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.