It's unloved, unnoticed and its future as it best uncertain. It's stuck on one of the most forlorn stretches of Anna Salai, Chennai's main drag (once known as Mount Road). And it's in peril of being consumed by the construction work on the Metro. But this plaque is an important part of the city's history. Let's hope it gets a little tender loving care.
The plaque marks the spot where the Marmalong bridge, the first bridge across the Adyar river (and long ago replaced), was built almost 300 years ago. Of course, it would help if any of the three languages in which it is inscribed was still spoken in the city. I haven't heard a lot of Persian, or Latin, or Armenian. But with a vestigial memory of schoolboy declensions and conjugations, I can just about decipher the meaning.
Coja Petrus Uscan was one of a band of Armenian traders who were important in the early commercial development of the city. (There's still an Armenian church in Chennai - though not an Armenian community).
Uscan was reputed to have been the wealthiest trader in the city, and as a believer in the St Thomas legend he also built the steps leading up to St Thomas Mount, the hill just outside the city where the apostle is reputed to have been martyred.
The stone has been left stranded by the work on the Metro, which seems likely to change the contours of Anna Salai as it approaches the current bridge across the Adyar. Some of the plaquw's Armenian script is no longer legible. Conservationists have raised the alarm about the need to save the monument - but it's not clear whether anyone in authority is listening.
Special thanks to one of the students in my journalism class, Riti, whose news assignment alerted me to the existence of the stone and the concern about its future.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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