Thursday, 16 July 2015

Queen Mary's College, Chennai - Centenary Celebrations

Yesterday I attended one of the events connected with the centenary celebrations of the Queen Mary's College, Chennai. This was the first college exclusively for women in Chennai and probably the third such college in India. It is administered by the Goverment of Tamilnadu which controls the purse strings and the faculty appointments. At present around 7500 students study here in two shifts.

The college was established in July 1914 and therefore the cebrations had started a year ago and were just culminating at the end of the centenary year. My wife studied here over forty years ago and has very fond memories of how it used to be then.

About a year ago she had arranged for the members of Chennai Weekend Artists to visit the campus on a Sunday morning and sketch on location. I spent most of that morning wandering around the campus and therefore made only a few quick sketches which I am posting here.. It was my first visit to the place and I was struck by the air of decay and neglect. Despite some efforts to spruce up the place in view of the occasion, that air still prevailed yesterday. 

In fact one of the guests at the function remarked to me about this and asked asked why on earth anyone in authority would want to deliberately run down the place, for that is what seems to be happening. To me the answer seems very simple and obvious. The people in power obviously do not care either about heritage or education. It must be a source of very great irritation to them that such a prime site facing the Marina Beach, and with a sea view from almost every part of the campus, is not exploited to its full commercial value.

Some years ago there was a proposal to shift the Government Secretariat to this location and relocate the college to a much smaller site. But there was enormous resistance to this idea, not only from the students and some of the staff, but also from the general public. Ultimately the court intervened and the government was compelled to drop the idea. One would have thought that the authorities in power would have been gracious enough to then take up the upkeep of the college in all sincerity, but that has not happened so far. Is it too much to hope that there will at last be a change of heart and that the government will do everything in its power to restore many of these buildings, use them appropriately so that the buildings are alive, and also maintain the grounds which have the potential to be a beautiful campus but  alas, at present, resemble a dump or a thorny scrubland depending on which part of the campus you are in? 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

India's National Musical Instrument - The Veena

The veena is India's national musical instrument. The musical notes emanating from this instrument are rich and very pleasing. And the musical concerts by veena vidwans (expert players) draw huge crowds. But all this has not resulted in any benefit to the skilled makers of this musical  instrument. This fact was the central theme of an article in today's issue of The Hindu, one of India's national newspapers.

I was very distressed to read this article. Unfortunately we seem to be losing a lot of crafts and skills that have been honed and perfected over generations. If this is the plight of something as glorious as veena music I can only wonder what would happen to very many other less popular but equally precious links to our heritage.
There was one more reason for this particular article catching my attention and moving me. My wife is particularly fond of veena music. She initially learnt to play this instrument when she was a teenager and continued to learn and train well into her late 50s from her aunt Vidya Shankar, a reknowned musicologist and veena vidwan. 

My taste in music is very different and for most of my life I have given carnatic music performances a miss. But about a year and a half ago my sketching friends in Chennai Weekend Artists and I were asked by the editor of a local newspaper if we could attend the December music concerts all over Chennai, that this city is famous for, and make some on the spot sketches. I therefore attended a few concerts at different venues and a very remarkable thing happened.

On earlier visits (that I had been compelled to make despite my protests) to these concerts, my focus had been on the music and an attempt to appreciate it, which I found very difficult to do. But now, with my entire focus on the sketching, the music was only something in the background and I found it very pleasing and soothing. By the time the month long musical concert season was over I was a convert and now I am more than happy to sit through some performances, with or without a sketchbook in hand.