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Vol. XXXI No. 10, September 1-15, 2021

Madras Week – A lot of positivity among some negativity

by The Editor

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.

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  1. calicut krishnan subramaniam says:


    Have you heard such an announcement on a railway platform? Yes; Such an announcement was made for local trains from Beach Station to Tambaram. As a student studying in Madras Christian College this was a regular announcement when the train touches Mambalam the local announcement without a loudspeaker usually announced shouting Vandi Guindy Nikkathu. This is a caution for the Guindy trains to get down in the previous station or cross Guindy and get down in the next station. This was a regular feature as there was no public announcement system those times. The sequence of stations from Chennai Beach, Fort, Park. Egmore, Chetput, Nungambakkam, Kodambakkam, Mambalam, Saidapet, Guindy, St. Thomas Mount, Palavanthangal, Meenabakkam, Trisulam, Pallavaram, Tambaram Sanatorium, Tambaram. Indeed, it was a gift from the British to India.

    The railways were intended principally to transport extracted resources – coal, iron ore, cotton and so on – to ports for the British to ship home to use in their factories. The movement of people was incidental, except when it served colonial interests; and the third-class compartments, with their wooden benches and total absence of amenities, into which Indians were herded, attracted horrified comment even at the time.

    People were willingly travelling by local trains and their journey was rather comfortable and the cheapest mode of travel. As a student of Madras Christian College, Tambaram, it was the only option to travel by local trains on a daily basis, And a “Vandhi Guindy Nikkathu” was a common announcement on this route. Those days Guindy was not given much importance on those days when Horse Racing was not there. With a person walking across the platform loudly at the top of his voice announcing ” Vandi Guindy Nikkathu ” thus cautioning passengers there is no official stoppage at Guindly for this train. In Mumbai only fast trains used to skip some stations to provide a fast mode of travel. But this was followed in Chennai, a long time back.

    Madras Christian College had many celebrities and the great Tamil Actor Gemini Ganesh of yesteryears. He was a demonstrator in the Chemistry department at Madras Christain College and used to do all acrobatics including jumping the college compound wall. He was a complete sportsman and he enjoyed playing cricket. Travelling by train, the local students loved to hear ” Vandi Guindy Nikkathu ” on reaching Mambalam or Saidapet to caution the passengers well in advance. There we got ” Vandi Guindy Nikkath ” in a manual way of announcement.

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