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Friday, January 30, 2009

Chennai's encounters with the Mahatma

CHENNAI, JAN 29: Chennai's streets reverberate with memories of the
Mahatma. From the Victoria Public Hall near the Central railway station, Thakkar Baba Vidyalaya on Venkatnarayana Road, Srinivasa Iyengar's house in Alwarpet (now Chola Sheraton) to the Marina beach, the city has many bonds with Mahatma Gandhi.
During his first visit to the city in 1896, he spoke of the plight of Indian workers in South Africa at a meeting held in Pachayappan Hall near Parrys Corner. However, he made a more memorable speech at the Victoria Public Hall in 1915 during his second visit.
"Do you know that in the great city of Johannesburg, the Madrasis look on Madrasis as dishonoured if he or she has not passed through the jails once or twice during this terrible crisis that your countrymen in South Africa went through during these eight long years?" he asked in the meeting.
His third visit to the city in 1916 was to mobilise students for the freedom struggle. He addressed the students at the MadrasChristian College and Victoria Hostel.
While his fourth visit was a short one en route Patna in 1917, it was during his fifth visit in 1919, he addressed a gathering of nearly 15,000 people on the Marina beach. He met poet Subramania Bharathi during this visit.
His visits to the city invited both bouquets and brickbats.
His advice to the youth to marry young widows at a meeting in Pachayappan Hall during 1927 was criticized by a section of the local media.
During his last visit in 1946, he stayed at the Hindi Prachara Sabha in T.Nagar and addressed a prayer meeting of nearly one lakh people there.

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