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!


Anonymous said...

Call me wet a blanket, or spoil sport. Madras or Chennai call it what you like, is not yet fit for celebrations. Chennai is neither as glamorous as the cities of South America or nor as spirited as Munich during the Beer Festival. Nevertheless, you want to provide fun and frolic for those who can afford it. No harm. Only my newspaper vendor or milk sachet delivery boy are not a part of the inheritance you celebrate even though their families have lived in Chennai for over a century.

Frankly, what are the objects of heritage buffs, apart from a few photo-ops for those who already hog the print space in the elitist English daily? . Old buildings, unwashed and unpainted as the Queen Mary’s College – which they prevented from being reconstructed into a useful, modern and definitely what would have been aesthetically more satisfying waterfront building , out of antipathy to the then Chief Minister- , old memorials hidden by withering trees or unauthorized hoardings , pot holed narrow streets, hopelessly unusable pedestrian walkways and dried up tanks and in short any thing other than what breathes life. Pardon me. Heritage zealots are wont to dig up old names of men and associations , the more British so much the better , if not they should have some foreign connection to the early colonizers like the Portuguese or the Dutch. Incidentally, let me tell you, many who were born after Indian independence are intrigued by the engaging interest of their elders in things British when Britain itself is becoming a footnote as a world power. Also to get into print in the musings of heritage lovers, the names have to be as quaint as they come so that even an octogenarian – I mean the average person- who has lived in Chennai continuously- should not be able to recall.

My gripe is about what will not occupy, the attention of the heritage lovers while in their all engaging pursuit of things bygone. There are people in Chennai who are in no mood to celebrate beset as they are with a plethora of problems and challenges forced n them by the frenetic pace of urbanization. For the hoity-toity zealots it is no matter if the city now is dotted with numerous slums or labour housing colonies on the banks of cesspools of stagnant sewers , or half awake women hovering over syntex water tanks and hand pumps at wee hours of the morning or tiny tots using the pavements for relieving themselves. The longer the slums stay as unique colonies amidst private and splendorous Victorian Buildings or Saracenic style Palaces, these sights may even make their way into the heritage, as some tourists in a perverse way are intrepid enough to want to visit them and be photographed.

That public squalor and private wealth coexist in many places in the world is undisputable and there is no better example than Rio in Brazil which celebrates a hedonistic carnival of scantily clad women in sequins and gem stones while harbouring the largest slums in the world. It is understood that there is even a proposal to build a wall around the slum housing 150,000 people in Rocinha in Rio close to the opulent beaches , ostensibly to detect and contain drug trade but it may be a ruse for having a conducted tour for the rich tourists from America and Europe who visit the opulent beaches close by.

Matters of heritage, world over, are really an elite preoccupation. It is more a manufactured yearning trying to discover and relive a highly romanticized past. It is absolutely of no utilitarian value,, in a fast paced world of technological evolution. One of the pitfalls in recapturing the past, in terms of social reengineering, is that the old splits in society based on religion , caste, language and gender may be accentuated as revisiting the past cannot exclude focusing on differences between man and man as practiced then. For students who choose to study history or sociology reading this may be unavoidable , however for the rest , would it not be better to stress the togetherness of today than the divisions of the past?

Also schools, teachers and students tend to confuse conservation of heritage with conservation of environment and ecology. Saving crumbling buildings like the Bharath Insurance near LIC in Chennai will not contribute one mite to conservation of Chennai , on the contrary it may result in an accident involving injuries. Heritage activists are like the car drivers who drive their cars seeing only the rear view mirror. It will be for more visionary to concentrate our civic energies to make our city as clean as Singapore by drawing up a plan including architectural aspects than engaging in this self-indulgent annual ritual.

Vincent D' Souza said...

You are not a wet blanket at all!
Views are important and must be shared but a terrible trend today is that few people take a stand in public; fewer still reveal themselves.

Madras Day is NOT about romanticising heritage, the East India Company and vintage buildings.

It is about being proud of our city and celebrating it.

Of course, you cannot wish away your history. . what ever shade it might be!

Further, Madras Day in everyone's event - it is NOT organised by a set of people and NOT meant for just the rich and famous.

One of the most endearing events started year was to have groups of school students from North Madras tour south Madras and vice versa - but it needs people like you, your friends and their friends to lend a hand to such enterprise. For, MADRAS DAY is about people getting up to celebrate the way they want to. Not being arm chair critics.

Yes, heritage buffs will have their choice issues to promote and support. Yes, this has and is stil seen as an elitist pre occupation but think for a while what your city and mine would be without its distinct character.
Surely, you do not want the entire city to look like what we fear the IT Corridor on Old Mahabalipuram Road would look like in a few years.

Heritage includes everyday - the canals, the street houses, the parks and the campuses. It is just not about Mughal, Hindu, Portuguese or English buildings. The Madras Day projects given to our city schools focuses on just that. . . .

Finally, many of us do have our reservations about the Singapore experience. And this is not the space to debate about Singapore.

Chennai is Chennai. It is unique and special. MADRAS DAY is a space for its people to celebrate it.

May we have you and your families and friends as volunteers please?

phantom363 said...

we need a leadership with a vision for chennai. great mayors like willie brandt of berlin or la guardia of new york understood their city and worked to create a better place for all its citizens. we need a permanency in the mayoral post, give the mayor with authority and money to carry out improvement schemes based on mass transportation, public health and primary education (in that order):)
happy birthday to the grand old lady of the south - my dear madras

Anonymous said...

You seem to have become more a social celebrity than a journalist. I don't see much " a raving thought" or "writing that inspires" from your factory. Do you know what put me off? I approached you to give me an opinion on my writing and help me network to a place best suited. That request fell on dry stone. If you cannot help an Adyar resident why celebrate madras day? The logic: people are more important than old heritages in a dying city - which is any case too violent and gross for words.

Vincent D' Souza said...

Dear Mr. Anonymous,
Thank you for your comments.
However, when we want to comment or criticise in the public space we should follow a few guidelines. 1) Post our full name and address and not hide behind anonymous names or unintelligble scribbles.
2) We should not indulge in personal references just because a public space like a blog is provided for.

Everybody has a right to a view even on the Madras Day. You have had yours.

By the way, I edit the 'Adyar Times' and scores of people, especially the young, have trained at our newspapers. Your request for an 'opinion' on your writings may have missed our eyes. But you are welcome to mail them again.

However, restrain from posting heartburns here. And if you are enjoying your writing elsewhere the very best to you.

whocares? said...

well , atleast u are courageous enough 2 stand up and answer the point , mr.vincent
even though ur writing standard is degrading , i appreciate ur effort.