June 24, 2006

Journalism for school students

If there is a fire at the Vidya Mandir School in Mylapore, I am in trouble.
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

Of sign boards and tales

Gates, like faces, tell tales.
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

Mylapore MLA to interact with public, on the Net

S. Ve. Shekher, Mylapore's newly elected MLA, has two G-mail accounts.
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

Romance of Block J

This is the romance of Block J. And it is not running at a theatre near you.
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.