Over 150 events spread across several locations and organisations of the city have just come to an end. All of these were to commemorate the 375th birthday of our city. The events witnessed full houses and were held with the enthusiastic support of the hospitality industry and the media. If this was not a sure shot success, then what was it? Certainly it was NOT what a Tourism Department official apparently dismissed as a celebration of the ‘colonial’ in a display of a mindset out of tune with the times.
Consider the facts – much of what went into celebrating Madras Week this year concerned the here and now. There were discussions on business leadership, security of the peninsula, civic conservancy and the economy. There were views expressed on the challenges that the city faces in its journey to becoming a world-class metropolis. There were presentations on the lives of several noble residents of the city who went on to make powerful contributions to the world. The current generation, to which the British Raj is something that is only in text books, came out in full strength to participate. Are these expressions of a ‘colonial hangover’? What we did was celebrate our city, warts and all.
The same official apparently also said that his department is only mandated to celebrate the ancient Dravidian age, the Sangam era, and the glories of the Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms. If that is so, why was this opportunity not taken to highlight the relics of that glorious past, of which there are several in the city itself? Why were special trips not organised to the Pallava cave at Pallavaram, perhaps the first instance of a temple being hewn out of a rock in India? Could not events focussing on the grand temples that dot the city’s coastline have been planned? Could the Museum not have been asked to showcase its Bronze Gallery and its magnificient collections of inscriptions? By merely dismissing Madras Week as a Brown Sahib event, the Department of Tourism has passed up a golden opportunity. It could have participated, attracted tourists and ensured that everyone recognised that Chennai could be a destination by itself and not a mere gateway to other locations in South India. In fact, all those wishing celebrations of the Dravidian and anything else, why don’t they organise similar celebrations on a voluntary basis?
Approaching the matter from another angle, can we deny that the city itself is a colonial creation? The seat of the Government is still in what was the first British possession in the whole of India. Several institutions that our metro swears by, such as the Corporation, the Legislature, the University, the General Hospital and the transport services, to name a few, are all colonial creations. Should we not be abandoning them all and reverting to ancient practices if the pre-British period is all that deserves to be commemorated? Why not shift the capital itself to some ancient town and when setting it up ensure that no vestige of overseas elements is reflected in it? Let’s face it, Madras has been the capital for 67 years AFTER independence as well. There is enough and more to celebrate from that period also.
Madras Week, as we said, is a celebration of our city. It is where we live, earn our money, educate our children and plan our future. It deserves to be rejoiced in and its achievements need to be highlighted to the world. At an age when the smallest of matters are tweeted and broadcast across the globe, why cannot Chennai with its vast record of achievements not stand up and speak of its glories? Even if it does not have an official stamp, as some celebrations in the past, have had, that the people have spoken loud and clear for the celebrations is all that matters. After all, another great Chennai success, the December Music Season, has survived and grown over 87 years without official support. May Madras Week follow suit.