If you look at Chennai, it is deeply rooted in its culture. Old temples and schools to the colonial architecture to the 21st century cool hotels and clubs. It’s all there. And I was going to see this change in a span of two hours.
I was with the ladies of Ladies Circle 4 of Chennai, who first took me to a project called the Madrasa-I-Azam H.S.S. at the Umdah Bagh. This school, which is spread over a couple of acres is on the popular Annaslai, and maybe the only piece of land, which is not yet commercialized. The ladies are undertaking the restoration of the auditorium located toward the back side of this plot and at the same time commissioning new furniture for one of the classrooms.
Madrasa-I-Azam was started in 1761 by His Royal Highness HE Wallajah Nawab Md.Ali Khan Bahadur, ,as a school for the education of the Royal Family of Carnatic. The school, since then, has been under Moulana Behrul Uloom of Firangi Mahal, Lucknow. When the British set up their Company in Chennai, they appointed Mr.Walter Joyce, who was the first European Headmaster of Madrasa-I-Azam. The first language in this school, till today, is Urdu, which is taught irrespective of the caste of creed people belong to. The other languages that are taught here are Arabic, Hindi and Tamil.
The school has a huge playground in the middle, in fact, it is almost close to a life-size cricket enclosure. It also had a mosque and a boys hostel. Towards the back of this complex stands an isolated European structure, probably a palace of the Royal family of Carnatic. Now neglected, it is in an urgent need of restoration. Before we left, the headmistress made sure we got a printed copy of the history of this school and also happily for a photographs with the ladies of LC4.
Our next stop is the Chennai Municipal Hospital and that too a special wing called the YRG CARE Centre. CARE means the centre for Aids Research Institute, which is headed by Dr.Suniti Soloman. The centre is the home for AIDS infected ladies who come here for treatment and surgeries, so that their babies are born HIV negative. The inspiration behind this center is Dr.Soloman herself who has dedicated more than 20 years in the field of AIDS awareness and trying to fight this disease. Her team, including her, were the first people to discover AIDS in India.Today, she is a noted doctor worldwide and is featured at the same platform as Nelson Mandela, Will Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Gere and Tom Hanks, in the campaign to fight AIDS.
With care and love, she walked around the campus, showcasing us the facilities including the Operation Theatre. Her humility and warmth, not only inspired us but also thousands of patients and volunteers she has worked with. I applaud Dr.Soloman for her efforts and thank her for her time.
Each AIDS surgery costs on an average, Rs 25,000. The Ladies Circle No.4 has sponsored many such operations and one of the babies, who was born was named after one of the ladies of ladies Circle. The name of the baby is Hinna. Before I moved on to my next shoot, I asked Chairperson Siddhi how they funded these projects. Apparently, they run a very popular raffle program, which funds all this. Well, I guess I’m buying a ticket next time it happens!