Sunday, October 3, 2010

The red letter day after the Madras day

Soon after the 371st Madras day was officially celebrated [on 22nd August 2010, which I was able to spend in Madras with my family], I got the opportunity to watch Madarasapattinam the movie in my hostel [on 31st August]. A friend of mine had been persuading me to watch the movie and write a note of appraisal. After a loooong time, i was able to accomplish the task.

It was in 2008 that the movie was officially conceived. The “Shooting in Progress” ads had Arya in the foreground wearing an oversized white brief in the mood for a 'kusthi', in the background of the prestigious MADRAS CENTRAL. Enthralled and inspired, I waited a long time for the movie's release. I had no clue as to a fair “Madame” style damsel would be playing the part of the female lead in the movie. And I must admit, Amy had redefined the word pretty, but more importantly, she seems to have put strenuous effort into pronouncing tamil words with the cut and cadence of a Brit. Since I've been working with accents for about a semester, I can very well tell you that it's quite difficult for an American to speak British, let alone tamil [unlike Udit Narayan who brutally assassinates tamil whenever he holds a mic in Chennai]. Kudos!!

I wish to exclude myself from the regular reviews on this movie, as many of us are already bored with those of Malathi Rangarajan and Madhan. So, I'm gonna take things into what the movie tried to do, besides piling up its first-week collections.

I've been a Madrasian for about a hundred years [but I'm just 20 years old] and the movie clearly depicts what I remember as my grandpa's words about his city.

Even before Delhi and Mumbai took their share in India's politics, Madras has been a silent, yet influential city to the country's growth via trade, culture and education.

As early as time can remember, India had 3 major universities in which almost every Indian scholar wished to preserve his name as an alumnus- Nalanda, Takshila and the modest Kaanchi university. The south being the land of untouched culture and minimum disputes between kings, has been the prime target of anyone who came to the country as tourists, traders or plunderers. After the Mughal invasion came Islam, and Christianity followed with the Portuguese missionaries. But even in times of hardship and poverty, the south has had its share of luck, by which I mean there was some kind of saviour. The south being flanked by water was also the best means of trade apart from that with Arabs [across the Hindukush ranges]. This mix of education-culture-trade has had pronounced impact on all known traditions of the world [Try to give me six differences between THE PANCHATANTRA TALES, AESOP'S FABLES and 1001 TALES OF ARABIAN NIGHTS if you get my drift...]

The land was roughly divided into the Marata, Kalinga, Carnatica and the Dravida. After the Brit invasion, they turned into Bombay state, Northern Circars, Mysore state, Sultan's and Madras province. Today, they are Maharashtra, Orissa, Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and TamilNadu. The name TamilNadu is one that gives creeps to the listener. It means “The country of the Tamils”, when it's not a country in the first place. It was supposed to be named “Madras State”, but owing to heated politics with claims of “Tamizh inam” by our beloved last-gen politicians and the ties they had with the centre, it's TamilNadu now.

Not only the state, but many cities, towns and villages of south India had logic behind their names- Chennai, Kaancheepuram [city of gems], Coimbatore [Koniyamman Pudur என்பதன் மரூஉ], Thirucchiraappalli, Srirangam, Kumbakonam, Kanyakumari [the parody to VIRGINIA of the US], and a million others.

Coming to Madras, Madras is not Madras any more, but one of the firmly believed origins to the name of the city is

Chinnappa Nayakkan pattinam => Chinnappattinam => Chennappattinam => Chennai

After the Brits placed their leather strapped feet on our land, they felt something was missing in the city- the first one being a sexy name. Voila! Came Madras... So after Chennappattinam and Chennai, the city was founded on 22nd August 1639 as Madraspatnam [And not Madarasappattinam, as shown in the movie].

Madraspatnam => Madras => Chennai

The first thing that comes to our mind [and to Tamil movies] when the word Madras is introduced, is Central station. To make transport of men and material between Madras and Trichy, Mysore, Bombay and Delhi, the station was constructed with 4 humble platforms and only a handful of trains that use those platforms. The intra-city transport was by trams, hand-carts, horse-carts [jhatkas/tongas] and obviously by foot. Today, the same station has 12 platforms and hundreds of trains using them. The intra-city transport?? MTC has replaced the traditional PALLAVAN buses and now we have air-conditioned VOLVO ones doing the rounds. Electric trains have replaced trams and even with that we have 3 individual services running through the veins of the city- the suburban, the MRTS and the Metro which is gonna see daylight soon.

One of the most common sights of the city is the dhobi, who, even though unable to clean what's interior, cleans what covers the exterior- the clothes. Dhobis from the centre of the city are known to travel, sometimes upto 50 kilometres by foot, carrying his bag of cotton clothes. Adayaru and Koovum, which now attract the attention of the world because of their offensive stench, were actually very clean in the recent past and it is those rivers which served the drinking, cooking and washing needs. The dhobis [and their donkeys] were the hard-working clan of the society. Dhobis in Madras had quite a good time until the rivers turned unfit [or until Philips invented the steam-iron]. It is with special respect that we have separate hamlets in the city for them.

Even in Chennai, most of the names of places are logical- Egmore/Ezhumbur [Ezhumoor nagaram], Vannarappetai [Washermanpet], Sowcarpet [Savukkarappettai- 'savukkaram' meaning detergent], Chrompet [due to the leather factory], Nangainallur [THE LAND OF GOOD GIRLS- please don't ask me why...], AVADI [Armed Vehicles and Ammunition Depot of India], et al...

Some slices of history
1639         Madras founded .
                  The English get Madras Patnam  from Ayyapa Naicker.
1640         Francis Day and Cogan landed with 25 Europeans.
                  Foundation laid for Fort St.George.

       Triplicane annexed to the city.
1678         Foundation laid for St. Mary’s Church in Fort St. George.
1679         St.Mary’s Church Completed.
1688        Madras City Municipal Corporation inaugurated.
1693         Egmore, Purasawalkam and Tondiarpet annexed to the City.
1708        Thiruvottiyur, Nungambakkam, Vyasarpady,
                 Kottivakkam and Sathangadu  -
                 Five neighbouring Villages annexed;
                 wall built around Black Town.
1711         First Printing Press erected in Madras.
1735         Chintadripet was formed.
1742         Veperi, Perimet, Perambur and Pudupakkam annexed to the city.
1746         The French return Madras to the English;
                  Santhome and Mylapore annexed to the City.
1758         French Commander Lawly siege Madras.
1759         French siege ended.
1767         Hyder Ali’s first invasion.
1768         Chepauk palace built by Nawab of Arcot.
1769         Hyder Ali’s Second invasion.
1777         Veerappillai appointed as First Kotthawal-
                  Hence the name Kotthawal Chavadi.
1783         Fort St. George repaired and attains the present shape.
1784         The First Newspaper –Madras Courier.
1785         First Post Office.
1795         Triplicane Big Mosque-Walajah Mosque built.
1817         Madras Literary Society founded.
1826         Board of Public Instructions founded.
1831         First Commercial Bank –Madras Bank.
                  First Census in the City Population
         Madras Club founded.
1834         First Survey School inaugurated –
                   Later developed as Engineering College.
1835         First Medical College –
                   Later became Madras Christian College.
1841         Ice House was built –
                  Ice brought from America through ships was stored here;
                  Later named as Vivekananda House.
1842         First Light House.
1846         Pachaiappan School; Later Pachaiappa’s College.
1851         Museum formed
1853         Zoo formed.
1855         University Board formed.
1856         First Railway –Royapuram to Arcot.
1857         Madras University founded.
1864-65   Presidency College built.
1868         Attempt to protected water supply.
1873         First Birth Registered.
                   Madras Mail Newspaper founded.
                  Cosmopolitan Club founded.
1874         University Senate house built.
1876-78   Great Famine – Buckingham Canal dug.
1878         The Hindu Newspaper founded.
1882         First Telephone.
1885         Marina Beach Road formed.
1886         Indian National Congress Meet at Madras.
                  Connemera Public Library founded.
1889         High Court Building foundation laid.
1894         First Car –  Mr. A.J. Boag, Director of Parry&Co,
                  drove the Car on City Roads.
1895         First Tram Car.
1899         First Tamil Newspaper-Swadesamitran.
1905         Port Trust formed.
1906         Indian Bank founded.
                  King Institute, Guindy founded.
1914         Water mains and drainage formed.
                  Street lights introduced.
                  Kilpauk water works inaugurated.
                  Endon bombardment-
                  Endon German fighter Vessel bombarded the sea shore
                  disappeared - First World War.
1917         First Aeroplane;
                  Simpson & Co., arranged for the trial flight.
1924         School of Indian Medicine.
1925         Loyola College
                  First Bus Transport.
1930         First Broadcasting Station founded at Ripon Buildings Complex.
1934         First Mayor - Raja Sir. Muthiah Chettiyar
1938         All India Radio formed and
                  broadcasting from Ripon Buildings ceased.
1942         Second World War - Evacuation of Madras.
1943         Japanese Fighter Plane dropped bombs on City and disappeared.
1946         Mambalam, Saidapet, Govt. Farm, Puliyur, Kodambakkam,
                  Saligramam, Adayar and Alandur Villages which formed part of
                  Saidapet Municipality were annexed to the city.
                  Sembiyam, Siruvallur, Peravallur, Small   Sembarambakkam
                  and  Ayanavaram which formed part of Sembium Panchayat
                  Board  were annexed to the city.
                  Aminjikarai, Periyakudal, Maduvankarai Villages which formed
                  part of  Aminjikarai  Panchayat Board were annexed.
                  Part of Velacheri Village belonging to Velacheri Panchayat Board
                  was also annexed to the city.
1947         Indian National Flag Hoisted over Fort. St. George.
1952         Nehru Stadium.
1956         Gandhi Mandap.
1959         Guindy Children’s Park.
1969         World Tamil Congress.
1971         Snake Park.
1972         Madras Metropolitan Development Authority.
1973         Madras Corporation Superceded.
1974         Rajaji Mandap.
                  Madras Television Centre.
1975         Kamaraj Mandap.
                  Valluvar Kottam.
           1976         New Light House.
           1977         Madras Metropolitan Water supply and Sewage Board
                             Kanagam, Taramani, Thiruvanmiyur, Velacheri, Kodambakkam, 
                             Virugambakkam, Saligramam, Koyambedu, Thirumangalam,
                             Villivakkam, Errukancheri, Kolathur, Kodungaiyur
                             Panchayat areas annexed to the City
                             Madras reaches the present stage.
           1983         Zoo shifted to Vandalur.
           1988         Periyar Science Park
                              Birla Planetarium.
                              Madras Corporation’s Tri-centenary.
                              Decentralisation of Administration.
                              10 Circles formed.

So, in a city which now has more flyovers [the completed ones less in number than the half-finished ones] than roads, the love story of a guy working in an IT major may sound appropriate. But, in a time when IT is nothing but a pronoun used to denote animals [for some reason, in capital letters], nothing can seem more significant or sensible than the love story of a common, down-to-earth dhobi. But, here again, if Arya were to love a girl in his community, the movie wouldn't have made it to the racks. Longing for the exotic, working for the impossible and finally, loving the one, whom, you know, may never be yours has led both Arya and the movie to its destined length.

The movie may win a filmfare for story or art or anything else, or it may not... What matters most is that it made a few desperate Chennai-ites hit the brakes and turn back at history, at their own city. The movie has a lot of flaws. After all, it's another movie, not an epic. But it feels heartening to know that someone apart from your own self cares about your city...

Every semester, something is added to Chennai that makes it more beautiful. This semester has added one more beauty to Chennai, or should I say, Madarasappattinam..?

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