375 reasons to celebrate an emotion called Madras

Elizabeth Mathew Chennai | Updated on August 21, 2014

A cartoon by Biswajit Balasubramanian which is on exhibition at the Forum Gallery in Chennai

Chennai turns 375 today, but its spirit only grows younger by the day

Chennai is a city, they say, but Madras is an emotion. Fair enough, since the freshly named ‘Chennai’ is less than two decades old, but today Madras celebrates 375 years of its existence.

From the sliver of land around Fort St. George that expanded to become the capital of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, to the first modern city of the Indian subcontinent, the rechristening to ‘Chennai’ in 1996 did little to change the flavour and feel of one of South India’s most celebrated cities.

The annual seven day celebration usually called Madras Week each year intensified this year to mark 375 years, with a month full of events. From food trails for a taste of the city’s varied offerings to heritage walks covering landmarks, to special tributes on YouTube, the city was in for some special treatment for its landmark birthday.

Cartoonist Biswajit Balasubramanian put up a show featuring his assorted works over the last 12 years, all inspired by Chennai. A self-professed city boy, Biswajit admits that the city has inspired a lot of his humorous works.

Chuckle-worthy clichés brought to life in black and white strokes, all from the point of view of the average citygoer, the series is a great capture of the southern capital’s quirks and cuteness. From the city’s serpentine flyovers to the locals’ penchant for curd rice, the dhoti controversy to the weather – it all found a way into Biswajit’s canvas.

A talk by Sriram V. about Robert Fellowes Chisholm, the man responsible for Chennai’s trademark Indo-Saracenic style of architecture saw an enthusiastic turnout as well. The Chennai Central tower, the Madras University Building and many iconic buildings bear Chisholm’s stamp, making him an essential part of the city’s history.

While for locals, it’s an occasion to revisit the many things that make the city special, for those looking at Chennai with fresh eyes, the series of talks, lectures and events were a primer into what Madras was, before it became Chennai.

Published on August 21, 2014

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