Saturday, 21 September 2019

The historic Clock Tower in Chennai built to honor two labor union leaders must be saved from further damages


Clock tower built in 1948 in honor of two labor union founders, Chennai .thehindu.com

A city or town without a majestic looking clock tower is something like a man with a bare body. Clock towers are a common sight in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe. Some form part  of  iconic buildings like the Elizabeth Tower in London (usually called "Big Ben", although strictly this name belongs only to the bell inside the tower).
Clock towerin honor of two labor union founders, Chennai riramv.wordpress.com
Clock towers are today mostly admired by us for their aesthetics, they once served an important purpose. Decades ago in the colonial period or later  in many parts of India,  clock towers were functional and had served the community well reminding the people of the time of the day; some clocks used to chime and the beautiful sound would be heard at far off places. Every clock tower and the four-faced clock with Roman numbers  on them had their own charm and aura. Even the small clock tower never failed to get the attention of the passers-by.  With the advent of modern technology and change in life-style, the people have lost interest in such clock towers that once stood as sentinels in a town. Lately only the heritage and monument lovers have evinced keen interest to preserve  them and efforts are being made in many towns and cities to  showcase such monuments of past era. 

 At Chennai,  a couple of decades ago when I went past the clock tower  on Strahans Road in Pattalam (in Tiruvottiyur), I was fascinated by it, it was not a big one, nor was it massive, decorative and highly embellished. Its simplicity that attracted me very much. At that point of time my interest in Indian monuments and heritage sites was very much limited. Frankly speaking,  I do not know the status of this clock tower now, weather it is  repaired and restored. However,  from the  article appeared in the Hindu dated 01 May 2012 (updated 6 July 2016), I understand the clock tower so far has neither been repaired nor undergone basic maintenance work to keep it functional. The park in which the clock tower is located is not given due attention either.

Last restored in 2004,  according to the residents the four-faced clock lost its charm and glory due to appearance of tall buildings near-by blocking the view. Besides, the corporation officials do not take steps to prevent  the old clock tower from getting further into a mess. If it begins to crumble due to carelessness, redemption is impossible, resulting in the loss of an old structure that connects the posterity with the past. 

An interesting fact is this  62 plus year-old Master and Slave tower clock and the park on which it stands came up in memory of Selvapathy Chettiar and Ramanujalu Naidu. They were the founders of the Madras Labour Union in Binny Mills (a  British company then) in 1918. These two gentlemen acted as a bridge between company management and workers, guarding the workers' rights. Many  British companies treated the workers shabbily and paid poor wages and, while on work, their safety was no guarantee. It is good to recall the services of  advocate V. O. Chidambaram Pillai  (Kappallotia Thamizhan;he founded the first Indian shipping company)  who frequently had a row with the management of Coral Mills of Tuticorin (1808) regarding labor welfare and wages. Thus he earned the ire of the British government who sided with the Mills.  The point I am trying to make is it was a tough job to run the labor unions in those days as the colonial rulers would keep an eye on the union leaders.  That the clock tower built in honor of two union labor leaders is in shambles is a sad story. 

“The trade union was the first in the country of which Annie Besant was also a part. In commemoration to his services, the clock tower and the park around it were named after Selvapthy Chettiar and opened to public on August 4, 1948, by Dr. U. Krishna Rao, the then Mayor of Madras,”  according to historian V. Sriram. Dr.          Krishna Rao was a famous surgeon then in Madras and adjacent areas.

Well-known watch merchants  Gani & Sons, fixed  the four-faced and four-feet clock working on a Master and Slave system.
It is said until 1965, the clock and the park were in good shape and people used to visit the park for relaxation. Besides, the famous clock used to chime every hour and the chiming was quite familiar to the local residents of this place.

Because of negligence the clock tower and the clock are in a poor state - the dials are broken and the huge bell  rusted. However, the park is fairly well maintained by a  caretaker appointed by the Corporation. The sad news is the historic clock tower remains closed  for the past several years. Only like-minded people and heritage lovers can save this clock tower from further damage. 
https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/historic-clock-tower-in-shambles/article3422224.ece