China has the Great Wall. London has the Big Ben. And Chennai had, albeit very briefly, a 11-storeyed askew illegal building as its biggest tourist attraction.
Of course, it was brought down Wednesday last amidst encircling gloomy darkness and bright curious onlookers who cheered its falling as it were the last over of a nail-biting IPL match. Many of them had come from myriad corners of the city after overcoming many challenges including an impromptu obstacle race conducted by Chennai police. Chennai police’s preferred policy for controlling traffic in a section is: Never allow any traffic in that section. But we are getting ahead of the story. First, some back-story.
Two years ago, on a rainy June afternoon, a 11-storeyed under-construction residential building in Moulivakkkam — a nondescript Chennai neighbourhood that we journos, as per Press Council of India’s rules, are wont to describe as a ‘buzzing suburb’ — came crashing down, killing in the process 61 people, most of them unwary workers at the site.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the fate of a similar building in the same campus had to be decided. The options boiled down to two: A) Retain the construction, on the basis of the assurance of the same company that had built the original building that came tumbling down. B) Tear down the unfinished structure on the recommendation of an expert committee, comprising members from the bureaucracy similar to the one that had approved the building in the first place. As you can see, it was like choosing between dubious Hillary and dirty Trump. Okay, not this hopeless, but you get the drift.
Looking back, the authorities could have gone ahead with a third option, which was to fence the slightly leaning structure and leave it as a tourist spot, which is these days technically defined as anything that you can take a selfie in front of. Also, if you question me, how can a utterly useless structure that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose become a tourist attraction, I will have to bring up: Stonehenge.
Anyway, eventually after much fighting in the court, it was ordered that the contentious structure be brought down and the whole event ticketed. Okay, I made the last part up, but it would have made much sense if they had had some gate price and some sponsorship thrown up (“This part of the demolition brought to you by Ratan Tata”). For, there was unprecedented turnout to witness the building being brought down. Disaster as a spectacle, TV heads will tell you, always works.
Wednesday last, the chosen day for the demolition, all roads in Chennai led to Moulivakkam, but if you had taken any one of them you would have actually ended up in Andhra Pradesh. Well, that is because the police had come up with a smart traffic arrangement, which was to literally arrange barricades at all points leading to the building. Basically, Chennai Police averted traffic snarls in Moulivakkam by the scientific method of creating traffic snarls in every other part of Chennai on that day.
But it was ‘hosefull’ on the top of all nearby structures as people took all the vantage spots to— this seems the sole purpose of living these days — make WhatsApp videos of.
The original time fixed for bringing down the structure was around 2 p.m., but as it was raining at that time, the authorities probably waited in the hope that it would come down on its own like the nearby building did earlier. Just kidding, the authorities weren’t ready to take any chance and the triggering of the blast was shifted to 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, there was an enormous television media contingent in the vicinity that was covering the event with a stellar two-prong strategy: Prior to the event — show all day computer animation of a building being brought down. After the event — show all day a three-second clip of the building being brought down. In between, the journos also reported ‘live’ from the spot by getting insights from, well, other journos. I mean they were just making things up amidst themselves as there was no way to talk to any of the officials. This is also basically ‘journalism 101’ these days.
As the clock ticked remorselessly, there was no sign of the much-awaited blast. Back in the TV studios, the animation GIFs were close to crying. In the blast area, light was getting murkier. The authorities were not happy with the placement of the explosives. TV journalists were even more unhappy. And with a good reason: dark light means poor visuals. And that would be like going to Las Vegas and coming back with stories of visit to a church. Totally pointless.
Finally, well past 6 p.m., the officials gave the thumbs up and in a jiffy the event that everyone was waiting for happened: All the traffic barricades were removed. No, the structure was spectacularly imploded in seconds, and the whole Porur was surrounded by, well, what it always is: A cloud of dust.
Now, all that remains in the place is mounds of muddy debris. It is even more useless and un-spectacular. But I’d think its tourism potential may have grown higher.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your guide speaking. What you are now looking at is the famous Moulivakkam Ruins.”