With Madras Day less than a month away, I am reminded of August 2004 when we got 20-odd schools in Chennai to participate in the School Heritage Project. Even as information about the project appeared in the newspapers - being the first year, reports in newspapers appeared almost at the last minute - we received several calls from teachers, students and parents, all keen to know what Madras Day and the project was all about.
I remember two mothers desperate to have their children enrolled but very disappointed that the schools the children were in did not show equal enthusiasm to participate. Sadly, those children could not take part and I'm sure there must have been many like them. For a city that has so many schools, the pro-active ones can really be counted on your fingers.
Hearteningly though, last year, there were more schools that showed enthusiasm to participate and this year, we hope that the number would further increase.
Let me add that in 2004, we had one venue where the students from the participating schools brought their models and charts for the judges to inspect. The venue was the Rajai Hall - surprisingly, not many students and teachers had heard of it - and that was where we actually got the residents of the city to sing 'Happy Birthday, Chennai' during the grand finale.
Last year, we had the judges from INTACH visiting each participating school to choose the prize winners. And I must say that more than the children, some of the judges showed excitement. One of the judges who was all praise for the students' efforts and told me she was delighted to be part of the committee of judges was Prema Kasturi, now holidaying in the USA with her daughter.
This year, of course, children will have to 'perform on-the-spot'. One of the things children must realise is that the better displays are usually the result of greater initiative and interest. So, forget seeking help from a website on the Internet. Visit an old neighbourhood orphanage, for instance, and get your creative thoughts flowing to produce something special. The whole idea of the School Heritage Project is to get children interested in Chennai's heritage (or heritage in general), be aware of what can be done to protect heritage, and perhaps translate that awareness into action by actually caring for it.