December 30, 2006
The children are pestering us.
And we are not surprised as we work backstage to launch the four-day 2007 edition of the Sundaram Finance- MYLAPORE FESTIVAL on January 4.
The phone calls have been coming in strong and thick.
'Uncle, what are all the competitions for children?' asks one.
'Do you have that quiz contest this year too?', asks another.
The women don't give up easily.
"My mother has been taking part in the kolam event every year. Can't you add just one more name please?"
" I saw the advert only now. How did the registration get over so soon?"
People, be they adults, be they children, seem to get very excited about contests.
I wonder if this has something to do with the pulls and pressures that the test, exam and rank culture injects into our bloodstream.
People want to contest. They want to register. They want to know what the prizes are. Whew!
As the people behind the fest, I guess we have some thing extra to do. And that is to encourage people to understand that a festival is quite different from a high-powered contest.
The 'Mylapore Festival' is really a 'vizha' you can soak in. In free abandon.
You will not get assaulted by strobe lights and giant flexi-ad boards. You will not be sold housing loans and pestered with credit card forms.
You are invited to lose yourself in the spirit that is Mylapore.
The fest lives with the life around it - the pujas and the bhajans, the devotees and the shoppers, the noisy hawkers of the Mada Streets and the shy bhel-puri wallah behind the temple 'ther'.
But it brings alive a lot of what should also be part of our lives.
Folk music and dance inside the temple, vintage songs in concert and history lessons, food fest and a mela of art and crafts and more.
The fest seeks to make all these events find some space in what is a unique heritage zone of the city of Chennai.
There are over forty events across four days next week and we would like you and your family to be at the fest. And do tell your aunts and uncles and cousins and friends in Anna Nagar, Chrompet, Kilpauk and Royapuram, to make it to the Fest.
This is a community fest. People make it happen.
If you wish to have more info, do log on to www.mylaporefestival.com
December 23, 2006
There is a community of them.
A simple event of ours proved it.
You are aware of the Santa Clause tour that our newspapers arranged over the past week.
A tour which helped parents get gifts across to their kiddies via Santa.
At the end of Day One, the Santa who did the rounds of Mylapore fell ill.
He was unable to move out of his home in East Tambaram but we had no reason to despair.
He had arranged for another Santa from the suburbs of Poonamallee.
I am hoping Santa has the gift that I have asked for this Christmas eve.
Lots of energy, drive and doggedness.
Because my team and I need this and more as we give the finishing touches to the most unique fest of its kind in this city - the Mylapore Festival, now wholly supported by Sundaram Finance.
Drawing up a calendar for something like 42 events to take place across four days at about a dozen venues and involving more than 400 people is a daunting task.
From folk and classical dancers, to creative gurus and kolam contest registrants, besides contractors, designers, promoters and student and resident volunteers, there are so many who will be involved and I wonder if I will hit the sack of Christmas eve to give Santa enough time to slip down the water-pipe and leave my gift under my pillow.
But there are the endearing aspects of such a fest which really makes it worth the while.
The support of the community.
Young Prasanna, who studies at Vivekananda College and his team at Codezplus has re-designed the festival web site - you should check it out at www.mylaporefestival.com and e-mail your feedback. The boys would love to hear from you.
A Mylapore Orkut community group on the Net is volunteering at some of the events. As is the 'Namma Mylapore' group.
Creative friends like Latha Mani, V. V. Ramani, Bhanumathi and Kuberan will work with kids inNageswara Rao Park at workshops.
Mylapore's Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mourya, says he will give his men regulate traffic so that local businesses and temple goers continue to follow their call and then make time to soak in the fest.
Subham Ganesan promises to lay out the best Tanjore meal spread on the festival Sunday and challenge the lunch that is now served at thecanteens at our local sabhas for the music season!
This is the final lap for all of us.
And I am looking forward to Santa on Sunday night.
December 17, 2006
And we are hoping that they will leave a warm memory in the minds of the many children who shoud be having him at their doorstep this week and the next.
My friend Sanjay Pinto of NDTV thinks I can still play Santa.
He says that we should have opened up a post office account, got a fancy post box number and set up a Santa mail service for all the children of this city.
Perhaps this would encourage a generation that communicates in the SMS and internet language to write a few lines.
The bonus - they would get a surprise little gift in the reply!
I know Sanjay wants me into this new act because he, like any other mediaperson, is hungry for whacky stories.
Christmas carols, Santa rides and crib contests are too passe for the new age television.
But I am sure he will keep his date with a much more wonderful event that we will present in January 2007.
The annual Sundaram Finance-supported Mylapore Festival.
There is hardly a person who has been to our kolam contests held on the Mada Streets of Mylapore and not gone back with nice experiences. Imagine a carpet of kolams designed by over 200 women and children in the space of 45 minutes.
Records of these kolam carpets have travelled to the ends of the earth. And this year, two European researchers will stop by to take in the visual spread.
Most of you will of course know that this festival is not only about kolams.
Yes, it started as a 'kutti kolam kondattam'. But over the decade, it has grown into what is possibly the most unique community festival of its kind.
I am looking forward to a big group of young Yakshagana artistes who will travel all the way from Agumbe in Karnataka, one of the wettest places in India, to perform here on day one (the fest is from January 4 to 7: as always on the eve of the Pongal fest).
In a few days, our web site - www.mylaporefestival.com - will have all the info. Events, contests, workshops, tours, talks. And more.
The pieces are falling into place.
I know Santa cannot run a festival like this one.
Would you want to suggest who else could do a great job of it?
December 09, 2006
There is no money in it though.
But we can promise you loads of excited children as friends, doting parents as well wishers and wine and dinner.
Every year, our community newspapers host a special event in December.
This is the 'Santa Meets the Kids' tour.
We invite families to surprise their kiddies with gifts for the Christmas season.
And in line with the spirit of the season, we arrange to bring Santa Claus from the Arctic world.
Nowadays, it isn't easy to get Santa to come to Chennai.
The all-pervasive Net has got the word around in Santa and that our city is simply inhospitable when it comes to the weather.
We tried sending them pictures of dew which had collected on the leaves of the only mango tree left in our campus, but the evidence wasn't convincing enough.
That is why we are desperately looking out for a local Santa who has goodness in his heart, a boom in his voice, a carol on his lips and sparkle in his eyes.
Some people think it is infra dig to play Santa.
We don't mind if a bouncy woman volunteers to play Santa.
Kids in their pre-teens don't discriminate like we do.
But we do need a warm Santa for our jaunts through the neighbourhoods.
We used to have a fun young man who loved the job and the Goan wine ( and some imported vindaloo) that came at the end of it but his BPO job has turned night into day and vice versa, and he is exhausted.
This is indeed the time to play Santa. Be it in your colony, your home or your campus.
It is also the time when you can learn a few nice things about choosing a gift and presenting it in style.
Of course, our Santa will have to roll into lifts, walk down bylanes and wake up families who have to be coaxed to open the door even at Christmas time.
There is a little chill nowadays in our hearts.
We are hoping that Santa will bring in the warmth this December.
P.S.: If you wish to surprise your kid with a gift by taking part in our X'mas event, call our offices now.
November 24, 2006
KutcheriBuzz.com, the web site we promote, was honoured this past week with a title by an arts organisation.
This is the second recognition for our internet enterprise which will soon be a decade old.
It is run by two-and-half people and it is a 24x7 operation.
Leveraging the provisions of technology, we have made this a truly community site.
One which takes the world of Carnatic music and classical dance to the world.
Queries from Russia, orders for albums from Peru, features mailed to Jaffna in Sri Lanka and posts from Kakinada and Trissur makes this a vibrant web site.
And our toughest job comes on the eve of December, every year.
For, we drive ourselves hard to take the famed 'December season' (of music and dance) to the world.
Posting all the kutcheri schedules of the sabhas quickly to enable rasikas to make their travel plans. Filing curtain raisers on the special dance productions. Promoting short-term rentals in the Mylapore neighbourhood and publishing our popular Guides to the season. And covering the 'season' on a day-to-day basis.
The December madness you may want to call it!
The 'season' is always exciting. It is a unique festival. And there is a lot that the artistes and the rasika community can do to take it to a different level.
A lot more happens today - screening of documentaries, lectures, heritage walks. But most are rather exclusive. The city of Chennai needs to be aware of the 'season'. It must be invited to explore it and perhaps get its guests over to soak in it.
It is the community approach that we are also driving for yet another edition of the Sundaram Finance-Mylapore Festival due in early January next year (Jan.4 to 7).
Twenty people - students, professionals, women and seniors - have volunteered to take charge of the 30-plus events of the Fest.
A young student of Vivekananda College is revamping our web site (www.mylaporefestival.com)
We are motivating many more to present shows and demonstrations in spaces around Sri Kapali Temple. Many households are keen to let their houses be stopovers during heritage walks or serve as venues for creative workshops.
Why! Last year the walkers group at the Nageswara Rao Park in Luz prepared a snack to share with everybody here, on the concluding morning of the popular 'Kutcheris in the Park'.
Our cycle-rickshaws are such an integral part of Mylapore.
How do we involve these men and their enviro-friendly machines in the Fest?
We value your ideas. Don't stop with merely sharing them. Move them. The cycle-rickshaw way!
November 18, 2006
We aren't offering you an all-paid-expense trip prize to the West Indies.
But we are wondering if cricket can help our young people in schools to improve their education.
One newspaper did just this some time ago.
It tapped into the football World Cup in an effort to educate students.
The Newspaper, a UK-based newspaper exclusively for young readers, started what it called the World Football Reading Passport project.
This project was inspired by the World Newspaper Reading Passport idea promoted by the World Association of Newspapers.
Newspapers all over the world are concerned at the feeble interest that young people have in newspapers and are working hard to attract new readership.
The Newspaper of the UK found that more than 150,000 children were using these unique passports.
This was the first project of its kind which got children to read the sports pages of newspapers.
This is how the passport idea works.
Children create the passport out of smartly designed forms printed in a newspaper.
They then go on to collect 'visas' from their teachers or resource people by completing certain tasks which involve newspaper reading.
In this case, the children, most of whom must have caught the World Cup fever, were encouraged to read lots on football, and get as many visas as they could.
Today. the passport idea of getting young people to use newspapers as yet another form of education is popular in countries like Indonesia, Norway and Ghana.
There is so much that can 'happen'for the child - learn new words, improve writing skills, get a visual sense, use hot topics for debate and discussion, run opinion polls, relate the event to the neighbourhood or just have a 'spelling bee' contest!
All based on a subject that is popular - football.
As the promos and curtain-raisers on the World Cup in West Indies begin to dominate the sports pages, our schools could run successful programmes, internationally called 'Newspaper in Education' or NiE.
My experience of working with children to write on our neighbourhood for our special issues tells me that our young people know very little of the 'little' world. But if they are inspired, they enjoy the experience!
November 10, 2006
Brother Octavian is not a monk. He is a member of the well known religious congregation of Montfort Brothers.
More than a quarter of a century ago, his congregation bought a piece of land in Pallavaram from an Anglo-Indian family, on which stood a bungalow of mud walls.Pallavaram and St. Thomas Mount once had a large community of Anglo-Indians but as they began to migrate, such properties were there for the asking.
They were in the quiet suburbs and though the highway existed even then, the traffic was sparse.
So the brothers decided to locate a unique project that was to be managed by Brother Octavian.
A community of musicians who were visually handicapped.The brothers run an institution for the blind in Adyar -St. Louis - and music has been an integral part of the extra-curricular activities for students and now, part of their education.
So it dawned on Brother Octavian that in banding these talented young men together, training them further and sending them out in to the world as a professional music troupe, their future would be positive.
This vision had to find a place - and it did at the Pallavaram campus.Today, this unique troupe travels to all the corners of the country and has even been abroad.
Music is a full-time profession. Only music.
About 20 artistes gather at the Pallavaram house every day when they are not touring, to practice under the baton of their teacher - also a visually handicapped, trained professional. "They have to practice hard," says the brother. "People invite us not out of sympathy but for our talent and music."
Everytime the troupe has to set off on a programme, it is by a special bus which has space for the artistes, their trucks, their intruments and the accoustic and electrical equipment.
Tons of it moves on the highway.So, being located near a highway had its rewards.
Invitations come from all sides - schools and colleges, temples and churches, clubs and Montfort institutions.
The community lives closeby in compact apartments and all the musicians are paid a salary.
When people retire or decide to chart their own course, fresh talent is inducted.A unique community.
November 04, 2006
It did all over again when, despite the rain, we made a trip to Royapuram last Saturday, to be at the Project Day of a school that goes by the name of Kalaimagal Vidyalaya.
Teams from this school had impressed us at the ‘Madras Day’ heritage project show held in late August. So we could not refuse an invitation of the school to experience all that the teachers and students were presenting to their colleagues, parents of the students and guests.
This year, the theme was ‘Namadhu Chennai’ and in every classroom were models of some landmark or the other of our city.
The best was a dramatised presentation on the industrial landmarks of the city.
And for once, the IT industry did not find space here.
There was a reason for it - these children and their teachers have still not seen the gleaming towers of an IT Corridor.
To them, the industrial giants are the Ennore Foundries, Ashok Leyland, Binny Ltd. and Parrys.
Perhaps their parents work at these factories. Perhaps the children pass by the gates of these campuses every day.
They knew the stories of these industrial giants very well. And a talented teacher had got the girls to weave the histories of these companies into a ‘villupattu’ programme for the Project Day show.
Wouldn't it be a grand gesture on the part of the senior executives of these companies to invite the senior students here to their factories? Perhaps the tour would ignite the imagination of these young people who are on the threshold of college studies.
We left behind a suggestion at Kalaimagal Vidyalaya - take the senior students on tours of the city institutions they had based their models and projects on.
Take them to the High Court, the Corporation of Chennai buildings, the General Post Office. Explore these places in the neighbourhood. Get closer to life.
At our newspaper offices, we have been assigning stories to school students who have signed up to write for our annual Children’s Day issue.
I must say our children know very little about their neighbourhoods.
The local park and playground.
The local library and research centre. Our children have not explored these places.
October 27, 2006
With the monsoon having broken true and well this past week, these numbers will come in handy.
This was not a coincidence. On my table landed a little booklet. A booklet listing all the doctors in Raja Annamalaipuram.
This work has been a labour of love by a retired doctor of this neighbourhood. Dr. R. Chandrasekaran admits that the compilation has been done in a hurry and promises to include more names and phone numbers in the next edition.
But all of us who received this little booklet are grateful to this doc. He has even included the contacts of the local blood banks and ambulance services.
He took the effort to rope in a prominent tailor of this area and plonk his advertisement on the cover. It was probably a way to fund this venture and a better one than having a leading pharmaceutical company coaxing us to gobble a string of capsules this monsoon!
The booklet though makes me think - what sort of a local information system do we have in our neighbourhoods in times of the monsoon?
Can we call a number which can help us remove the trees that have collapsed in our garden? Do we have a contact to reach out to when we come across a poor family which needs a plate of steaming rice and sambar?
Where can we get help when we find that all the stormwater rains have clogged up and sewage is flowing into our campuses?
I did notice that the Metrowater put out a list of contact numbers of all its zonal offices - contacts we could use if we had problems with the sewage system or with the supply of drinking water.
The Corporation of Chennai will probably put out some phone numbers to use in case of emergencies.
But these certainly seem to be individual practices by some state-run bodies.
More importantly, there is a need to put in place a local information system for the neighbourhood on the eve of the annual monsoon.
I suppose this is where our newly-elected councillors, the City Fathers, need to put their heads together, and look at more innovative ways to address local issues and needs.
And this is where the experience and inputs of people like you and me will help elevate the work of the City Fathers.
We can sit back and wait till a Dr. Chandrasekaran releases the next edition of his local area doctors list.
But we could also join hands with people like him to use his idea as the building block for some thing bigger.
October 18, 2006
Our photographer was assaulted and our pictures were 'censored'.
Rajesh, our photographer at the 'Arcot Road Times' newspaper ( which covers the neighbourhoods in the Ashok Nagar to Valasarawakkam spread) and reporter V. Soundara Rani were on duty on Sunday last, covering the elections to the Valasarawakkam Municipality.
They rushed to a booth at a local school when they heard that gangs were forcing their way into them.
The duo had got a taste of the rowdyism and violence on Friday when they had covered the elections to the wards of the Chennai Corporation. But they did not shy away from their second round of reportage since this particular newspaper covers the city's civic body as well as the municipality.
A gang spotted Rajesh shooting pictures, went for him, gave him a few blows, snatched his camera, ripped out the memory chip and had it not been for the intervention by reporter Soundara Rani, the gang would have made away with the costly camera or smashed it in animalistic frenzy.
The duo were shaken and when they went down to the Valasarawakkam Police Station to file a complaint about three hours after the incident, the man on duty said they had come very late.
It required the duo to press the police to register their complaint and took another three calls before a FIR was recorded and a copy handed over to them on Wednesday morning.
Nothing much will come out of this case.
As may the cases related to scores of media people who have been assaulted in the polling that has just gone by.
But this is not going to dampen our efforts to cover and report local issues closely.
As community newspapers we have consistently reported on the functions of the local body and of the councillors who represent the neighbourhood.
We would like to do more. Look at the proposals that councillors put up, look at the monies that are alloted to them, keep a tab on the projects and their progress. And investigate the performance of the zonal council, the Municipality and its officers.
But we have limited resources and this limits us.
However, active involvement of residents and professionals in the function and performance of our local bodies can make our neighbourhoods much better.
There are scores of senior citizens who can bring their experience and stature to play in our local bodies.
But very few voluntarily participate in local affairs.
Why, how many of us raised our voices against the farcical elections that were held last Friday?
October 13, 2006
The police. The Election Commission.
And I am sure many others who wanted to or did take part in the election harbour the same feeling.
In the 2001 election, I was witness to a rape of the democratic process. Violence, intimidation and dereliction of duty at a time when the votes were being counted in the Corporation council elections of 2001.
In 2006, I have been witness to intimidation, violence and apathy in the polling booths.
From my office in Alwarpet, I notice a stream of SUVs slowing down on the main road. Hordes of young men jump out. They receive instructions from men dressed in starched khadi who remain in the vans or lean against them.
I expect the worst. For, this morning, minutes before I walked down from home to cast my ballot, a similar scene had taken place in Adyar.
I double up to the main road and walk into the campus of a Corporation engineering department.
The crowd of young men hang around till someone calls them into the booth. There are two booths here - one for men and another for women.
The group rushes into the booths, efficiently tears away the ballot sheets, shove an officer who dissuades them, and clinically drop the ballots into the box. The act is over in five minutes.
One policeman and one Home Guards person stand by and stare, helplessly.
Two others, who must have come here to cast their ballot remain on the sidelines and slink away.
I venture into the booth for men and share in the conversation.
A woman on duty is ashen-faced. She says she has never seen anything like this before.
The roughed up officer sits back in his seat, sipping tea, while his colleagues desperately thumb some numbers on a cellphone to report the 'act'.
All of them seem helpless. About 75 ballots have been torn apart. And stuffed in the box. How are they going to account for them? How are they going to answer their superiors?
The Home Guards volunteer calls me aside. He tells me that they have alerted the armed police. 'They could arrive any time so it's better that you go away,' he advises me. He does not want me to be caught in the line of fire in case there is violence.
There isn't. The place is deserted.
The mob has zipped down to the next booth. It has a job on its hands.
I have lost faith in the police. And in the Election Commission.
October 07, 2006
Ward 122 or ward 144 or ward 155?
Does it really matter to us that this city has an elected council and that its members are elected from wards and that these wards fall under zones . . .
If we still have not given these and related issues a thought perhaps on the eve of election to our local bodies like the Corporation of Chennai, we may want to do so.
There are some positive developments that have taken place this time around in some neighbourhoods, though all of them relate to the municipalities and panchayats on the fringe of the city.
Residents' associations, community welfare groups and social activists have chosen candidates from amongst them and encouraged these men and women to file their nominations and campaign hard.
In Ambattur and in Avadi, in Valasarawakkam and in Alandur, people are waking up to the fact that grassroot issues - roads, water supply, sanitation, street lighting, public spaces - can best be raised and pursued in democratically-elected bodies.
And that people who live in the areas and have been dealing with them as activists or socially-committed citizens are more qualified to pursue them than those who are candidates for all the wrong reasons.
And yet, of the little that I have managed to witness in neighbourhoods, grassroot politics seems to simply ape bigtime politics.
Tearing autorickshaws or manic jeeps transporting candidates and their supporters, piles of handbills dumped into mail boxes and fuzzy posters stuck on public walls . . . .
Could we make space in our parks and playgrounds to arrange for informal meetings with people of the area who may want to share points on local issues that need attention or ideas for a project that the neighbourhood can promote?
Could we gather together on our terraces and, over a cup of tea and biscuits, chat with our candidates and get to know them better even before the first ballot is cast?
Could we formulate a common programme for the ward and get the candidates involved in informal chats so that, once the election is over, we are not gifted a gym that costs a couple of lakh of rupees and functions on the odd days of the week. Because it is not a gym that the ward required but better drains?
Postscript: Ward 153 can have one councillor elected from this place.
But why do divisions 153 and 153A exist?
The best answers will get lollipops!
September 29, 2006
If you aren't interested in getting involved in local elections then you don't have the right to crib about overflowing sewers and complain about dead streetlights.
In a fortnight, we will have yet another opportunity to vote for a person to represent our local issues in our city council.
And if we take some interest in the campaign that has begun, we should be able to know who the candidates are and what they stand for.
If you are expecting some outstanding people of the neighbourhood to be in the fray, banish the thought. It will be a long time before educated, spirited and politically-aware citizens convince themselves that they too have a role to play in grassroots politics and community development.
That does not mean you are left with a pack of nobodies or jokers.
The men and women who are in the fray may not be people you can easily relate to but they could have a positive role to pay in our community if we are also prepared to get involved.
Unfortunately, few of us wish to spare time on public issues.
On a wet Monday this week, curiosity drove me to a meeting that had been called by a body which calls itself 'Citizens' Alliance for Good Governance'. This seems to be an umbrella of bodies made up of retired government officials, social activists, consumer activists and the like.
In the chair was a former bureaucrat, A. K. Venkatasubramanian, who has devoted the past years of his retired life to public causes and one of them is to get people to get involved in the grassroot political process.
To encourage community leaders, to get people to cast votes in an election and drive people in community action.
Venkat was obviously disappointed all over again. This was a meeting called to rouse community leaders to get involved in the elections to the city council.
But on that rainy evening, there were less than a dozen men - men who head residents' associations in different parts of the city.
It is this insular attitude that encourages the goondas of the land to run our lives.
I still cannot forget one evening, five years ago inside the Anna University campus, where counting of votes in the 2001 Corporation elections was on. Goondas swarmed the halls in the evening, police officers melted in the dark the election observer slipped away and the stooges of a political party went about toying with the ballots to ensure their people won.
The issue was taken to court and the petitioners were local citizens.
The irony is that the case which relates to that particular election has still not been decided.
In the last city council, most people who were elected won only less than 10% of the votes.
Do we still want to sit tight and wish for good things to happen to us in our neighbourhoods?
September 22, 2006
One more has joined the Lord. And if saint Peter is still keeping him waiting at the door of heaven, the saint will not have to expend time with a bore.
For A. J. DeSouza could tickle anyone with his endless stream of jokes.
And AJ, as all of us who loved him, called him left us with a big joke. Saying goodbye when we least expected him to give up the ghost.
I am terribly upset because a fortnight ago he called me up to say he was happy that the 'Madras Day' idea was growing in strength. I had promised to join him at his Anna Nagar house for a drink. That wasn't to be.
AJ was one of our biggest supporters. He loved the way we were producing the neigbourhood newspapers and he said so from the bottom of his heart.
This city needs to salute AJ because he was one of the few sports coaches who dedicated his entire life to sport.
He was a top-class athlete in college and much later, with the famed Ken Bosen, a national and celebrated athletics coach to guide him, took to athletics coaching in this city, though he held a full time job.
On the Marina, at Rajarathinam Stadium in Egmore, at the YMCA campus in Nandanam . . . AJ was present wherever athletes trained and competed. And behind him would be scores of youngsters who were driven by a passion to excel.
He loved to nurture sportspeople. The Don Bosco Athletics Club (DBAC) was his baby. He spent days and nights planning, networking, hosting and executing an annual athletics championship in the city exclusively for children. Everything set to Olympian guidelines - be it the chest numbers, the registration procedures, the technical details.
I remember sitting through one of his championships held at the newly-built stadium behind Ripon Buildings. Kiddies were all over the place - on the field and on the tracks and in the galleries. And in a nook sat AJ, looking the ringmaster that he was, as he ran the show the way it should be.
He was straight, blunt and played by the rules. And he was passionate. So, he had few friends in the evening of his life.
In retirement, he authored a slew of books on athletics, some of which the international athletics body recognised. But he was pained that his countrymen had sidelined him.
Whenever we met, he talked of promoting sport and outdoor activity in the neighbourhood playgrounds. And wondered how local newspapers could lend a hand here.
What could be a nice way to remember people like AJ?
September 15, 2006
Wave them down in the late hours of the day and engage them for a fifteen-minute ride and you have a story they will share almost instantaneously.
One such story has gone on to inspire a Thamizh feature film.
'Auto' will be released very soon and it is made by a young husband-wife team of film makers who met when they were at a course in visual communications at Loyola College.
I am not a first-day first-show film addict but after having read articles on the film and the film makers, I think I am going to be in the dark hall as soon as 'Auto' is released. And in there, I may want to see if the film has twists and turns which my autorickshaw friends have shared with me all these years.
Another date that I hope to keep is at the no-holds-barred, no-rules-allowed autorickshaw races which are conducted in the wee hours of a weekend on highways on the fringe of the city.
One driver from Adyar who claims to lend a hand to his racing friend has promised to alert me to what is said to be a daredevil act. "If you crash and you die, thats it. You die!" he exclaimed as he took me through the background on this adventure sport.
Racers spend as much as 20,000 rupees outfitting their autorickshaws with all sorts of gadgets that turn the machines into terrestrial rockets after the machine has been stripped of the stuff that gives them some sanity on Chennai's roads.
You may get a sense of these races in 'Auto', the film.
But there are harsh stories that the drivers have been sharing more recently.
And these have given me a sense of the displacement of entire communities.
Since I head south to get home, I come across drivers who are also heading home and in the same direction. But for them 'home' is a new address. Places like Okkiam and Semmenchery, dark colonies converted from wastelands, way inside from the fashionably named OMR - Old Mahabalipuram Road.
These are colonies where rows and rows of tiny apartment blocks have been raised by the state to accommodate two categories of communities. All those who lived in huts along the banks of the canals that run through this city and were uprooted up in one civic drive or the other. And the hundreds whose huts were swept away by the sea when the tsunami hit the shores of Foreshore Estate in December 2004.
The state may have given these people a new place they can call home but at what cost?
Almost all of them must travel miles to the city if they are to keep their bodies and souls together. Women who worked as maids and hawkers and odd-job hands; men who drove autos, worked on construction sites or provided domestic services.
To them, Okkiam and Semmenchery is still a dark land.
And the autorickshaw drivers who have been displaced have only dark stories to share.
September 09, 2006
Rather, in the halls and auditoriums which are the venues for classical music and dance programmes.
They could be fodder for a hungry cartoonist or a worthy companion for an inquisitive rasika.
One man who always caught my attention at sabha events was K. S. Mahadevan.
A wisp of a person, KSM, as his admirers and friends used to call him, was well in his 80s when I began to sight him at kutcheris.
Mahadevan was an arts critic, reviewing music and dance performances and writing an occasional feature.
As a critic, he had a thumb rule of sorts - criticism had to be positive and had to be made in a manner that would be useful to the artiste, be it a singer, an instrumentalist or a dancer.
You must have heard of the fiery Subbudu, another critic most people disliked and yet read and re-read.
Mahadevan was clearly miles away from the fire-and-brimstone style of reviewing performances.
He had a fund of stories to share. And I was glad that he published a book full of them. Called 'Musings on Music and Musicians', many of his stories on music and musicians found a place in this little book published in December 2003.
It was this publication that prompted me to chat with him and he gifted us a signed copy.
One rare picture in this valuable book has the great MS at a meal at a social function at the famed Shanmukhananda Hall in Bombay ( with which Mahadevan was actively involved in the 50s and 60s) waiting for people to serve food in a shiny, stainless steel plate.
Mahadevan passed away some days ago, having had a long, colourful innings in life.
And I hope all the artistes and sabha folks will get together quickly to host a meeting to pay a tribute to him.
Paying tributes even to ordinary people who have done extraordinary work should become a neighbourhood event. As a community we should pay tributes to local heroes.
I lost a young friend recently. Loy was a Jesuit brother, studying to become a priest and he hailed from my hometown. He made contact with me when he was at the 'Satya Nilayam' campus in Thiruvanmiyur, because among his many passions, was writing. He did a few pieces for our newspapers but got busy working extensively with young people. All through, he would message me via Rediff Bol. He had sent me an invitation to sign up for a new Rediff Messenger tool.
I postponed my response. Loy died two days later. Swallowed by the sea while having a swim on the weekend in Thiruvanmiyur.
I couldn't stay on for that wonderful Mass that his lay brothers and the Jesuits said for Loy at their campus.
But Loy, who always had a smile on his face, will be able to read this tribute in heaven.
As will the wispy Mahadevan.
September 02, 2006
I must take you back to last Sunday morning. A morning like no other.
Sunday Mass at 6.15 am.
Breakfast at 7.10 am.
Kick-off of the Mylapore mada veedhis walk for children at 7.30 am.
Picking up Dr. Suresh, archaeologist, at Adyar, 7.50 am.
Kicking off the Fort St. George heritage walk at 8.10 am.
How do we manage to do all this and why do we really do such crazy things?
One of the most satisfying profits of the Madras Day 2006 celebrations has been the positive feedback from young people.
At the end of the second walk around the fort, two members of the Parents-Teachers Association of a school in Nungambakkam want Dr. Suresh and I to do something more for students at this school.
Perhaps a series of talks on the city. Perhaps a few talks on subjects like history and tourism and archaeology and conservation and architecture. Perhaps a few walks inside the fort and in George Towne.
Evidently, there are a whole lot of initiatives we need to take for our young people to get to know this city better.
The group of thirty-plus children who went on a heritage walk around Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple were a highly enthusiastic bunch.
You might dismiss this walk as a Sunday amusement.
Not if you too were on this walk. Because a simple tour like this one exposes the children to a host of topics - heritage and history, architecture and culture, conservation and environment.
Imagine the interest that we could kindle in thousands of school students if all the 25 schools in the Mylapore neighbourhood took out their middle and senior-level students on such a simple tour of this heritage zone.
There was this student of PSBB's Nungambakkam school who pestered me at the schools' heritage project site at Asan Memorial school. His team had done a project on what is popularly called the 'Solar House' on South Mada Street in Mylapore.
His team went one step further - with a borrowed digital camera, these students produced a two-minute film on this house!
The film was an amateurish effort but it prompted us to encourage these youngsters to plan a longer documentary film next year.
A message to share with our teachers and school managers - encourage our children to explore our neighbourhoods and our city.
August 26, 2006
Numismatist and history buff D. Hemachandra Rao, who, with Raja Seetharaman, put up a fantastic exhibition of coins, postal stationery, pictures, books and maps at 'Clive House' inside Fort St. George this past week, gets a call late at night.
The caller is Rao's longtime friend and brother coin-collector.
A. C. Triloknath has been visting his family and relatives in the USA. He jumps out of his seat while watching the TV coverage of 'Madras Day' and gets to see Rao in the clips on the 'Clive House' show.
Impressed and emotional, he makes that long distance call and offers a donation of one thousand and one rupees. For the 'Madras Day' cause.
Just what we hoped would happen in the years ahead.
That the celebration of a city should motivate its people to do their own thing.
I accompany a colleague to the 'Live Heritage Projects for Schools' show for the north Chennai region. At a wedding hall near Toll Gate, about sixteen school teams who have toiled since 9am that morning await our arrival. The hall comes alive when we enter this place, every school team is eager to tell us about the work that they did to put up each project on a local landmark or their own neighbouhood.
One team stuns us. Makes us smile. Makes me cry inside.
The team from The Saivite Middle School of Vallalar Nagar.
Theirs is a brilliant and unique project - with models, charts, vintage pictures and song, the team of A. Balaji, V. Pavitra, Md. Salman Sheriff and R. Geethanjali trace the story of their own school which will be 100 years old next year!
And they begin their presentation with a 'villupattu' and bring all their companions inside the hall - teachers, students and onlookers - to their nook here.
Sheriff hits the right notes, like a trained performer on stage. The string breaks but he carries on and his teacher keeps it taut by winding it around her palm.
For all of us who have been encouraging people, groups, volunteers, hosts and artistes and people for the 'Madras Day', this single incident may truly be the spirit of the celebration of this city we call Madras or Chennai.
It has truly been a wonderful community event this past week.(If you still have not soaked in it, check out the weekend events at www.themadrasday.in).
And we get the feeling that this could well be the start of a unique city event.
August 19, 2006
The School-KFI is keen to send 12 students on the FortSt. George walk. Since I have time on my hands forTuesday morning (Aug. 22, 9.30 am), I will double up as the guide. This walk is exclusively for schoolstudents and we are willing to accommodate at least 75kids on that special tour.
Well, you can make this tour on your own but mmmmm. .. . you may not get to the army barracks or to the hidden ramparts. Nor will you get to imagine the whirr of ghosts that swish through the ruins at the far end of Snobs Alley.
A lot many schools have also signed up for the popular Heritage Project. To be hosted by six schools in different neighbourhoods - over150 students will spend six hours to put up a project from scratch - and weare encouraging them to bypass models of Central Railway Station and San Thome Cathedral and focus on the history of their own neigbourhoods or the condition of local canals or explore a heritage house.
You would agree that we need to get our children to know our city better. So that they grow up to have a say in its affairs.
Some of us are also blogging our own experiences in the run up to Madras Week ( Aug. 20 to 27).
A sort of behind-the-scenes journal.(www.madrasday.blogspot.com)
Feedback has been flowing in here ( and we’d love to have more!).
A senior gentleman wonders why we are making so much about ‘Madras Day’ and so much more about heritage buildings when his milk man and his maid have to be more bothered about the daily grind than a city’s celebration.
Another wants to know how a neighbourhood in North Madras can get up an event to celebrate the city.
I wouldn’t want to go into a debate on the pros and cons of‘Madras Day’.
We believe that we need to be proud of this city, warts and all, and that an event is an occasion to bring awareness, focus and re-generation.
If our young people are showing greater interest in our city, our seniors could do more.
Madras Day is not just about waving flags or illuminating public or important buildings. It is also an occasion for people to debate on issues and work on them.
I can’t think of a better one than a closer look, a discussion and follow-up on what the recent state budget has for this city.
Yes, there is a handsome budget for development of north Madras, of addressing the transport demand and civic issues.
But isn’t there a need for people to engage with ministers and bureaucrats on the budget as well as on the planning and implementation process?
On the blog, I receive a comment just now - on the need for strong city mayors with vision and courage to take Chennai forward. What do you think?
Perhaps if all our CEOs and community leaders got together and formed a ginger group-like body, things would be a little better.
Think of it - we haven’t seen this happen in Chennai. Why?
August 12, 2006
It is a thought that races across my mind as I race across the city after a press conference.
Journos like us attend press-cons but at this one, with historian and story teller S. Muthiah by my side, I have to address my colleagues - on Madras Day 2006.
And we do this between deadlines of our very own newspapers!
The best thing about being involved with the Madras Day celebrations (www.themadrasday.in) is that our efforts are purely voluntary and that we enjoy the manner in which the efforts move forward, with the hiccups.
The Taj Coromandel's General Manager Prabhat Verma and his team play host to the press-con.
Prism PR, promoted by Satyan and Parul Bhatt co-ordinate the invitations and the media calls. And an event is on - in days.
Later this month, Vintage Vignettes will join hands with Forum Gallery in Alwarpet to host an exhibition of pictures of vintage Madras in the lobby of the Taj Coromandel.
Badri calls us up. Yes, he is free to give two talks in Thamizh - one on the history of cricket in Madras and two, on the origin and growth of the Thamizh publishing business here.
Badri runs Kizhakku Pathipagam in Alwarpet, rolling out a new title a week and between that job and many other passions, will spare time for the Madras Day.
Now we have to find two organisations who can host Badri. Do you want him over?
This is how this event works.
People to people
Organisation to organisation.
'Nalli' Kuppuswamy Chetti was gracious in donating a large rolling silver trophy for the winners of the Madras Quiz last year. This year, when we wanted him to extend further support, he didn't even wink. So we will have a rolling trophy for the winner of the Madras Quiz in Thamizh and small mementos for the top winners in both.
Look further - Avinash Mudaliar who won the Madras Quiz last year volunteered to conduct the quiz this year. Avinash is mad about quizzing and works out of Bangalore but he will host this one for Chennai for peanuts. We love you Avinash!
There is still time for you to organise your own events. Or soak in some of them.
And if it rains, soak in the rains.
And try your hand at writing some lyrics on Madras' weather. We have a contest for that one too!
August 04, 2006
You know where the present light house is in this city.
Yes, on the Marina beach, close to Gandhi statue.
Where was the older light house then?
Let me help you along.
If you have been to the Madras High Court campus, or even lingered on its fringe and looked up at the designed domes, you will get to see the remnants of the lights of the older light house on top of one of those domes.
But there was yet another light house. One which guided all the ships whch ran the trade of the East India Company.
Where was that?
Well, it was atop the building which is now the Fort Museum inside Fort St. George where the Secretariat is.
If you are driving north down the beach road towards Parrys Corner or further north, slow down as you approach the fort and look sharply to your left and you will locate the Fort Museum building, one of the oldest surviving in the fort campus which is going to seed.
Now if you know all this and more then you should be at the annual Madras Quiz that is scheduled for August 27 afternoon at P. S. School campus ( more info is posted at www.themadrasday.in).
It will be a fun event and since two people can make a team a good combo could be a 60 year-old who can crack the questions on ‘old’ Madras and a teenager who can go for the new Chennai. The quiz is just one of the many events which will celebrate Madras Day (August 22)
The list of events is growing by the day.
Kanimozhi, yes the poet-activist daughter of the chief minister, has just confirmed that she will present a talk on Thamizh poetry of the city while the Taj Coromandel plans to display pictures of vintage Madras in its lobby.
Oxford University Press intends to present readings from the books of city-based authors while an anonymous geek said he would like to have a web cam installed at Gemini Circle on August 22 and let all the home-sick Chennaiites have a fill of the roar and smoke and glitz and colours of the city centre - at least for the day!
Madras Day encourages people to do their own thing. In their place. In order to celebrate the city.
As you prepare for it, pick up a pen and on the calendar on the wall or on your desk, mark Madras Day against August 22.
By the way, August 15 is our Independence Day.
July 29, 2006
That is the heading I have given to a piece I recently blogged.
It could be a mystery tale. Or it could be a boring business meeting.
It is neither.
It is all about what a group of us are doing behind the scenes to make the annual Madras Day bigger and better.
There is the web site (www.themadrasday.in) with lots of info and it is updated every day.
And in an era of blah and blogs, we thought we should also share with people how this people’s event is building up.
So Sashi Nair, a columnist with the ‘New Indian Express’, Revathi R., a freelance writer who also works with children and I have begun to blog our experiences. I dare not ask S. Muthiah, city historian, writer and story-teller and our guide, to follow us, for he is absolutely at home with his vintage typewriter and uses the PC for short messaging!
‘Madras Day’ is not about a group signing up corporate sponsors to fun a loud event which brings in thousands of people.
It is about people in groups, campuses and in neighbourhoods doing their own thing on the city.
I spoke to Bharath Jairaj at the Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) to explore a meet to discuss all the projects planned for our city which have been mentioned in the recent state budget which Finance Minister Anbazhagan presented.
Earlier, when we met writer Charukesi on the much travelled road that he takes to do his odd-jobs, and mentioned the Madras Day, of the many ideas that came up was a dramatised reading of pieces written in Thamizh on this city. In less than 24 hours, Charukesi fished out a copy of an article written by ‘Rao Bahadur’ Pa. Sambanda Mudaliar, BA., BL, in the ‘Ananda Vikatan’ of November 1934 on the Chennai of that time.
Biting, sarcastic and humorous it is and will surely make the centrepiece for a nice evening of writers being planned in CIT Colony. Now we have to look for actors who may do a better job of reading such extracts.
And the principal of the College of Arts on Poonamallee is excited about the many ways in which his students can be engaged for the Day.
Also excited is businessperson-writer V. Sriram who has charted an entirely new heritage walk for this occasion. From Egmore railway station to Central and beyond. Sriram says those who want to join him may have to walk all the way - through the station, onto St. Andrew’s Kirk, into the college of Arts, down the main road towards Ripon Buildings and into My Ladye’s Garden . . . yes, there is scope for breakfast but will a stop at a vintage Malabar restaurant which serves appam and ‘paya’ 8 am onwards be a good suggestion?
Well, ‘Madras Day’ is all about you and I getting together to celebrate the city. If you still haven’t caught the spirit, surrender yourself.
July 22, 2006
We cannot promise you ghosts of the East India Company or fairy tales of the memsahibs.
But you can be assured of a three-hour long walk which will enlighten you on the birth of this city of ours.
The group which is acting as the catalyst for the annual Madras Day celebration is doing a hundred and one things now. And the response is exciting us all.
Visiting the people at the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Indian Army station on the fort campus, we ran into a less-known but vital operation of the Army. The Army Postal Services. Its station officer, Major Kumaraswamy enthusiastically showed us all the postal covers and cancellations which had been brought out to mark the milestones of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
We were looking for landmarks related to our city. Yes, the Madras Engineering Group was featured, but the MEG is a Bangalore-based organisation. Kumaraswamy promised to unearth some rare specimens that would add to the exhibition of coins, postal materials, books and maps which some city-based collectors will host at the Clive House in this campus.
Getting the Madras Day events going is hard work but it is heartening to note how easy it is to network with groups and communities and persuade them to do something unique to celebrate the city.
Last year, the Mad Bulls ( short for Madras Bulls), the Royal Enfield bike riders group in this city, organised one of the best shows of this celebration - they drove across the city, exploring a dozen landmarks on the way. This time, co-ordinator Senthil Kumar says the group wants to make it bigger - perhaps drive across north Madras and explore the Pulicat Lake area.
It just needs a few ideas and dollops of persuasion for people to get going.
Unwind Centre which promotes clean music among youth wants to expand its plans. It wanted to dedicate its weekly concert to the city during the celebrations ( from August 20 to 27). Now, its promoters say they would like to bring the show to an open yard or a street corner, invite residents in Adyar to enjoy its music and start the day with a civic campaign which involves the local schools, the youth and the staff of Onyx, the private company which clears garbage in some parts of the city.
This is the spirit of the celebrations.
People do their own thing at a given time. And celebrate the city on August 22.
So if you still haven’t heard of Madras Day, log on to the web site - www.themadrasday.in and scan it for ideas and inspiration.
Then, get your friends and colleagues together and work on an idea that is focussed on our city.
If you are very creative, there is a contest to develop a design for a Chennai T-shirt.
Go for it.
July 15, 2006
Did you in your teenage days at any time lock yourself up in your room and get into the clothes of your brother or a cousin?
If these memories flood you now and you break into a smile, imagine the reaction of a young man who is greeted at an exhibition by a photo of his mom dressed in men’s clothes at an event that took place when she was in her 20s!
Thankfully, this young man joked about it to the visitors and even told them the tale of his mom and her girl friends in Perambur who dressed fashionable menswear and posed like an all-girls band, Beatles style!
This unique picture was my favourite pick at this exhibition curated and held as part of the ongoing ‘Anglo-Scapes’ fest which ends this Sunday.
The fest also featured the well known writer I. Allan Sealy, who lives in Dehra Dhun ( author of ‘Trotter Namma’ and the more recent ‘Red’). Sealy was in Madras for many days, soaking in the city, and one morning I volunteered to be his guide as we went off on a walk through the old parts of Mylapore and San Thome.
We were lucky to gain entry to the unkempt campus of The Music College, off Greenways Road, and explore the magnificient Brodies Castle - one of the first garden houses that the British built as they moved away from Fort St. George, and then the Great Plains, and built large bungalows on the banks of the Adyar.
I have been to a few kutcheris hosted by the college and held in what must have been the ballroom of Brodies, and these have been heavenly pleasures even in the early afternoons.
The Adyar may not run deep and its life depends on the vagaries of the sea and its tides, but with the river as the backdrop, this is a great setting for ‘kutcheris’. The castle is being repaired now - but only after it had gone to seed!
The old and new neighbourhoods of our city will be the focus of another celebration that is coming up in August.
The ‘Madras Day’ celebrates the founding of this city, once known as Madras, its past and its present.
An idea which was inspired by the city historian and writer, S. Muthiah, the ‘Madras Day’ has gathered momentum these past two years. And it seems to interest more and more people and communities when the idea is broached and expanded.
The first of the events has been launched - a contest on English song lyrics devoted to this city. More will follow.
If you belong to an organisation or community which is passionate about this city, there is a lot you too can do. Visit the web site (www.themadrasday.in) for background and information. And draw up your plans.
Meanwhile, if music/movies is your elixir, be at the final shows of ‘Anglo-Scapes’ this weekend.
A jazz music concert at The Music Academy on Saturday and a film at Satyam Cinemas on Sunday. If you make it and want to tell me about these shows, do that at my blog.
July 08, 2006
Or should we leave it entirely to the city Corporation, its engineers and the civic contractors to carry out such big-budget contracts?
With me, are sheaves of papers listing all the civil works that are to be carried out in Zone 10 ( covers Mylapore and Adyar and parts of Velachery) now.
These projects were made public at a recent meeting of the zone’s councillors.
Because our newspapers keenly follow such meetings, we keep a tab on them.
We could do more. But as a community newspaper, we have severe limitations.
Yet, the need to keep a tab is important.
For Jeevaratnam Nagar’s 1st and 2nd Cross Streets, Rs.6 lakhs will be spent.
About Rs.2.5 lakhs for Parameswari Nagar’s 3rd Street and Rs.2.3 lakhs for Indira Nagar’s 1st Cross Street. And about Rs.28 lakhs will be spent for relaying some streets and main roads in Sastri Nagar.
Is it important for the community to keep a tab on these projects for which so much of public money is spent?
If we want the best out of the system we pay to run, we must.
And if you think it’s a thankless job, think again.
You have a powerful tool at your disposal.
The Right to Information Act.
Passed by Parliament in June 2005, it came into effect in October 2005, and has been hailed as a substantial step forward in terms of accessibility and distribution of information, key tenets of a responsible democracy.
The Right to Information Act 2005 is a tool that checks corruption and holds the various bodies, agencies and departments of the government accountable to the public. It is aimed at preventing arbitrary state action and for the first time, Indians have a powerful tool to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to information.
I am quoting from a backgrounder that members of the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) based in Adyar provided me.
One year since the passing of this Act, the implementation in Tamil Nadu, like various other states in the country, leaves much to be desired by the citizens and civil society at large. Procedural uncertainties, lack of knowledge of the Act amongst the Public Information Officers (PIOs) and inadequate infrastructure has caused unnecessary delays and frustration amongst citizens. In fact, these reasons have deterred many citizens from using this powerful tool in order to address their day-to-day difficulties and organisations from accessing public documents lying with the government.
Now, a few civil society groups in Tamil Nadu have come together to form the Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign.
From obtaining an electricity connection for your house to details of expenditure at your ward level, the RTI Act is a potent instrument that citizens must use.
The Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign is organising intensive camps between the 10th and 25th of July 2006 all over Tamilnadu covering 19 districts with more than 40 organisations as partners.
In Chennai, the camp will begin on the 12th of July at the Bharathiar Memorial Hall, 83, T.P.Koil Street, Triplicane- 600005. Phone - 28442227.
The camp will provide training on all aspects of the RTI Act for citizens and the media, assist citizens in filing requests/appeals, providing details of the PIO’s of various departments, etc.
Citizens can contact the Tamil Nadu Right to Information Campaign helpline: 9884231382 for more information. The other contacts are Sriharini Narayanan 24914358/24460387 Corporate Accountability Desk: Nityanand Jayraman/Dharmesh Shah: 9444416546 Human Rights Research and Advocacy Foundation: Ossie Fernandes: 22353503/22355905 Chennai RTI: Guru Subbaraman: 9840765030
Now, will you please get up and stretch your arms?
July 01, 2006
Devil Chutney and Ball Curry came into my life quite early.
That is because I studied at an Anglo-Indian school. Though there weren't many Anglos even at that time, I am happy I got to know a small community that does not carry the burden of caste.
Those wonderful experiences continued well after we had passed out of school because of one classmate - Ashok.
Ashok's family runs the famed Charm Dress Makers in Egmore, diagonally opposite Hotel Ashoka.
Charms was the hang-out for us long after we had passed out of college.
It may have been a destination to catch up with old friends but for the Anglos, this was a key service provider!
For, Ashok's father, K. Krishna Rao, who had set up shop in the hugely Anglo-dominated neighbourhood of Perambur way back in the 1950s, and moved to Egmore soon after, was one of the four tailors the Anglo-Indians trusted in the city.
From Perambur and Narasingapuram, from Vepery and Royapettah, Charms had clients even as far as Arakkonam and Tiruchinopoly, some of the many hubs of this community which dominated the Railways and nourished those quaint railway colonies of this country. Guntakkal and Shoranur and Gooty . . .
And if we chose to sit inside Charms, we could eavesdrop on the fascinating stories that the women shared with Ashok's dad as he went about an elaborate exercise of planning a wedding dress to be made from 20 metres!
If we were lucky, at Christmas time, we would get introductions to the families which prepared wine and cakes and khul-khuls.
And if we wanted to partake of all this, we had to go after another classmate, Bully alias Alistair, now in the Gulf, whose family lived in the Anglo Blocks behind Sacred Heart Church in Egmore.
In course of time, our Anglo friends migrated and we were left with only a few.
Ashok, who has taken over from his father and is proud of Charms which completed its golden jubilee in business, is still happy with the many Anglo customers he has today, including those from Canada, visiting here, who get their unique dresses ordered.
The orders have thinned. And Ashok knows why - young Anglo girls simply do not want to wear the colourful frocks anymore; they feel comfortable in jeans and tops.
From this weekend, a celebration of the Anglo Indian community is being held in the city.
Themed 'Anglo Scapes' and designed by actor-director Rajiv Krishnan and Anna Nagar-based Harry MacLure, editor of 'Anglos in the Wind', there are a series of events which include a play, a food fest, photo exhibition, art show, films and readings and a concert. (Call 98845 02155 for info)
The fest, hopefully, will not only celebrate this unique community, but also enable those of us who have hardly known them or had misconceptions, to get closer to them.
And if you have always dreamt of a flowing, spotless-white bridal dress for your wedding instead of the Kanchipuram silk, go over to Ashok at Charms.
June 24, 2006
I may even be taken into custody.
And like Rahul Mahajan, all the TV channels will be after me till the next news breakout.
I told the kids there that they should enjoy every extra-curricular activity that was available to them. Even if it meant experimenting with the compounds and liquids in their Chemistry Lab.
And to laugh away a freak discovery of fire caused by mixing two solutions.
This week, I was a guest at the inauguration of the various clubs at this school which has just finished its golden jubilee celebrations (There is a very interesting piece on the founding of this school posted on a blog we promote - www.my-mylapore.blogspot.com).
The function was smart and precise. Ten clubs launched in one go.
This is that time of the year when in most schools, all sorts of clubs for the students, are inaugurated.
At our end, a new kind of programme should take off in July.
It takes off from the Journalism Camp that we hosted in summer for school children at our office space in Raja Annamalai Puram.
We are taking this initiative further.
This new Journalism Programme is again intended for senior school students and will run through the year.
It proposes a combination of lectures and training sessions on the weekend and encourages the young people admitted to it, to collect information and file stories from their campus and from the neighbourhoods where they live and play.
It is targeted at students who have a flair for writing and are beginning to get interested in the media - newspapers, TV, radio or New Media. And for those who may want to pursue an undergrad or postgrad course in media.
The 'double-bill', as the promo managers at our theatres would put it, should turn out to be exciting and challenging for our young, creative minds. And since there are facilities and resources at our end that can be made available to them, we hope this programme will shape up to be yet another unique experiment in the neighbourhood.
So, if there is indeed a fire in the lab at Vidya Mandir, we do not have to rush our reporter to the site. Hopefully, the Student Reporter on campus will be following the story. And even clicking pictures.
A fire though, does not interest me. Seven-year-olds trying to basket balls does. And there is a story there our young reporters can file.
June 16, 2006
Not long ago, they told us how gullible many people are in our neighbourhoods.
Interestingly, the tales are growing.
Morning walks provide you the time to enjoy the little guffaws of life.
Some months ago, you may recall, there was this huge wave of public-cum-private local advertising that took over the gates of our apartments and houses.
A bank, an automobile dealer and a tuition centre sponsored hundreds of metal plates which said NO PARKING and carried a generous bit of advertising ofthe sponsor.
In no time, other entrepreneurs followed.
In no time, there were no less than three boards on the gates.
And you wondered why these boards were hollering at you.
NO PARKING. In bold types.
NO PARKING. With a graphic design.
NO PARKING. In multicolour.
Many people who owned these gates didn’t complain. If three boards could keep away those pesky motorists from their doorstep, life would be beautiful.
Life wasn’t. But the sign boards took on different avatars.
Last week, in different colonies, on different gates, I sighted a new legend - SALESPEOPLE - DO NOT KNOCK ON DOOR.
Recall the little boards that were put up at the clubs of the Raj - Dogs now allowed.
Sales people can really get on your nerves. They have washing powder to be sold, targets to achieve and commissions to be made.
And so, they will even put your Great Dane to sleep just to get to your door bell and get their feet in your door. And most of them are so badly trained that they seldom realise that the hours after lunch aren’t the best of times to sell washing powder. Especially when the people taking a nap inside are senior citizens.
Since most of us have begun to detest sales people, we will certainly not mind our grocery store, our neighbourhood bank and our driving institute slapping another set of sign boards on our gates. SALES PEOPLE NOT ALLOWED.
(Wonder when a smart shop will come up with a line assimple as SALESPEOPLE, BUZZ OFF!)
I am looking ahead and wonder what else will be slapped on our gates. Perhaps, we will have to keep away those nosey rental brokers.
And then, we may want to remind visitors not to bring their cars inside. And if the new government makes a splash about rainwater harvesting and all the rules that go with it, we may have to say - RAIN WATER HARVESTING DONE HERE.
And if we want to make P. Chidambaram and his departments happy, we may want to say - HONEST PEOPLE STAY IN THESE FLATS. WE PAY TAXES.
And I wonder. Will there come a time when we will put up a sign board one the gate which says - IN-LAWS AND RELATIVES: FIX APPOINTMENT TO VISIT US.
Gates, like faces, tell tales.
June 09, 2006
Now, 'Mylapore Times', the neighbourhood newspaper, has created a blog on the Net dedicated to the MLA and to the constituency.
Perhaps this is a 'first of its kind' development of using technology to further grassroot democracy just weeks after the new state Assembly was constituted.
Interestingly, the man who lost closely in Mylapore, Napoleon, had launched his own web site a fortnight before polling day.
http://www.iamformylapore.com/ may not have been a comprehensive web site, but the actor-candidate took the trouble to compile and post data on a host of utility services, landmarks and key public institutions in the constituency.The site even had a list of prominent super markets and well-located pharmacies.
There was also a provision made for people to post issues that they wanted their MLA to address with a simple e-form that would have hardly confused even a senior citizen of the area who uses the computer to send e-mails to his offsprings and to talk to them in an emergency.
Napoleon lost the election but his challenger and the victor has quickly seen the need to make public his cell phone number and create e-mail accounts for people to gain access easily.
So then, what was the need for a Net blog?
First. To provide a more transparent, easy and simple communication channel to the MLA and to people of the constituency.
Two. To provide space for the MLA to articulate his views and ideas.
Three. To provide space for people to discuss local politics, civic issues and public campaigns intensely at a time when debates and public spaces have shrunk.
Four. To have a mechanism by which the progress of projects and the response to promises and queries can be publicly documented.
Five. Post news and pictorial coverage of the MLA's meetings, interfaces and projects.
We at 'Mylapore Times' are only keen to further communication and interaction on a continuous basis between people and the MLA.
Yes, we will also be keen to find out if these communication tools are useful in grassroot democratic developments.
There is at least one major drawback here.
The poor and disadvantaged sections of the constituency will not be able to use these tools.
On behalf of them, we intend to report on the issues that affect these communities and post them on the blog.\nIn doing all this, we will be going beyond the brief of a newspaper and stepping into what in, the West, is known as 'civic journalism'.
Let us see what comes out of this exercise
June 03, 2006
And it is not limited to 165 minutes and there are no tickets to charge.
The romance of Block J has been on for some time.
I began to appreciate it recently and thought I should share it with you.
Block J is like Block A and B and Y and Zee. They all look alike in this Adyar neighbourhood.
And they are full of people.I
n some apartments, there are extended families. In some, nuclear families. And in some others, young men and women who work on the other side of the main road which is called the IT corridor.
Our story has been taking place on the second floor of Block J.
There are three apartments here, all of the same size. In one, an aged couple. In another, three young men from different corners of the country who have come together because of the jobs they keep in an IT company. In the third, is a young family, a couple with a charming three-year-old.
These three actors have been living on the second floor for over a year now and though their doors are shut most of the time, they seem to have entwined their lives in an informal manner.
The senior couple volunteer to pay the power and water bills of the other two busy neighbours.
The young men can be banked upon on a Sunday to run an errand for the senior woman when she has run out of curd or needs a syrup for her nasty cough. And when the young mother next door has to do the dishes and mop the apartment, she leaves the child with the sunny elders next door.
Here are neighbours who have included a senior couple in their lives.
This then is the romance that warmed me up during a week when I came across a flurry of adverts in the newspapers, advertising 'homes' for senior citizens in Chennai.
The times they are a-changing in Chennai.
Those who can afford deposits of four lakh rupees and monthly bills of eight thousand in campuses that boast of swimming pools, sports arenas and community dining halls, are making early bookings before the prices go up.
The others are settling for less pricey 'homes'.
The rest simply do not know where to go and remain prisoners in their apartments.
It will not be long before colonies for senior people spring up in the suburbs of Chennai. Or perhaps, when enterprising entrepreneurs begin to promote them in the heart of our neighbourhoods instead of developing plots off the road to Mahabalipuram.
And yet, the romance of Block J can be amongst us.
Only if we begin to include our elders in our lives.
May 27, 2006
Thiru-por-ur. Place of the sacred war!
Legend goes that Lord Murugan is said to have waged a war with an asura in the air above this region. And he won.
Today, the town is famous for the Sri Kandaswamy Temple dedicated to Lord Murugan but few know that it was once a cultural hub and is an ancient place - megalithic burial urns were found here during excavations. And it is also one of the few towns in Tamil Nadu which has detailed records of its history.
Of late, a fascinating project has been encouraged here.
DakshinaChitra, the arts and heritage centre located in Muttukadu on the Mahabalipuram Road (ECR), initiated a project whereby local students documented the town, its history, its landscape, its people and their activities.
The project began after the staff of DakshinaChitra visited the village schools and shared with them stories on the arts and crafts and cultural life of this place and of the state. This was followed by a visit to DakshinaChitra by the students. The two events set the tone for the study. Recently, this fascinating study was published as a document.
The journey of the students of Thiruporur Govt. Higher Secondary School, of classes IX and X, is a fascinating one. Every week, Geetha Kannan, project director, and V. R. Devika, a consultant at DakshinaChitra, visited the school and guided the students while Prof. Joshua of Madras Christian College helped the students tabulate the data in a scientific manner.
The groups, guided by their teacher N. Ramachandran, began by detailing the places of worship, recording even the nadaswaram artistes employed by the Sri Kandaswamy Temple, and then moved on to an area that thoroughly fascinated me as I went through this document - the section on chatrams ( public community halls).At one time, there were over sixty ‘chatrams’ built and meant for different communities, for people who came from far and near to the temple and needed a place to rest and refresh.
Some of these chatrams were grand but only ten remain.The study covers government services, private establishments, even the street corner shops, and all the communities who live in a town which in, 1772 had only 177 households of which there were 17 devadasis (temple dancers), one kanakkupillai (accountant), two washermen and one navitar (barber).
Another fascinating section of the study carries short interviews with a host of people - including the theru-koothu artiste, the Marwari pawn broker and the budding thamizh poet, teenager V. Uma Rani.
What a fascinating, timely exercise this is! Time we did this in our neighbourhoods.
May 20, 2006
Why were the tanks of two temples linked to each other?
If ThiruMayilai is a busy station on the MRTS railway line, how did Luz come to be the hub of the trams of an earlier time?
Interesting questions can provide insightful answers and provoke interesting debates.
And this is what a small group hopes will happen when a new project gets underway in July for the schools in the Mylapore neighbourhood.
The project is an initiative of the 'Namma Mylapore' group, which has been addressing heritage, civic and community issues at the core of this well known neighbourhood.
It intends to enlighten senior school students in this area on the history of the area and its relevance in life today.
So, this summer a few volunteers worked on the idea and came up with a two-part project.
One - to build a kit of slides, pictures and a map that would showcase Mylapore in the classroom.
And two, to enlist the services of teachers and retired people who would carry the kit to schools during the weekdays and make a colourful presentation and lead a lively discussion.
And if the classroom talk and discussion enthuses the young ones, then the group will offer to take the class of students on a walk through the interesting nooks of Mylapore.
The intention, as is evident, is to encourage our young people to be aware of the area where they reside and study.
A similar project can be undertaken in all our neighbourhoods by the schools here.
A start could be made by getting senior school students to go out and map the area.
Besides mapping the interesting and historical landmarks, they could also collect data on the forms of activity, composition of people and businesses, locate public and private utilities and conduct short interviews on subjects like housing and open spaces and water supply.
With the help of senior teachers, the data and the information could be tabulated and schools could then come out with booklets on the neighbourhoods.
In doing this, our young people would have got a closer look at their neighbourhood. And they would be proud of a worthy study, which can be handed down to their juniors and updated year after year.
Perhaps it is time our schools woke up to the fact that students must not stop with mixing acids and dissecting frogs in the labs.
They should also be encouraged to explore their neighbourhood. These are lively laboratories.
May 13, 2006
At least not the three I got to know on Thursday.
They were being truly political.
I am at the Anna University counting centre, keeping a tab on the fortunes of candidates in a few city constituencies.
The campus building may be part of the heritage of this campus, but the hall where we are in is no better than the Central Jail, though I haven't yet been to the latter.
It is stuffy, smelly and you can easily get dehyderated here in the heat of May.
And yet, a group of us dig in. Because the counting of votes is very much a part of the exciting and educative part of an election process.
But in the age of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the countng process is over in a matter of hours.
A click here, a click there and a tap on some buttons, and the tally rolls out. Though, if there are a bunch of independent candidates in the fray ( and God knows why they choose to throw their hats in), all you get to see is a blinking series of zeroes!
On that Thursday morning, there were a flurry of messages on my cell phone. And calls. Including calls from three women who were keenly interested in only thing - how was the Lok Paritran candidate faring in the constituency?
With the results out, it is evident that despite their late debut in the election, the young men who contested on behalf of the Lok Paritran party, have not only impressed seniors and young people and women in the 50s, but also notched a fairly decent percentage of the votes polled in the places where they were in the fray in the city of Chennai.
And this has created a buzz around.
That there are people who are willing to make a difference and that there are people who are willing to vote for that difference.
So there is no time to lose.
Yet another election will be with us very soon.
The elections to the Corporation of Chennai, the civic body, are due in October this year.And these are the elections that mean a lot at the grassroots.
A process which matters most to you and to me. So there is no time to lose if we are to build on a new enthusiasm.
Clearly, there are still huge sections of the educated and the well-off who sat tight on May 8.
It is time that activists start engaging them. To get them to be invoved in public issues.
October isn't far away.
May 05, 2006
You are going to be asking yourself - since Monday has been declared a holiday, perhaps this is the time to go off on a long weekend.
It is a temptation most of us may not be able to resist.
But then there is a responsibility to be accomplished on Monday.
May 8 is the day on which the state goes to the polls. A day on which we are called to exercise our franchise. To cast the ballot.
Perhaps, this is not the most exciting thing to do, you may tell yourself.
Perhaps you want to go off on a holiday and escape from the humdrum of elections.
Is the holiday more important than casting your vote?
The poll campaign is over. The candidates of our constituencies have presented themseves and it is our turn to decide who we want to represent us and our neighbourhood.
More and more people among the educated and the well-off have abstained from voting.
Mylapore registered one of the lowest polling percentages ever in the last election to the Lok Sabha.
People prefer to sit at home, watch TV, sleep tight or go off on a holiday.
They have their reasons for keeping away from the polling booth.
One of the positive developments that I have noticed in the run up to the May 8 elections, has been the efforts that many people have taken to encourage people to vote.
In the Ashok Nagar-K K Nagar areas, we found members of community organisations visiting houses and talking to the residents.
In Mylapore-Adyar, some of the candidates themselves have been goading people to vote on May 8.
If you do not approve of the men and women who are the local candidates, you now have the option to express that opinion at the booth.
Remember, it is this simple exercise - of voting - that we are called upon to execute once in a while that makes us what we are today.
April 29, 2006
If you think this would make a short and interesting little soft story, then we could all persuade Sunder to write it.
Sunder is probably the youngest of the school students who have signed up for the annual journalism workshop conducted every year by 'Mylapore Times'.
A student of P. S. Senior in Mylapore, Sunder says he is here to see if he can improve his writing and communication skills.
And there are 27 others who are attending this workshop which began on Monday last - from Adyar, Mylapore, Triplicane and even as far as Thoraipakkam.
We started on a soft note. One of us noticed that the steps on the first flight of stairs to the workshop hall were of varying heights and had tripped many. Another sniffed the strong aroma of coffee which wafted into our hall as the 'coffee grinding works' on the ground floor of the complex began to execute the day's orders. And a third managed to recall almost all but one of the names of the students who introduced themselves at the workshop on Day One.
I found that this was a fun way to introduce our young people, still in school or about to step into college, to the basics of journalism.
Professionals in our neigbourhoods must take time off and invite our young people to explore our professions, our businesses and our work.
Such opportunities will widen their horizons and give them a better understanding of the diverse fields that are open to them today.
And the summer holidays are perhaps the best time to engage young people, and do so for a few hours so that they can enjoy the rest of the free time. Most of the young people who are at our workshop, which will run for three weeks this summer, want to know more about journalism, writing and the media. They have not made up their minds yet on their academic future. But they have had some interest in this profession and hope that a workshop like this one will give them a better understanding.
So from this Monday, after they sit through the morning lectures and classroom discussions, they will have to spend some part of their evenings, pursuing little stories they can work on in their neighbourhood.
One wants to write about a revived Ladies Association. Another, on a woman who provides fodder and water to stray cattle, free of cost. And a third has been persuaded to explore a century-old house, meet up with its residents and write on it.
If their stories are good and interesting, they may find a place in our newspapers.The greater reward though would be the experience of it all.
Not all of them will go on to be in the media.
But many of them will look at the world differently.
April 21, 2006
It is a practical response. The irritation and sweat is dissipated in minutes.
Once that is done, I head to the handy-man I know. The man who makes duplicate keys.
For the nth time, I was locked out last week and I did the routine but never expected the handy-man to be at his post so early - 7.30 am.But there he was. On the pavement of Adyar's main road, enjoying his morning tumbler of tea, with dozens of rusty keys strung on metal wires displayed on a dirty, wooden shelf.
He picked up his dirty bag, a bunch of keys and some accessories, walked the 800 metres with me and after a patient operation which lasted less than five minutes, unlocked the door, took his fee, suggested that I should change the lock and left.
Life isn't easy for Neelankarai Nagaraj.
Countless have been the times when the local traffic police have got rid of him with a whack.
On other occasions, he has had to grease their palms.
When it rains, he seeks shelter in the booth meant for the security officer of the automobile showroom behind him.
And despite the frustrations of labouring on a street, Nagaraj sticks to his post. Neelankarai Nagaraj is as important to me and you as is Besant Nagar Bhaskar, our dhobi who has now stopped washing clothes and only irons them.
Bhaskar's cart is stationed strategically - the residents on four streets of my colony can access him easily. And a pile of quickly-ironed clothes are delivered at our doorstep in a matter of minutes.
If we take some time off to count the timely services that all the shops on the fringe and inside our colonies provide us, we would then realise how important they are to our lives.
Pharmacies, tailors, cobblers, cold storage units, fruit shops, electronics service counters, bakeries, saloons. And the countless provisions stores.
They may have started as pokey nooks. But with time and better business, they too have become smart. You can call them on the cell phone. You can get home deliveries. And they are open 7 am to 11 pm.
What would life be for all of us without them?
The age of the shopping malls and swank A to Z stores is with us.
Will Neelankarai Nagaraj and Besant Nagar Bhaskar survive or fade away?
April 15, 2006
He gets whipped, is made to carry a heavy wooden cross and he is finally hung on it, though for about a minute.
The 'Passion of Jesus' is a popular play enacted in many parts of the Christian world.
In Jaffna, Sri Lanka, on a teaching assignment, I got to sit through the Thamizh version of what is called the Passion play.
More than one thousand people, mostly school children, nuns and priests and the laity, fill up this ground around a simple open-air stage and grand sets on Jaffna's Main Street where the well known 'Centre for Performing Arts' is based.
Some one hundred artistes, young and middle-aged, have rehearsed this play for weeks and during the week leading to Palm Sunday, stage this 140-minute-long play on seven evenings. Barring the two dance interludes, the play sticks to the Biblical story of the events leading to Jesus' death on the cross.
The music is live, the acting is from the heart and the audience is disciplined.
And the man who produces this annual Passion play is Father Savari.
For the final shows last Sunday, the crowd did not get discouraged by the spurt in violence in the peninsula and the increased patrolling by armymen in the town's key areas.
Fr. Savari is seen as a controversial priest. Having spent many years in Europe, mostly in Germany, he has grown with new ideas and charted his own course, away from the mainstream Catholic church. For him, the arts is more than just music and dance.
Art is a way of unifying people and living in harmony, he tells me the next morning.
Fr. Savari has many branches of the 'Centre for Performing Arts' - across the island nation. And these have space for Tamils and Sinhalese children and youth.
The arts of both cultures and traditions are employed in the productions and artistes from both communities perform alongside.
It hasn't been easy though for this highly educated scholar and arts activist.
On tours abroad, the migrant Tamils have boycotted his events because the troupe has had the support of the island's diplomat corps and its mission. And Sinhalese have been cold to invitations because the performers are a mix of Tamils and Sinhalese.
And yet, this priest, based in Colombo and a specialist in Saiva Siddhanta, says he will not rest.
Healing divided communities is a thankless and ardous journey.
And there are many others like Fr. Savari who aren't discouraged by the tasks they have undertaken in Sri Lanka.
As I leave Jaffna, the violence escalates. Seventeen are killed in 72 hours. One of them is a staff with a Christian NGO: his house was down the street where I lodged.
And I wonder - can the arts be given a chance to create peace among broken communities?