Jiwal ordered major reshuffle last week to fill some vacancies. 👮🏽City gets one more police district in Kolathur. R Rajaram posted as its Deputy Commissioner while Amalraj takes over as Tambaram Police Commissioner, who says “controlling rowdyism” will be his priority.
👩🏽💼In other news, the Madras HC gets its “first woman mace-bearer”. “It has also recruited a woman driver deft in handling all kinds of motor vehicles.” 💯P Sabanayagam, retired IAS officer, distinguished civil servant and former Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu, turns 100!
⏰Tamil Nadu government allows shops, commercial establishments to stay open 24x7 for another three years. In 2019, the State government permitted the shops to be kept open 24X7 but the pandemic restricted the working hours. The move has been welcomed by the Retail Association of India.
👨🏽🌾Here is an interesting story on inflation impact: “When vegetable prices were soaring this month, some terrace gardeners barely felt the pinch as they could sustain pretty well without having to rely much on the market produce.” 🥭Speaking of food, do you wonder “why is it tougher to find great mangoes this year?”. This article says that due to “low yield and late harvest”, there are “fewer mangoes available for sale and for higher prices”. “Yet, agro-entrepreneurs are finding creative ways to connect, from fruit laden picnic tables to farm stays”.
🍴Five former Sangeetha outlets, one of the city’s most popular restaurant, will now be rebranded ‘Geetham’. Its Managing Director, Murali N Bhat, says, “Only the name has changed. Everything else remains the same.”
📈Recycling and reuse to be the focus of plastics expo. It is being held at Chennai Trade Centre. The Tamil Nadu Plastics Manufacturers’ Association said that plastic industry in the state has potential to grow by 28%.
🔴A section of employees of fair price shops, who are affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Fair Price Employees Union went on a three-day strike. They pressed for a charter of demands “including resumption of provision of dearness allowance, implementation of increment for those who have completed 10 and 20 years in service and grant of 50 paise per family card for supply of Pongal packets to consumers”.
When Tahaer Zoyab and Anupriya Subbian pursued their Bachelor’s degrees at the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, the duo often spoke in length about the need to conserve heritage structures in Chennai. As architects, this belief of heritage conservation were naturally ingrained in them.
In their college days, they often worked together on projects. Fast forward to more than a decade later, the duo now work as business partners. However, this story is not about their primary firm but about an initiative, Madras Inherited, which they have been running since 2017.
Ever since its launch, Madras Inherited has actively worked on heritage conservation and management. It aims to bring an impact on this space through its live or virtual walks across the city.
The website says that the team is involved in "undertaking architectural heritage projects, providing heritage education for schools, conducting workshops for colleges and community, curating and executing community outreach programmes that activate public spaces, apart from undertaking research in the field of heritage".
👣The first walk
In a chat with Chennai Emailer, the founders narrate how the idea for Madras Inherited came about. "We always observed the buildings around us and felt that each had a story to tell," says Tahaer. After completing their studies at Anna University, the pair then pursued their Master's degrees.
Tahaer enrolled at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University, New York in Urban Design at Columbia University. Meanwhile, Anupriya studied Interior Design at Pratt Institute in New York. Their time here offered them to learn more and they also got the chance to see how New York City conserved its heritage structures. The pair say that they would often spend a long time discussing how such conservation methods could be adopted in Chennai too.
An opportunity caught their hands when they returned home. "We were reached out by Vincent D'Souza of Mylapore Times. He wanted us to curate a heritage walk across Mylapore for the Madras Week celebration," recalls Tahaer.
They quickly charted a plan and executed a walk after days of research. The experience made them excited and thus was born the first days of Madras Inherited. It was during their research did they realise that several heritage buildings of Chennai were “vanishing” either due to negligence or to give space to newer structures. Thus, they decided to act fast.
Today, the initiative is active with a strong team who regularly conduct various events. Their Instagram page with nearly 10,000 followers showcases beautiful photos of old buildings from different parts of Chennai along with its description and also photos of the events they host. So how do they work?
📍🗺️Mapping and research
Tahaer says that the time for research for a walk lasts at least three or four months. "We spend hours in the library such as the Connemara and dive deep into materials that can offer us some ideas about the neighbourhood," Anupriya tells.
The team then looks at the map and marks a route by pinpointing ancient buildings. "As we start seeing a narrative based on the map and our research, we get a picture of how we will be conducting our walk," Tahaer explains.
Later, the team goes to the location and records the time it takes to cover all the places. Usually, they host their walks in the morning around 6.30 am, lasting for two hours, and are priced at a discount for students.
Tahaer also mentions that sometimes when a walk doesn't appear to have the "narrative" they wish to see, then it is scraped off. While the time is lost for they spend several weeks on research, Tahaer notes that it still offers them a chance to learn. "We record all our observations and document it," he says.
He also goes on to explain the occasional challenges they face when hosting a walk. Consider one instance when they hosted a group outside a heritage building: the owner of that building noticed the small crowd outside his home and became annoyed. Tahaer had to step in to diffuse the situation. "We quickly moved away after I explained to him about our work," he says. "But the next time when we crossed again, he looked very happy and he even invited us to his home!"
The team also ties up with local businesses in the area where they conduct their walks. For example, the team and participants converge at a small teashop for a quick break in between the session. The businesses are happy to engage with the people and even narrate stories of the locality. "When they do this, it becomes like an unintentional but a great add on experience for the people apart from the goodies we provide in the end," says Tahaer.
Anupriya also mentions a few other projects which Madras Inherited does. The team has worked with "government agencies such as the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority on heritage listing and documentation projects".
Their website says that the group is open to "engaging with governmental and non-governmental agencies to further the cause of heritage conservation and sensitivity in the city".
"Signage for T Nagar is one proposal we are working on," says Anupriya. According to the website, the proposal "focuses on designing signage that provides information on the facilities in the area and allows for easy navigation to heritage buildings and places of interest”. “The signage project helps to preserve the identity of the place and creates a sense of association between the heritage buildings and the community and residents of the area."
This apart, the team even has a proposal for cultural heritage tourism by "conducting heritage walks with the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation as the facilitator".
As the conversation ends, the pair offered what citizens can do to protect heritage buildings in the city.
"We are glad by the awareness we have created so far through our work," says Anupriya. "It is pleasing to hear feedback from participants who say that they didn't know the history and the story of the locality where they have been living for decades. We believe that just initiating a conversation around heritage is the first step to create an impact."
Madras Inherited is now a registered trust and they also accept donations.
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