Monday, July 21, 2014
The lady's gardens
Entering the People's Park through its southern gate, you get to see this statue - of Venus, is it? - behaving as if you are an unexpected visitor. It is quite a rarity, for it is not usual to see a bare-breasted sculpture in Chennai, outside of a few temples, in such a public location. Is this the lady of what was once called My Ladye's Garden? Most likely not, for this statue, and a few others around this park were probably set up in the 1930s, at least 70 years after the park was opened to the public. The impetus for this park was provided by Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras between 1859-60, who was clear that the middle class of Madras needed a large, open space for recreation and entertainment.
My Ladye's Garden was only one part of the People's Park; the entire park covered nearly 120 acres of space. A dozen lakes dotted the park, with boating facilities in at least one of them. Madras' first zoo, which was located on the grounds of the museum, moved here, taking up a sizeable chunk of the grounds. The zoo expanded over the years, adding a cheetah here, a few deer there, a couple of tigers and so on. Until it moved to the Aringar Anna Zoological Park in the mid 1980s, this was where Madras' citizens would come to see wild animals.
Over the years, the People's Park has been nibbled away. Space for the Victoria Public Hall was allocated. The Ripon Building took up a section. The South Indian Athletic Association was given space for a pavilion and grounds. The Moore Market was accommodated. The Railways expanded, and chewed up some more space. Lily Pond Complex, that replaced Moore Market took up its share. And then the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium came up, along with the indoor sports complex, reducing the People's Park to the My Ladye's Garden. Go too quickly on Sydenham's Road and you might miss the gate to the park. While it still remains a large - and well used - lung for this part of the city, it is certainly a comedown for the feature that defined the area, which continues to be known as Park Town!