Why celebrate Chennai?

As Madras Week draws closer, historian V Sriram talks of the various reasons to celebrate the city.

There we go again, asking everyone to celebrate Chennai, for Madras Week is just around the corner (August 18-25, 2019). The cynics we are sure, must be already practising their counter chorus beginning with the usual litany – Chennai was not founded in 1639, the weather here is uniformly bad, there is a perennial water crisis, the roads are terrible, the civic body inactive and the traffic chaotic. To all of this we agree in toto but these in our view do not in any way detract from the fact that there are several aspects to Chennai that are sufficient reasons to rejoice.

Firstly, it is home to so many of us. And despite its lack of roads, water and much else, let us remember that we continue to live here, call it home and also, it must be admitted, have contributed in some way or the other to the problems it faces. This is where we ply our trade, educate our children, practise our customs, celebrate our individuality and much else. Chennai has given us space for all this and we must be thankful for that. And when it comes to civic issues, which city is wholly immune to them? Chennai has many achievements to its credit. While its many firsts have been documented sufficiently in this blog and elsewhere, we need to also look at the many ways it contributes to the nation. Chennai being the medicare capital of India is well-known, but how many of us know that it accounts for 40 per cent of the medical tourism inflows into India?

We always knew that Chennai is referred to as the Detroit of India, but how many of know that we produce one vehicle every three minutes that places us ahead of Detroit? When it comes to leather exports did we know that Chennai and Kanpur are forever neck-to-neck for reaching the top slot? And our record in IT is certainly impressive. If all this was not enough, our achievements in enrolment for school education and higher education, and our performance on public health are the envy of most other cities of India. It is just that in our characteristic understated fashion we prefer not to talk about any of this.

Pic credit : V Sriram

Madras Week is not just about celebrating a colonial past as many have unfortunately depicted it. It is all about cherishing what is good in our city and making it known to everyone. Are any of the achievements listed above from our colonial times? Hardly. All of them are peaks that we have scaled as an independent people. Is it not necessary to take some time off and look back at what we have attained? And please let us not waste our time on debating if Madras was founded in 1639 or not. There are many answers to that and there is no point in splitting hairs. If you are not comfortable about August as a choice for celebrating the city then let us select some other time of the year. But let us celebrate, that is what matters. Nobody questions the historic veracity of Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, etc but when it comes to Madras Day dates suddenly become important.

We at Madras Musings have chosen August for our annual thanksgiving for the city and we intend to abide by that. If others can come up with celebrations in other times of the year, we will join them then also. But celebrate we will. And so must you. Do you work in a school or a college or a commercial enterprise? Think of how you can join in. If you live in an apartment complex, see if you can organise a celebration. There is no one way to commemorate Chennai – you can cut a cake, clean your neighbourhood, help the deserving, man the traffic, promote water conservation – all of these can be celebrations of Chennai. Do it your way, but do share what you did with us.

Join me in my first of the heritage walks on August 15th evening to commemorate #MadrasWeek – register here 

To get details of Madras Week programmes hosted by Madras Musings, click here

To get details of other Madras Week programmes, log on to www.themadrasday.in 

This story was first published on Madras Musings. It has been republished with permission. The original article can be found here.


  1. Aurobindo Banerjee says:

    Having lived in Madras/Chennai for 23 years, I miss the city every moment and regret my decision to leave it. I wish all the best for the ensuing celebrations.

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