Latin Quarter for Madras
(The Indian Express, Saturday, August 7, 1965)
To many people in Madras, Kodambakkam is the centre of the universe. That is where the real epics of modern India, the films are being produced. Just to stare at the studios for hours on end seems to be the height of felicity for many people. When they want a change, they go and stare with similar intensity at the houses of certain film stars. But no one, least of all these persons, ever believes that he is satisfying any artistic cravings. In terms of aesthetics south Indian films are in a special category, neither fish nor flesh.
But a real centre of art is soon to be established in the city. It will never rival Kodambakkam in popularity, but its values would mean more. The Artists’ Handicrafts Associations is to set up a centre near the sea where about 35 artists, with their families would live and exercise their genius in salubrious surroundings. Whether artistic products emerge from this colony or not, it is undeniable that the choice of the location is eminently artistic. What more could an artist require than an area far from the madding crowd, in the vicinity of the mysterious, eternal sea. This is the most artistic thing that has happened to the Bay of Bengal since, about a thousand years ago, a Chola emperor dispatched a navy across it to conquer parts of Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The artists of Paris congregate on the left bank of the Seine, and those of the United states at Greenwich. These areas have earned a prescriptive right to eccentricity; even the bizarre does not shock overmuch. After all, something is due to unorthodox genius. But eccentricity in the initial stages is rather apt to annoy. The Philistine may be outraged. It is therefore, wise that the Madras colony should nurture its extravagances, if it is minded to them, away from the vulgar gaze. In time, these eccentricities would, so to say, mature and then Madras would be as proud of its Adyar (or whatever its name is to be) as Paris is of its Latin Quarter.
But a great city requires not only a Latin Quarter but also a Bloomsbury. Where is this to be found in Madras now? Such a question would have been laughed to scorn about ten years ago when the intellectual supremacy of Mylapore was undoubted. Unfortunately, however, the last decade has dealt rather harshly with Mylapore, which is becoming an extended slum. Ex oriente lux, it has been said. The artistic sun is to rise in the east. Will the intellectual sun rise in the west?