Plumb in the middle of Chennai's nicest beach - Elliot's beach in Besant Nagar (and so generally known as Bessie's beach) - is a sturdy ninety-year-old memorial. It's to a Danish man, Karl A.J. Schmidt. In December 1930, Schmidt - in his twenties and working in what was then Madras - went in to the sea here to try and save an English girl who had got into difficulties.
He drowned; the girl survived.
Some of the accounts of the incident suggest that Schmidt was Dutch and a sailor - which seems to be untrue. So it's quite possible that this detail is also invented - but let me share it all the same. It's said that the evening after the incident, New Year's Eve, the girl attended a party as if nothing amiss had happened. The governor of Madras was apparently so outraged that he decided to construct this memorial to the gallant rescuer.
Over the decades, the memorial started showing signs of subsidence and became a loitering spot covered with graffiti - as you can see ...
A few years ago, the authorities decided to restore the memorial - and they have done a good job. The signboard which recounts the incident succeeds in capturing the attention of passers-by (and there's another one in Tamil on the other flank of the structure).
The memorial of course privileges European lives, as was routine in times of Empire. I fear that quite a few people have drowned here over the years, and I'm sure some in as noble an endeavour as Karl Schmidt.
Nevertheless, it's heartening to see a monument to valour which is in such good shape.
It is a pity the writings on the board has torn on the top due to storm? The surrounding area on the Beach is crowded with tiny shops and the seashore is dirty and the sand blackish as the drainage from the residence is pushed into the sea. It is sad the second longest beach in the world is uncared for
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