Thursday, April 2, 2009

Green Building and Conservation CAN Go Together

I love this New York Times piece about the lovely city of Pittsburgh and how the local authorities there have managed to preserve lovely old buildings and green them in keeping with modern energy-saving trends: I am reminded of the house that I was born in on Broadway in Madras a long time ago, right across the road from the Sarafaly Mansion. My father had his clinic in front and we lived in the huge rooms in the back. With 20 ft high ceilings and two businesses on the ground floor, it was the home where I lived until my grandfather's death in 1976. The building was subsequently torn down and a monstrous shopping complex put up in its place. Loansquare Park, where we would play as children, became an open toilet for truck drivers to park their trucks around and defecate. And, a lot of lovely old buildings in the surrounding streets including MacLean Street, Armenian Street and so on met the same fate as my old home. Two years ago, my wife traveled to Chennai with the idea of buying a house there - the crowding put her off so badly, that we abandoned every idea we had of doing this. We did not buy a bigger home in Chicago because we see this city as going from its current miserable state to even worse - hopefully, soon, we shall move to a better part of the USA and in a better place than this, though the Windbag CIty is a better city in many respects than any place you care to name in India.

There were arguments about this trend even then - conservationists mourned the loss of character of a city that had once been known as a "garden city" and which had then been renamed Chennai, the latter name coming to be associated with its smell (a blend of rotting fecal matter and untreated exhaust fumes) and the horrendous crowds and ridiculously flawed "development" that turned the place, even in my not that long time there, into a miserable Indian ghetto. Those who spoke of "development" came out with the theory that the old buildings were not very energy efficient and that people did not need to live in homes like those. I would like to show those clowns the fist just as I do to fossil fuels. They, and they alone, are the kind whose mentality has turned India into a filthy mess. There still are some of the old homes in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and several other large and small cities across the country. Many of the homes are owned by people who are reasonably wealthy and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage does some work in attempting to keep some of the better old buildings still standing. I would invite those who would like to preserve the grand old buildings to look at Pittsburgh - there are many Indians in that part of the USA. Perhaps, they need to take back a sense of what it means to preserve their heritage. Again, I can say that all of India would benefit from this.


Kulasekaran said...

Way to go Mehul. Yet to fully read your blog. Nice to see you following your passion.
Will come back often.

Mehul Kamdar said...

Thank you very much, my friend! It is great to be back in touch with you after so many years. I shall appreciate your suggestions and views whenever you find time to post here.

V.Harihara Subramanian said...

I think I have a 4-year-old picture of Sarafaly Mansion in my archives.I will post it in a couple of days. In the meantime have a look at this 110-year-old building on Broadway, Madras.

As an old resident of Madras, you may like it.

Mehul Kamdar said...

Thank you for your response to this old post. I have neglected this blog somewhat, and need to be more active with it. As I recall, this used to be the CSI Tucker Church in the 1970s. It is good that the building survives, but it is simultaneously sad that it has been neglected. I haven't been to India in fifteen years and it is blogs like yours that keep me up to date on what happens, especially in Madras Nalla Madras, the city that I was born and grew up in, and spent thirty eight years in, as well, before moving out of India.