Sunday, October 25, 2015

August 24, 2015: Panel discussion on "Madras nalla Madras" between S. Muthiah, Stephen Roman and Arun Krishnamurthy at the British Council

My first visit to the British Council to attend a skit followed by a debate. The main events of Madras Week having ended yesterday, it was today very much like the lull after the storm. I went to work as usual and left early, catching the bus to Thousand Lights. From Thousand Lights, I had to walk more than a kilometre through the narrow Rangoon Street to get to the British Council entrance. The heavy security struck me odd; after all what was the need for such high security at a building that wasn't of any strategic importance, its only important function being to teach natives  good English.  

At the British Council, we were directed to the library. The library was a vast spacious building much of which was empty.  At a corner of the room were arranged the chairs and it was apparent that the function was to be held here. The function began with an introduction by the British Council staff followed by a small skit by Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmental Foundation of India and his team. Employing wordplay involving Tamil film songs, Arun explained in an innovative way how it was necessary to keep our surroundings clean.  Next, Mr. S. Muthiah was asked to speak on the culture and traditions of Chennai. Mr. Muthiah began a description of Chennai's culture by alluding to a traditional maami  who could switch easily from a short skirt at a club to a madisar in a wedding function. I was shocked at Mr. Muthiah's caustic humour - references to a particular community could have been avoided. But Mr. Muthiah was sincere in his love for the city and its traditional yet open-minded people and made a passionate appeal to the youth of the city to step forth to guard its cultural heritage. The same point was also repeated by Mr. Stephen Roman, Regional Director of the British Council for South Asia and Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy, who exemplified the youth of the city that Mr. Muthiah was speaking about.  Mr. Roman preached that any initiative to conserve the historical heritage of a city should come from its people and only then will it be successful. He cited many examples of such cities whose heritage was rescued by its people -  tales drawn from his vast experience of serving in different parts of the globe. The cities who stories he recounted were Sarajevo, Koenigsburg aka Kaliningrad and his hometown of Coventry. Next when asked which part of Madras city they loved the most, Arun Krishnamurthy listed the beaches while Roman spoke appreciatingly of the calm, serene spaces of the Theosophical Society and St. Thomas Mount (It is for similar reasons that the Theosophical Society's gardens remain a favourite of mine).  Mr. Muthiah had, of course, fond memories of Chepauk and the Marina  but in present-day Chennai he couldn't recall any.

Following the discussion, there was a question-and-answer session. One Ms. Sameera, a student of history from the Stella Maris College spoke of the need to protect the archaeological heritage of the city. She quoted the example of Sriperumbudur where she says, lies a palaeolithic settlement. Though there is an ASI board put up at the place, little has been done for its conservation. I cannot but agree more. When the function came to an end, I pointed out that there is a similar Stone Age settlement and stone circles in Kundrathur hill craving for attention. Soon afterwards, we were invited to have refreshments. I checked my watch and it was already late. So, I hurriedly finished "high tea" which consisted of sandwich and a sweet tiffin - all typically British, and some tea. To avoid travelling in our crowded buses, I walked to Egmore and from there, took the train. As I look back, there wasn't much of an enthusiasm that evening but Madras Week was passe and this was to be the British Council's last event as well.

                                                           The British Council Library

 Ms. Bhama introducing the panelists

 Streetplay by Mr. Arun Krishnamurthy of the Environmental Foundation of India (EFI) and team

Mr. S. Muthiah speaking on the culture and traditions of Madras

Panel discussion between Mr. Roman, Mr. Muthiah and Mr Arun

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