With walks, talks, film screenings and contests to sign up for, we tell you how to shift into celebratory gear and make the best of Madras Week.
How do you celebrate a city? With pomp and zero rules. From the time we started celebrating Chennai’s birthday (over a decade ago, in 2004), there’s only been one criterion: everyone does it their way. And this year, on the 377th birthday, this has translated into a very inclusive event. There are walks for the differently-abled, play themes for the elderly, story telling sessions for children and more. “We even have a talk on temples in Vietnam, which seems like an unusual topic,” laughs historian V Sriram. “We did wonder if it should be included, but then (historian) S Muthiah made a point: this is the place from where temple building went across the seas—the Cholas left from Tamil Nadu and introduced the Hindu culture to places like Ceylon and Vietnam. So, in a way, it is also a celebration of Madras,” he explains. With over 50 walks, and an equal number of talks, exhibitions, performances and more, here’s our pick of things to do in the days to come.
Under the gopuram
We visit temples, but how many of us notice the inscriptions on the walls? At the Marundeeswarar Temple, it details the workings of the Chola administration, like tax collection. There is much to discover, says Pradeep Chakravarthy, a history buff who runs Mystical Palmyra, a portal that organises heritage tours. “Did you know there was a thriving Jain population in Thiruvanmiyur back then? We will explore the history, songs and architecture,” he says. There are also games like aadu puli aattam etched on the floor and you can learn how to play them, with some help from Kreeda Games’ Vineetha Siddhartha. August 27, from 7-7.45 am. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Port of call
For the last five years, on one day of the year, the general public has the freedom to amble through the fortified Chennai Port Trust. The day V Sriram conducts his heritage walk. This year, too, the historian promises an informative two-and-a-half hours. “When the harbour’s construction began in 1875, it was classified as one of the greatest challenges man faced against nature. It’s a story of hard work, sacrifice, foresight, politics and more,” he says. While there, spot surviving symbols (like the foundation stone), learn how the port helped mathematician S Ramanujan, and how it even featured in slave trade. Those interested can opt for a sailing experience (at 11 am, Rs 500) and see the three ‘arms’ of the harbour. Last date for registration is today. On August 14, at 6.30 am. Rs 850, including breakfast. Details: 9677203086
Architect Thirupurasundari Sevvel didn’t understand why heritage buffs never highlighted suburbs like Anna Nagar, when it also has a lot of history. So now her organisation, Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai, conducts walks in these ‘neglected’ parts. This Sunday, at 6.30 am, join her for a wander down the narrow lanes of Aminjikarai. “Did you know it’s also called Mini Kanchipuram because it has the Varadaraja Perumal Temple and the Ekambareswarar Temple. The houses also still retain the old flavour, with thinnai and thalvaram,” she says.
Hit the water
Last year’s floods brought the sorry state of our marshlands into focus. While government action is a matter of debate, the Madras Naturalists’ Society is continuing with their efforts to spread awareness. Join them on two walks in the days to come: to the Perumbakkam Tank (August 20, 6.30 am) and the Kelambakkam backwaters (August 21, 6.30 am). “We will focus on how these water bodies sustain vibrant eco-systems, recharge the water table and help prevent floods,” begins G Vijay Kumar, the society’s honorary secretary. If you are lucky, you will get to spot over 40 species of birds, including painted storks, pelicans and coots. “Last year, we spotted flamingoes. The juveniles usually stay back. They are equivalent to our 21st century teens, who want to chill out, especially when there is plenty of food to be had,” he laughs. Details: email@example.com
You’ll find plenty on the British in Madras on Wikipedia and in books. But there’s something to be said about the information being presented to us as stories. Vijay Kamalakara, the founder of Storytrails, is leading two walks that will “talk about the British and how their rule impacted the city. Stories are an interesting way to look at the social histories behind buildings and monuments as these were built by real people, driven by human emotions”. The first will begin from the Gandhi statue on Marina Beach (August 20, 6 am), and will meander from the Lighthouse to the War Memorial, and the second (August 21, 6 am) will be from Beach Station to the Fort. Find out how the British convinced Indian soldiers to travel abroad to fight, and more. Details: 9940040215
Blooms and trunks
The lofty trees that line our roads are oft overlooked, unless it’s noon and we need the shade. But Nizhal, the organisation that promotes ‘tree culture’ in urban spaces, is making sure we don’t forget them or how fast they are disappearing. This year, their walks will focus on landmark trees. “These are old (some over 90 years) and rare trees that are irreplaceable,” says Shobha Menon, one of the trustees. “The walks at Marina Beach and Egmore Museum (Sunday, 8 am and 4.30 pm) will highlight rare trees like the Arjuna, while at the Kotturpuram Tree Park (August 15, 4.30 pm), a dump yard that we converted into a forest, children who volunteer with us will lead the walk,” she says. Menon will also lead a walk at Nandanam (August 21, 8 am), to where “plant artist” OP Ravindran lived. “He planted some rare trees, like the Ashoka and the Purasu (Flame of the Forest), and I will focus on them and stories about him,” she adds. Details: bit.ly/29CT9LO
While LV Prasad Film and TV Academy is organising a tour of their premises for the third consecutive year, this time there’s a difference. The three-hour walk is open to the differently-abled. With support from Explore Differently, an online forum, it will be led by the academy’s regional director, Venkatesh Chakravarthy. Besides sharing anecdotes from the many films the studio has produced, he will also screen a documentary on LV Prasad and give a live demonstration of post-production work at their editing studio. Portable ramps will be placed throughout the studio and a special educator will be on hand to help with any communication needs. On August 20, 9.30 am-12.30 pm. Rs 200.
Cinema isn’t just about histrionics; language is key, too. And one of the interesting elements of Tamil cinema is its use of Madras bhashai. “This is the slang spoken in the city, one which has evolved over the years and includes a number of words from other languages, like Hindi, Telugu, Urdu and Sanskrit,” begins actor V Mohan Raman, who will be focussing on this unique language in his talk this year. “I will trace its origin and how actors and comedians used it in films, right from the 1930s to today,” he adds. Raman feels that an actor who has mastered the art of Madras bhashai is Kamal Haasan. “In Vasool Raja MBBS, he used it flawlessly,” he concludes. On August 27, from 6.30-8 pm,
at the Park Hyatt. Details: 71771234
Through her eyes
Bharatnatyam dancer Chandralekha’s connection with Chennai is a long one, but arts editor Sadanand Menon plans to condense it in his talk, Chandralekha and Chennai Connect, by focussing on two aspects. “I will present a poem she wrote between 1968-69, on Madras and how it influenced her, which has since been published in a book called Rainbow on the Roadside. The second part will be more anecdotal—about her coming to the city, learning Bharatnatyam and her experiences while living here (from 1950-2006). She chose to settle down here because she always said this city lets you be,” shares Menon. An avid Scrabble player (“if there was a Scrabble world championship, she’d win”), the dancer is still relevant today and her mantra—to be true to yourself—affected those who met her. On August 23, at 6.30 pm, at Chamiers. Details: 24311496
The last several editions of Madras Week have seen temples being featured quite prominently. This year, scholar Amaladass Anand will take us into the world of Portuguese, Gothic and neo-Gothic styles of churches in the city. “I will focus on places like Thomas Mount, Luz Church, Rosary Church (an early Portuguese example), San Thome in Mylapore, St Mary’s Church in Fort St George, Andrew’s Church (a Gothic example), and more. I’ll highlight the impact of the architectural styles and how the space has been utilised by the architect to evoke the divine,” Anand explains. He hopes that the talk will help people understand how religious architects managed the space within these huge structures and the value of such heritage buildings. On August 19, between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm, at Dhyana Ashram. Details: themadrasday.in
Sadras Fort is an erstwhile Dutch stronghold. “There was a thriving artisan community there, with a lot of mercantile trade, especially in textiles. The influence of the place was so much that they built a fort there,” explains Ramanujar Moulana of the Cycling Yogis, a group of cycling and history buffs. “Through our cycle ride (August 21, 5 am), I want to look into another aspect of what Madras once was.” With room for 100 cyclists, the six-hour ride—from Pro Bikers store in OMR—will end at DakshinaChitra. “We will explore the fort and cemetery, then have a presentation of participation medals at DakshinaChitra,” he concludes. Free breakfast and dry-fit T-shirts will be provided. Details: 9884023123
Sowcarpet in focus
Storytrails is conducting its first food walk, at Mint Street in Sowcarpet, and they will bring their storytelling style to the whole experience. “We will visit the older establishments, starting with Novelty Tea House, then move on to Mansukh (famous for its bottle gourd halwa), Vaishnavaa’s and Jagdusha,” says founder Vijay Kamalakara. The walk will also spotlight the unique ways these places serve their food (“Choto Motu serves the dahi papdi chaat with thick curd”). Participants will get to try around nine-10 dishes, he adds. Don’t miss the thattu idlis at Vaishnavaa’s, a crowd favourite, and the murukku sandwich served with gulab jamun at Jagdish. On August 20, 27 and 28, from 4-6.30 pm. Rs 1,300 per head. Details: storytrails.in
What’s Madras without its curry powder or milagu thanni soup? Turning the spotlight on them is Rakesh Ragunathan of Puliyogare Travels. “For us, curry is a generic term for gravies, but for the British, it is any dish made with almond or coconut milk and spiced with Madras curry powder (a milder version of garam masala). I’ll speak about the ingredients that go into its making,” explains the TV show host (Sutralam Suvaikalam) and gourmand. The discussion on the soup—first prepared at the Madras Club—will be accompanied by a demonstration. “Britishers used to enjoy milagu thanni when they were here. They anglicised it to Mulligatawny and now it’s found abroad,” he says. On August 26, at Chamiers Cafe, from 6.30 pm. Details: 24311496
Find that mess
Get ready for some sugar and spice. Chennai Food Walks is organising walks in Sowcarpet, West Mambalam and Mylapore that will balance the two flavours. While in West Mambalam (August 21 & 28, from 9 am), you can visit shops like Vinayaka Sweets and Thanjavur Mess, in Mint Street (August 21 & 28, 9 am), taste the delicacies at Ajnabi Mithai Ghar, Maya Chaats and Ganesh Cool Bar. But if it’s traditional ‘mess’ food that you seek, the Mylapore walk (August 26, 4 pm) is the one to join. “We have selected Rayar and Mami Mess, besides Karpagambal Sweets and Kalathi Paper Mart (known for its rose milk),” says Venkatraman. Details: facebook.com/groups/chn.fw
This is an oldie but a winner. Nappa Dori’s series of bags featuring the Central Railway Station is eye-catching and functional. Made with leather and cotton canvas, pick them up from Rs 3,600 onwards. Details: nappadori.com
An umbrella with a hand-blocked print of a kolam is just what you need this season. Hastha Arts has created a range especially for Madras Week. There is also a striking brollie featuring motifs from kanjeevaram saris. Rs 500 onwards.
Swing by the Ashvita Fine Living Store store (Besant Nagar and Bawa Road) for accessories and memorabilia from their collection, Madras Matter—inspired by the quirks, clichés and idiosyncrasies of the city. Choose from chai glasses and canvas totes to button badges. Rs 90 onwards. Details: ashvitadesignstudio.com
Margaret Thomas and Swapna Sathish, founders of Simply Because, the city-based art and design studio, bring us Chennai through water colour paintings, prints on wood, magnets and more. Look out for Kapaleeswarar Temple, Thousand Lights and the Senate House. Rs 200 onwards. Details: 9840378693
■ Watch Gudiyam Caves, the English documentary by Ramesh Yanthra, which was screened at Cannes last year. The student from the Government College of Fine Arts had stumbled upon the rock shelters (which dates back to the Stone Age) in Thiruvallur district while working on a college project. At Tamil Virtual Academy, Anna University, at 4 pm. Details: rootwalk.com
■ Gallery Sri Parvati presents Golden Flute and Kamadhenu, two documentaries by painter-filmmaker Gita, which celebrates the life and works of city-based artists Alphonso Arul Doss and Veera Santhanam. With over 15 films to her credit, she will be available for an interaction post the screening. On August 19, at the gallery, at 6.30 pm. Details: 24353341
■ Kreeda is stepping up their game this Thursday, with a range of traditional South Indian board games. Learn how to play the pallanguzhi, chaupad, kattamvilayattu and aadu puli aatam, among others. Rs 325 (redeemable on food). At Ashvita Bistro, from 7-9 pm. Details: 9003365436
■ Last month, their musical medley went viral. This month, Nalandaway’s Chennai Children’s Choir (comprising underprivileged kids) will stage their first solo performance. Trained by founder Sriram Ayer, the young singers— including some who are visually challenged and autistic—will perform popular numbers, ghazals and songs on the city. Tomorrow, at Madras Literary Society, Nungambakkam, from 3 pm.
Rs 50 for non-literary society members. Details: 43500127
■ Kids who love a good story are in for a treat with Kathai Kalatta, a storytelling initiative by Madras Nalla Madras. Listen to storyteller Jeeva Raghunath as she takes you on a heritage and cultural ride. On August 21, at Spice Jar (The Residency), at 1.30 pm.
■ Storytrails is organising a two-hour walk for children, On the Trail of the British Raj, at Fort Museum. It aims to encourage a curiosity for history and the stories behind structures and regimes. For kids between 7 and 12. On August 21, from 10 am. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
■ The Photographic Society of Madras (PSM) is organising its third Shoot Madras contest. Click scenes only found in Chennai or trace the evolution of the city. Chosen works will be exhibited at Ampa Skywalk (August 24-27) and three winners will get certificates and a complimentary PSM membership till March 31, 2018. Last date for entries is August 15. Details: 9841113024
■ If your child likes to scrapbook, enrol him/her in Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai’s (an Anna Nagar-based social history awareness society) contest. Open to kids between eight and 16, entries have to chart family histories and show their connections to the city. Last date for entries is August 18. Winners will win organic jute handicrafts. Details: 9840495717
■ Click a picture of traditional games found etched on temple walls and floors, to participate in Kreeda’s photo contest. (Submit entries by August 15). Or take part in their documentation contest, held in association with Odyssey Adyar. Submit essays or photos on your experiences with these games. Last date for entries is August 26. Winners will get games from Kreeda. Details: 9841748309
■ Test your knowledge of Madras trivia at DakshinaChitra’s quiz on August 19. Open to students of classes six to eight. Winners will get the rolling trophy, cash prizes and cycles from BSA. Details: 9841436149
Kreeda Games is relaunching their card game, Memories of Madras, on August 20. The cards—created with the help of historian S Muthiah—will feature sketches of places and heritage buildings in the city by illustrator Maniam Selven. Rs 400 at Odyssey, Adyar. Details: 24402264
Did anyone say play time is just for kids? Kreeda Games and the Old is Gold store is organising play sessions for the elderly—a great chance to relive childhood memories with games like dayakattam and pallanguzhi.
At the Old is Gold branches, August 22 onwards. Details: email@example.com
— Text: Surya Praphulla Kumar
with inputs from Saloni Sinha, Karan Pillai, Lavanya Lakshminarayanan & Kairvy Grewal