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!

March 17, 2007

Tombstones for my city

If you make tombstones, I have a few orders for you.
And if my 'quickie' business goes on well, you may get regular orders.
No, I am not getting into the business of chasing ambulances.
Or doing the rounds of homes for the aged.
I am trying to put together a team which will scour the neighbourhoods for civic projects left unfinished, left in disuse, left to become private properties, left to be hijacked by others.
I have not been employed by the Mayor, M. Subramaniam.
We will let him give out masks and pumps to the 'Mosquito Musketeers' and draw up plans for exclusive gyms for women, for now.
But I am told Mayor Subramaniam is a hands-on, get-on-with-job sort of person. And he really likes this city and its neighbourhoods to develop.
That is why he may want to sign me up, at least on a short contract.
I came up with this idea of leaving tombstones on civic projects because there are lots of them that deserve a decent obituary.
I am yet to understand how a city's Corporation works. And how it does with its elected councillors.
Now that I, like a few others, am seriously looking at a beach 'beautification' project for which Rs.25 plus crores has been allocated, I think the tombstone order must be signed now.
We did not get a hint of this project. A private architecture college submits a grand plan. Corporation officials begin to work on that plan that makes a Disneyland of the beach. Build, build, and build. That is what the plan is all about. Some noisy objections get noticed. And the civic body says it is willing to interact with the community because a group is engaging the Corporation strongly.
Look around you. A playground gets a stage; then it gets a lawn. Then playthings for kids come up. And the stage becomes a toilet for vagabonds.
One year, all the councillors voted for cement bus stops. The next year they voted for gyms in playgrounds.
Start counting the facilities in disuse and you will know why the tombstones order will rise.
Three questions - does a community want to consult and discuss facilities for the neighbourhood? Does a city Corporation have an agenda to talk to communities and then plan facilities? And when a facility is set up, does the community take ownership of it?

March 10, 2007

Istri wallahs and rickshaw wallahs; be with us!

Have you discovered little joys locked in the pockets of your trousers after they have been pulled out of the washing machine?
I have.
Train tickets I should have carefully filed for my cautious auditor.
Phone numbers of new contacts scribbled on bits of waste paper.
Visiting cards of people I had met at press conferences.
But the most colourful bit - tickets my photographer and I had bought for what was the last trip the suburban electric train was to make from Madras Beach to Tambaram on the vintage metre gauge section.
Often, I haven't come to grief for my forgetfulness.
For, it is my 'ironing man' Bhaskar, who ferrets these bits from the depths, folds them out nicely and jabs them down with the 'istri'.
Istri-wallahs have a fund of tales about neighbours and the neighbourhood. After all, they handle the most vital essentials of us all. Our clothes. Bhaskar knows that the size of my trousers is increasing for the obvious reason.
And he also knows my weakness for T-shirts.
In our changing life styles, these men and women, like our maids, drivers, plumbers, watchmen, electricians and carpenters, have become an integral part of our lives.
And I got to know them a little better at a function held this past week on a campus on the banks of the Adyar.
Rotary has launched into yet another new project. To provide newly- designed ironing carts to the first set of 'ironing' families.
A young engineer had created a simple design for these carts – a light material sheet that cuts off the sun from above and from the side, fixed to simple supports on a wide platform on four wheels.
Akbar from Moolakadai was a proud owner of a new cart valued at about fifteen thousand rupees, and a free iron-box to go with the facility.
Now, he told me, he could accommodate more clothes and perhaps turn them over faster. From 100 pieces to about 150 pieces.
It wouldn't be easy though, he added. After all, he would still have to compete with two other istri-wallahs on the main road of a colony dominated by Christians.
Rotary should next turn to another community, which really has few cares in the world!
Our cyclerickshaw wallahs.
In Mylapore, they are still large in number and well patronised.
Their machines though need a bright new look.
And Rotary should consider them because they are enviro-friendly and they are great rides.

March 03, 2007

Why beautify Bessie Beach?

A week ago, there was a little party on Elliots Beach.
There wasn’t any chilled beer, nor were there fizzy drinks. But there was a lot of food.
As the fireworks lit up the southern sky as part of the finale of ‘Chennai Sangamam’ arts festival hosted in the city, the party got better and went into the night.
Gathered on the sands off the Cozee restaurant point, were eight young men who once used to spend every other evening on these sands. Through school and through college, they had shared their highs and lows on these sands. They had even shared stories of their romances and dalliances on this beach.
And then, over a span of a few months, they had broken up. To go to different corners of the country and of the world where their jobs took them. But they did not forget Elliots Beach. And they came back to it last week. To celebrate the old times.
Bessie Beach has been a part of the lives of thousands and hundreds of people of this city. And now the Chennai Corporation has yet another plan to ‘beautify’ this urban heritage expanse.
But as it always happens, the City Fathers conveniently forget the men and women who make the beach a part of their lives.
During the course of 2007, something like thirty crores of rupees will be spent on a project to beautify the Marina, from the Port Trust end in the north to the Thiruvanmiyur coast in the south.
A few fancy drawings and projects have been drawn up. Till the other day, these plans were shown to a few people who work in the community. But when people who are keen about their neighbourhood and their environment and want to play a role in civic affairs, pressed for information, the officers at the local level clamped up.
Dozens of phone calls later, the project was traced to the senior officers who are actually in charge of it. And they are now willing to sit on forums where the community and the stake holders can discuss the plans and have a say in them.
Typically, the plans include fancy ideas - gushing fountains, tiled paths, colourful sun-shades, extensive landscaping, tropical avenue trees, swank washrooms and smart cabins for hawkers on the sands.
Ask the neighbourhood’s beach-comber what he or she wants and he or she says - clean sands, clean shoreline and unpolluted water. Nothing more. Nothing else. There are other issues to address when we start looking at an environment like the beach.
But why aren’t City Fathers and the officials chatting with the young people, the beach walkers, the hawkers and the kuppam residents on what is best for all of us?
How about creating forums where such public issues can be discussed and inputs from professionals from the community accommodated?
A small group asked for the discussion on the plans for the beach. And the present Corporation Commissioner has been willing to participate.
All those who love Marina and Bessie Beaches need to get involved.