Thursday, September 04, 2008

Raja Seetharaman; R.I.P.

This was not the way we could have closed Madras Day 2008.
Not with an obituary.
But it had to be.

Raja Seetharaman, one of the biggest catalysts of the Madras Day movement died in tragic circumstances on Vinayaka Chathurthi evening, Sept. 3.
Raja died near the Mambalam railway station. He was on his way home after attending a social function when the accident took place.
It is still not clear to us how Raja died - was he tossed aside by an oncoming train and fell on stone and injured himself badly in the head? Or was he thrown aside by a moving train?

We have lost Raja. The man who had tons of energy and gave it all for a public cause.
He with D. H. Rao had organised the Madras Day exhibition of pictures, coins, postage and books. Year after year. Without seeking rewards.
He who put the Special Postal Covers to celebrate Madras and leave signposts in our history.

Raja was a collector of special things. Coins, postage, covers and wedding invites. But he kept a low profile. His strength - putting shows together. 

He was on stage at the inaugural of the Madras Day exhibition at Rajaji Hall. He made sure I got a copy of the special postal cover.

We met on Sunday at Museum Theatre, Egmore for the release of the first part of the Madras Gazetteer to which he had also contributed a chapter. Over refreshments, we talked about how we should take the show to north Madras for 2009. We parted after a long chat.

We had parted for life. 
I was at his funeral on Sept.4 - the first time I stepped into his house on Iyyah Mudali Street in Chintadripet. A well maintained heritage house which had been a stop on V. Sriram's walking tour just weeks ago. I just couldn't bear to go close to his body.  

How do we remember such souls who have been proud of Chennai and did some thing unique for its celebration? When I asked a reporter of 'The Hindu' to write a tribute he said Raja was not a celebrity. So he couldn't convince his chief to spare space for Raja.

Perhaps we will remember him differently. 
Every 'Madras Day' should open with a recall of his contribution.
Tributes must live on. Men can't.