Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Knockdown Hall

After having founded the Young Men's Indian Association (YMIA) in 1914, Annie Besant decided that the Association needed a home in Madras. The YMIA was intended to shape youth with 'a strong body, an informed mind and a noble character' so that they could take on the task of becoming public leaders. It was therefore critical that the home should have a hostel, library, canteen, gymnasium and an oratory. Funded rather substantially by Dr. Besant, the home was ready in 1915 and its public area, the oratory, was named after Gopala Krishna Gokhale.

The early meetings in the oratory were mainly political and often inflammatory, inviting the attention of the British police officers. Every so often, the YMIA would be pulled up by the authorities for allowing more people than was "permissible" to assemble in the Gokhale Hall. With several luminaries in the long list of persons who have addressed gatherings in the Hall, it is natural that capacity was exceeded on several occasions. It was not just political leaders and their fiery speeches that echoed here, but also musical notes of several great carnatic musicians who used to live in north Madras. It was the home of many of north Madras' sabhas - Muthialpet Sabha, Tondaimandalam Sabha - which are non-existent today. Though not much to look at, Gokhale Hall has been suffused with many memories of many great persons from all walks of life.

It is sad that the Young Men now want to knock down this Hall and construct a multi-storeyed office building here. The Madras High Court has stayed those plans for now, but how long can the public hold their interest in this building!


Unknown said...

It might be of interest to note that the great Tamil Comedian Nagesh began his acting career here when he was an employee of the Southern Railway....

Shantaram said...

@ Mohan: Thanks for the story - Gokhale hall must have rung with laughter!