Modern, trendy coffee hangouts peacefully coexist and prosper along with branded filter coffee outlets in Chennai that symbolise the two different lifestyles – Chennai, more modern, techno savy and westernied and Madras that is rooted in traditions, culture and religion.
Chennai city is decked up in celebration of its 375th anniversary with events as diverse as heritage walks, school exchange programmes, talks and contests, poetry and music and quiz, food fests and rallies, photo exhibitions and bike tours.
Chennai, at 375 is older than Kolkata and Mumbai and arguably is the first British settlement in the form of East India Company’s maiden attempt to build secure quarters for itself – Fort St George – on a no man’s land it acquired through a deal with the King of Chandragiri in the year 1639.
Historians assert that it was on this day, August 22, 1639, that Madras was founded – or rather, the “sliver of land (the now Madras), where the Fort. St. George still stands, was transacted by the East India Company. According to history, “The deal was struck by Francis Day, his ‘dubash’ Beri Thimmappa, and their superior, Andrew Cogan, with the local Nayak rulers. It is believed that this deal was made on August 22, 1639.”
The British administrator Francis Day and his boss Andrew Cogan struck a deal with the Vijayanagar empire to acquire a stretch of no man's land, to build Madras, which today is known as Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu. According to historian S Muthiah, the deal was struck at the Chandragiri Fort, now in Andhra Pradesh.
It was here that the British built a fortified factory and named it St Fort George. It is from this building that the Tamil Nadu government is run and the state assembly is also housed in this complex.
What started as small observation of history by academics, historians and members of civil society -- Madras week celebrations -- have turned into a mega event with the whos who of the city, the Tamil Nadu incorporated and its people joining the event.
The idea of a festival is just about a decade old – conceived by journalist Shashi Nair, publisher Vincent D’Souza and historian S Muthiah, but has grown bigger with each passing year. In 2003, Madras Day was celebrated with a walk at Fort St. George and an exhibition at Rajaji Hall.
Now celebratory events now begin a fortnight before and fortnight after the anniversary – believed to be on August 22 -- with people from every walk of life participating.
Chennaites have gotten used to the new name, since 1996, but still Madras is the name that holds the magic pull and charm and it is perhaps for nostalgic reasons that celebrations are christened Madras Week, starting on August 17 and culminating on August 24.
Interestingly, Chennai formerly Madras was known by other names. It was called Chennappanaikan, in memory of the Nayak's father. Later it was known as Chennapattinam and then Madras.