Celebrating Chennai

As most of you mus be aware by now, Aug 22, 1639 is widely accepted as the date of founding of the city of Madras. It was on this day the “firmaan” for a small strip of no man’s land was obtained by the British from the local Nayak, Venkatadri.

As Mr. Muthiah, the most vocal voice of Madras History says

To Coromandel’s shores, following the trade routes first navigated by the Arabs, then centuries later by the Portuguese and Dutch, the British came in the early 17th century. Seeking a permanent trading settlement and investment in a textile-producing area, Andrew Cogan, the chief agent of the East India Company at Machilipatnam, sent his Factor at Armagon near Nellore, Francis Day, scouting for a place where the Company, established on the first day of 1600, could find ‘cloath better cheape’.

That he’d found it was what Day reported in July 1639, explaining too the land grant that his dubash Beri Thimappa had negotiated. England on that July day was richer by a strip of ‘no man’s sand’ three miles long, one mile wide at its broadest, protected by the surf-wracked waters of the Bay of Bengal on its east, an estuary in the south and a river to its west. All it needed was a thorn hedge to its north to protect it.

What is the purpose of celebrating this day? Does it matter to the majority of the citizens of this city who barely notice this or are aware of the history? Would it matter to them to know that the Saidapet Bridge connecting Madras to the south was built by an Armenian Merchant? Or that the entire Carnatic(from Kanniyakumari to South Orissa) was ceded by the Nawab Mohammed Ali Wallajah to the British to settle his debts to them for building the Chepauk Palace?

A city is a living being like its citizens. It changes spots with the influx of new communities, the geography changes, what is post once is dirty now, the city that is called Chennai today is completely different from what Andrew Cogan and Francis day founded. If this day is used only to remember the history of the city and celebrate its past glory, it will not serve anything.

Nostalgia is good, but only nostalgia will kill the event. Getting the residents to feel proud about their city is a good starting point to make them expect more out of the city. If the city’s birthday celebrations galvanises a civic movement to save the Pallikaranai Marsh or restore old buildings, just to quote two examples, then it would have served some purpose. I am sure that was the idea of Messrs. S.Muthiah, Sashi Nair and Vincent D Souza starting these celebrations a couple of years ago.

Celebrate Chennai, for what it was, what it is and more importantly, for what it can be.

1 Comment so far

  1. david (unregistered) on August 24th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Well said Chenthil. I completely agree. Its no point onlyliving in the past without giving adequate thought to the present, and more importantly, to the future. Vive le Madras of tomorrow! Lets see how each of us can make a difference.

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