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Vol. XXIX No. 9, August 16-31, 2019
Cake-cutting during one of the Madras Week events with staff of Taj Connemara, S. Muthiah, Vincent D’Souza, Mohan Raman and Sashi Nair.
The Chief would have been happy. During his time, Madras Day had metamorphosed into Madras Week and later Madras Month. This year, in what seems a fitting tribute to his memory, celebrations began in July itself, what with a couple of organisations declaring that they preferred an early start so that they do not clash with other events during the peak of the celebrations in August. That bit of logic is so similar to what some sabhas that observe the Music Season in November itself say in their defence. And so is Madras Week becoming like the December extravaganza? It is still early days but we appear to be well on our way there.
This year too, Madras Musings will have its set of eight talks featuring well-known personalities, at some of the prominent hotels in the city. The other regular celebrants are all there too – the Press Institute, the Madras Literary Society, INTACH, Nizhal, the Madras Local History Group, and so many others. The usual complement of walks, exhibitions, book releases and similar programmes are all there. The question is, is this enough?
One of the criticisms often levelled at the Music Season is that it caters to the same audience and at its peak does not have more than 20,000 people at best at the various venues. Madras Week too appears to be toeing the same line – the same faces be it catalysts or participants and even assuming a total of 150 events and a 100 people in each (a gross exaggeration), not more than 15,000 people at most, which is a ridiculously small figure for a city of this size. How is this celebration to be broad based?
One of the strengths, and weaknesses, of Madras Week is the complete absence of organisers, sponsors or any talk of money. Here it differs markedly from the Music Season. On the one hand it makes for very easy running and allows for spontaneity. On the other it confuses people wanting to celebrate but lacking in direction. They keep coming back to the band of catalysts and that puts enormous pressure on the latter, considering that they are at best volunteers with other vocations as their day jobs. The catalysts themselves often end up as bottlenecks.
What is required is for the people wanting to celebrate to understand that they can do anything they want by way of celebration and need not look for approval from the catalysts.
And there are the critics who keep harping on how Madras Week is elitist. To this we have only one counter – we celebrate the way we know best. If there are other ways to do it, which would lead to more people joining in, we would be happy for someone to show us the way. Leading by example is far better than sitting and carping over a situation. If after 93 years the December Music Season can still be a niche event, so can Madras Week after a mere 15. And we don’t want it to be elitist but require some enthusiasts to show us the way.
Actually, a few are already doing that. Vinitha Siddharth’s Kreeda, which specialises in traditional Indian games is organising contests and the proceeds from these will go towards introducing these sports in Corporation Schools so that a 100 teams can be participating in next year’s Madras Week. And Rajith Nair is taking groups of people from South Chennai to Royapuram to show them Avvai Kalai Kazhagam where a museum to Srinivasa Ramanujan functions. Way to go Vinitha and Rajith, and may your tribe increase.