And so, the 375th birthday of Madras that is Chennai has come and gone. What remains is a wonderful memory, a happy recollection of a great week gone by, when several sections of society celebrated the birthday with unprecedented enthusiasion. Truly, Chennai has notched up another first – the only city in the country to celebrate its birthday each year and commemorate its 375th in a most befitting manner.
The team of coordinators is no longer small. This year, we saw the coming of age of the Madras Week celebrations – there were scores of volunteers from every part of the city. Yes, even North Chennai that usually remains aloof organised an event or two. More importantly, each and every event was well attended, thereby encouraging the organisers and presenters even more. The number of heritage walks in the city and events of a similar nature was a mind-boggling 38, all of them with full participation.
There were three factors that made a key difference to this year’s celebration. The first was the participation of the youth. For the first time, Madras Week was not something that attracted only the middle-aged and above. It had gennext in full force, organising, conducting and participating in events exclusively meant for them. It was a spontaneous expression of love for the city. The young also took Madras Week into the world of social media – there were Facebook posts, tweets, blogs and instagram/flickr updates that kept the internet world buzzing. Madras Week clearly is becoming younger each year and that is a very healthy sign. The presence of the young also ensured that IT companies sat up and took notice.
The second was the way the electronic media took an interest in the celebrations. This has never happened in past years. True, the English media did report on it in the past, but the Tamil TV channels had largely dismissed the event as elitist and being celebrated by a minority of people. This year that was not the case. It was in fact the Tamil channels that took the lead. On August 22nd, most of them had flashing messages on the ticker tape indicating that it was Madras Day. They also had special programmes. The radio channels too participated with great gusto. A couple of them had events for the whole day, with one of them presenting programmes by children.
They say that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Perhaps the route to a city’s affection is also the same. For the first time, we had restaurant chains and hotels putting up special food events on a mega scale. At a much smaller but no less significant level were the neighbourhood food walks, creating a new niche among tours around the city. Perhaps it is time that the retail trade too looks at Madras Week on lines of the Dubai Shopping Festival. We hope that this will happen next year so that the celebrations scale yet another level.
This was also the first year that Madras Week went international. The beginning was made in Malaysia thanks to the Indian High Commissioner there, T.S. Tirumurthy.
A photo exhibition was organised and this was very well received. With this we may soon find Madras Week being celebrated in other countries as well. After all, there is no dearth of people from this city among the Indian diaspora.
As this story goes to press, there is no sign of the celebrations winding down. There are exhibitions, talks, walks, quizzes and marathons still to be held, the last event happening sometime in mid-September. Whoever branded it Madras Day will now have to probably consider calling it the Madras Season.