How many of us would have walked down by the side of an old bridge in our area and taken a close look at the architecture that is best seen from the other side?
My friend Hemachandra Rao, a civil engineer and heritage enthusiast has spent the past two years taking a close look at bridges of our city built over a hundred years ago and still in service.
He has stopped at Chintadripet, Central Station and Basin Bridge among many other places, walked into slush and doubled across garbage piles to document what appears to be his current fascination.
Of late, Rao has been spending time at the Tamil Nadu State Archives in Egmore, digging into what were called PC or Public Consultation files trying to get to the very foundation of all the old bridges that the British built for Madras.
So when we made a trip to some parts of north Madras recently, Rao asked us to slow down at a few places to show me what he had discovered on his earlier journeys, including an old quay off the Canal near Basin Bridge and some massive, decaying godowns in the same vicinity.
With a man like Rao beside you, you begin to learn more about your city.
One destination on that trip was Erukkenchery, a 15-minute drive from Basin Bridge on a day when the roads seemed to be empty.
We headed to St. Joseph’s School located in a large plot of land bounded by small and tightly-knit colonies with roads that were more lanes.
We were here to explore ways in which a few communities could get involved in the Madras Week celebrations ( www.themadrasday.in).
Now, Rao and his friends who collect all kinds of things - postage stamps, first-day covers, city magazines in Tamil and English, maps and drawings and gas lights and army badges - are always willing to roll out an exhibition if they find a bright space and warm hosts.
The past few years, the Rao team has taken its show to a few schools in this part of the city.
That evening, we asked school principal Father Anthony how his team of senior teachers could supplement a possible exhibition.
Could we start putting together stuff that told us a bit about Erukkenchery?
Two teachers piped up. One had lived in the area for about 25 years and the other was a third generation daughter of this soil.
In minutes we were lending our ears to the snippets of local history, geography and social life.
O yes, we had a project that could make a nice start.
We now hope the teachers and student teams will develop some form of record of this area, once a village that had its place in old city records.
It was a trip well taken.
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