Chennai’s 375th birthday looks as though it is going to be a bigger bash than ever given the number of events that are being planned. After ten years of conducting the event, the groundswell of volunteers this year has come as a pleasant surprise. It is also posing a challenge to the catalysts behind the show – some volunteers have venues that need events, others have events that are in search of a venue. That is perhaps easily sorted through a mix and match, but what of those who want to just be volunteers and are seeking out events and venues with plenty of enthusiasm? This has to be nurtured and encouraged. And so if there is anyone out there who needs volunteers for conducting Madras Week events, do e-mail us.
This year is one of several anniversaries – Ripon Building turned 100, the Corporation 325, Queen Mary’s and Women’s Christian Colleges are turning 100 and it is a hundred years since the Emden shelled our city. It also happens to be the death centenary year of R.F. Chisholm, the architect who gave us so much built heritage. It is 50 years since we eradicated small pox. Some corporate houses, a couple of them staunch supporters of Chennai Heritage, are completing landmarks – Parry & Co is 225 this year and Sundaram Finance completes 60. There are therefore enough and more reasons for celebrations and it is to be hoped that every one of the happenings listed above is commemorated in some way or the other.
A very exciting initiative has been the cultural mapping of the Cooum River. A group of volunteers is walking, touring and even stalking the river from its origin to its mouth, listing all the heritage locations along its banks. Last heard, the group was heading to Takkolam on July 20th. The idea is to complete the exercise and then present the findings – both in physical and virtual formats.
It is also interesting to see the way celebrations in the city have changed over the years. Initially, we used to have talks, walks, and school events. A new generation appears to be actively getting involved – the Cooum study will be up on the web, there are promises of mobile apps, marathons, video shoots and even a song on Chennai to be shot and presented as a video track with music by Raihanah, A.R. Rahman’s sister. All of these have happened voluntarily and it is an indication that Madras Week is going on to auto-pilot. And that is perhaps the best, for events such as these must be a spontaneous celebration if they need to survive in the long run.
This is not to say that the traditional element is missing. It is in fact present in greater numbers. There are at least sixteen(!!!) heritage walks to choose from, for instance. The number of schools wanting to celebrate has gone up. There are people outside Chennai who want to celebrate it wherever they are living. And as for the number of talks in the city, we have long since lost count.
But we will be happy with more. The number of events we are targeting is 375, to match our city’s age. We still don’t find any excitement in North Chennai. And we don’t find the retail community responsive enough. Can the restaurants, shops and establishments please chip in? Can the gated communities not join us? And what about the IT industries in their exclusive corridors? We appeal to all of them: come and get the party going …