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.