It is the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase from a famed beginning of a work spanning two cities. That line would apply to our Madras that is Chennai too, especially during this time of Madras Day. You would have expected that given the pandemic there would not have been much festivity and you could not have been more wrong. Barring the educational institutions, and you cannot blame them for their absence, practically all the other usual celebrants of Madras Day turned out in strength. In short, Madras Day has come to stay.
And what was most heartening, there were others as well. The Chief Minister, no less, tweeted his greetings on the occasion, which was a marked departure from the previous incumbents who chose to ignore the event. To be fair to him, he had made it a habit of greeting people on Madras Day even while he was in the Opposition. Taking a leaf from his book, the Corporation of Chennai too released a greeting to people on the occasion and unveiled a slew of competitions that included among other things the painting of public spaces and the taking of selfies. There were besides tree plantation drives, beautification of public spaces and mass vaccination programmes on that day. These are significant departures from past non-participation. The only disadvantage we see is that the present Opposition, as and when it comes to power, may choose to associate Madras Day with the current regime and so stay away from it. This has been a trait of Tamil Nadu politics for years and we hope Madras Day will not fall prey to such petty consideration should there be a change in regime in the future.
In short there was no dearth of positivity associated with Madras/Chennai Day, call it what you will. Even the usual naysayers who go to great lengths to prove that the city was not founded on August 22 (we agree, it wasn’t) have remained silent – probably realising at long last that you don’t really need a reason to celebrate. And moreover, what is it that the organisers of Madras Day events really gain from putting together such events? Nothing. In fact, it takes away significant time that could be spent on other and more profitable pursuits. All programmes are put together without a commercial motive – it is therefore nothing but an exercise in positivity.
What amazes us therefore is the way some people choose to make Madras Day an occasion for lament. What is there to celebrate asks one writer. The city is full of problems – there are infrastructural issues, there is pollution, there is overcrowding, and the heritage structures are all pictures of neglect runs the same tract. It also goes on to suggest that Madras was a pristine town that was ruined by the onset of Chennai. Now, this is precisely the kind of colonial mindset that we would like to correct. We are not denying that there are problems in Chennai (for that matter, which city of the world does not have these issues?). But should we allow those challenges to overshadow our manifold achievements? And is it not commendable that despite those shortcomings we are still thriving as a city? As for that imagined construct that Madras was pristine – let us assure these writers who live in roseate, imagined, pasts that pollution of waterways, sanitation issues, health scares and shortages of all essentials were an integral part of life in Madras as it is in Chennai. It is just that these doomsday specialists had probably not noticed them earlier or have conveniently forgotten those times.
Madras/Chennai Day is about thanking our city for what it has given us. As for its shortcomings and failures, it is we the people who are responsible for the same and no benefit can come by distancing ourselves from these issues and blaming someone else for it. Let us make Madras/Chennai Day an occasion to resolve such problems and not lament about them.