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Marina: The Beach and Much More

The word by itself brings a lot of memories and happiness. There's a childlike joy in the splashing waves, the golden sun as it gently bids adieu for the day and the local vendors offering mouth-watering chilli mangoes. These are scenes that are ingrained in my memory. Beaches have always been stress busters for me and nothing can beat the feeling of sitting by the shore and listening to the subtle rhythms of the waves chasing each other. Along with these waves, comes a puddle of nostalgia that has the power to instantly calm me down.

Picture 1: Sunrise on the beach

Chennai's Marina beach is iconic. The water, the golden sand and a lot of fun activities on the beach make it a prime tourist destination in Chennai. While it is well known for being one of the longest urban beaches in the world, the magnificent history of its promenade often flies under the radar.

There's evidence that when the Fort was built in the 1640s, the coast lay very close to its walls, lapping waves onto its ramparts. It was later, with the setting-up of the harbor, that the shore started accumulating sand thereby distancing itself from the sea. It is said that Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff who was Governor General of Madras in 1881 captivated by the serene coast during, built a promenade along the beach with extensive layering, thereby modifying the landscape.

This road that runs parallel to the Marina has been in existence since then - known earlier as South Beach Road, it was renamed Kamaraj Salai, commemorating a much-loved Chief Minister of the State. Driving on this stretch, you see some of Madras's best Indo-Saracenic Architectural icons - Senate House, Presidency College and the Chepauk Palace. The buildings are of a massive grandeur and scale to greet the many ships coming to these shores in search of opportunity and trade in the grand old city of the south.

The beach also became the venue for public meetings, especially during the Freedom Struggle. The Tilakar Thidal by the Marina once reverberated with the voices of great leaders during the Freedom Movement. It was a regular place of meeting and people came by the thousand to listen to the voices of Gandhiji, Rajaji, Tilak, Annie Besane, Chithambaram Pillai, Rajaji and many more. In more recent times, the Marina was the place of meeting for many to voice their support in the Jallikattu issue. The Jallikattu campaign was a landmark in itself. It was a well-meaning protest started mostly by students to stand up peacefully for self-pride and preserving the ancient sport of Jallikattu. Sporadic protests broke out across Tamil Nadu in mid-January, a few days after Pongal, the traditional harvest festival of which Jallikattu is a crucial part. The sport had not been conducted in the state since 2014, when the Supreme Court of India passed an order banning it. Until the protests were called off, protestors gathered at Marina Beach every day and on 21 January, an estimated 20 lakh people protested across the state.

It's hard to miss the statues along the coast - Kannagi, NSC Bose, Thiruvallur, Bharathidasan, Avvaiyar, Anne Besant to name a few. India has a history of constructing statues as a way of recognizing and preserving political memories. They are reminders of important historical events or people, and are built to keep the past alive. These statues stand tall and high today and each have a story of rebellion that influenced change.

Picture 2: Kannagi Statue

Driving on the Kamaraj Salai today, I can't help but think how ironic it is. To my right is the shore, a representation of the people themselves, a place symbolic of courage that fueled the reformation of the city. On the other hand, to my left are these monumental structures that are a representation of what they wanted it to be. It would be incomplete to call it a beach or a locality. Much like the saying about Madras, Marina too, is an emotion.

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