After seven years of playing the catalyst role in putting events together in some places, I get the feeling that a lot of it is not as spontaneous as it would seem to be. We’ve had two press conferences – one in June to announce broadly the celebration, and the second a week ahead of Madras Week, to drive home the specifics. What if we, the catalysts or coordinators, did not convene the press meets – would we then have had as many ‘celebrations’ of the city or events that are there now? My answer is ‘no’.
People, whether they be individuals, heading schools, colleges or institutions have to be pushed a bit to get events off the starting block. There’s only one school that seems to have earmarked Madras Day and Madras Week in the school calendar. So, why is the spontaneity missing? Does love of one’s city not amount to too much, or doesn’t heritage and allied subjects not rank high at all? I would say heritage does not rank high in a person’s list of priorities.
So, how do we get more people to celebrate the founding of a city? To the best of my knowledge, Chennai is perhaps the only city in India to have such a weeklong celebration bracketing its birthday. There are no straightforward answers to the question as much as there is no short-term solution. The best way is to instill the idea in the minds of schoolchildren from all schools so that when they grow up, they realise the value of protecting and conserving the heritage of the place where they spent their growing years.
The other point is that over the years we’ve been having the same people speaking at various forums. Of course, it’s a pleasure to listen to city historians S. Muthiah and Randor Guy and V. Sriram but we need many others who can speak or make presentations on a variety of other subjects connected to the city. Where are the Tamil speakers? Gnanai Sankaran, Badri Seshadri or Ashokamitran are fairly good speakers and people will come to hear them, but they, and I’m sure there are many more like them, are not part of the week’s celebrations this year. What I’m trying to say is that often it is the same message that goes out, from the same speakers. I think some of the older speakers must make way for new and younger ones.
Overall, it’s schoolchildren who are benefiting the most, from participating in quiz contests, essay and drawing competitions, in exhibitions, and by listening to speakers. The three-day exhibition of Madras memorabilia, put together by the Chennai Heritage Lovers Forum headed by the indefatigable D.H. Rao, at the Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar was a success, with students from many neighbouring schools coming to have a look.
However, a rather disappointing note was struck at the Jaigopal Garodia School in Anna Nagar, when Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan failed to live up to expectations and rather than showing some of the hundreds of pictures he must have taken during his ‘photowalks’, decided to get teachers of the school to demonstrate how they took history classes. His larger message was to get schoolchildren out of the classrooms, a message that we have often heard, and the point was not lost. But if he had enough pictures to show or stories to tell it might have made up for something, but it wasn’t to be.