I wonder what the story is behind this 'Happy Hour!' mural, glimpsed amid the dereliction of an old college in Saidapet. Was this on the wall of a common room or canteen? Or was it art work undertaken by a student? Or perhaps even street art painted once the college had closed? Or simply an old-style advertising hoarding that's been stored here?
There is something sweetly sad about these chance encounters with mementos of the past, spilled out into public view by the ravages of time. It's like looking through soiled and torn lace curtains and into someone's forsaken living room. And then there's all the questions that can't be answered about the wall paiinting. Why a western couple? Why "Happy Hour"? Why the hint of intimacy?
I sometimes see the ruined tower of this building as I drive past on Anna Salai - Mount Road as was - after crossing the Adyar towards the city centre. I thought it was a church. When I went to snoop around, a cyclist passing by corrected me. It was a college, he said. Indeed, it dates from 1856 and was the first teacher training college in India, though it moved to this site only in the 1880s.
For a government college, the design is curious, The tower is reminiscent of southern European church design, and there's a porch and a profusion of arches. Distinctive rather than stylish.
The building of the Chennai Metro has hit this part of Saidapet for six. The training college (more recently known as the Institute of Advanced Study in Education and devoted largely to research) has, since 1995, been absorbed into the neighbouring Mother Teresa Women's University. "We used it for about five years; after that the buildings began to crumble", an official was quoted as saying.
A few years back, the Metro project claimed two elegant curved buildings which were part of the college campus. Historian and conservationist Sriram V blogged about that act of destruction and you can see before and after pictures of the site here.
It's difficult to see any fate in prospect for this historic building other than demolition. For those concerned with Chennai's heritage, this is anything but a "happy hour"!
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