Away from the sounds and smells of the Besant Nagar beach in Chennai is a quiet location that residents familiar with the city would know. On the mouth of the Adyar Estuary, where the backwaters meet the Bay of Bengal, stands a desolate white bridge. A ruined overpass with a scenic view. A bridge that leads to nowhere.
For several Chennai-ites, the Broken Bridge in Adyar is more than just a civil structure which serves no real purpose. It is an iconic social landmark (of sorts), with nostalgia and memories, both good and bad, attached.
Built in 1967, when CN Annadurai was the Chief Minister of Madras (now Tamil Nadu), the bridge connected the Foreshore Estate beach in the northern bank to the Besant Nagar beach in the south. The single-lane bridge was built for fisherfolk settled on both the beaches to cross over, on foot or cycle rickshaws, to either side of the estuary.
However, the structure stood exactly for a decade. In 1977, a stretch of the bridge collapsed into the estuary when the Adyar river unexpectedly flooded, says Chennai-based historian Hemchandra Rao. It was never repaired after.
For nearly half a century now, the Broken Bridge has stayed true to its name. However, the bridge now faces the possibility of being restored with the Madras High Court recommending the government to rebuild the structure in order to dissolve bottlenecks on Greenways road and Santhome High road.
Photo credit: Picxy.com/sridhar
TNM spoke to a few of Chennai's long term residents who recalled their experiences on the bridge and what they felt about this urban landmark.
"Even though it is broken, the bridge literally started many relationships and friendships. I personally know a whole bunch of people who went on first dates to the bridge, to catch the sunset and share a peaceful moment. In 2008 and 2009, when I was in college, our friend’s group used to go to the bridge, fool around a bit and have conversations. It's a hauntingly beautiful place which I frequented with my favourite people," recalls Akaash Ampili, who works in the Creative Advertising industry in Chennai.
Over the decades, many first dates were spent, friendships sealed and spectacular sunsets witnessed by the city's residents from the top of the bridge. Its relative isolation from the city (the bridge cannot be found on Google Maps) has also birthed many ghost stories and urban myths.
The location's scenic value still attracts filmmakers by the dozen, with the bridge being featured in several films - the most famous being Mani Ratnam's Azhutha Ezhuthu, where actors Suriya and R Madhavan fight on top of its deck. Back in the day, former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran also shot here with the entire bridge being featured in his song Kadaloram Vaangiya Kaatru from the 1971 film Rickshawkaaran.
"I think there's a lot of nostalgia associated with the place. When I began photography I used to visit the Broken Bridge with my friends for shoots. When my fiancé moved to Chennai for the first time, Broken Bridge was the first place I took her to. She still remembers the drive and the morning walk on the sandy beach up to the bridge. It is also the go-to place for morning walkers, joggers and birdwatchers," says Gautham Krishna, a Chennai-based photographer. Gautham still frequents the location for shoots and had made his last visit made a week ago.
Even as its popularity rose, the isolated nature of the bridge turned it into a hotbed of illicit activities and crimes. Residents of Olcott Kuppam and Uroor Kuppam - fishing hamlets on the banks of the estuary - have reported several cases of chain snatching, murders and thefts near the bridge over the years. Dumping of beer bottles, cigarette buts and joints by groups of men visiting the place have also raised pollution concerns.
Most importantly, while several men recall pleasant experiences on the bridge, women in the city and couples have narrated horror stories of harassment faced by them during visits to the area.
"I was in high school or college the first time I went there. We walked up to the ridge past the bushes on either side and took pictures on our DSLR cameras. While returning from the bridge, a few guys were hooting and making kissing noises from behind the bushes. It was the first time that my girlfriends and I were harassed by men. We were scared to death," recalls Tejaswini Menon, a professional storyteller who grew up in the city.
The area now sees heavy police patrolling with visitors not allowed on top of the bridge post sunsets.
With the possibility of its restoration, several concerns, primarily focused on the environmental impact on the estuary, have been raised against the move. But Chennai's residents are conflicted about the rebuilding of the bridge. The move would erase a social landmark from the city's urban landscape.
"Not everything that is broken needs to be fixed," they add.