January 26, 2007

Keep people in mind, please!

This happens to me often.
I find myself walking down the Marina Beach road on the eve of our Republic Day celebrations, when people are erecting platforms, unloading chairs, decorating the sidewalk and cleaning the statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
And then I tell myself I should be at the parade on January 26.
And invariably I am not.
I had guests from Sri Lanka this week and they were very eager to be at the parade at the San Thome end. They kept the date. But I think skipping the event and getting snatches of it on TV made sense.
If there was one irritating feature of the 2007 parade, it was that loud Thamizh song which was played for every other performing troupe that scampered before the VIPs who were sitting under a shamiana off the beach.
Like a worn out LP record stuck in the groove, it assaulted the audience and limited the zest and creativity of all the young people who performed for this special occasion.
And then pops a question - for whom are these parades? How much of it is for ordinary people?
The mixed lot of floats and the march past of the members of the armed forces can fascinate onlookers but how many people can really enjoy the cultural events of this parade?
In early January, the Chennai City Police celebrated its 150 anniversary.
This was indeed a landmark in its colourful history.
The police, among its many events, held an exhibition. One which people of this metro should have had the opportunity to visit.
But the show was held for a limited period and on day one, the security, the high-profile functions and the regulations, discouraged many enthusiasts from enjoying this show which traced the history of the metropolitan force.
This was a great opportunity for the City Police to reach out to the community or even involve it through its numerous police stations in the neighbourhoods.
But all that was done was to deck the stations in streams of buntings and serial lights.
A travelling exhibition which stopped at all police stations would have been a great exercise for the occasion.
Even the Madras Port, which celebrated its 125 years, hosted catamaran races, a marine exhibition and conducted tours of the port for schools. But the port managers limited these events and the people of the city did not have the opportunity to appreciate a landmark institution of our city.
Perhaps this is the cause for the 'disconnect'. Between institutions and the people.

January 19, 2007

Vox Pops also count

Will our voices be heard if we have something important to say?
Many people will nod their head.
They believe that writing letters of protest, being part of a signature campaign, holding a placard or posting a protest post card is a waste of time.
It isn't.
If we want our voices to be heard, our views to be considered, we have to be at it all the time.
One space, which we can all use effectively, is the Letters column in newspapers.
Very often, at least in the community newspapers, the letters focus on narrow and personal subjects.
In the early days of our newspapers I recall handling a long, painstakingly written letter from a senior citizen of Adyar who complained about his neighbour who chose to lay his hands on the mangoes of his tree whose branches seem to have found their way into the neighbouring compound!
And a letter from another passionate reader of our Mylapore newspaper who wanted the local police to take action against urchins who unleashed a barrage of stones every morning at the bountiful mangoes on his tree and broke many a window pane in the bargain.
And then there are writers who seem to have a view on everything - from Saddam Hussein's trial to the 'racial row' on the UK reality show starring Shilpa Shetty.
Letters in small newspapers like ours, which can have some impact or lead to follow-up action are those which focus on local issues.
Letters which make valid, practical and strong suggestions, those which argue a point dispassionately and those which are constructive do leave an impression on readers, officials, politicians, community leaders and businesses.
We were surprised when a local city councillor who went on to become the chairman of a zone called up our offices and requested that copies of the weeklies be sent to his desk regularly.
Obviously, he seems to have realised that by scanning a local newspaper, he would get a 'feel' of the civic issues we reported on and points raised by local residents in the Letters column.
Senior officials have not paid much attention to local newspapers.
Often, we mail them copies, which report major issues like traffic regulations, water supply trend and the law and order situation, hoping they will have time to scan these reports and respond.
Perhaps, they are yet to realise the importance of local media.
But that does not mean we should not voice local issues strongly.
Do take time off to write a letter or e-mail us. The Vox Pops column is a key feature of any newspaper. We have space for your views/suggestions on local issues.

January 13, 2007

A few public issues!

The new year has brought for us a moral victory.
But we have not had the time to savour it.
I suppose people in the media must be reminded that theirs is a job to report and publish.
And that it makes immense sense not to cross the Lakshman Rekha.
But in real life, this isn't the case.
Often we are called upon to go beyond reporting, editing and publishing.
We are called to take a stand. And stand by it.
We are challenged and thwarted.
And we find ourselves in public spaces and in the thick of public issues that challenge us.
There have been some local issues that keep popping up as we go about reporting our neighbourhoods.
When I first witnessed the mortar and bricks devouring the avenue trees and gardens of Gandhi Nagar after we came to live in the Adyar neighbourhood, it was not a very nice sight.
Today, there are thousands of apartment blocks in Gandhi Nagar which seem to have staved off crises in water supply, garbage clearance and traffic flow.
But the 'nagar' is under siege.
Will there come a time when we have laws that ban commercial spots from residential nagars?
See the fate of Indira Nagar, Kasturba Nagar and K K Nagar.
In a few months from now, a road proposed on the banks of the Adyar river to carry Mylapore-bound traffic from the Kotturpuram side to the east coast side will come up.
The City Fathers claim it will provide a short cut.
Perhaps they have not travelled on the Adyar Bridge Road between 8 am and 11 am and between 5 pm and 8 pm when traffic crawls on this old bridge.
Where are the sane voices of the community who can debate such plans?
Why are there fewer public debates on such issues that affect communities?
Some of us who are interested in history and heritage imagined a time when the city's development authority like the CMDA would declare the Mada Street area of Mylapore as a special zone so that its architecture, layout, business and life would be protected from the onslaught of the gargantuan plans of big business and fly-by-night middle-men.
The laws are not in place. So we can challenge neither the state nor private plans.
There is a need for cautious urban development here. A need to have better traffic regulation, modern parking.
A campaign to coax shoppers and devotees to walk the Mada Streets and leave their cars and buses at parking bays constructed at the MRTS station campus.
So when Justice Prabha Sridevan acknowledged the spirit behind the annual Mylapore Festival which was challenged in court a week ago and left some positive thoughts with us, we felt happy.
The Mada Streets area could be occasionally made 'walk only' zones. And become a zone that fosters shopping, gawking, walking and day-dreaming!

January 07, 2007

Festival buzz!

As the annual Sundaram Finance supported 'Mylapore Festival' enters Day Three and Four this weekend, our core team is in a 'happy' mode.
For a couple of reasons.
One. We have had three dozen young people voluntarily lending a hand at the event.This fest is indeed a community fest and the young should be at its core.
If there are many others who would like to chip in, come along!
Two. a good deal of the buzz on the fest is being generated through e-mails, on web groups, chat rooms, on picture-sharing sites and on blogs.
This is enabling home sick Chennaiites to link up with the colours, sights and sounds of the festival.
Our roaming cameraman, Mohandas Vadakara, is cleverly juggling his assignment at the fest venues to record snippets of events at different venues and another well wisher, Premanand at ChennaiStream is helping post the video live every afternoon.
We are hoping that the blogs, pictures and video streaming will bring this unique fest into the homes of people all over the world.
(O yes, the web site is www.mylaporefestival.com. Check it out and tell us if you liked the bright orange peacock-base design of the site!)
A third reason for our happiness is the fact that the state authorities have been been very co- operative and encouraging.
The police of this zone, led by Deputy Commissioner A. G. Mourya and his team have had a more important event to pay attention to - the 150th anniversary of the Chennai City Police. But they have found time to lend a hand at the fest.
Police Commissioner Letika Saran though had a suggestion - she would get her north Madras zone deputy commissioners to collaborate with us and local community groups to plan and host a similar fest in that area.
One of the most respected judges of the Madras High Court has made extremely encouraging remarks on the intentions and ideas of the festival in the course of a litigation that was brought against the fest this year too.
So if you and your family and friends have not yet made plans to soak in at this fest, do it now.
A carpet of kolams, a string of concerts of folk, classical dance and vintage film songs, food, art, crafts - everything that is special to our tradition is yours this weekend.