“History is an unforgiving mistress, for it records the good, the bad and the ugly,” said B.E. Bellippa, former president of the Association of British Scholars (ABS), while introducing the second volume of the trilogy on Madras, edited by the ‘Madras Man', S. Muthiah. ‘Madras (Chennai): A 400 year record of the first city of modern India (Services, education and the Economy)' covers topics ranging from medicare, municipal service, agriculture, public utilities and railways.
Around eight years in the making and covering 50 sectors, the three volumes together seek to provide a comprehensive history of Chennai that was Madras, substantiated by data, tables and maps. “We originally decided to document the history of the city until the year 2000, but as the project dragged on, we went up to 2009 in certain chapters,” said Mr. Muthiah.
While the first volume titled ‘The land, the people and their Governance', which was released in 2008 covered subjects such as geography, wildlife, demography, religion, archaeology, and the judiciary among other subjects, the third volume will lay focus on Tamil language and literature, art, music, archival records, libraries, zoos, sport and theatre among other sectors. Each article is around 15,000 to 20,000 words.
Speaking at the launch of the book, Mike Nithavrianakis, British Deputy High Commissioner in Southern India, said that the book is useful not just for students and research scholars, but also diplomats who want to get an insight into the politics, history, administration, arts and culture of the city.
The chapters have been written by both members of the ABS as well as non-members. “All the contributors in this book are experts in their respective fields, but not many knew about the history of their fields, and hence had to look at it from a new perspective,” said Mr. Muthiah.
On the prevalent approach to history as a subject, he said in schools, history, geography and other subjects are clubbed into one entity called social studies. “The focus is on mathematics and such subjects. Without the knowledge of the past, we cannot understand the future. I hope this book will trigger interest in students and research scholars.”