May 27, 2006

The youth discover their roots

How did Thiruporur, a town on the Old Mahabalipuram Road, get its name?
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

Lively laboratories

How did Kutchery Road get its name?
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

Youth make a difference

When three women, in their fifties, show immense interest in the fortunes of a young man, they are not being naughty!
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

A simple but important exercise

This weekend is perhaps, for many families a great temptation.
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.