Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVII No. 10, September 1-15, 2017
After years of studiously avoiding the subject, the Government of Tamil Nadu appears to be waking up to the possibility of joining Madras Day celebrations. That is, if a recent pronouncement is to be believed. If this is true, it is indeed a welcome development and we sincerely hope that the statement will translate into action.
As officialdom has a tendency to forget its statements when convenient, we are publishing an extract from The Hindu dated August 11, 2017 wherein the following question was posed to the Commissioner, Corporation of Greater Chennai, and he replied as quoted thereafter:
“With the Foundation Day for Madras falling on August 22, this month is considered a heritage month. Does the Corporation have any plans to celebrate the Foundation Day?”
“Not this year. Because the initial phase of Chennai Metro Rail opposite Ripon Buildings is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Only after its completion will the restoration of Victoria Hall be taken up. We are planning to organise a series of events, including a heritage walk between Ripon Buildings and Victoria Hall, photo exhibitions and a heritage talk, to mark the Foundation Day of the city next year (2018).”
If this is indeed going to happen, it signifies a change in the stance of the Government. It was only in 2014 when asked the same question that an official had famously declared that the Government will not be involved in the celebration of anything colonial and would only seek to promote ancient Tamil heritage. To this our counter was that Chennai too boasts of much ancient Tamil heritage and the Government would do well to highlight that, if it felt that was the best way to celebrate Madras Week.
Madras Week as a concept may be a decade and a half old now but for the past few years, its prime movers have repeatedly emphasised that this is not a commemoration of just the founding of modern Madras but a celebration of everything the city stands for and what it has contributed to modern India. It is therefore rather unfortunate that a certain section persists in repeatedly branding this event as colonial and elitist. But, fortunately, that voice has been rather muted in recent years. In this context it is noteworthy that a parallel series of events has been held for the past two years during Madras Week under the auspices of the Chennai 2000 Plus Trust which aims to celebrate only the ancient history and glory of Tondaimandalam. The body also hotly contests the belief that the city was founded only in 1639. We welcome such a divergent view for it is only by debate and multiple views that a civic society can develop. And we also note here that the body has chosen to express its views through a celebration. May it get the support it warrants.
The biggest feather in the cap for Madras Week would be when the Government chooses to join in. That would result in tourism receiving a great boost. Commercial interests – shops and hotels – will also feel emboldened to become involved and the entire commemoration could be developed on the lines of the Dubai Festival. The city can only benefit from such a move, as has been suggested in the past.
Madras Week began in a small way, promoted by a few journalists who are heritage enthusiasts, a group perhaps educationally elitist. That is the way any progressive move begins. It then can sustain itself only when it becomes a mass movement with different expressions and views. Madras Week has now reached that level; it now appears to have a life of its own. Its next major thrust will happen when the Government shows its willingness to join in the celebrations. 2018 may be a game changer after all.