When we lived in Chennai in 2008-09, my partner-in-crime and I bemoaned the lack of public space in the city to just hang out. It seemed that there were the beaches and a few small parks scattered throughout the city, but no public space with grass, lots of trees, and shade.
Enter the Semmozhi Poonga, opened to the public in late November, 2010. I visited on December 29 for a cost of Rs. 5, and was pleasantly surprised to find a park with well-maintained and sittable grass, lots of trees and shade, playground equipment for kids, and benches occupied by young lovers.
Of course, the land on which the park sits is steeped in Tamil Nadu politics. Here’s the long story, courtesy of The Hindu.
The short story is that the Tamil Nadu state government leased the land to the Madras Agri-Horticultural Society, which in turn sublet part of the land to the Hotel Woodlands Drive-in Restaurant in 1962, reportedly the first of its kind in India.
In the late 80s, M. Karunanidhi’s DMK party took back power Tamil Nadu state assembly from its rival AIADMK after ten years. The new government eyed the Society’s land, because the society was now under the leadership of an ally of the AIADMK.
After 20 years in the courts, the DMK finally successfully got back control of the land in 2008. The first casualty was the popular Woodlands Drive-in, which closed its doors shortly after. The land was then closed off for more than a year, and the park was finally opened in late 2010.
What happens to the park in the next year is a mystery; Tamil Nadu is due for assembly elections this year, and given the anti-incumbency trend in the last three elections, it isn’t known whether an AIADMK government will look kindly on a park in the middle of town bearing a message of gratitude to Karunanidhi above its exit:
I hope it sticks around. It is a nice, big, green space.