November 24, 2006

Busy December!

The warm news., 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 (
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

The role of newspapers in the life of children

Take this quiz question. What is the name of the mascot of the cricket World Cup 2007?
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

Music is their life!

How does a monk live with highway traffic?
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

Encourage kids to explore neighbourhoods!

The talent in our schools in north Madras amazes me.
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.