July 29, 2006

Madras Day: networking

Three men around a table.
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

Madras Day: joint ventures!

If you still have not explored Fort St. George, keep your Sundays in mid-August free to make it to this walk.

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

Madras Day: Countdown begins

This is for the women.

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

Your Powerful tool - RTI Act

Should we be bothered about the fact that Rs.43.65 lakhs is budgeted for relaying streets in four colonies in Adyar?
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

Celebrating Anglo-Indians of Chennai

Would you like to have Devil Chutney with idlis for breakfast? Turn to an Anglo-Indian lady for the menu. If you do not know one, make a friend.

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.