The Edward Elliot Beach, named after the Governor of Madras, was one of the first places of interest that I visited when I arrived in Chennai a few days back. Just like every place has its own story to tell, this beach had its own as well and one most important than the others. They say that the sea gives as much as it takes away.
This holds true for Danish sailor Karl Schmidt, a local hero of the city who gave his own life in a successful attempt to save a drowning girl around eighty three years ago on December 30, 1930. The Governor of the then Madras Presidency erected the K A J Schmidt Memorial in his name to honour his gallant act. A message etched on the memorial reads,
“To commemorate the gallantry of K A J Schmidt who drowned near this spot on December 30, 1930, while helping to save the lives of others.”
One can’t miss the stark white structure against the blue sky which is a famous landmark not only of the Bessie Beach, as the Elliot Beach is also popularly called, but of Chennai itself. Taking the help of my friend Zahaan Khan, a student of the Asian College of Journalism, who has spent all his life in Chennai, I eagerly delved into the story of the memorial which is much loved and abused at the same time by local residents and regular visitors of the beach.
According to my friend, this structure which was recently declared a heritage site by the government, is built of bricks without a basic stone foundation. This has led to dereliction in various ways over the years. Zahaan says, “The memorial is an integral part of the beach and it is difficult to imagine the same without it. It has often been a meeting site for friends and I have a lot of good memories that I share with mine. It also adds heritage value to our beloved beach.”
But he is concerned about the fact that the memorial has not been given its due respect by locals who drink and litter the area around it. He feels that its legacy and importance as a heritage site shall be lost if the government does not do anything to restore it.
“Even though efforts have been made by local residents, who appealed to the Corporation of Chennai for the restoration of the memorial on the 82nd death anniversary of Karl Schmidt last year, even now a lot has to be done in order to restore the memorial to its former glory and save it from being lost in time”, quips Zahaan.
Image source: http://www.thereddotman.com