April 2011 sees our publication turning 20. And as it steps out of its teens, this is perhaps the right time to sit back and analyse what have been the significant achievements and failures in past two decades.
Begun as a monthly that later became a fortnightly, Madras Musings has remained true to its stated objective of providing a platform for those concerned with the heritage, history and culture of the city of Madras which in 1996 changed its name to Chennai. That such a publication with an admittedly niche platform has survived all these years is due in a large measure to the 20 or so corporate citizens who have come forward spontaneously and contributed financially year after year. The initiative for that generosity came from N Sankar of the Sanmar Group who garnered the necessary support when in the mid 1990s the paper found the going tough. Chennai Heritage was formed as a not-for-profit company that took over the ownership of the publication. We have also been helped in no small measure by subscribers and donors.
In 1991, heritage was not a subject that was of any importance. It still is not a top-of-mind concern but that it has become a topic of relevance in this city of ours is largely due to this publication. We participated actively in the attempts to save quite a few heritage structures – Spencers, the DGP Building on the Marina, the Senate House, the old Madras Club buildings on Express Estate, Victoria Public Hall… The list is long and the number of losses has been far greater than the number of successes but we did fight a valiant battle on each one. We were of course not the only agency that struggled to change official and general apathy to one of awareness, and our partner in arms was INTACH in most of these instances. Together we have managed to create a scenario today where there is certainly a debate and some degree of soul-searching among stakeholders before a heritage structure is brought down. That, by itself, is a major step forward.
Madras Musings has provided a forum for people to express themselves on issues that did not usually make it to the dailies. Thanks to its continued support for matters such as environment and heritage, newspapers and neighbourhood magazines have come to realise that there is publication-worthy content on such subjects and have begun providing space for them. We have also encouraged a whole host of writers and photographers who have gone on to make a name for themselves as journalists and authors.
The celebration of the city’s founding has been a success. Admittedly, Madras Week was not a Chennai Heritage/Madras Musings idea for it came from Vincent D’souza of Mylapore Times. But a large measure of the credit for making it an annual event with active participation from the general public has to go to Madras Musings. We have been catalysts, encouraging several organisations and institutions to celebrate the birthday of this city. We have provided speakers, helped in the organising of exhibitions and arranged for venues where Madras can be celebrated. After seven years, what began as Madras Day has become Madras Week and moved on to Madras Fornight. Madras Month is perhaps just around the corner.
Our circulation has been going up and today when someone wants to ventilate views on heritage, built and natural, Madras Musings is perhaps the natural choice. All this is most encouraging. One of the biggest disappointments has been the fact that the State has not seen it fit to pass a Heritage Act despite so many evidences to show that it is a crying need. But that is a battle to be fought in the coming years. It is of course a heartening fact that the High Court of Madras has declared some buildings as protected and the Government has appointed a Heritage Conservation Committee to watch over them. Small consolations perhaps but significant steps nevertheless in the battle to protect our heritage, which we intend fighting for with your support.