As was to be expected, the landmark date of April 23, 2015 came and went with hardly a sound.
The 375th birthday of Fort St George was a muted affair, with the principal occupants of the Fort – the Government, the Legislature, the Army and the Navy – treating it as a regular working day with not a sign of any celebration. The one bright spot was the event organised by the Archaeological Survey of India. The prime movers behind this too were private enthusiasts and had it not been for them, our Fort would not have had even this low-key commemoration. It shows the kind of importance that is assigned to history and heritage in our State.
That said, it must be placed on record that the event put together by individual enthusiasts and the ASI was a colourful and well planned one. It was held, most appropriately, in the Fort Museum and, most importantly, was brief and began and ended on time. The highlight was the release of a special day cover brought out by the Madras Heritage Lovers’ Forum led by D.H. Rao, who is also fighting to bring focus on the much neglected Buckingham Canal.
The cover, featured on front page, depicts an early map of the city with a superimposed picture of the first building in the Fort – the domed structure that was once Governor’s House and much else. This was later pulled down and a second Governor’s House built which absorbed forever within the confines of the Assembly building and Secretariat. The cover released by Dr. S. Suresh, Convenor, INTACH Tamil Nadu chapter. Dr. K. Lourdusamy, Superintending Archaeologist, Chennai Circle, and K. Moortheeswari, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Museum Branch, Southern Region, ASI, received it. The event had Vincent D’Souza of Mylapore Times as compere.
In his speech, Dr. Suresh spoke of how the history of Chennai/Madras stretches far beyond the founding of Fort St George. Terming Chennai as a classic site for prehistoric settlements, he traced some of the locations – Pallavaram, Kilpauk and Egmore – where excavations in the past have revealed Palaeolithic vestiges. He added to the city’s long list of firsts – apparently the first Palaeolithic evidence in the whole of Asia was found in Madras in the 1860s.
It was in the speeches of Dr. Lourdusamy and K. Moortheeswari that some of the highlights of the Fort Museum came to the fore. Did you know, for instance, that the only surviving flag among the thousands unfurled all over the country on August 15, 1947 is now preserved in the Museum? This was discovered in a fairly tattered state but wise heads decided to treasure it. The Museum has also taken efforts to become interactive with a special focus on children. A children’s corner has interactive audiovisual facilities for them. A bigger attraction is the ability to swivel a cannon on its pivot. Still more popular is the talking cannon, which tells them in simple words the way these tools of war were operated.
The Museum has also done some commendable work using augmented reality techniques. Thus, by holding a small palm device in front of a screen, visitors can see close-ups of coins and stamps that are in the collection. The details that are visible would otherwise put a great strain on the eye. To commemorate the Fort’s 375th birthday, the ASI also released a digitised version of all the aquatints of William and Thomas Daniells that are in its possession.
If all this was possible by just one agency, imagine what could have been done if all the other occupants of the Fort had joined in? Hopefully, better sense will prevail by the 400th birthday.
For those who are interested – the Special Day Covers can be purchased from D.H. Rao at Rs. 50 each. Contact 9840870172
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