Forward or backward?

Bit of a nerdy enthusiasm gripped me when I read recently in the Hindu that the shovel used to lay the foundation stone of a historic building in Chennai was set to be auctioned. Muthiah (The foremost historian on Chennai!) had concluded the article wondering whether there would be any takers for that shovel, his last line of “CMRL maybe?” suggesting that the Chennai metro rail implementation agency could buy that shovel to redeem itself in the eyes of heritage conservationists who have been opposing its decision to demolish part of the said building. Or maybe, that they should buy that shovel and keep it as a lasting reminder of all the hurdles that they had to face just to lay a bit of underground track for a train (assuming of course, that a government body has a collective memory).

Needless to say, I got all the more excited because I had only recently sketched the famed P.Orr & Sons building along the Mount Road, standing tall amidst all the buzz of the Metro rail work happening around.

P.ORR & Sons

Here is a quick Wiki fact file to provide some context.

About P.Orr & sons: This is a 162 year old store that primarily makes clocks in Chennai. It was started by Peter Orr in 1846 on the foundation of the nascent George Gordon & Co.

About the building:  The first showroom of P.Orr & Sons was opened at Anna Salai in the year 1879. It was inaugurated by Prince George, Duke of York, who later became King George V, and Princess May of Teck, who later became Queen Mary. The store initially sold diamond jewels,equipment, silver wares and later began selling mechanical watches and clocks. The establishment was sold over to Karumuthu Thiagarajar Chettiar in 1967.

About the controversy: The P.Orr & Sons store at Anna Salai came into controversy when the CMRL(Chennai Metro Rail Ltd.) proposed the demolition of some parts. However the proprietors contended that the store was a heritage site and cannot be altered. The High Court favored the demolition of certain parts as the evidence for it being a heritage site wasn’t substantial.

And now on why I felt the need to put up this post: It is a classic debate on development & heritage. What is heritage? What is historic & relevant? Is it something born of the previous moment or must it be hundreds of years old? When does a building become ‘historically’ relevant? Are not the buildings built yesterday also part of that never ending markers of time? What is development in this context?

What do you think?


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