This humble serial is being offered as a humble dedication to my friend N Rajaram Brahma who having worked hard on Chennai’s Heritage had to go off abroad abandoning his beloved city. It is hoped that one day this migratory bird will return and we will celebrate Madras Week together along with other ‘saha’bodies such as Sridhar Joshi, Karthik Bhat, Mohan Raman et al.
My version of Madras Week began on 18th afternoon at Servion where I spoke on “A Town called George Town”. It was not one of my best and I detected a few yawns. I was a little hampered by a venue that was flooded with natural light (such a refreshing change from these dim lit glass covered venue) which made my pictures appear totally faded. Even I could not make out what was on the wall.
On the 19th morning I gave a talk on Chennai, the Crazy City with a suitably watered down version of my presentation on subject, to the students of 8th and 9th standards at the Asan Memorial School. A senior citizen who was present and who had seen it earlier in its full-blown version was rather disappointed that I had cut the salacious bits! I, being the prude that I am, thought it would be too much for the kids.
And so, fully on a bright Friday afternoon, we had the Press Conference for launching Madras Week at Taj Connemara. The hotel had put out a lavish spread and there were more organisers than the Press but when you saw the coverage next day you realised that these days electronic communications takes care of several things. Good for health too – less eating at Press Conferences, less to and fro travel and less verbiage. The Hindu and TOI in particular did us proud – http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article2374807.ece on Saturday.
The evening of Friday was spent largely with the police. Not so much for any disorderly conduct as for getting permission for conducting the Heritage Tours. This was duly obtained, the document being in suitably archaic language (You shall not beat a TOM TOM or play musical instruments during the procession, being one such instance) but the process was completely pain-free. And so to bed as Samuel Pepys would have said.
On Saturday we had the first of the heritage walks with S Anwar leading 35 of us down Triplicane on the Wallajah Trail. It was fascinating and we covered the Chepauk Palace, the gates posts of the Palace which are at the TNCA entrance, the Mohammedan Library, the Triplicane Police Station (which was the old Langar Khana), the Big Mosque, the Anwari mosque, the Shadi Mahal, the Azeempet Arch, Amir Mahal and the Dastagir Sahib Dargah. We wound up at North Mada street to see the Mylapore Tank, which was donated by the Nawabs of Arcot. Breakfast was at Saravana Bhavan, North Mada Street.
That afternoon, I worked like a maniac on setting up a quiz on Chennai for a set of friends with whom Sarada and I form a quiz circle. That evening I was at the Anna University to give a talk on the life and works of Robert Fellowes Chisholm to the alumni association. They have this year introduced a heritage walk at the Anna Univ campus which was scheduled to be held on 20th morning and later was postponed to the 21st. My talk was to a small but highly attentive gathering. It was all rather hampered by an ancient LCD projector which was near to giving up its ghost (or should I use the more Carnatic expression – shuffling off its mortal coil?) and every photo appeared as an inky negative.
At night there was this rumbustious quiz with everything becoming noisier as ‘spirits’ rose. Went to bed at midnight to wake up all fresh and rosy at 4.30 am to get ready for Mohan Raman’s Kollywood Tour. It rained and rained the previous night and almost the first call was from Mohan asking if the tour was on. Well, after the downpours during the Justice Party Walk (2008?) and George Town by Night tour (2010), this was a mere drizzle and so I said of course we were going ahead.
At 6.30, Kodambakkam was at its galeej and galabai worst but those who had registered were all there. Young K Bhatt got a call from one of our registrants of the previous day saying she was waiting at the Labour statue and we had to gently break it to her that she was just about 24 hours late. Mohan’s walk was a riot. We tramped through mud and slush to hear him hold forth on the rise and fall of the great dream factories. There is a handful of them still hanging on. Breakfast was at Saravana’s Vadapalani outlet. The Hindu has reported on the tour today. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Chennai/article2381749.ece
On both days we had fantastic co-operation from the police and on the second day, an officer accompanied us through the tour. The Hindu had me pontificating on Madras Week in its Downtown edition –
In the evening, Justice Prabha Sridevan spoke to a small but spellbound audience on the life of V Krishnaswami Aiyar at Chamiers, where Mathangi, our gracious hostess served tarts, sandwiches and coffee. It was appropriate that CV Karthik Narayanan, grandson of another legal luminary, Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar, gave a memento to the speaker.
The signature campaign to save heritage is underway and people are signing up in droves. The online version should go up in a day or two.