The Senate House

On one of our beach trips in Madras I noticed a very old British building and decided to investigate because it looked interesting. It has huge stained glass windows, tower structures and iron gates surrounding it. I’m told that this is the Senate House on the Madras University Campus. Because it was a holiday, the only person on the grounds was a commissionaire and he was wandering around checking all the doors to make sure they were locked.

I started to walk around the building. It was really run down and deserted. All the windows within reaching distance were locked / boarded up. All the doors were padlocked. The commissionaire started walking with me. He took me to one of the boarded up windows and told me to look inside. It was deserted inside except for a few litters of puppies and tons and tons of birds.

In our conversation he told me that the Senate Building had not been used since World War II. I guess since the British left. It was only fitting that I should see it on Republic Day! On one side of the building he ushered me over. He looked around and snuck me in. I think he was doing something not allowed. I wasn’t sure if I should go in a building with a strange man but he was considerable smaller than me so I didn’t feel like I was in any danger. Plus, Indian people are generally not very violent, so I trusted him.

Inside was amazing. I would be willing to bet that he was the only person to have been in the building in a long time. The stain glass windows were on all of the walls. Large stained glass windows with pictures of Victorian scenes on them. There were balconies, falling apart and dirty, above where I was standing. Birds live in the ceiling, which looked like it was once covered in cloth. Now only tattered remains still clung to the ceiling giving glimpses of their former designs. The floor was littered with wood and bird crap; tons and tons of crap.

The commissionaire took me upstairs, up a winding marble staircase covered in poop to the council room. Here there were more stained glass windows, more garbage and more bird poop. Most of the windows were still intact. On one side of the room, next to the stairs, was a podium. I stood on it to look at the room. It was the only thing not covered in dirt and cruft, like it had been swept off. Behind the podium was one of the balconies. It was made of black cast iron molded into swirly designs. This was probably one of the only things which had remained mostly intact. Silk coverings lay tattered everywhere and the white washed walls were chipping and dirty.

The caretaker took me over to a small room which overlooked Marina Beach and through the cast iron grated windows I could see Marina Beach and its throngs of people. I could hear rustling above and when I looked up I couldn’t see the roof so I guessed I was in one of the bulbous spire towers. I caught glimpses of movement and the caretaker told me they were bats. In the corner was a dark little door and the caretaker summoned me over. I was nervous and hesitant so I made him go first. It was pitch dark, but I could barely make out a very small spiral stair case which went up to the roof and up the bulbous tower. I barely fit into the stairway and I needed help because I couldn’t see. The stairs were full of guano so it was tricky walking up the stairs.

The tower was amazing. There were marble designs on the wall, silk wall hangings tattered and hanging and I could see the tops of the buildings from the balcony I was standing on. I wanted to walk on the roof but the caretaker was nervous. I think he was afraid of being caught. So we made our way back down through the magnificent building which lay in tatters around us.

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