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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Madras to me is

Last week British Council celebrated the theme 'Madras to me is......' and I wrote this for that Madras to me is...... 

First I need to explain what Madras is as there are several Madrases. Madras conjures up so many things to my mind - most of them are excellent, some extraordinary, some good enough, some ugly. I shall place first a very general outline /statements in the next few paragraphs and then give one or two examples for each one of those statements.

They are not confined by my personal relationship, associations and memories that help me to identify Madras. In addition its identity is, if not totally influenced by, at least tinged with its great history; tempered by its proclivity to permit any aesthetically great culture from anywhere and gradually even let such cultures permeate its soul; its hospitable spirits have enabled historic take offs which in turn played a great role in humanity understanding the science of spirituality and many more. All these have left a lasting impression not only in me who is in love with it but also even for anyone who has bothered to nurture a temporary relationship with it. Neither am I trying to sound ethno-centric nor unleashing paeans based on positive bias.

The impact of Madras is so strong that it has acquired a pan south Indian identity transcending its geographical borders. Not only many North Indians, but even foreigners refer to anyone from any state below the Vindhyas (mostly from Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala) as a Madrasi. However, here for the purpose of a meaningful wholesome identity I am likely to include factors involving whole of Tamil Nadu because many of them were either initiated at Madras or impacted by Madras or survive only in Madras.

Madras is a many- faceted splendor. Of these facets some are highlighted quite frequently by all sorts of media and other sources while some are referred ritualistically as a calendared memorial service in a cursory manner. Whether we like it or not, in fact it is the latter that give Madras its unique identity.

Madras is also an enigma wrapped in mystery wherein life moves on as a pendulum swinging between extremities and stark contradictions often with great tolerance or hypocrisy or both. She has taken on her stride like the silently suffering Indian daughters-in-law the indifferent treatment and battering to her glorious, unique identities.

Madras has its very ugly side too.

1] Tinged with great history.

I am not going to churn up from history text books or google and reproduce a jumbled version of the massive loads of facts from there. I am doing away with anyone who had even the slightest brush with or participation in politics or Government in post Independence period. However, the first ever initiative to politically negotiate with the British, rather to be precise, the seed for the freedom movement of Indian was started by founding the Congress [please do not mistake it with any present day political outfit] by Indian and British members of the Theosophical Society movement, especially by A.O.Hume with an idea which was originally conceived in a private meeting of seventeen men after a Theosophical Convention held at Madras in December 1884. Hume took the initiative, and it was in March 1885 that the first notice was issued convening the first Indian National Union to meet at Poona the following December. Then it was followed up by a nasty history of struggle leading to glorious freedom.

First ever screening of a selection of silent short films was made at the Victoria Public Hall in Madras in 1897 by a European exhibitor.

Similarly of importance and much neglected aspects of the history are the contributions of one man called U.V.Saminatha Iyer but for whom Tamil language would not have got some very rare manuscripts which embellished Tamil Language [ he was in the same mold like Will Durant and a little greater]; Bharathiyar, a poet who should have got nominated for Nobel prize, if not at least some recognition at National level; Kalki Krishnamurthy for writing one of the best historical novels of the world Ponniyan Selvan.

2] Tempered by its proclivity to permit any aesthetically great culture from anywhere.

Single example is Carnatic Music. One of the greatest genres of classical music, by its very name suggests its origin from elsewhere, compositions primarily and predominantly in languages other than Tamil, it has got so well received in Madras that the December season of Carnatic concerts here is the musical equivalent of Wimbledon- rich in tradition and popularity with almost more than fifteen thousand classical music concerts within a span of 20 days.

3] Its hospitable spirits have enabled historic take offs which in turn played a great role in humanity understanding the science of spirituality Some selected examples:-The Theosophical Society and the Theosophical movement started by Madam Blavatsky made its official global operations from Madras. It has an excellent library.

It was from Madras that the great Swami Vivekananda made his trip to USA and resurrected and revealed the glorious vital spiritual aspects and philosophies of Sanatana Dharma to the whole world, talking about enhancing and enjoying life and living in all its vital dimensions namely body, mind and soul through various tools like Yoga; philosophical treatises including atheistic texts; practices like meditation, concentration etc .All of these for purposes of labeling and convenience of identification one can call as the religion of Hinduism.

It was from here the world got one of the greatest liberal philosophers of the century who impacted many lives all over the world, namely J.Krsihnamurthy.

Madras is the only place known to me in the world which conducts a festival for 63 great Saivite Saints on a single day called Arubathu Moovar Thiruvizha, honouring the 63 Nayanmars.

4] Life moves on as a pendulum swinging between extremities and stark contradictions often with great tolerance or hypocrisy or both.

Moving from these extreme forms of globally significant and stirring manifestations which have created positive impacts with total intensity and intense totality in the fields of Classical Music, Theosophy, Spirituality, Philosophy and Religion, it was Madras which had the first most powerful self respect movement in the country, started by E.V.Ramasami Naicker popularly known as Thanthai Periyar, which tried to break the barriers of an excessively caste ridden society and also openly protested against many religious ,traditional and ritualistic practices. He personally and justifiably turned into an atheist after his visit to Kasi, where he was treated inhumanly. He too, like Gandhi never aspired for any post and set an example by removing the caste name suffix ‘Naicker’ from his name. His powerful anti- caste and atheistic movement had a massive impact in Madras and continues to have, of course with many perversions as it is misused by opportunistic politicians of all hues.

Madras has the most active Foreign Consulates and Institutes offering opportunities to learn other cultures first hand through their varied operations like British Council with its excellent Library, Alliance Française in Madras which incidentally was the first to screen excellent French movies in addition to its literary activities, Max Muller Bhavan, Russian Cultural Centre, US consulate with an excellent Library etc and all these multiple language and cultural institutes stay comfortable along with some  political dispensations propagating linguistic chauvinism more for their personal political gains than for any love of the language.

Madras has one of the best and biggest beaches, probably the best medical facilities, maximum number of engineering colleges, varied industries from automobiles to IT, great places of worship for all religions, many heritage sites, places of historical importance etc but devoid of people with any civic sense.

5] Madras has its very ugly side too. The entire population of Madras must hang its head in shame with a feeling of guilt for converting two great water resources the Adyar River and Cooum river into open drainage. Until either the public or the Government does something to undo this blunder Nature will definitely give grave troubles to the very survival of Madras. Should n’t we bother to do something to protect such a great place – our beloved Madras? 

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