Celebrating 50 years of the U.S. Consulate General Building | Chennai

Hello! I’m Robert Burgess,
the Consul General of the United States here in Chennai. We hope you will join us
as we celebrate 50 years in this historic Consulate building. The Consul General’s office brings a new kind of architecture to this place, because
you’ve got the church which was largely neoclassical. You have a lot of natural
greenery in this particular area. You had Gemini studios which had a
Indo-Saracenic and a colonial bungalow in its heart, and then you had modernist
architecture right on one side. Once the Consul General’s office came here it
transformed the complexion of this particular locality. The Consulate is a
gateway for many American dreams which often started with pursuing higher
education in the United States. For former Public Affairs Officer Ravi
Candadai, his first step into the Consulate marked a long-standing
relationship with the Consulate family. That understated building tucked behind
the Gemini flyover has a special significance to me. It was there I
received my F-1 student visa in September 1977
soon after I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree to study in Utah. I
remember the day clearly. I was ushered into an office and had a brief chat with
Vice Consul Kenneth Shrivers. After waiting for a while, at the
Woodlands restaurant across the street and tucking into a rava masala dosa, I
went back to pick up my passport and I was on my way to Ogden via Tokyo and San Francisco the very next day. Little did I know that I would walk up the same few front steps some 25 years later to join the Consulate team. By the way, one of the first things I did
when I arrived in Chennai to be the Public Affairs Officer in 2003, was to
take my wife and our three young children to Woodlands to give them a
taste of the city’s hospitality and the view of the Consulate where my American
journey began. I recollect USIEF where I went, and you know where I
was looking for certain opportunities and I got the form to fill and got
another fellowship which was the Hines Fellowship. For many Indians the
consulate provided a glimpse of what America would look and feel like when
you travel there the consulate helped make that American dream a reality I still remember the very first time I
entered the building I mean I had not ever been to the U.S. before, but it was
like a taste of a different place and you know very well manicured lawn, and you walk into the building and you know there’s large portraits of the President,
and then you walk through them. It’s a big thrill as students to walk through the security and feel for that one or two hours that you know we are sort of
entering America as it will, and coming out. I mean that is of course when I was 16 tied up with what I would consider a big landmark of Mount Road
situated in a very very opportune place right next to the Gemini flyover, so
it’s a big part of our lives. It also marked the growing interest among Indians to seek opportunities to experience America through work and
study. Keeping up with a demand for visas the consular section expanded its reach
and invited a special guest for inauguration day. This picture brings
back such fond memories. We had the former Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha inaugurate the renovated consular section. She had so many questions on the visa process and the technology we used for it. Such a historical moment. American Center patrons and former employees recollect their fondest
memories of the American Library. The library has gone through several
name changes, it used to be American library, it used
to be information Resource Center, American Information Resource Center,
then it became again American Library. The Chennai which was then Madras was where I met my wife, and so meeting her now and then at the American Library or for coffee at the
Consulate, those were obviously the moments that I remember the most. I came to this Library that was once known as the United States Information Center, American Center Library, around about December 1979
so it’s since then it’s been a long time to come here. This is actually the
first floor and the favorite place I used to sit is somewhere near overlooking the
Cathedral. Perhaps, I am one of the world’s oldest person’s currently using an American Library. A good library atmosphere was good, and the collection
was recent, representing the American Culture, Science, and Technology as well as the political value system and other things. Those days we could just sit under the
tree, so we would all sit under the tree and wait for our friends to come. Come to
the Library, then you know walk across for a lunch here, and then walk across
there for a movie which was Sapphire, so all those landmarks have gone. The Consulate auditorium has screened several hundred films over the past 50
years. Today we have access to global cinema and American classics at our
fingertips, however for many Chennai locals it was here at the auditorium
where they got to experience American classics and cinematic excellence. I’ve been part of a film festival which we held here which was all of a musical. Changing times also meant changing technologies. While the Consulate
connected two nations, it also kept pace with technology, connecting people
locally and globally through exclusive programs and ease of access to Library
resources. I remember bringing in our first satellite dish receiver on a bullock
cart, because you couldn’t bring trucks downtown to Gemini. I remember doing
American election results watches where we had to actually have a painted board
of the 50 states, and I remember doing my first World Net dialogue which was in
the days before digital video conferencing where we had satellite
hookups and phone conference hookups with the United States, and we were
nervous wrecks, but it all worked. Outside the Consulate, we’ve had the
elections where we were part of. We watched in Taj Coromandel, how the
actual U.S. Presidential elections were going on in the U.S., so many lovely
memories. I think a lot of good memories associated with the Consulate. When I joined the library was fully printed word. So, books magazines whatever was
there it was on print. With the coming of the information technology and the
technological tools, we moved on to different microfish then CD-Roms and
then online databases, and things like that. It reminds me of my days when I
was doing research out here for my MPhil especially, where we used to
extensively use the microfish right from my under-graduation days we did go for seminars and so on, but then this is so much more easier. The commercial service works on strengthening and building the U.S.-India business partnerships. So, I would say 1992-93 I remember, Ford team used to come to India to establish their
operations, and every time they visited the Consulate office here in the
building and the used to have meetings with the Consul General and commissioner
officer, and all of us and finally Ford has decided Chennai has their operation. Thank you very much for continuing to serve the community and all the very
best for the next 50! All of these stories wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for this building. We thank you for working, partnering, and
believing in the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai, and for truly making this
celebration a golden one indeed!

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