July 13, 2013

Documenting Anna Nagar's Social History

How many of you have walked up to the topmost point of the commonly called Anna Nagar Tower and felt like the maharajah of all you can survey?

Many would sigh because they have been denied a permit to go to the top. 
The blanket ban came into force after people who were on the edge in life ran up the tower and took their lives.

Surely, we did not want Visvesvaraya Tower to be nicknamed Suicide Tower.

How many of you have enjoyed a summer’s boat ride in the pond in this very area? And had a picnic snack under the clump of trees after a jolly session in the shallow waters?

People who were the early settlers in this neighbourhood in the western part of the city will certainly treasure loads of memories of the early days of what went on to become one of the planned neighbourhoods of Madras.

The World Trade Fair held in no mans land brought attention to these parts and once the jamboree was over it was time for planners to sit down and visualise another neighbourhood.

The face of that Anna Nagar has changed completely from the times when wild animal calls greeted you at dusk and the best way to get to your plot on the western side was by hitching a ride on the bricks lorry that was going that way to deliver to a house that was being built in the vicinity.

Anna Nagar is still a new neighbourhood but the men and women who were its early settlers are slowly fading away from amidst us. And with them, memories, pictures, cards and records.

This then is the time for an initiative to document the social history of this place. Or for that matter any other neighbourhood.

This is a suggestion I had made to a bunch of activists in Anna Nagar a couple of years ago. At a meeting in one of the early houses which were built in the famed Shanthi Colony, we worked out the details, passed the juice bottles around and promised to meet again.

But little came out of it.

Recently, when a young architect who lives in Shenoy Nagar started to discuss what she and her colleagues could do for Madras Week 2013, I drew back the Anna Nagar social history idea.

So Thirupura Sundari has just got this project off the ground by creating a page on FaceBook and to get people interested.

In the weeks to follow, she promises to gather a few like-minded people and search out long-residing families in the area and try and copy pictures and documents which will help tell the story of Anna Nagar. Perhaps on a blog.

Even the first set of posters produced by the early stores off the Round Tana and the early weddings solemnised at Saint Luke’s Church will be valuable documents for this project.

Yes, many people may not part with what they consider personal but they will do the youngsters a favour if they share copies of the pictorial records.

Thirupura Sundari and group’s first aim is to collect two dozen pictures/documents and hold an exhibition. They hope this will enthuse others to share their documents.

Want to start a similar project in your area?

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