August 26, 2006

Madras Day : the true spirit

'Madras Day' has touched people in the USA.
Numismatist and history buff D. Hemachandra Rao, who, with Raja Seetharaman, put up a fantastic exhibition of coins, postal stationery, pictures, books and maps at 'Clive House' inside Fort St. George this past week, gets a call late at night.
The caller is Rao's longtime friend and brother coin-collector.
A. C. Triloknath has been visting his family and relatives in the USA. He jumps out of his seat while watching the TV coverage of 'Madras Day' and gets to see Rao in the clips on the 'Clive House' show.
Impressed and emotional, he makes that long distance call and offers a donation of one thousand and one rupees. For the 'Madras Day' cause.
Just what we hoped would happen in the years ahead.
That the celebration of a city should motivate its people to do their own thing.
I accompany a colleague to the 'Live Heritage Projects for Schools' show for the north Chennai region. At a wedding hall near Toll Gate, about sixteen school teams who have toiled since 9am that morning await our arrival. The hall comes alive when we enter this place, every school team is eager to tell us about the work that they did to put up each project on a local landmark or their own neighbouhood.
One team stuns us. Makes us smile. Makes me cry inside.
The team from The Saivite Middle School of Vallalar Nagar.
Theirs is a brilliant and unique project - with models, charts, vintage pictures and song, the team of A. Balaji, V. Pavitra, Md. Salman Sheriff and R. Geethanjali trace the story of their own school which will be 100 years old next year!
And they begin their presentation with a 'villupattu' and bring all their companions inside the hall - teachers, students and onlookers - to their nook here.
Sheriff hits the right notes, like a trained performer on stage. The string breaks but he carries on and his teacher keeps it taut by winding it around her palm.
For all of us who have been encouraging people, groups, volunteers, hosts and artistes and people for the 'Madras Day', this single incident may truly be the spirit of the celebration of this city we call Madras or Chennai.
It has truly been a wonderful community event this past week.(If you still have not soaked in it, check out the weekend events at
And we get the feeling that this could well be the start of a unique city event.

August 19, 2006

Madras Day : Involvement of youth

Here is the good news for Madras Day. Lots of youngpeople are asking us questions. Many others want to get involved. Wow!
The School-KFI is keen to send 12 students on the FortSt. George walk. Since I have time on my hands forTuesday morning (Aug. 22, 9.30 am), I will double up as the guide. This walk is exclusively for schoolstudents and we are willing to accommodate at least 75kids on that special tour.
Well, you can make this tour on your own but mmmmm. .. . you may not get to the army barracks or to the hidden ramparts. Nor will you get to imagine the whirr of ghosts that swish through the ruins at the far end of Snobs Alley.
A lot many schools have also signed up for the popular Heritage Project. To be hosted by six schools in different neighbourhoods - over150 students will spend six hours to put up a project from scratch - and weare encouraging them to bypass models of Central Railway Station and San Thome Cathedral and focus on the history of their own neigbourhoods or the condition of local canals or explore a heritage house.
You would agree that we need to get our children to know our city better. So that they grow up to have a say in its affairs.
Some of us are also blogging our own experiences in the run up to Madras Week ( Aug. 20 to 27).
A sort of behind-the-scenes journal.(
Feedback has been flowing in here ( and we’d love to have more!).
A senior gentleman wonders why we are making so much about ‘Madras Day’ and so much more about heritage buildings when his milk man and his maid have to be more bothered about the daily grind than a city’s celebration.
Another wants to know how a neighbourhood in North Madras can get up an event to celebrate the city.
I wouldn’t want to go into a debate on the pros and cons of‘Madras Day’.
We believe that we need to be proud of this city, warts and all, and that an event is an occasion to bring awareness, focus and re-generation.
If our young people are showing greater interest in our city, our seniors could do more.
Madras Day is not just about waving flags or illuminating public or important buildings. It is also an occasion for people to debate on issues and work on them.
I can’t think of a better one than a closer look, a discussion and follow-up on what the recent state budget has for this city.
Yes, there is a handsome budget for development of north Madras, of addressing the transport demand and civic issues.
But isn’t there a need for people to engage with ministers and bureaucrats on the budget as well as on the planning and implementation process?
On the blog, I receive a comment just now - on the need for strong city mayors with vision and courage to take Chennai forward. What do you think?
Perhaps if all our CEOs and community leaders got together and formed a ginger group-like body, things would be a little better.
Think of it - we haven’t seen this happen in Chennai. Why?

August 12, 2006

Aug.15 is important: So is Aug.22

Will the rains wash out Madras Day? Not if the Gods are on our side.
It is a thought that races across my mind as I race across the city after a press conference.

Journos like us attend press-cons but at this one, with historian and story teller S. Muthiah by my side, I have to address my colleagues - on Madras Day 2006.

And we do this between deadlines of our very own newspapers!
The best thing about being involved with the Madras Day celebrations ( is that our efforts are purely voluntary and that we enjoy the manner in which the efforts move forward, with the hiccups.

The Taj Coromandel's General Manager Prabhat Verma and his team play host to the press-con.
Prism PR, promoted by Satyan and Parul Bhatt co-ordinate the invitations and the media calls. And an event is on - in days.

Later this month, Vintage Vignettes will join hands with Forum Gallery in Alwarpet to host an exhibition of pictures of vintage Madras in the lobby of the Taj Coromandel.

Badri calls us up. Yes, he is free to give two talks in Thamizh - one on the history of cricket in Madras and two, on the origin and growth of the Thamizh publishing business here.

Badri runs Kizhakku Pathipagam in Alwarpet, rolling out a new title a week and between that job and many other passions, will spare time for the Madras Day.

Now we have to find two organisations who can host Badri. Do you want him over?
This is how this event works.
People to people
Organisation to organisation.

'Nalli' Kuppuswamy Chetti was gracious in donating a large rolling silver trophy for the winners of the Madras Quiz last year. This year, when we wanted him to extend further support, he didn't even wink. So we will have a rolling trophy for the winner of the Madras Quiz in Thamizh and small mementos for the top winners in both.

Look further - Avinash Mudaliar who won the Madras Quiz last year volunteered to conduct the quiz this year. Avinash is mad about quizzing and works out of Bangalore but he will host this one for Chennai for peanuts. We love you Avinash!

There is still time for you to organise your own events. Or soak in some of them.
And if it rains, soak in the rains.

And try your hand at writing some lyrics on Madras' weather. We have a contest for that one too!

August 04, 2006

Madras: get to know your city

Take this teaser.
You know where the present light house is in this city.
Yes, on the Marina beach, close to Gandhi statue.
Where was the older light house then?

Let me help you along.
If you have been to the Madras High Court campus, or even lingered on its fringe and looked up at the designed domes, you will get to see the remnants of the lights of the older light house on top of one of those domes.

But there was yet another light house. One which guided all the ships whch ran the trade of the East India Company.
Where was that?

Well, it was atop the building which is now the Fort Museum inside Fort St. George where the Secretariat is.

If you are driving north down the beach road towards Parrys Corner or further north, slow down as you approach the fort and look sharply to your left and you will locate the Fort Museum building, one of the oldest surviving in the fort campus which is going to seed.

Now if you know all this and more then you should be at the annual Madras Quiz that is scheduled for August 27 afternoon at P. S. School campus ( more info is posted at

It will be a fun event and since two people can make a team a good combo could be a 60 year-old who can crack the questions on ‘old’ Madras and a teenager who can go for the new Chennai. The quiz is just one of the many events which will celebrate Madras Day (August 22)

The list of events is growing by the day.
Kanimozhi, yes the poet-activist daughter of the chief minister, has just confirmed that she will present a talk on Thamizh poetry of the city while the Taj Coromandel plans to display pictures of vintage Madras in its lobby.

Oxford University Press intends to present readings from the books of city-based authors while an anonymous geek said he would like to have a web cam installed at Gemini Circle on August 22 and let all the home-sick Chennaiites have a fill of the roar and smoke and glitz and colours of the city centre - at least for the day!

Madras Day encourages people to do their own thing. In their place. In order to celebrate the city.

As you prepare for it, pick up a pen and on the calendar on the wall or on your desk, mark Madras Day against August 22.

By the way, August 15 is our Independence Day.