Celebrating Madras by Sushila Ravindranath

22 Aug

Image Sushila Ravindranath is a city-based journalist.

It is August and is that time of the year to celebrate Madras Week. What started as a daylong event nine years ago has now spread over a month. Why do we need to celebrate Chennai? “We have it all… the Railways, roads, the museum, the Medical College. Yes, the Cholas and the Pallavas began it, and the British, Dutch and the Danes contributed. But today, all that belongs to us. As citizens of Chennai we have to take pride in all that is Chennai today and try to maintain what remains. After all Madras is the pioneer of modern India,” says S Muthiah Chennai’s own chronicler.

The founding day of Madras is considered to be August 22, 1639. It was on that day, in that year, that a sliver of land, where Fort. St. George stands today, was acquired by the by the East India Company. It is believed that this deal was made on August 22, 1639.Today, Chennai stands tall for a variety of reasons. Education, healthcare, IT, history, tourism, auto industries, movies, etc. And yes, it also has its warts.

Madras Day celebrates the city.

Madras Day was an idea that three people put together – the city’s own historian, S. Muthiah, journalist Sashi Nair and publisher Vincent D’ Souza. Later, three others , journalist and web site entrepreneur Revathi R; entrepreneur and writer-historian V. Sriram and me started organising walks and talks.

Madras Day focuses on the city, its history, its past and its present and the core team motivates communities, groups, companies and campuses in the city to host events that celebrate the city. In order to enlarge participation, the Madras Day was expanded to create the Madras Week which is be celebrated from August 18 to 25.It  has now turned out to be Madras month with events spilling into September.

We invite Madras based professionals, artists, writers, businessmen to talk about what Madras means to them. Chamiers has been a popular venue to hold a talk and has been a gracious host. The audience is treated to its splendid coffee and tea and some yummy snacks. This year A R Venkatachalapathy, professor at Madras Institute of Development studies, a brilliant historian and writer gave a talk on advertising in colonial Madras at Chamiers.

He has published widely on the social, cultural and intellectual history of colonial and postcolonial Tamil Nadu. His research interests converge at the intersection of history and literature, and his research focuses on the early history of nationalism, the social history of the Dravidian movement, caste politics, politics of language, and literary cultures. His talk attracted a large audience and there was standing room only at Cafe Chamiers which was generously cleared for the talk. Several years ago, Venkatachalapathy had given a talk on Songsters of the Crossroads when  Chamiers was across the road.  In Chennai in the early years of the 20th century, people used to gather on road corners and sing about current affairs. The subjects he chooses are riveting and an appreciative crowd stays till the end to ask questions.

Chamiers is fast becoming one of the land marks of Chennai. What better venue to host the Madras day talk.

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