Kick into celebratory mode with our list of must-do things this Madras Week. And for those who want it bigger next time, we ask locals the way forward. By Mrinalini Sundar & Surya Praphulla Kumar
It comes every year, with colour and contests, excitement and exhibitions. This year’s a little more special because of the numbers involved: Chennai turns 375; our Corporation turns 325; and oldies like the Rippon Building, Queen Mary’s College and Women’s Christian College hit the century mark. Moreover, the boundaries of the birthday party are expanding—with the Coovum river being mapped, events being organised in places like Perambur and Thiruvottiyur, and even a token affair taking place in Kuala Lumpur. We look at some of the more interesting things you can do in the coming days—from August 17 – 24.
Take a shot
Figure out where to click the best photos in the city by going on the photo walks (August 10) being organised by photography enthusiast R Muthusamy, in different parts of the city like Aminjikarai, Velachery and Tiruvottiyur. “At Tiruvottiyur, we will cover three important temples and a dargha,” he says. And the pictures you click will come in handy, as the Photographic Society of Madras (PSM) is conducting a contest—entries for which have to be submitted before August 15. (Details: firstname.lastname@example.org). PSM’s honorary secretary, Thomas T Abraham, also has some suggestions. “Mylapore is a great option, but focus on the activities around the temple. Parry’s corner on weekends and the Koyambedu vegetable market are good places, too,” he says. Details: themadrasday.in
Under the gopurams
Here’s a nugget you might not know: the Shiva sanctum in the Thiruvottiyur temple is oval in shape, a rare architectural design known as gaja prishta (elephant’s back). That’s just one of the many things historian Chitra Madhavan plans to reveal during her talk, Little Known Facts about Well-Known Temples in Chennai. “I will be looking at four to five key temples like Kapaleeswarar and Parthasarathy in Thiruvallikeni. And I will discuss its history, architectural and sculptural peculiarities and events that took place there that people may not know about,” says Madhavan. By invite only. August 26, at 6.30 pm, Hotel Savera. Details: 28114700
Mad about MADras!
How better to celebrate what makes us unique than by laughing at ourselves, asks cartoonist Biswajit Balasubramanian. And promising to induce chuckles are over 100 of his works, inspired by the city, to be showcased at the Forum Art Gallery. “I want people to see them and connect with them immediately. Like an old one on water scarcity—where a couple at a restaurant find that while wine is on the house, they have to buy water off a water menu—a topic that is still relevant today,” admits Balasubramanian, adding that he has picked cartoons from 2005 to the present day. “I have also brought some of my cartoons to life through fibreglass sculptures,” he says, adding that he will exhibit a few samples. At the gallery, August 18-20, 10.30 am to 6.30 pm. Details: 42115596
Birds and the bees
Chennai is one of those rare cities where you can go for a walk and spot animals. Like at the Pallikaranai marsh. “Now is a great time to spot over 40 species of birds including flamingos and spot-billed ducks,” says Vijay Kumar, of the Madras Naturalists Society, who is organising a walk on August 24 at 6.15 am. Details: 9840090875
Elsewhere, the Nizhal foundation have four walks planned. We love the Siddha medicine tree walk at Panagal Park (August 23, 5-6 pm), the musical tree walk at Kotturpuram (August 23, 7.30-8.30 am) and the insect tree walk at Nageswara park (August 24, 5-6 pm). “On the walks, we’ll show you trees like the Arjuna, which was used as early as the seventh century to make medicines for heart ailments. You can also listen to Vidwan R K Shriramkumar sing songs associated with trees, like the Madigam that you find in works like Sivagamiyin Sapatham,” says Latha Nathan, a member of Nizhal.
Riding a bike is great exercise and a green way to travel. It can also be an education—especially if you go on the heritage rides in Perambur and ECR. The Perambur ride (August 17) starts from Vepery at 5 am and will cover Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine and the locomotive factory. “We are in the process of getting permission to enter the factory,” says Ramanujar Moulana, founder of the Cycling Yogis group. The ECR ride (August 24) will be interesting for history buffs. “We will start from Madhya Kailash at 5 am and cover Tiruvanmiyur, Covelong and Tiruvidhanthai—with its mix of Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples like Marundeeswarar and Kailasanathar—and the Sufi dargah, before returning to Neelankarai where we will breakfast at Madras Square cafe and listen to a talk by Jahiram Janakiraman, an avid cyclist, on his experiences about cycling in Madras during the ’70s and ’80s,” adds Moulana. Details: 9884023123
Food for thought
How many of you know the Welcome Hotel in Purasawalkam? According to food lover Sridhar Venketraman, the hotel serves some of the best idli sambar in town. “This area consists of several such small places that serve good food,” he says. As for the other food walks, look out for the ones at Purasawalkam and Triplicane that will go to joints that serve bread bajji, Mysore bonda, goli soda and more. Venketraman likes Mint Street, too. “The famous Mehta Brothers that serves sweets and is well known for its vada pav, is a must-visit for foodies. In fact, they’ve opened their new branch in Purasaiwakkam,” he shares. The Purasawalkam walk is on August 21, from 5.30 pm. Details: 9790957208
Road to Mandalay
Dress up in a sarong, with a long-sleeved blouse and flowers in your hair (a la Aung San Suu Kyi) to kick-off Madras Week? Well that’s what food critic and columnist Geeta Doctor encourages you to do on August 17 as she hosts an evening tracing the journey from Madras to Mandaly. “There is such a strong underground connection with Burma which seems to have been lost through the years. I will look back at when Indians from Burma returned to our shores 50 years back, how they settled and spread in what is now known as the Burma bazaar,” she says, adding that historian S Muthiah will discuss the contribution that Chettiars made to the Burmese economy and Visalakshi Ramaswami will talk about utensils of Burmese origin, like the Mandalay karandi, and foods like kavunarisi (a red rice halwa made for the Burmese monarchy). A short seven-minute film on contemporary Myanmar by Shylaja Chetlur will also be screened. “The evening will also feature chef Rajesh’s khao swe, the popular Burmese noodle soup,” she signs off.
At the Lotus, The Park, at 6.30 pm. Details: 42676000
Historian Mohan V Raman says the birth date of veteran actor T S Baliah on Wikipedia is wrong. “It says August 22, but it is 23. He had once mentioned in an interview that his nakshatram is Uthirai and, in that year, it falls on 23rd,” Raman tells us, setting the tone for his talk on the actor, his childhood, career in films, his projects and his life. At Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers, on August 23.
Wear namma Chennai
Express your love for all things Chennai by picking up a T-shirt and cap commemorating the day. While the tee will feature this year’s winning design—monochrome silhouettes of the city’s landmarks—the cap will be emblazoned with the line, Chennai: My city is 375. “Depending on sales, designs by the runners up will also go up,” says Vincent D’Souza, one of the organisers of Madras Week. Available from August 15, in medium and large, on the website. Price to be fixed. Details: themadrasday.in
Chennai and food go hand in hand. So aren’t we glad the hotels are pitching in with some tasty treats.
■ The Gateway Hotel is hosting Madras Curry Week at Buzz, where you can sample finger-licking dishes like Tanjore Marathi kebabs, fiery Madras lamb curry, traditional kolla urundai (meatballs) kuzhambu and more. From August 17-24. Dinner buffet at `950 plus tax. Details: 66802500
■ At the ITC Grand Chola, Madras Pavilion will feature a variety of rasam and sambar prepartions, appetisers like Marina bhajji and dishes like Triplicane biryani as part of their lunch and dinner buffets (`1,600++ and `1,700++); sample signature dosas, idlis and vadas at Cafe Mercara Express as part of its Tiffin Appreciation; and tuck into filter kapi macarons and chocolates as part of room service. Details: 22200000
■ The savouries made by the mami at Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers has plenty of takers in the city. Now, as part of Madras Week, the hotel is boxing her masala vadais, murukkus and thattais so you can take them with you on the walks and rides. Price to be fixed. Details: 24994101
We hear that Armenians from Paris are teaming up with the Armenian community in Chennai to
hold a week-long celebration as part
of Madras Week. To be held at the Armenian church in George Town, it will include talks, exhibitions and tours
of the area. Dates to be finalised.
Walk the talk
We are looking forward to two heritage walks. On the Sowcarpet walk, organiser Karthik Bhatt says we must check out a by-lane in George Town called the Kandappa Chetty Street. “That’s where the procession for the unique kodai (umbrella) festival starts,” he says, adding that the tradition began when “a small group took an umbrella to the deity in Tirupathi.” Participants will also get to meet Gujarati families in Sowcarpet. The Lloyds Road walk will look at the famous names who lived there. Says organiser Mohan V Raman, “While I will concentrate on the people who belonged to the entertainment section, (historian) V Sriram will focus on the people who were into music. And together we will talk about the famous lawyers and other personalities who lived there and how the name Llyods came into being.”
Vincent D’Souza, the editor of Mylapore Times, feels Mardras Week has been growing organically over the last 13 years. “We can’t compare it with anything abroad—with their parades and concerts—because those events are very organised and, quite often, sponsored. Here, we rely on voluntarism. More people are now showing interest—something we nurture and encourage.”
Next year, turn the spotlight on city messes—a distinctly Chennai institution—feels consultant chef Regi Mathew. “We should organise a tour of all the best messes such as the Mylai Karpagambal mess and the Nair mess in the Mylapore-Triplicane area,” he says.
Madras Week should also be about giving back to the community, feels singer Suchitra Karthik. “Lets launch sustainable projects like bringing in solar power. If such passion is shown, then more youngsters will volunteer. In fact, I will do a free concerts to help generate money,” she says.
Venkataraman Balakrishnan, of Theatre Nisha, thinks the celebrations can be made bigger. “What would be intereting is an auto parade—all the tourist autos and namma autos on Mount Road. Or all the Carnatic singers, from T M Krishna to Bombay Jayshree, performing on the streets. Now that’d be amazing,” he says.
While the grownups do their thing, the kids get to play. Among the several activities planned is a workshop on 3D model making with old Madras photographs (August 19 at DakshinaChitra. Details: 9841777779). Also check out the ‘Walk and make a Madras scrapbook’ event planned for August 23 and the photo walk in the village of Kottur on August 24 (at 6.45 am). But our pick is the heritage walk at Fort St George, which will keep kids engaged with map-reading sessions, word games, art contests and scrapbook making. On August 23, from 9 am. Details: email@example.com.