Saturday, July 24, 2010

A great grandfather rediscovered

One of the very special things you feel while doing your bit for Madras Day and Madras Week is the warmth you receive from people and their willingness to cooperate to make the celebrations a success. Most people are keen to offer space, be it a gallery or home or terrace, to contribute and do something. There is no commercial aspect here, no talk of money really. Even those who conduct programmes for children willingly spend their own money for travel and purchase of necessary material. Of course, in case it is a craft or painting workshop, I always tell the person conducting it that he or she can ask the children to bring the basic stuff, so that one person need not spend all the money.

Nobody has asked me all these years: What is the benefit we get? That is the question we normally expect when people are called to do something. So, in a sense, Madras Day and Madras Week are different. It is the love for a city that brings people together. There are so many interesting people you meet, and so many interesting things you learn about the city during the week, which is fast extending into a fortnight.

What is also heartening is the fact that many people I have met or spoken to this year are already looking forward to attending Madras Week events; evidently, the August celebrations have registered in many minds. The other day, I bumped into a person who lives a few blocks away. He came running up to me wanting to know what were the events lined up at Hotel Green Park this year.

Well, I get a hunch that one of the talking points this year is certainly going to be an exhibition planned at Studio Palazzo in Alwarpet. Chitra, president of the Zonta Club in Chennai, who runs the gallery, recently made some discoveries about her great grandfather, a man who quietly assisted in the furnishing and completion of Senate House, between 1869 and 1873.

M Guruswamy Mudaliar worked as supervisor in the Public Works Department, and Chitra now tells me that he was the “right-hand man” of none other than famed architect Robert Chisholm who pioneered the Indo-Saracenic style. What’s more, Chitra’s great grandfather was presented a silver watch by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. And it is some of the letters exchanged during the period between Chisholm and her great grandfather and others, as well as pictures, that Chitra will display at her gallery.

So, this is a must-visit venue. Although the exhibits may not number many, it will certainly, I’m sure, open up yet another interesting facet of the city from the past.

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