Sunday, August 17, 2008

In the beginning

Over the past few years, a group of disparate people have been coming together to celebrate the founding of Chennai. The Madras Day, as it is called, began in 2004 and this year, it has grown to be more The Madras Week rather than just a day. One of the first events of this year's Madras Day celebrations was a walk inside the Fort St George - that gave me the chance to go into the Fort, something that I last did more than 20 years ago. (Was so excited about it that I got the timings confused and landed up at the Fort at 6.30 am for the 8.00 am walk!)

In a sense, Fort St George is where it all began: the first capital of the British Empire, the founding of the city that would become Chennai Madras, the Boston Tea Party, the funding of Yale University.... with all such thoughts, the group gathered at the parking lot opposite the Fort. Dr S.Suresh, a consultant for INTACH (among other organizations), who led the walk, very quickly put to rest many of the 'where it all began' notions. As he reminded us, Mylapore finds mention in works going back over 2000 years; discovery of Roman coins on the Marina Beach indicates trade links in the 1st century BC. The constituent settlements of present-day Chennai were ruled by the Cholas, Pallavas and other dynasties; the British integrated all these settlements into one administrative unit. Still, the building of Fort St George did begin something new - and that is what we should keep in perspective when we think of Chennai's history.

In the photo, Dr. Suresh is seen holding up a coin from the period when Chennai was first occupied by the Cholas. As the 50-odd people on this walk passed this coin around, trying to take photos showing the inscriptions on it clearly, I am sure Dr. Suresh had his heart in his mouth!


Kris McCracken said...

Do locals interchange Madras and Chennai as names? I must admit, I am getting used to calling it Chennai now!

LVISS said...

I still remember the rupee ana paisa days (Rooba ana pai in Tamil)The price tag of some things had all the three deniminations. 8annas made a rupee .Those coins had holes in them. The naya paise came and changed evrything and only vague remebrances of those coins remain.

Shantaram said...

>> Kris>> Almost everyone has got used to Chennai, though 'Madras' does slip in once in a while. Interestingly, it was always called Chennai in Tamil!

>> Ravindran>> And to think that 2000-year old coins still show up sometimes!

Mylapore Times said...

We welcome posts on the Madras Day events and appreciate the many you have posted here.
The observations on Raman's book is timely - we also need more books on the city in the new century - the 60s and 70s must also get documented.

As should neighbourhoods and families and institutions.

If we start this now, Madras Day 2009 will have 10 people to talk on the subjects.

You could document the "French rule of Madras' and deliver one next year!

Shantaram said...

>> Vincent(?)>> That's an interesting idea - will work on it!