Thursday, December 3, 2009

Who won?

It is quite characterless today, but 'Victory House' is a building that has seen a lot of action going on around it since the late 19th century. It was originally built for Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., a Calcutta firm (here's a picture of their headquarters) which had branches not only in India/Pakistan but also in Ceylon, Burma and the Malay Settlements. It is not known what the building was called when it was built for Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., but one story has it that after the Allied powers prevailed in the First World War, Whiteaway (or equally likely, Laidlaw), in a fit of pride, named the Madras branch 'Victory House'. Though the firm was quite successful in its other locations, it could never overtake the Spencer's of Madras and post-independence, found its clientele further dwindling.

The building was then bought by C.R.Srinivasan of the Swadesamitran for the newspaper's offices - their presses were in Royapettah, but perhaps Srinivasan was carried away by the symbolism: taking over 'Victory House' from its British owners reflecting the success of the newspaper's strident calls for 'self-rule'. Maybe he named it 'Victory House' after he bought it, celebrating that success. In any case, the newspaper itself fell away and was almost bankrupt by the mid-1970s.

It was sometime around then that The Swadesamitran Ltd began asking its tenants to move out of the Victory House, claiming that the century-old structure was unsafe for occupation. One of the tenants, who was paying a monthly rent of Rs.7,000/-, offered to buy the 10-ground property for Rs.20 lakhs. The situation became messy, with Swadesamitran going to court for an eviction and the tenant filing a counter-case arguing that Swadesamitran was backing out on their deal merely to raise the price. While I do not know the details of the arguments, or even the final judgement, it is easy to assume that the tenant won the case. Over the years since, that former tenant - VGP & Co. - has converted the entire building into one huge stockpile of consumer electronics and durables. Victory House has lost its earlier charm (you can see the earlier building in this picture, on the right) and has become one more nondescript structure on Mount Road!

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