December 30, 2007

Mylapore Festival 2008 - Curtain Raiser II

What does it take to host a cultural fest in public spaces?
Perseverance, guts, resilience and a pair of strong legs!
As we do our final acts to launch yet another edition of the Mylapore Festical supported by Sundaram Finance, we, as the owners of this event have a hundred
things to do this weekend.
Here is what I jotted down for my blog on
It was a Wednesday evening.
Lady Sivaswami Girls' School would like to rent their hall to us for some events but postponed exams cast a doubt on letting it out on weekdays.
Outside, the muck which stagnated because of blocked drains is now like layers of dirt cakes.
The contractors overseeing the project of a new R R Sabha are wonderful.
They promise to clear the blue metal and red bricks for our fest. God bless you folks.
Across the street, a civil promoter has got his men to hammer the steel in the middle and has dumped blue metal all over.
Thankfully, the promoter arrives on the scene and promises to clear the place for our Fest. God bless you sir!
Further on, we are anxious to find out if a well-meaning staff of the temple has pruned the saplings he planted along the temple tank.
Yes, he has and promises not to bother us for some time.
God bless him too.
We walk down East Mada Street. Potholes. Bitumen. Metal pieces.
And we worry how we should clean the mada veedhi to let the 200 plus women enjoy drawing kolams next weekend.
I tarry here. And see a gaping hole in the façade of the street. An old house has been demolished and the debris cleared.
Little boys play cricket.
Wow! What a place to have puppetry shows for our Fest!

December 22, 2007

Mylapore Fest 2008: Curtain Raiser

What comes after Christmas and New Year?
The Mylapore Festival!
Between carol concerts and plans to take in the fresh air on the East Coast Road on the first day of the New Year, my team and I have one hundred and one things to do to launch the 2008 edition of the 'Mylapore Festival'.
The main shows are in order.
But there are two dozen other things to be done.
Ensure security for the 'puli vesham' folk dance performance on the weekend. The artistes play around with a bit of fire too!
Should we run the Theru-koothu show of our friends from Kanchipuram district into the night?
How do we manage the huge crowd of devotees that throng the Sri Kapali temple for 'sani prodosham' ?
And will the teams engaged in the Mylapore Treasure Hunt be able to negotiate the polluted Buckingham Canal or should we give them an easy way out through the bridge?
Every December, we have a roller-coaster ride that leaves us drop dead on Pongal eve. What started off as a simple kolam contest that 'Mylapore Times' hosted for the neighbourhood in a school playground over a decade ago, has grown into this Fest.
Sponsored by 'Sundaram Finance', the Fest continues to grow.
Like the kolam contest which now attracts at least 250 people from all over the city, we hope that the Pallankuzhi Contests will get popular from this launch year.
I was amazed at the enthusiasm many young people have shown at the coaching camps we had and I hope seniors will flood the hall on that weekend.
Do get the word across to all your friends and come along.
The info is now posted on a web site -
On a blog linked to this web site, I share little stories of our experiences.
Check that out too. And feel free to comment, with grace.

December 15, 2007

Santa's job is real tough . . .

Finding a person to play Santa is real difficult.
Even if you want to pay him for the job.
Is it because there aren't many people around
to liven up people's lives?
Fr. Joe Andrew came to my rescue this week.
No, this Salesian priest isn't going to play that role. He loves giving sermons using Power Point visuals and graphics and is much in demand for the Christmas season.
Fr. Joe got us two young men who used to board and study at his school in San Thome to be part of our season's offer to bring Santa to the houses of people who wish to surprise their children. Or their loved ones.
Community newspapers - Adyar Times, Mylapore Times, Arcot Road Times and Velachery Plus - introduced this facility a few years ago when I realised how happy children were when they got gifts from Santa.
I guess today's generation would prefer to gift online.
Not in all cases.
Yes, there may be families who do not want to open their doors after 10 pm and Santa has to retreat to a chai shop down the road.
I can imagine their anxiety what with rogues coming in different veshams and conning people with their eyes wide open!
Santa's is a difficult assignment. Hard work.
There are people who want him to take the lift to the fourth floor, negotiate the corridors and do a jig in their drawing room.
This is a painful task even for a young man in our day when every other address is a multi-storeyed apartment block.
This year though, we have been getting calls from Homes for seniors, crèches and daycare centres.
Would we be able to send Santa to other neighbourhoods and arrange for gifts to be given to people there?
We would love to. Maybe next year we will try to reach out.
We will need two Santas. Got to start advertising that job early!

December 07, 2007

Christmastime in Chennai

Be it a Blackberry, a diary or a pocket notebook, you may need to fill in your calendar more often in December.
That is if you are an 'outdoor' person. A person who loves to go to a concert, join a heritage walk or dine out on the East Coast Road.
I maintain two columns in my diary.
One is for the December Season of music and dance. The other is for Christmas celebrations.
And I make time for the latter. For obvious reasons.
The best thing about Christmas is the music.
One single note can signal this season. And if you haven't been to a carol concert, I request you to go for just one.
This weekend, I will have to be at St. Marys at the Fort.
I have to be.
Last year, we zipped across the city, fought the traffic on the Marina and leapt into the nothingness of the fort on a holiday weekend. Only to hear the fading notes of the last carol.
The sound of music at St. Marys is heavenly.
Whenver we take people on our heritage walks around the Fort, the lucky ones get to listen to the music of the organ as the choir prepares for Sunday Service. It is the biggest bonus for the walkers. And I suggest to them that they be on another Sunday.
If the Fort is too distant for you, you should check out the MCC's show at the MCC School in Chetput this week.
5000 people gather in front of the giant, decorated stage to listen to over a dozen groups perform on two evenings.
Someone should ask the Southern Railways to suspend operations on the Egmore-Nungambakkam rail section for those hours! And leave us all to soak in the carols.
The tradition of choir groups visiting homes after dusk and past midnight and singing in the drawing rooms has waned.
It had a Santa Claus magic to it. Today, the kids meet Santa in the malls.
I must make one entry in my diary now. A visit to Deepak's apartment in Mandavelipakkam.
Every year, this young man, working for a BPO, presents a sound and light show on the birth of Jesus in his drawing room.
Deepak recorded a Thamizh sound track a few years ago, in addition to the English, to help his neighbours enjoy the story.
For his effort, this time around, I should sing a Christmas carol for Deepak's family.

November 24, 2007

Arts for Campus

Theatreperson Pralayan is just back from a month-long residence in Hosur.
Back from working with school children on a Thamizh play and helping them discover and debate many issues.
Pralayan, who lives in Besant Nagar and runs his street theatre group, writes scripts and works on films ( he has worked on Kamal Hasan's 'Dasavatharam') often works with school children.
On invitation though.
In Hosur, he was working with a school run by the TVS group.On invitation because Pralayan isn't keen to stage slapstick shows for Annual Days and end-of-year celebrations.
He steps in only when a host encourages its senior students to get involved in a play, respond to it, debate issues, expand the production and gain some thing more than curtain call applause.
Not long ago, Pralayan also worked with the girl students at Avvai Home in Adyar.
And he is open to invitations.
I have known of a few other schools who make use of the talent of creative people of the neighbourhood to work with their students.
The School-KFI in Adyar hosts a unique drama fest every year. It invites a few schools to work on original scripts and focus on themes that bother / affect / appeal to young students.The plays are staged and dialogues follow.
Since the plays are held on campus, only a limited number of people get to see them.
Perhaps, neighbourhood schools could draw on the talent, resource and time of creative people who reside in the area to enrich their extra-curricular programmes.
If schools are already doing this, I'd like to hear from them . . .
Meanwhile, Pralayan wants to make this known - he can convince the TVS School in Hosur to let their students' theatre team stage their new production in our city if somebody can sponsor travel, accommodation and theatre space.

November 17, 2007

Welcome to December Season 2007

Dear Vincent, I hope you make my 'season' a wonderful one!
Part of an e-mail I found in my mail box earlier this week.
It was from a regular at our web site
And I guess this man in the USA wanted to warm us up for the 'season of music and dance'.
Three people - Revathi, Manju and Bhanumathy - are doing their best to make the 'season' a great one for thousands of people who will enjoy visiting our web site over the next seven weeks.
For it is that time of the year when our city plays host to one of the most unique festivals of classical music and dance anywhere in the world.
For close to a decade, we at KutcheriBuzz have been doing what we do best - providing rasikas news and information that prepares them better for the 'season'.
And reporting the highlights of the fest so that all those people who cannot make it to Chennai, manage to get a 'feel' of it wherever they are.
Often, we go beyond our call.
We have tried to get Mylaporeans and Adyarites to offer bed and breakfast facilities for the 'December season'.
That is because the number of people outside this city who seek this facility are growing.
We have also tried to coax people to host 'coffee and chat' nooks and meetings so that visiting artistes, touring groups and south India-bound tourists have a space to get a closer 'feel' of music and dance . . .
Because there is more to a fest than hundreds of concerts and dozens of lec-dems . . . .
Perhaps, there will be a 'Walk around and Discover Kalakshetra' tour that will get booked this season.
Perhaps, my friend V. Sriram will after all decide to host at least two heritage walks devoted to music /dance in December. . .
Perhaps, the Tamil Nadu Tourism will find better ways to package the Mamallapuram Dance Fest which allows the audience, mostly foreigners and tourists, to soak in that bit extra . .
Sitting as we do in the heart of all the action on the eve of the December season, I guess I tend to get overly excited.
Anyway, you will see me more at

November 10, 2007

Charity at Diwali Time

A warm story of charity at festival time came into the office of the 'Arcot Road Times' last week.
The Lalitha Sahasranama Mandali in K. K. Nagar is made up of about 20 women. But this group goes beyond its original intention. It reaches out to the elderly in 'homes' across the city and the state.
The idea to do works of charity popped up when the women realised there was more that people in 'homes' needed than just bhajans and pleasant exchanges.
By word of mouth, the Mandali members gathered clothes, medicines, essential foodstuff and monies from well wishers in the neighbourhood and a new charity got going.
We heard about this venture recently and reported it.
The Mandali received a dozen calls even on the eve of Deepavali and a new set of donors had joined the list.
On the other side of this neighbourhood, in MGR Nagar, a different set of people reached out to the kids in the local Corporation School.
'Chirag' is based in Besant Nagar.
It networks with young, high income and generous executives, especially in the IT business to channel their donations for welfare projects.
In MGR Nagar, Chirag's volunteers took the trouble to understand each student's dream gift for Deepavali and made sure all of them got what they wished for!
Like the Mandali group of K. K. Nagar and 'Chirag', there are many others who keep a low profile and are high in enthusiasm and charity.
As community newspapers, we would like to give them space whenever we can to enable residents of a neighbourhood to reach out. And they do so in their own backyards.
So if you are a group which reaches out to the less fortunate and would like a message to go out to our readers, feel free to write to us or send us an e-mail.
Meanwhile, you can contact the Mandali at 2472 6076. Chirag has a web site - its URL is

November 03, 2007

Cub Reporters at Work!

Do abandoned chicks of a pigeon make a good story?
R. Anusha asked, innocently.
Tell us the story, I coaxed her.
There were at least 20 school students in the room.
And they listened to Anusha, a student of Padma Seshadri, K. K. Nagar.
Of how the pigeons used to nest in the house of her friend's neighbour. They didn't like the idea of a bigger pigeon family and so the young ones were dropped off some where.
And Anusha's friend picked them and raised them.
Any good news story is good for a community newspaper.
And this is what we encourage senior students to report for the month of November. A time of the year when we guide the enterprising and the talented to go out into their colonies and report for their local newspapers.
Anusha and 20 other students were at our meeting held at the Arcot Road Times office.
Last weekend, 20 others from the neighbourhoods of Adyar and Mylapore met up with us. They braved the rains and the cyclonic weather for this second editorial meeting. And the kids came up with a few good story ideas.
One of them is on the enterprise of three young boys who run an e-newsletter on science.
Another is on a person who has holiday tours designed specifically for senior citizens.
A third is on how an old graveyard is polluting the colony which is now full of apartments.
I wish some had volunteered to take a ride with Adyar's night patrol policemen and get a taste of the job and perhaps have a brush with some adventure!
Some years ago, one student reporter managed to hop into a fire engine which was setting off on a SOS call and went on to file an on-the-spot report.
All the three newspapers - Adyar Times, Mylapore Times and Arcot Road Times - will feature reports filed by these students which deserve publication.
I am sure these kids will enjoy the exercise through this month.
Sadly, many parents think such experiences are a waste of time!

October 27, 2007

Lets have awards for city activists . . .

This isn't the best time to take a break. Not for me.
But if I had that luxury, I would want to write a chapter for a book on World chess champion, Vishwanathan Anand.
There is a fascinating story to be told. And it must be told.
For Anand is a rare example of an Indian sportsperson maintaining his top place so consistently on the world stage.
And, the man is simply colourful.
And will make a good story.
Over two decades ago, I remember joining a photographer friend who was on an Anand assignment.
We found Elliots Beach a charming locale early that morning and my friend had more than he had planned - of a young champion Anand in what used to be his favourite open space.
If there is another story to recount for the city then it should be of another colourful personality - Kamakshi Subramaniyan. Also of Besant Nagar.
I am yet to find a person like her ( she must be now in her late 70s ) who had carried on a relentless campaign to protect and beautify an avenue alongside her colony.
She has written letters and shot off notes, she has pleaded with Commissioners and coaxed Corporation officials, she has fought with men and cajoled neighbouring women to lend her a hand, she has threatened people and patted others.
Done everything for a community cause. Not for selfish gains.
I have known her since we began to publish the 'Adyar Times' newspaper - every time she has seen the need for reportage on the civic campaign in her area, she has never retired till her call got across to me.
Perhaps, her campaign is still not over.
And perhaps like Vishwanathan Anand, the Kamakshis of this world have to plough a lonely furrow.
For community leaders, there aren't even rewards, let alone plaques, dollars and audiences with the Prez.
Perhaps, the city's Mayor should institute annual awards for the Kamakshis of our city.
And engrave their names on a tablet in Ripon Buildings.

October 20, 2007

Navaratri Zone in Mylapore!

How many of you would like to take a boat trip at dusk on the Buckingham Canal, from Muttukadu to Marakanam?
Well, my friend Manoj Joy who publishes 'Velachery Plus', a free weekly community newspaper, has some ideas.
Ideas which can work, he says. He should know because Manoj used to sail the oceans in a 'previous life'.
Manoj would like to hire a large boat, fitted with lights and music and a nook for food. He would also like to have on board a story-teller who would entertain guests with stories and anecdotes which have to do with the Canal.
And when the boat slips into Marakanam Lake, the guests would spend time with the community which actually makes the salt pans work.
We were walking down the Canal in the Muttukadu region recently when Manoj shared his ideas.
And I kept thinking of the fun boat rides that are offered on the Mandovi in Goa.
This week, I was back on the Mada Streets of Mylapore, taking in the sights and sounds of the Navaratri festival shopping.
North Mada Street had made space for doll makers and street hawkers from all over.
I was looking for a Natyanjali set.
I had read some where that this year artisans had introduced a set of dolls based on the annual classical dance fest held in that magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram.
I strolled down Mada Street asking for the Natyanjali set but wasn't successful.
And then, when I stood back to take in the sights of this street I began to wonder. . . .
Wasn't this an occasion the Chennai Corporation and the Tourism Department could pick up to celebrate for a week?
Declare North Mada Street a 'no traffic' zone for three hours in the evening, encourage doll and toy makers to spread their wares from end to end, negotiate with the existing stores, large and small to create parking lots for their customers so that their business did not suffer, illuminate the street, play soft classical music at the street corners, support kutcheris at the temple, hand out 'sundal' to guests . . . .
Make North Mada Street a Navaratri Fest Zone.
Is this really possible?
It is. If you believe that such celebrations also make our city.

October 13, 2007

Boating in the Cooum? Possible!

Every time we take people on a heritage walk of Mylapore and we are in the Sanskrit College neighbourhood, we sigh.
How do we explain to our guests the history of the Buckingham Canal?
A Canal which is today full of rotting garbage and stinking sewage.
A canal of civic shame.
But if you follow this canal off the East Coast Road after you have left the city behind and travel south, the stream of water is a visual treat.
You should coax your parents or grandparents who have been on a boat trip on this canal to recall their wistful experiences on a quiet weekend.
This week, architect Dr. Bimal Patel from Ahmedabad was in our city to share his experiences. Experiences of a unique public project that is being executed in this west Indian city.
The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project.
This is a project of the local Corporation. But it draws on the talent and experiences of a group of professionals like Patel. And it is a project handled by a formal company.
It is a project to revitalise a river which runs through the heart of Ahmedabad and has fallen on bad days.
The project aims to keep the river clean, build promenades, walkways, parks and leisure spaces on the river banks, reclaim some land from the river to develop it, to resettle families from the slums on the banks in housing blocks in this region and to sell some of the 'reclaimed' real estate to raise monies which will pay for the project.
The first phase of constructing the promenade is on now. Also on is the construction of a sewage pipeline which will link up with the maze of existing sewage lines which empty muck and dirt into this river.
Patel was invited to our city by Chennai Heritage, a voluntary body which has the city's civic and heritage issues at its heart. The effort was made in order to get civic officials, industrialists and the leading lights of Chennai to take a good look at the Sabarmati project and to sow the seeds of a Chennai project which would revitalise our waterways.
We have three waterways. The Cooum, Buckingham Canal and the Adyar.
In the past, the state has floated many projects to 'clean' the waterways. Lots of money has been spent on these projects. And piles of files on this subject now gather dust.
Perhaps the time has come for Chennai's people to join hands with Chennai Corporation to earnestly get behind the waterways project.
Over to the doers.

October 06, 2007

Engage in neighbourhood issues!

When I am done with the newspapers every morning and there is still time on my hands, I turn back to the advertisements released by state bodies.
Adverts put out by the city Corporation, the Highways and PWD departments, the Pollution Control Board and the CMDA.
For, in those boring adverts of lines, figures and columns are stories that you and I need to appreciate and understand.
Perhaps, the people who own that large, empty plot of land in your colony have now decided to put up a workshop and need an NOC.
Perhaps, the City Fathers have decided to replace the pavement of your avenue with fancy red-oxide tiles in order to beautify our garden paths!
Perhaps, this is the third time that a tender is being floated in order to construct a bridge across the local canal.
How interested are we as citizens in public projects that affect us all?
Take the case of the new agency for garbage clearance contracted to operate in some parts of the city.
Neel Metal Fanalca.
How much of the contract and all that is associated with it is in the public domain and how transparent have Neel Metal and the city Corporation been so far?
A month has gone by since the new agency took charge and it is clear that Neel Metal is still not completely equipped to do its job.
Garbage continues to pile up in many colonies, garbage bins have not found a place everywhere, the staff are ill-equipped and transparency is missing.
It now appears that the contract envisaged only 'door to door' garbage collection. Which means that the system of having bins at street corners was nowhere in the new scheme.
But we were told that the bins had not been placed from Day One because there was a fire in the factory of the company which was to produce and supply the bins. . .
There is clearly a need for knowledgeable citizens to engage in public and neighbourhood issues.
Engage closely and professionally so as to encourage state and private agencies to plan, discuss and work alongside the community.
If we don't engage, then one avenue will be re-laid with red oxide hexagonal tiles, our crematoria will have gardens with Hawaiian shrubs and 2nd Main Road will be re-laid for the third time in five months!
I observed a few positive engagements this past week.
Residents of Kalakshetra Colony and Valmiki Nagar have begun to talk to Neel Metal to work out localised door-to-door garbage collection.
Residents in Valasarawakkam engaged the city police on local law and order issues.
We need to see more of such engagements.

September 29, 2007

Kovai's Mega Jumble Sale

15,000 visitors. 800 volunteers. 12 lorryloads of goods. A month-long campaign.
All this goes to make a Jumble Sale which goes on to raise about eighteen lakh rupees.
It took place last weekend. And it took place in Coimbatore.
And in many ways it is a unique event. For it networks people for a cause - treating the poorest of the poor cancer patients and creating awareness on prevention and cure.

For 14 years now, the Vasantha Memorial Trust founded in Coimbatore by Dr. J. Ramanathan and his sister, have promoted a string of creative projects to drive the goals of their Trust.
Many years ago, I met up with this genial doc when he got Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri to cut an album and present a series of kutcheris to raise funds.
Since then, Ramanathan has kept in touch, keeping me informed of all his projects in Coimbatore and in Mumbai.

A little over a year ago, he set up the Trust's office in our city. It didn't matter to him that he would now have to practise at a Coimbatore hospital on the weekend and do the same through the week in Chennai and also make time to manage the events of the Vasantha Trust.
When Ramanathan began to promote the annual Jumble Sale this year, I was more than curious about this venture.
Jumble Sales don't seem to be common and attractive in our parts.

I recall a series which a women's group used to organise in the Adyar neighbourhood.
This group was a small one but its members used to knock on many doors and manage to collect a few items - light furniture, kitchen appliances, clothes, bags and the like.
And these women would hold the sale on their premises.
The sale attracted the women who worked as maids, cooks or helpers in and around the neighbourhood. For, the goods on sale were a bonus for families which were economically weak.

The Vasantha Memorial Trust Jumble Sale in Coimbatore is an event by itself.
Dr. Ramanathan tells me that there were twelve lorryloads of furniture alone and little of it was left by 2 pm!
People begin to queue up for this sale from 7 am though the gates of the school where it is held are opened only at 9 am. The prices are a steal and decided by the organisers and there are no bargains.

Last weekend's sale earned close to eight lakh rupees.
Doc Ramanathan says it is not the collection which counts; rather it is the involvement of and contribution made by people which is important.

This year, though the Jumble Sale campaign was low key in our city, the Trust managed to collect two lorryloads of articles. One donor was even willing to offer a used car.
Yet another example of the impact communities can help create when people contribute, voluntarily.

September 21, 2007

Our 'Little' Reporters!

Readers of Adyar Times would have noticed three bylines which appear off and on.
Pranathi Diwakar, Vrinda Manocha and Rhea Banerjee.
These three girls are school students and they attend schools in the same neighbourhood, that is Adyar.
The three also attended the summertime Journalism Course that our newspapers run annually.
What set them apart from the others was their persistence in putting their skills into practice.
The three girls have been reporting and writing for the 'Adyar Times' fairly regularly. And though studies take much of their working hours, they do venture out to do stories.
And they seem to be enjoying the experience, though Rhea made a mess of a report on a community event once and couldn't get over it for days!
( I wonder if she expressed her fears in verse. Rhea also has a blog of her poems).
Our weeklies - Adyar Times, Mylapore Times and Arcot Road Times - have always encouraged young people to write.
Many years ago, we began the practice of reserving one issue in November for the contributions of children of the neighbourhood.
But we have been particular that these contributions are local reportage.
Many children on this annual programme have enjoyed the experience. One joined the local police inspector on his night patrol; another jumped on to a fire engine on a SOS call. And another spent time at a patasala.
This year, we decided to extend this programme. Which means all those who are invited to be part of it will get the opportunity to contribute reports all through November.
And to prepare these bright sparks, we intend to host a short training session at our offices. We hope the kids will pick up skills like thinking of a story idea, identifying local issues, making appointments, interviewing people, taking down notes, writing news reports . . . .
So, if there are school students out there who would like to join this programme, you should sign up now.
And be prepared for some hard work.
The reward?
Bylines for good stories!

September 14, 2007

Lets have our own radio stations

You may hate to wade through the hawkers and shoppers of Pondy Bazaar but far away from the madding crowds you may long for the sounds and sight of this maddening place.

Pondy Bazaar is certainy not my favourite destination.

But it has character and that's why I don't mind taking visitors to this place if they want to get a local shopping experience!

On the streets and off the main roads there are sights and smells you should not miss.

Given that most of the stuff that is hawked on the pavements here is for women, Pondy Bazaar may not be the destination of men.

But there are many things to take in - the sign boards, the display in the shop windows, the hawkers and the range of goods from different parts of the country.

Pondy Bazaar is an experience unique to this city.

On the other hand, Andrea offers a different kind of experience to a different community.

He brings alive the sights and sounds of Auroville.

And he does this through the internet radio of this unique community.

Andrea tells me that he created a communication contraption when he was in his teens and successfully broadcast music and speech to his neighbourhood.

The experiment led on to a small radio station enterprise which became bigger in the years that followed.

But for the last three years, since the time he has been at Auroville, he has used his knowledge and experience to run Auroville's radio station on the Net.

Andrea has a busy schedule. He and his team hop across the vast, wooded land located off the East Coast Road to cover the talks, discussions and concerts on campus and to produce information bulletins and local features.

His team is small and the volunteers, who include youths from the Aurovillle school, drop in and out.

This radio station on the Net seems to have a large and wide range of listeners. After all, Aurovilleans and their well wishers are scattered around the world.

For them, the station communicates, networks, educates and entertains.

Which is what community radio stations can do if the state encourages people to set them up on their own.

But the state has not done this.

We do have a few hundred commercial FM stations who seem to jangle on the same frequency!

We do have two dozen campus radio stations across the country which encourage students to get hands-on experience.

Though the state says it is keen to see many thousand radio stations across the country, its processes and policies are discouraging.

But people are not giving up. I heard that a body which represents the autorickshaw drivers of Chennai had applied for a radio licence. So did a well known residents' association in Mumbai.

Don't you think we need to have our own local radio stations?

September 07, 2007

Addressing local issues . . .

Mohan Das Vadakara is a freelance photographer and videographer.
So 'free' that he does not mind shooting an engaging Thamizh street play in Saidapet at length or clicking pictures of a wandering minstrel in George Towne.
So 'free' that he may shoot a performance you assigned him but not bother to hand it over to you even if you wanted to pay him!
Working out of Triplicane, known as the city's 'market of mansions' for bachelors, Vadakara is perhaps the city's chronicler of cultural events.
He has footage nobody possibly has.Every now and then we team up to work together.
So, during the 2006 Chennai Corporation elections we worked on a documentary film which focussed on a single day's campaign of a local woman candidate, who used to be a councillor of a ward in Mylapore.
As it turned out, the day's campaign was through a slum colony called Lala Thotam and through Pelathope, a single-street colony, once the most important address in Madras because it was home and office to the city's leading lawyers.
Though we are amateurs in film making, Vadakara and I edited the film and screened it at the 'Madras Day' docu-films fest which was held last weekend ( has all the details).
And the feedback we received was educative.
How do we engage with a local councillor on local issues?
Where is the space to discuss such issues?
How do we ensure that a councillor does not nod his or her head for projects that really do not mean much to the neighbourhood?
How do we work together with our local rep and ensure better civic management?
At our newspapers, we have tried our best to report on the meetings of local councillors and report on local projects.
But the task isn't easy.Recently, a senior officer of Zone 10 of Chennai Corporation asked us rather curtly, why we were very keen to get copies of the minutes of the monthly meeting of the councillors and why we went about publishing all the major projects which they had proposed.
'And why should you publish the costs of each project?,' he asked.
The media can play one role.
The community has to play another.

August 31, 2007

Ideas for Madras Day 2008!

The 'Madras Day 2007' story has not got over yet.
This Sunday, we are screening some of the better-produced documentaries which film makers had entered in a contest.
The screening is at Srinivasa Shastri Hall in Luz, from 3.30 pm onwards.
As a finale to this session, we will screen a rather provocative film made on the city of Chennai, once Madras, by Venkatesh Chakravarthy.
It is called 'Chennai - The Split City'. It runs for about 70 minutes but if you like documentaries, you should not miss this film though it has been screened at different places this past year.
Our intention is to get film makers to do more films on our city: its life, its communities, its people, its warts and all.
I will be very happy if 'Madras Day' can drive people to make films on our city so that we have a growing collection of visual footage for the archives, for screenings and for dissemination.
We had a call from St. George's on the weekend.This school was late on the 'Madras Day' schedule but was keen to motivate schools in their neighbourhood to join them in a festival dedicated to the city we love.
And St. George's had another request - could we help provide a person who could take their school children on a tour of Fort St. George?
Acceding to this request was going to be difficult - all of us who had been deeply involved in the 'Madras Day' celebration had retired.
Would you imagine this? We had 84 people on the walk around the Fort on Saturday last and 72 the next day, Sunday.
And our guide, Dr. S. Suresh, the archaeologist, never complained though he was on duty on both days.
Which brings us to a suggestion we have for our schools - would it not be a great idea if each school trained a teacher or two to double up as guides on at least two heritage courses in our city?
They could take groups of their schools on walks, one at a time, throughout the year. And then train a different set of teachers who could take charge.
And thereby, keep this cycle alive. . .It would also be great if senior and fit residents of the city who intimately know areas like Egmore, George Towne, the Marina, Mylapore, San Thome, Adyar, Kilpauk, the film studio neighbourhood of Vadapalani . . . . could themselves be guides on special tours through these areas.
If these men and women took the lead to showcase our well-known, heritage-rich neighbourhoods, they would be doing all of us a great service.

August 25, 2007

We will be doing the rounds of the fort even as you read this.
Fort St. George is perhaps one of the most fascinating campuses in our city.
And to mark 'Madras Day' which has turned out to be 'Madras Week', I got Dr. S. Suresh, the archaeologist friend ( the one who organises trips along railway tracks and takes groups on Roman trails) to spare time to lead the fort walks.
Suresh often brings along a set of vintage coins, Roman and Pallava and others, to pep his preface to the walk which starts from the parking lot opposite the fort.
And going by the calls and e-mails we have received, the walks on Saturday and Sunday (starting at 7 am) should be packed.
The security at the gates of the fort may wonder why a contigent of 40 people want to get into the fort ( which also houses the Secretariat) at an odd hour!
Earlier in the week, I took a group of students of M. Ct. M. Chidambaram Chettyar school to this area to kick off a tour of north Madras.
We have been working hard to arrange tours for a few schools on either side of the 'divide' and the response has been wonderful.
The M. Ct. M. students came alive when we shared the stories on the fort with them and this set the mood for the rest of the tour through Royapuram, Kasimedu and Thiruvottriyur.
Amazing was also the response of the girls from a Royapuram school who brought the north Madras stories to three school campuses in the south.
When we broke for 'tiffin' in Besant Nagar, the girls tucked in the idlis in a jiffy and doubled out to enjoy a few minutes on Elliots Beach!
Two positive things seem to have happened during 'Madras Day 2007'.
Our young community has shown greater interest in our city and the intensity will grow if they can be inspired and motivated.
Also, the north-south exchange is showing promise and we only hope city schools will follow-up on the recent exchanges that have taken place to get to know our people better.
Meanwhile, after a well-deserved break, Suresh and I want to meet again and plan a new trail through the city.
A trail for 2008.
Maybe, we will hint at it on the web site -

August 18, 2007

A T-shirt for Chennai

I hope the Tiruppur hub has good news for us.
Scheduled to arrive in the city on Monday is a pack of the all-new Namma Chennai T-shirt.
And I am hoping that many die-hard folks of this city will like it.
The T-shirt for our city idea has everything to do with the 'Madras Day' which is rolling out now.
We chose to have a contest to create a design for a Chennai T-shirt and last year, a design student, Shreyas, won the prize for her effort.
We then invited this bright, young girl to work further on the basic design and if you check out the web site - - you will get a peek at Shreyas' new design which our well wishers in Tiruppur have promised to deliver as finished product.
Going by the many e-mails that are flowing in - the mail ID is - Shreyas' design seems to have caught the eye of young people.
One diehard resident doubled into our office this week in anticipation of the new T-shirt and though disappointed, ( the new Tee is due for an official release on Wednesday, August 22) decided to buy the 2006 Chennai T-shirt which sports a large kolam.
Well, in keeping with the spirit of 'Madras Day', which is to keep the community at its heart, we have not invited Trisha or Madhavan or Anu Hassan to launch the Tee.
It will be launched at a contest for city schools at a hall in Luz next Wednesday.
The first order is for 100 Tees ( each costs Rs.100) and if the lot disappears in a week, it may well become a collector's item because we may not produce them all over again ( The Tiruppur folks say our order should be nothing less than 5,555 numbers!)
The response to the 'Madras Day' events is heartening.
It is good to see the city's community responding positively.
Ashok Leyland's PR and Communications department called to say it will freely lend its special bus specially designed for children for all 'Madras Day' events in which children are involved.
So, on Monday, the bus will carry 30 children from Kalaimagal Vidyalaya in Royapuram, to four schools in central and south Madras on a yatra to present glimpses of north Madras by way of villupattu and story-telling in Thamizh.
'Madras Day' is all about the city and its people.
And I am hoping that a band performing at Sunday's Freedom Jam Rock Show at the YMCA Nandanam campus will dedicate an original song to this city.
Or at least inspire, like Shreyas was, some one to write a song on this city: Madras that is Chennai.

August 10, 2007

Positive responses to Madras Day 2007

My friends in Kilpauk must be cross with me.
I had to skip the Kilpauk Utsav this year.
The Utsav is a unique neighbourhood celebration.
And it brings people together.
The community spirit seems rather strong in that part of the city.
For, when they heard about the 'Madras Day' celebrations, some friends in Kilpauk wondered how they could get involved.
And then came a call from my photographer friend, D. Krishnan. A well known art gallery was preparing to launch its second gallery in the Kilpauk region, so would there be some bright idea of marking this event?
A 'Madras Day' event of course. For this gallery also features lots of pictures of 'old Madras'.
And if the promoters of the gallery could encourage a collaboration with the Kilpauk residents and host a talk on the city, the circle would be complete . . . .
Well, perhaps this is possibly the best manner in which people celebrate the city. Network.
Another friend of ours has come forward to host a series of events in Alwarpet.
Writer and art critic Lakshmi Venkataraman who now manages 'Gallery Sri Parvati' has offered her space to host an exhibition and a series of talks during 'Madras Week'.
The ball began to roll quite fast in Alwarpet when writer and arts promoter Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and writer Charukesi volunteered to anchor an evening of readings of essays, fiction and poetry in Thamizh that focussed on our city. Madras that is Chennai.
Now if you have been scribbling verses on this city of ours, you may want to bring them to the evening of readings and perhaps, read aloud too.
From the other side, in the Vadapalani neighbourhood, executive Krishna Kumar Menon has offered a hall at the Green Park Hotel he manages, for a city event.
Story teller Randor Guy will be there that evening with a running commentary on lots of film clips which used Madras as a location in the 50s and 60s. And the 'Spring Into Reading' team has lined up events for children at the same venue.
In the Adyar neighbourhood, arts promoter V. R. Devika is hosting a special quiz. A quiz devoted entirely to a very special person - Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In the course of the quiz, Devika plans to present lots of little known information on this great woman of the city.
It is still not late for your neighbourhood association or group to think up an event that celebrates our city.
And if you wish to keep a tab on all the 'Madras Day' buzz, check out

August 04, 2007

Walks in the city

When I have time to listen to stories, I drop in at Dr. Suresh's house.
This quiet nook in Padmanabha Nagar in Adyar is just the place to engage with this enterprising archaeologist.
Suresh is pursuing an interesting vocation - archaeological tourism.
At the end of yet another story-telling session this week, he took the train to the Nilgiris where he is putting together a project for a well known travel company.
I have promised to accompany him on his next trip to the Blue Hills. Beacuse if I do make it, Suresh will take me on one of his favourite trails.
Walking along the tracks of the 'toy train' from Coonoor.
There are lots of stories to be shared off the tracks, he tells me.
There is another trail that we have put together for the celebration of Madras Day (August 22), a day to celebrate the founding of this city.
It is the Stone Age Madras tour.
Not many of us are aware that the city and the local region was inhabited by Stone Age man, some 40,000 years ago.
The first Stone Age artefact discovered in India was in the Pallavaram area in the city's suburbs.
Dr. Suresh will cover this theme at a public talk on August 18 evening and the next day morning, Sunday, lead all those who wish to be part of the tour to a Stone Age region located near Poondi, about 80 kms from the city.
That trail, a rather challenging one (we did a recee this week) will lead you through rocky terrain and scrub forest to a large natural cavern inhabited by pre-historic man.
(Details on this and all other 'Madras Day' events are being posted on the website -
Now you don't have to look for an adventurous theme to celebrate this city of ours.
If you are a school teacher, you could plan a neighbourhood tour for your students. To help them discover places they haven't seen.
One group has come forward with a simple initiative - to draw up a trail that starts at Fort St. George, goes through the University Campus, then to Bharathi Memorial in Truiplicane and Vivekananda Museum off the Beach Road, to Queen Mary's College, along the DGP's office, to All India Radio and the San Thome cathedral and ends with a picnic on the Marina.
'Madras Day' does not call for wild parties, colourful wrist bands and ribbon-cutting events.
It invites you to enjoy the good things about this city.

July 28, 2007

Fate of Open Spaces

It pays to stop and stare.
And it pays at least 9.5% more if you do it when you can make time to do this.
Perhaps when you are getting back home after a good day's work.
I do it off and on.
If I am in the Taramani area, I drop anchor at the cricket ground in the sprawling Central Polytechnic campus and watch a few overs of play between school cricket teams. From outside the boundary.
If I am in the Foreshore Estate area, I slow down as I approach Quibble Island. You will catch dozens and dozens of birds looking for feed at high noon, tolerating the stink and the waste that we allow to spill into this unique natural heritage of the Adyar river which once buoyed a few islands in this neighbourhood.
If I am on the other side of the road, the road they still call Brodies Road, the stop over is to catch a few minutes of a frenzied football match played by the members of the neighbourhood football team.
On weekends, I have seen these young players kick and dribble the ball well past dusk, the brooding lighting of the street lamps barely enough to support the enthusiasm of the players.
On weekends though, there are hundreds of young boys on this Corporation playground, with some teams playing cricket matches across each other!
Last week, some thing else was going on at this playground.
The gates were being pulled down, the ground was dug up in places and lorryloads of mud were being dumped on the fringes.
I took it to be a timely renovation of a popular playground.
It wasn't.
Two nights later, girders went up into the sky; metal plates were flung across and flood lights were being fitted on a row of pillars.
The walls were getting a fresh coat of white wash and greenery seemed to pop up in the corners.
The ground had been 'taken over'.
'Taken over' for a function in which the Chief Minister was to participate.
And I certainly did not feel good about the 'take over'.
If there were rules to play by for all of us who wish to make use of common playgrounds, parks, beaches and leisure spots, then the state too should respect these rules.
Yes, there could be exceptions.
Perhaps in emergencies like a fire, a tsunami or a disaster of any kind.
But why does the state want to host its mela-like function on a neighbourhood playground?
Open spaces mean little to us, it seems. What is your opinion?

July 20, 2007

Planning 'Madras Day 2007'

From a quiet corner of Elango Nagar in Virugambakkam on the fringe of this city, veteran philatelist D. H. Rao has been working hard at one goal.
Helping him in this endeavour has been an equally enthusiastic philatelist, Raja Seetharam of Chintadripet.
The duo have succeeded in convincing the Postal Department to bring out a special postal cover for a special occasion - the celebration of Madras Day.
Yes, 'Madras Day' will be with us soon.
August 22 is now being celebrated as 'Madras Day', a day to remember the city's history and heritage, its people and communities, its contribution and the milestones it has set.And perhaps, a time to look forward!
A few years ago, some of us who love this city got together to float this idea and make it a reality.
We wanted the celebration to come from within the people who own this city, the people who live here and like the place.So, the events are informal and self-driven. They are not state-sponsored.
With a month to go to launch what is called the 'Madras Week' ( Aug.19 to 26), a window which provides a time for communities, groups, clubs and institutions to host events focussed on the city, the first plans have just rolled out.
City schools are being invited to select a small team to work on a project on researching a heritage campus or neighbourhood landmark or local communities; once they are ready, they will make presentations at a common venue and the best will be given prizes.
Young film makers have a contest before them.
Titled 'Frames of Chennai', they are invited to produce a short film on a unique aspect of the city; films which will document a people, a life, an issue . . .
The best films will be screened at a festival and yes, there will be prizes for the bests.
A series of talks are to be held at venues across the city; the themes will focus on city-related subjects. Sample: Historian and writer Randor Guy will talk on 'Three Great Murders of Madras' and the venue could be a hall at the Madras High Court campus!
The MadBulls, a unique community of Bullet bike riders of the city are drawing out a route across the cty which will take them to a few landmarks which are not so popular but interesting: like the Hanging Gardens and a war-time bunker in north Madras!
This is an occasion for people to network and work out events which focus on the city. Bookstores can have reading sessions; cafes can invite poets to recite their city-centric verses; clubs could host speakers to their weekly meetings . . . .
This is the way 'Madras Day' is celebrated.
To be in the loop, log on to a web site whose URL is

July 13, 2007

Poems on Goa: create space for Chennai

'Last Bus to Vasco: Poems from Goa'
This is the title of a recently published book of poems. And it is by Brian Mendonca, poet, musician and Delhi-based editor of children's books of a well known university press.
On Thursday evening, as the thunder and lightning played out through the long spell of rain in our city, Brian sat comfortably on a high stool at a hotel dance floor and read out his poems.
And when he had finished, he picked up his guitar and sang two Goan/Portuguese songs for his guests.
Brian writes about the people, the sights and the sounds of the places he visits.
So, in a way he is a social chronicler.
When he was on a tour of Pondicherry (now Puducherry), he began to scribble when he was inspired by everything that went around him while at a popular restaurant of tourists.
On Thursday night, after a day trip to Mahabalipuram and a poetry reading session drenched by unseasonal rains, Brian may have retired to a nook and let the muse take over.
A passionate Goan that he is, most of Brian's poems are rooted in Goa.
Of evening prayers and devout Catholic families, of billboards that confront you on the bus trips to Vasco and children shrieking on the beach nestling in a cove; of hooting trains and raucous boatmen on the Mandovi. . . .
The self-published book 'Last Bus to Vasco' comes along with an audio CD of the poems recorded in his voice and it has an accompanying sound track.
Isn't that a wonderful idea?
Imagine the hoots of a local train filling the background and giving way to the hiss of vibrating metal rail tracks as Brian reads out his verses.
No wonder 'Last Bus to Vasco' has now been re-printed.
Perhaps we need to create a space for verses on our city.
Of intimate experiences on Elliots Beach.
Of schizophrenic journeys from Madras Beach to Tambaram West.
Of the careless breaks at Woodlands Drive-In and aimless hours at Anna Nagar West depot.
Of the mindless frenzies down the IT Corridor.
We need to create this space.
Brian holds a doctorate in English Literature.
And it was on 'Insanity in the English Gothic novel'.

July 07, 2007


These past weeks, our photographers have been having a hectic time covering local schools.
Saravanan, Dhanasekar and Rajesh work round the clock. Almost.
Rajesh was amused when he went out to cover the campaign of the student elections at Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan in the K. K. Nagar neighbourhood.
Amused at the sight of a group of hyperactive boys who were keen to show off the giant flexi banner they had designed and produced to take the campus campaign to a different level.
PSBB has some very firm ground rules as far as student elections go.
But the students who were in the thick of a friendly campaign let loose their creativity and the 'Arcot Road Times' newspaper was keen to feature the event.
Every June, the nuns of the FMM congregation who manage Rosary Matric School for Girls in San Thome never fail to invite us to the swearing-in ceremony of the Student Pupil Leaders.
The election is not as boisterous and colourful as that of PSBB.
The nuns have a way of bringing discipline and calm to anything that they are involved in.
But the crowning of the Pupil Leader and her assistant has a charm of its own.
The scene could well be one taken out of a Christmastime play!
For those of you with school-going children, it must be fairly evident that this is the season for schools to go through the cycle of cultural festivals, sports meets and the launch of all the clubs on campus.
So while Dhanasekar of 'Adyar Times' braved the persistent drizzle to focus on wildly-painted faces at the cultural festival which was hosted by Bala Vidya Mandir at its Gandhi Nagar campus last weekend, Saravanan had to forego his lunch this Friday to ensure that he was on the spot when the excited team of P. S. Senior lifted the trophy for being the best at the inter-school cultural fest Sir Sivaswami Kalalaya hosted at its campus in Mylapore.
Being community newspapers, we would like to closely cover the major events at schools and the unique achievements of young people.
But we would also like schools to encourage a couple of their senior students to be reporters of these happenings.
Surely, we could spot a couple of teenagers who have a nose for news, are wiling to seek out information and enjoy writing.
We should encourage these youngsters to be campus reporters and writers.
They could take turns to report on student council elections, sports and cultural meets, special projects and guests visiting the campus and lots more.
And if some of them can e-mail sharp and colourful pictures, the contribution would be complete.
Saravanan, our photographer at 'Mylapore Times' would also be a happy man.
He could squeeze time to watch 'Sivaji' for the third time!

June 29, 2007

Tales Autorickshaw Drivers Tell...

Autorickshaw drivers can be in a loquacious mood when it rains.
Perhaps it is because they make a killing on a day when people desperately seek them out.
I enjoy the company of these drivers. Because they have stories to share.
Not gossip. Real stories.
And imagine how engaging these tales can be when you engage a three-wheeler on a monsoon night and the ride is a long one.
This week, Bhaskar took me home from a lane in north Madras to my quiet neighbourhood in the south. And when I gave him the wrong direction as we negotiated the Adyar bridge, he had a story to tell.
Bhaskar was born and grew up in the middle of 'no where land' in what is today Besant Nagar.

At a time when all that you could see from the edge of Sastri Nagar was a sandy expanse which drowned in the sea and all that you were forced to inhale many times a day was the stench of burning flesh emanating from the graveyard that was to become Besant Nagar's busy electric crematorium.

He lived with a community of dhobis.
For Vannanthurai was a dhobi ghat without walls or limits.

The clean water in the many 'kuttais' which dotted this area was just what the dhobis wanted to wash clean the used linen of the people who lived on the other side of the Adyar river.

For Bhaskar and his teenage friends, there were two exciting diversions in life.
Scout for fruit-bearing trees in the 'thopes' which had not yet been plotted out by the state and plan for a Tamil film at Jayanthi theatre in Thiruvanmiyur village.

Bhaskar was smart when it came to saving money in times when two paise meant a lot.
He would double up to an Adyar firewood shop which sold the wood at a lesser price than at the local shop, and tote up the paises to pay for a place in the sand of what used to be a 'tent' cinema - movies screened inside a tent.

People like Bhaskar have lots of stories on our neighbourhoods. Origins, geography, history, lifestyle, development, people, community life . . . .
Put together, these stories can contribute to the social history of our neighbourhoods.
Perhaps I should invest in an audio recording gizmo and click it on when the stories begin to roll.
I don't have to worry about the fare meter.
The auto drivers of our city are nice guys. You only have to engage them in a wonderful story and they will take whatever you give them.

June 22, 2007

Community Newsletters: The Probus Club example

A variety of newsletters are received at our offices.
And I never fail to give them some attention. For, quite often, between paras and beneath columns are delightful nuggets of information to consume.
'Probuzz . . .' is a monthly newsletter of the Probus Club of Chennai. This club is an association of retired government officers, businesspeople and professionals.
Their haunt is the Russian Cultural Centre, a campus in the shadow of Chola Sheraton hotel.
Dr. Balambal, a resident of K. K. Nagar, a professor of history, is Probus Club's president currently.
She is also an enthusiastic promoter of traditional Indian games and is often travelling to some corner of the country or the world to talk on 'pallan kuzhi' and 'daya-kattam'.
Earlier this year, we invited her to organise a traditional game corner for the annual Mylapore Festival and ever since, she has been a well wisher.
I guess she also makes sure that we receive a copy of 'Probuzz . . .'
The ten-page newsletter runs like a well-prepared government document with sections, sub- sections and carefully marked sub-headings.
Reading it may not be easy on the eye but there is an amazing amount of information in this monthly.
Besides the minutes of Probus meetings, birthdays and wedding anniversaries and events lined up for the month and reportage on those that went by, this compact newsletter discusses issues like health insurance, pension for seniors and the pluses and minuses of reverse mortgage schemes.
The editorial team also snipes news reports which touch on issues that affect senior citizens and posts them in the newsletter.
One 'Probuzz . . .' issue highlighted a government order of the state of Maharashtra which directed all state-run hospitals in city corporations and municipalities to provide free investigations and treatment to all persons who are 60+.
One of the nice acts of the Probus Club is to visit its sick members. Even these visits are recorded in the newsletter.
I am sure the editorial team does not publish this for the sake of publicity.
Rather, this tidbit could enthuse others to volunteer.
In this day of electronic communication, these little, printed newsletters connect warmly.
If you are part of a community, and still have not got a newsletter going, time to design one.
If you need a few tips, the 'Probuzz . . .' editor, S. Ranganatha Rao should be of help.
Call him on 2499 5290.

June 15, 2007

Writing social histories . . .

When do you get nostalgic?
When you turn fifty or when you read of the 'good old days'?
Ms. D'Costa of San Thome was certainly going down memory lane when she read my column last week.
She corrected me - the Chinese restaurant I referred to was not Nanking but Southern Chinese. And the Nanking I mentioned was the famed restaurant in Royapettah, close to New College.
Well, Ms. D'Costa had to get nostalgic because she was the manager at that popular eat-out for almost two decades, had served the big guns in politics and the popular stars of the film world and got an insight into the Chinese community of our city.
Nanking opened in the early 70s, almost the same time that Hotel Chola Sheraton opened for business on Cathedral Road.
But its owner had moved to this city probably in the 40s. A respected man, he was considered to be the elder and the godfather of the Chinese community.
The Chinese I had known were the dentists whose clinics dotted Evening Bazaar, on that section of the road between Memorial Hall and Handloom House.
Then there were the well-known shoe makers of the community. One nook which never escaped my eyes was the shop close to the Thousand Lights mosque.
Ms. D'Costa tells me that the younger Chinese who have stayed on in the city run a few dentist clinics on Ellis Road ( now that is one road which has colourful stories to share if you have the time to walk down this alley!).
Nanking does not exist anymore but the memories that Ms D'Costa treasures should find a place in a document on the Chinese community of Madras.
We need lots and lots of documents on the people, landmarks, businesses, public places and activities of this city.
They can be notes in diaries, pages in a blog or typewritten sheets neatly filed.
For, these are the documents which tell the stories of a city and its people.
A 'sasthiabthapoorthi' in your family should prompt you to start penning your family history. The expansion of your business is just the time to think of publishing a booklet on your enterprise. The annual day of your 'nagar' should motivate you to write about its early days and its first residents.
Ms. D'Costa's conversation has given me something to think over.
'New Peking' was the first Chinese restaurant which opened in Secunderabad.
Today, 'Nanking' is the most popular destination there I understand.
If you love food, perhaps you should begin a series on the histories of our restaurants.

June 08, 2007

Walking down Mount Road . . .

Which is your favourite road or street?
Mine is Mount Road. They call it Anna Salai today.
For me, it was, is and will be Mount Road.
I spent two decades and a half on and off Mount Road; so when I get time and the mad rush-hour traffic has died down, I take a short walk down a stretch of this road.
Sometimes from the Simpsons end to the subway near the statue of Annadurai which once was the address of two city landmarks - Elphinstone Theatre and Jaffers Ice Creams.
Sometimes, I do the stretch from Spencers to Thousand Lights.
Recently, I did this stretch in the reverse.
I started walking north from the Greames Road end. A slow walk allows you to take in the streetscape and the landmarks that may have impinged on you. You have the time to stop and stare. Or linger.
And that is what I did when I was in the Thousand Lights area.
I wasn't impressed by the all-glass newly constructed multi-storeyed building a private bank had occupied.
Wasn't this the place where our favourite Chinese restaurant Nanking once stood?
Was it Nanking or did it go by some other name?
It didn't matter. Nor did it when those decorated, engraved doors of this restaurant seemed to cast a spell on a bunch of teenagers, as if it was the door into the unknown and the foreign.
But once inside, it was just like home. And when the Anglo-Indian steward switched over to rock 'n roll on an outdated music system, he had set the mood for a large dinner.
We did not get a hint that Nanking had to face the bulldozers. One night, after watching a movie at Sathyam Cinemas, we walked down to our favourite foodie nook and found that the wreckers had been at work.
Personal landmarks disappear over time and yet a road or a street or a precinct often retains a little of its charm, its possession, its treasures.
They survive for another generation.
And it is for this generation that the 'Namma Mylapore' group is about to offer a unique project for the schools of this neighbourhood in the new academic year. A classroom session devoted to sharing the history and heritage of the area and its relation to our lives today. Followed by a ninety-minute walk that takes students to the temple, the tank, the inner lanes, the tiled houses and the landmarks of the area.
Perhaps, similar projects can be undertaken by local schools in their neighbourhoods.
Simple ones. 'Nizhal', an NGO, recently took a group around Gandhi Nagar in Adyar to 'discover' all the trees in the area. And the students had a good time.
By the way, if you know something more on the Nanking folks, do leave a post on my blog.

June 01, 2007

June is for Charity

Teenager Anuradha is worried.
Her school re-opens next week and she is not sure if her parents will send her back to her old school.
Last fortnight, her family and dozens of others were told to move out of the banks of the Adyar river where they had lived for over a decade. The state agencies had to clear the encroachments on the river, full at times, and stinking at times.
Some of them raised a cry, some pleaded. But the men from the government said they all had to go. Someone said they were being cleared up because a new road has been planned on the river bank.
Anuradha attended a school in San Thome. The family at the apartment where her mother worked as a maid had arranged for her admission and funded her studies and the girl had enjoyed going to school.
Now, her family would have to move to the suburbs where they would be given a tiny apartment.
But Anuradha wonders if she will have the energy to travel to the San Thome school she loves so much.
Amongst us are many Anuradhas who are perhaps in a dilemma.
School or employment? Move on to the Plus Two or discontinue studies?
Make do with a uniform that is tearing at the seam or borrow money from a kindly neighbour to stitch a new set?
June is a time for charity.
The teachers at a middle school which we support in small ways sent us a list before the school closed for the summer holidays.
A list of needs and wants for the new academic year.
There was a list for school uniforms. And a list for note-books. A list for teachers for extra- curricular activities. And a list of children who needed a simple breakfast they could not afford.
The Head Mistress, a nun, said - If you cannot do everything for us, please help us with the school uniforms.
Perhaps for 200 kids. Or maybe for 100 kids. Or if that wasn't possible, for 75.
June is a time for charity.
There are hundreds of children in our neighbourhoods who need our help. Our support. So that they may go to school like you and I have.
And there are our youths who have done well in their Board exams, have set their sights on higher studies but do not have the means to realise their goal.
June is a time for charity.
Just look around you and you will find Anuradha.
By the way, if you have come across unique efforts that a community group has made to educate neighbourhood kids, do share this story here!
I know of one - Thursday Ladies Club in Besant Nagar.

May 25, 2007

Master Plan for Chennai

An important process is on in our city. And it is for our city.
The draft of the second Master Plan for Chennai is open for discussion.
This is an important document; it guides the state in planning for the future of this city and its people.
A very positive developent has been the willingness of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), and commonly regarded as the place you go to to get a sanction for building plans, to invite the people of this city to share their views and offer their suggestions on this plan. The CMDA is also willing to incorporate all the key ideas.
This in itself is a major step forward in a climate where few state bodies are willing to even disclose their projects for our neighbourhoods.
CMDA is earnest in holding consultations in different parts of the city and in the suburbs. In some places, the participation has been enthusiastic.
I attended one such meeting last weekend. CMDA's vice-chairman, R. Santhanam, a respected officer, presented the salient features of this document and the suggestions that have been made.
Here is a sample of interesting details gleaned from the presentation.
- While there has been an explosion in the number of vehicles ( a majority are two-wheelers), most of the pavements have been done away with. Interestingly, 40% of employed people in a neighbourhood either walk or cycle to their workspot and state agencies just do not provide for their transport needs.
- The city has over 200 parks and playgrounds, and hence the 'open spaces' seem fairly widespread but such spaces have not been developed in the suburbs of what is called the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA).
- There is a strong suggestion to encourage construction along the MRTS corridor (rail system) and hence, an incentive to raise the FSI (Floor Space Index). The assumption is that people would like to live close to a transport network for obvious reasons. Some architects question the assumption though.
- Modern neighbourhoods are foreseen in two corridors. One is Sriperumbudur, which is home to a large spread of modern industrial activity. The other is Sholinganallur, along the IT Corridor. Civil society activists however, question why the IT industry and the people who work in it are being pampered.
When you have some time on your hands, you should read the shorter version of the Master Plan which is posted on the CMDA web site.
It will enlighten you about the city that is your home. And indicate to you what the future may well be. You may also want to provide inputs to the planners. (
We are not sure how far the CMDA will go to incorporate solid, informed suggestions of citizens in its final plan. But we should engage.
Meanwhile, did you know that there are many real estate promoters who are keen to promote the 'gated communities' concept in Chennai?
Are you for it? Do share your views here.

May 18, 2007

Chennai 600 028 - The Film

The film is called 'Chennai 600 028'.
It was given a rather sharp and ominous-sounding title but the team behind the film dropped it.
I was excited when I saw the first of the promotional banners for the film.
Perhaps because that name gave us an indication that the film was based on a neighbourhood of our city.
It is.
Director Venkat Prabhu has woven a story around his life and the lives of his neighbourhood friends and as you may well know, the area is Raja Annamalaipuram (pine - 600 028). A neighbourhood which grew after people living in the heart of Mylapore developed the barren grounds and scrappy 'thopes' of Abhiramapuram and nudged into what came to be called R. A. Puram.
Earlier this week, I saw 'Chennai 600 028' and I must admit I liked the film. And so did the packed theatre.
The story has everything to do with a neighbourhood cricket team, the sort which rolls up its sleeves, plants three stumps and heaves the bat against tennis balls, using every unorthodox style of playing that is yet to be documented.
If you live near a public playground or across large, empty streets or unattended open plots, you would have surely braced with this type of cricket.
And in most cases, been irritated, frustrated or angered.
A flying ball that broke your window panes, the ceaseless chatter at high noon of a team perched on your boundary wall or of the drone of the commentary of a flood-lit tennis ball cricket tourney hosted at the local Corporation playground, where matches end at 3.30 am.
'Chennai 600 028' is all about this. It is also about the lives of young men and the areas where they live and dream and play.
Prabhu tries to bring to life the 'other' side of Raja Annamalaipuram - Visalakshi Thotham. What you and I might well call the leeward side of a neighbourhood. Narrow, congested lanes, dreary blocks of cell-like apartments, where the struggling middle class live. Where young men flaunt their bravados and colour their dreams, where small victories are celebrated without reservations and where enemies are forgiven and friendships last through the worst of times.
Prabhu manages to capture fairly well the reality of this neighbourhood. And of the youth who hail from the area. He doesn't have the time to scrape the surface. The songs and the dances, so essential at the box office, fill in at expected time frames.
And yet, we should appreciate Prabhu and his team for making a film about ourselves. And of our neighbourhoods.
S. P. Balasubramanyam and his son Charan backed it and it seems it is doing well at the box- office.
I would like to know what you thought of this film, if you have seen it. If you haven't, you should. And then share your views.

May 11, 2007

Citizen journalism in the neighbourhood

Anita Srinivasan of Poes Gardens and Vrinda Manocha of Valmiki Nagar should be celebrating this weekend.
Their news reports have found a place in our neighbourhood newspapers.
Both have just completed the annual summer Journalism Camp which 'Mylapore Times' conducts for senior students every year. There was a bonus which we had offered the participants - if their reports on a local place, person or issue was well-reported then it would be considered for publication.
Anita, a computer geek of sorts, filed rather regularly and this week, we chose to publish hers on a new restaurant in the Alwarpet area.
Vrinda, who was fighting shyness and her lack of knowledge of Thamizh while on the 'beat' in Thiruvanmiyur, was also a diligent reporter. And we chose to publish two of her community stories in the 'Adyar Times'.
This summer, young Abhinaya Mohan, who also attended a longer Journalism Course of ours last year, has come back to spend part of her summer hols, at the office and work on stories and features. You will find her work appearing in the 'Mylapore Times'.
At our newspapers we receive a stream of e-mails, faxes, press releases and phone calls from people who want to share information. Or send us material.
This information helps us do more news stories.
Now perhaps is the time to initiate a few weekend camps for all our readers and other stake- holders of the community newspapers, which will equip them to mail news stories and story leads.
Citizen journalism is slowly making itself felt in the print and television media in this country.
It has been in vogue elsewhere and is a hugely debated subject in the media world.
I believe that people can also play a role in media, especially in community newspapers.
That is why we plan to conduct a few community journalism camps on Sunday evenings at a few venues in the neighbourhoods of Adyar, Mylapore, Arcot Road colonies and in Velachery.
Camps at which we will share basic skills and tips with the interested, which should make them local journalists.
Help them write sharp press releases, motivate them to tip us to breaking news, encourage them shoot clear pictures and e-mail us crisp and info-rich copy on local events.
Let me know what you think of this idea. (You can comment on this my blog or mail me your feedback).
And once the highs of 42 degrees is smothered by the winds of June, we should roll out these camps.

May 05, 2007

Take charge of public spaces!

Durga Gopalan runs 'Kadambam' store in Besant Nagar. She converted a Housing Board twin-house into a shopping space at a time when this area was turning into a shopping zone of the neighbourhood.
Durga also developed a nice lawn at the rear and has hit upon a new idea.
To use the lawn as a space for cultural and spoken events.
She put it to the test recently. A show of the works of the students of design at Stella Maris College Fine Arts Department was a huge success, she says. Almost all the clothes and accessories that the young girls had displayed were sold and some even got orders.
And then she hosted a young artiste who specialises in 'cross-over' music and hosted his concert on the lawns.
Perhaps this show could well be the beginning of a series of events and thus create a space in this neighbourhood for the arts.
I bumped into Sadanand Menon, art critic, writer and lighting designer this week and asked him if there were plans to promote the theatre space of the late dancer-choreographer Chandralekha at her No.1, Elliots Beach Road residence and studio. There is a nice stage here and Menon said that once some repairs were attended to, the space could be used to have shows.
I have often lingered on what was once a cute, Mangalore-tiled house built on the sands at the south end of Elliots Beach for a previous governor of this state and never put to good use. It was allowed to be vandalised.
It could easily have been turned into a space for cultural activities for our children and for theatre and music concerts on weekends.
There are lots of open, developed public spaces in our neighbourhoods. But little happens here.
I would not fault the city Corporation if these places are going to seed.
The blame lies with the communities who own these spaces.
It has been a year since the Corporation constructed a stage with a roof at its playground in Besant Nagar. Nobody can tell us why a stage was built here in the first place. However when some theatre groups I knew showed interest in using the space to host short plays once a month, I went back to the zonal chairman to goad him to take the next step - fix a rental fee for the use of this space.
In some neighbourhoods, communities have begun to use the local parks for concerts, yoga sessions, laughter binges and talks.
It is time we took charge of our playgrounds and stages too.
Perhaps theatre groups like Masquerade, The Madras Players and Koothu-p-pattarai can take the initiative.

April 28, 2007

Children too can be journalists!

Our summer time Journalism Camp has completed its second week.
Every morning, we start the class with a reading from the day's newspapers.
Anitha Ramachandran chose a story which excited me.
It was a news report in 'The New Indian Express' of April 27. It is a story about how 20 children from the tsunami-affected hamlets in Nagapattinam district are running a monthly magazine.
It is called 'Neethilee Times'.
And it not devoted to fishing operations and fish species.
The magazine covers issues that affect the children, their locality and their hamlets.
And some of the reporting has even yielded results.
As young E. Gomathy has been telling the Express reporter. The magazine reported on the quality of the drinking water - it was just not potable - and the unbearable stink from the septic tanks. The Nagapattinam Municipality took notice of the latter issue and addressed it.
A local voluntary organisation called REAL ( Rural Education and Action for Liberation) is guiding this young bunch of journalists in this venture.
I have not yet seen a copy of this pubication but Anitha and the rest of the group at our journalism class imagined it was a great effort.
This year, students at our journalism camp have moved on to use technology tools available to them to demonstrate their work.
One such is the blog.
These young people post some of the assignments they do in their neighbourhood.
The stories on ice-cream parlours and Jaipur handlooms and a local bakery have been the obvious choices in the first round of blogging.
Some of the participants are hoping to post 'hard' stories. And interesting features.
But this will need practice, guidance and effort.
I realise that most children in this metro are insular. They have not been encouraged to explore their neighbourhoods. Or to ask questions in the outside world. To be curious and learn things beyond the classroom.
It is time we had more little and local publications which encouraged children to edit them. And hence, allow them to explore the world. And reality.
If you wish to take a look at the blog of our journalism class, log on to
Positive comments are always welcome.

April 21, 2007

Dear Corporation Commissioner,

Dear Commissioner Lakhoni,

We understand that the Corporation of Chennai requires a lot of firewood nowadays.
Since the summer is with us you may not need it to prepare hot water for a nice bath afer a long day's work but it may come in handy for some Corporation job or the other that you must indulge in.
May we therefore offer you a clump of trees in our neighbourhood?
They stand tall beside the Adyar flyover at a traffic roundabout and they have been there before you and I were born.
They escaped the orders of your predecessor who had to chop down scores of trees to make space for the flyover, one arm of which is dangerous for buses and lorries.
But since you and the contractors you employ are on a rampage nowadays, shaving off all the trees in Kotturpuram, on Sardar Patel Road and in Adyar, you may as well save some money for the Corporation and shave the rest of the trees here.
Like the Biblical act, the contractors' men have been daubing yellow marks on these avenue trees that protected our neighbourhood, thus signing the warrant of death. And within days, men with saws and axes went to work.
Commissioner, we guess you love bald humour.
We have been told that all these trees have been uprooted carefully and transplanted in campuses we have never heard of.
Perhaps, this may well be fodder for the cruelest joke you have played on this city.
The contractors' men are great graveyard levellers.
You should, on your city rounds, drive down Gandhi Mandapam Road and look at the professional manner in which the men have filled the places where the trees were uprooted, with cement and mortar and levelled the road.
This act reminds me of a notorious goonda of this city who murdered women and plastered them into the walls.
We understand that over 160 trees will be sacrificed this season in this area alone to make way for development.
There have been a few voices of protest but you must be laughing at these whimpers.
But then when has the state respected voices of protest and reason?
Some time ago, when people confronted your predecessor who was also thinking of shaving off trees on Besant Avenue, he left in a huff. A candlelight vigil saved some trees.
But this time around, you will have the last laugh. we fear.
Anyway, there will be work to do at the Corporation's nurseries. To assuage the guilt, we may need to plant saplings for a 'clean and green' Chennai.
Tell us when you intend to do this kind act.
We will need to hire a photographer.

April 14, 2007

Creative communities

Time to be creatively crazy. A pilot and an air-hostess fall in love and want to get married.

Can you come up with the fancy ideas how they can do this in the craziest of ways?

A pastor and a party on flight is one way.

Para-jumping is another.

A ceremony in an hot-air balloon is a third.

Exchanging rings in the cockpit? That may be prohibited.

But for my friend Fr. Adolf Washington in Bangalore (yes, I referred to him in my column last week), there is an issue which this couple presents.

Catholics have to attend pre-marriage classes if a formal wedding is to be celebrated in Church.

But busy people like these Bangalore professionals often excuse themselves.

So Fr. Adolf e-mails them Biblical extracts, passages and church teachings. To enable them to access and read and understand them when the duo find the time between flights and transfers.

This young diocesan priest shared this and many other examples at a meeting this week in which Christian media professionals and part timers were participating. The workshop was looking at ways in which priests and nuns can leverage the Net to reach out.

The presentations here reminded me of a recent attempt that has been made in a colony in Thiruvanmiyur in south Chennai.

The residents of upmarket Valmiki Nagar, which lies on the seaside of the East Coast Road (ECR), have formed a new association to address local community issues.

They have formed an e-group to post, discuss, share and interest on these issues.

Perhaps this is the easiest, fastest and most effective way in which busy house-holders can still make a space/time for issues like bad roads and speeding bikes, garbage clearance and better achievement.

One member in this group was quick to react to a fire that broke out and destroyed a richly furnished apartment. Having observers that the local fire sericemen were not fully equipped and trained to address such accidents in high-rise apartments, he decided to post a note.

And a suggestion – join hands with the city Fire Service Department to train the locally –based fire servicemen in the area and hold mock drills periodically.

After all, high rises were already a part of the ECR and OMR landscape.

I am sure there are other communities who tap the Net to network locally and address local issues.

I would like to hear from them. The address of my blog is down below!


April 07, 2007

Church and the city

Holy Week provides time for reflection.
And our thoughts need not be merely personal.
It is Good Friday. And what comes to my mind this afternoon is - how our local churches are evolving.
'Power House' is a different kind of church. It has two spaces. One on the Velachery-Taramani Link Road. And the other is a hall rented out at the posh Abhirami Mall in Pursawalkam for movies and entertainment.
The services at 'Power House', I am told, really swing. Swing to some great music and, in between is time for preaching and reflection.
Pastor Jeyakaran Immanuel goes out of his way to entertain lots of IT professionals.
In a way, I might say that this is a new church that reaches out to a neighbourhood whose character is of the modern times.
One dominated by youths working in the IT/BPO industries.
Close to Bangalore's Airport, Father Adolf Washington is using the Internet to get closer to the flock of his parish. He has weekend online chat sessions with the youth. He posts the time table of the religious services on the Net. And he welcomes people to book online, Holy Mass offerings, and pay when they come to church.
Recently, retired urban planner Anantha Ranjana Doss, who was with the CMDA till recently, invited me over to a meeting of pastors of city churches.
Here was an attempt to find ways in which pastors could go beyond the religious services and the social welfare projects of their church and play an active role in their neighbourhood.
Since I am keen about local politics, I chose to talk about how the congregation could be enlightened about ward elections, role of councillors and how local issues could be addressed.
Dr. Paul Appaswamy who teaches at the Madras School of Economics was also a panelist. And he said that the concept of a 'parish' has almost vanished.
We no longer stick to the church of our neighbourhood to attend Holy Mass. Nor do we demonstrate a huge loyalty to it in other ways.
So then, what role would modern-day shepherds play in such changing communities, Paul asked.Perhaps you can reflect on this and share your comments on my blog!

March 31, 2007

Photo Docu on Mylapore's Mada Veedhis

If you are anywhere near Mylapore this weekend, please swing into the temple area.

And spend some time to look at a unique set of photographs, which my colleague C. P. Dhanasekar has painstakingly shot the past month.

In a quiet, old world street that goes by the name of East Tank Street, Dhanasekar, the photographer of 'Adyar Times' newspaper, is having an exhibition titled - Mylapore's Mada Veedhis.

Forty pictures that he has shot of life, people, places and things on the four streets that describe Sri Kapali Temple.

I yanked Dhana, as we all call him, from his routine beat of Adyar, to work on this assignment.

Perhaps, the annual Panguni fest of the temple triggered the idea.

Dhana has captured a few nooks even local residents were unaware of.

The FH plates on the mada streets.

Plates, which denoted the water tanks with outlets, which fire services of yore, used to tap into with their hoses to combat a fire in this neighbourhood.

Dhana has just begun what should be a long assignment.

A project to document in pictures the life of this area. And it will take him many more weeks to document just the Mada Streets.

Social documents of this kind are rarely undertaken.

Dhana was actually working on a different area.

The village of Kottur had fascinated us because here was a long line of tiled street houses, which sustained themselves as the giant apartment blocks rose all around them.

But when some of these houses were demolished, we felt we should begin a photo document on them, the people and their local lives.

Much of the heritage of Mylapore's Mada Streets is gone.

However, there is a certain life that stays on.

I experienced it this past week as the brahmotsavam events unfurled. As some of my friends here began to prepare to entertain their friends and relatives who drop by for this festival, year after year.

On Friday, cameraman Mohandas Vadakkara and I were on the mada veedhis, shooting for the web cast of the 'ther' procession.

We will go back on Saturday, to web cast the procession of the 63 nayanmmars.

For all those who couldn't soak in these events, the web casts are posted at

March 24, 2007

Summer Camps for Kids in Chennai

This summer, are you going to dump your children or engage them in fun activities?
If that sounds like a runner on a colour advert, it is!
Summer is a time when parents need to decide what to do with their children.
Holidays in Sri Lanka. Or in Coonoor.
Tuitions to prepare for the Board exams of 2008.
Or sign them up for summer camps.
Summer camps are big business these days.
I see them as opportunities for creative people to share their talent. In their neighbourhoods.
Srimathi and Binitha of K. K. Nagar are doing just that in K. K. Nagar. Teachers at a local school, they resigned their jobs but want to continue their association with children.
They started tentatively. With a story telling and reading camp at a small space behind the school where they worked.
Now, they are set to launch their first big summer camp. And they want all the children to have fun.
They know it will not be easy- pleasing parents is tough. Most of them want to know how a summer camp can help their children improve their grades or stand first in class!
But Srimathi and Binita know that the kids want fun and loads of the free spirit too.
I know many other people who look beyond the deals and sponsorships and fees and want to make their camps a wonderful experience for children.
A woman who is passionate about science even sets up makeshift labs and coaxes children to have fun experiments which trigger in them a love for math and chemistry!
As for me, I am sticking to what we do best - get children interested in writing, in journalism.
Encouraged by the fact that two girls who were at our camp have stuck on to report for our newspapers, we have enlarged the scope of the 2007 camp.
Friends Revathi ( who is launching her web site for kids - and Satya, a publisher, will now get children to blog from day one. They will blog stories they will do in the field.
There is one idea that has bugged me for some time. I think it stuck with me after I watched a story on an American TV channel.
‘How to Manage Money’ is a camp for kids that a couple run in the USA. It is time we had some thing like that here.
ICICI Bank should hold these in the backyards of its branches. And award cash prizes once a while to kids who come up with bright ideas.
ICICI Bank will want to plug in for their Kiddies Account. Doesn’t matter. As long as the bank does not try and market a credit card for the kiddies!