Mylapore is one of Chennai’s oldest areas, predating the metropolis by centuries. It is this heritage that the Chennai Corporation is now seeking to highlight through a proposed redesign of the roads into a pedestrian-friendly zone. Long-time residents of Mylapore are cautious in welcoming the plan, and have expressed their burning desire for a greater planning and organisation of shops, traffic and other amenities in the area.
When he expresses his opinion about Mylapore, 83-year-old Ranganathan speaks with the comfortable reminiscence that only the thought of home can evoke. He lived in various parts of the locality, before moving to Velachery to live with his daughter. “I was born there. My uncle was a priest at the Adi Kesava Perumal Temple, so we have stayed in many houses in the area over the years,” he says.
Ranganathan recalls the idyllic air that used to hang over the area. “It isn’t calm anymore. There is a lot of activity that some people call development. But that is not necessarily all good. Also, it is impossible to get the younger generation to live in these small spaces that I grew up in. They are more affluent in their mindset,” says Ranganathan.
When people started selling off the old properties in the area – especially on North, East and South Mada Streets – in the late 1980s, Ranganathan says he was part of a group of like-minded locals who petitioned the government to freeze development in the area and compensate the residents so that the area’s heritage would be retained. But there was little response. “All this so-called development has an unstoppable nature. I understand I have become a relic from another time, but the fact of the matter is that a large part of the heritage of Mylapore has already been lost,” says Ranganathan.
But some dark clouds come with silver lining and not all clouds are dark. All the tearing change that the area has seen over the past two decades does throw up advantages, according to Meenakshi Balakrishnan, a retired teacher who has lived in Mylapore for the majority of her life. Her family lived in the area, and the household she was married into was from Mylapore too.
“We have seen this place change. We have lived in our present house alone for about 40 years now. Some of the shops are useful and some are not. After all, how often do we buy jewellery or saris?” she asks. However, the area still holds it charm for her as it has seen a growth in the amount of cultural activity happening here.
“The halls have grown. The scale of the cultural activities has increased. There are more venues in this area now. So, we are extremely comfortable here, as we are very close to the kutcheries and dance performances,” she says.
Meenakshi, however, sees a flip side to this as well. She says Mylapore could do more with a proper plan for its organisation and management than some boards that talk about its heritage. “They need to bring the hawkers and shops under control, make it easier for pedestrians to cross the road and find a way to regulate traffic. Only then can any attempt to talk about Mylapore’s heritage be relevant to the inheritors of that heritage,” she says.