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 http://www.themadrasday.in/

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!