April 29, 2006

Sharing the experiences of professions

Would you like to read a story on cats who slipped into a Mylapore house following the last north-east monsoon, enjoyed the hospitality of the household and are now disappearing?
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

Essential services of different kind

Everytime I get locked out of my apartment, I go for a walk!
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

Arts for unifying people

He fasts for 40 days. And on seven evenings, he plays the part of Jesus.
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?

April 07, 2006

Dateline Jaffna

I have been camping in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka since Sunday last.
I have been here on an assignment ­ to take classes for a bunch of young people from the Jaffna peninsula region attending a 14-month diploma course in journalism.
This is the second such assignment I have undertaken. In late 2004, I was here to work with part time as well as full-time journalists who work for the local thamizh newspapers.
These courses are promoted by the Regional Media Resources & Training Centre (RMTC) and have been funded and supported by UNESCO, the Royal Danish government and the University of Jaffna.
Since late April this year, about 30 young people who passed their Junior College (high school) exams, have been attending this course at RMTC. The intention of holding this course is to train and produce young people in journalism so that print, broadcast and television media organizations will have a new generation of trained people.
The training is well-intentioned because one senior generation of media professionals has been eclipsed by the ethnic violence and the subsequent developments in this part of the island-country.
A dozen young people attending the current course may take to journalism, perhaps next year. And for me personally, the assignments have been uplifting. For, in some sense, this is our contribution to a significant cause. The cause of training and moulding young people in a key profession.
There are many little ways in which two neighbouring communities can work with each other. More so when there are countless common links ands histories.
Last evening, my host, Fr. Ruban Mariampillai, a priest of the Jaffna diocese, introduced me to Fr. Stephen, who was in Jaffna from Colombo on an important mission. To do the preparatory work for the Vatican, which has recognised the contribution made by the late founder of this congregation of priests and nuns called the Rosarians. Founder Fr. Bastianpillai Thomas was a 'Jaffna man' who set up monasteries in this region, but the congregation spread to Tamil Nadu, spread faster across India and its headquarters is now in Bangalore.
Evidently, the Rosarians on both sides of the straits work together on common issues. On a sister campus of the University of Jaffna, where the departments of music and dance exist, students and faculty will be pleased to entertain guest faculty from Tamil Nadu. In recent times, only the famed Bharatanatyam guru, Adyar Lakshman, has been here on an educational assignment. There could be many more . . .
Clearly, there are many areas where the talented and the skilled on both sides can work together.

April 01, 2006

A bishop, an actor and a social worker

What is common to a bishop, an actor and a man who prefixes 'America' to his name? The flavour of the season. Elections.
Summer is with us rather early this season. The mercury shot up even before April did. And with it, will be elections to the Tamil Nadu state Assembly.
I have begun looking a little closely at the political developments in the neighbourhood where I live. And I chose to look closely at three people.
The first is the Bishop of the Catholics in the Madras region. Rev. Dr. A. M. Chinnappa looks after his flock from his chambers in San Thome. The reverend is known for his work for the disadvantaged and the Dalits.
This week, we saw him in the company of his own colleagues as well as leaders of other communities, in the personal chamber of the leader of the DMK party. All of them were there to express the support of their communities to the DMK in the elections.
Everything we do, in some way or the other, is 'political'.
But I wondered if the Bishop really had to pledge the support of the flock he leads in spiritual and temporal matters, to a particular political party.
Sensitising the flock on political and social issues is important. Going beyond this could spell trouble for all of us.
The second person I looked at was actor S. Ve. Shekar. Shekar has used his brand of comedy in films and in drama to tickle people. Lately, he has thrown his hat in politics and has not impressed.
Patiently though, he has cultivated people in power and his own ambitions and has now been rewarded with a ticket by the AIADMK, of which he is a member, to be its candidate in the Mylapore Assembly constituency.
Shekar has supported many in social welfare projects over the years.
But many of us just cannot forget his bravado in promising to float a neighbourhood cable TV company when the local sharks began to tear subscribers apart. Shekar crawled under his cot soon after he had shouted from the rooftop.
Now that he is the AIADMK's man for a rather peculiar constituency - one which has the largest educated electrorate but records the lowest polling rates - I would like to note what this actor has to say all through April.
Finally, 'America' Narayanan has stuck around in the city, nursing political ambitions even as he nursed an organisation for auto drivers called INODA and kept his links with the Congress (I) party of which he is a member while running his software business. Narayanan also nursed the Mylapore-Adyar areas, hoping against hope that his party would get this seat in the profits of alliance equations and that he would be the favourite candidate.
Last week, that hope was shattered.
Narayanan though nursed another strategy. Could he project himself as an educated, politically and socially active 'local' leader and stand as an independent in this poll? And if he did, would the Mylapore electorate vote for such an independent candidate?
Narayanan will not let passion and idealism ruin his political interests. He will wait for another day.
Is there really place for strong, independent candidates in this system? Or for a small, alternate political party?