April 28, 2007

Children too can be journalists!

Our summer time Journalism Camp has completed its second week.
Every morning, we start the class with a reading from the day's newspapers.
Anitha Ramachandran chose a story which excited me.
It was a news report in 'The New Indian Express' of April 27. It is a story about how 20 children from the tsunami-affected hamlets in Nagapattinam district are running a monthly magazine.
It is called 'Neethilee Times'.
And it not devoted to fishing operations and fish species.
The magazine covers issues that affect the children, their locality and their hamlets.
And some of the reporting has even yielded results.
As young E. Gomathy has been telling the Express reporter. The magazine reported on the quality of the drinking water - it was just not potable - and the unbearable stink from the septic tanks. The Nagapattinam Municipality took notice of the latter issue and addressed it.
A local voluntary organisation called REAL ( Rural Education and Action for Liberation) is guiding this young bunch of journalists in this venture.
I have not yet seen a copy of this pubication but Anitha and the rest of the group at our journalism class imagined it was a great effort.
This year, students at our journalism camp have moved on to use technology tools available to them to demonstrate their work.
One such is the blog.
These young people post some of the assignments they do in their neighbourhood.
The stories on ice-cream parlours and Jaipur handlooms and a local bakery have been the obvious choices in the first round of blogging.
Some of the participants are hoping to post 'hard' stories. And interesting features.
But this will need practice, guidance and effort.
I realise that most children in this metro are insular. They have not been encouraged to explore their neighbourhoods. Or to ask questions in the outside world. To be curious and learn things beyond the classroom.
It is time we had more little and local publications which encouraged children to edit them. And hence, allow them to explore the world. And reality.
If you wish to take a look at the blog of our journalism class, log on to www.mtjclass.blogspot.com.
Positive comments are always welcome.

April 21, 2007

Dear Corporation Commissioner,

Dear Commissioner Lakhoni,

We understand that the Corporation of Chennai requires a lot of firewood nowadays.
Since the summer is with us you may not need it to prepare hot water for a nice bath afer a long day's work but it may come in handy for some Corporation job or the other that you must indulge in.
May we therefore offer you a clump of trees in our neighbourhood?
They stand tall beside the Adyar flyover at a traffic roundabout and they have been there before you and I were born.
They escaped the orders of your predecessor who had to chop down scores of trees to make space for the flyover, one arm of which is dangerous for buses and lorries.
But since you and the contractors you employ are on a rampage nowadays, shaving off all the trees in Kotturpuram, on Sardar Patel Road and in Adyar, you may as well save some money for the Corporation and shave the rest of the trees here.
Like the Biblical act, the contractors' men have been daubing yellow marks on these avenue trees that protected our neighbourhood, thus signing the warrant of death. And within days, men with saws and axes went to work.
Commissioner, we guess you love bald humour.
We have been told that all these trees have been uprooted carefully and transplanted in campuses we have never heard of.
Perhaps, this may well be fodder for the cruelest joke you have played on this city.
The contractors' men are great graveyard levellers.
You should, on your city rounds, drive down Gandhi Mandapam Road and look at the professional manner in which the men have filled the places where the trees were uprooted, with cement and mortar and levelled the road.
This act reminds me of a notorious goonda of this city who murdered women and plastered them into the walls.
We understand that over 160 trees will be sacrificed this season in this area alone to make way for development.
There have been a few voices of protest but you must be laughing at these whimpers.
But then when has the state respected voices of protest and reason?
Some time ago, when people confronted your predecessor who was also thinking of shaving off trees on Besant Avenue, he left in a huff. A candlelight vigil saved some trees.
But this time around, you will have the last laugh. we fear.
Anyway, there will be work to do at the Corporation's nurseries. To assuage the guilt, we may need to plant saplings for a 'clean and green' Chennai.
Tell us when you intend to do this kind act.
We will need to hire a photographer.

April 14, 2007

Creative communities

Time to be creatively crazy. A pilot and an air-hostess fall in love and want to get married.

Can you come up with the fancy ideas how they can do this in the craziest of ways?

A pastor and a party on flight is one way.

Para-jumping is another.

A ceremony in an hot-air balloon is a third.

Exchanging rings in the cockpit? That may be prohibited.

But for my friend Fr. Adolf Washington in Bangalore (yes, I referred to him in my column last week), there is an issue which this couple presents.

Catholics have to attend pre-marriage classes if a formal wedding is to be celebrated in Church.

But busy people like these Bangalore professionals often excuse themselves.

So Fr. Adolf e-mails them Biblical extracts, passages and church teachings. To enable them to access and read and understand them when the duo find the time between flights and transfers.

This young diocesan priest shared this and many other examples at a meeting this week in which Christian media professionals and part timers were participating. The workshop was looking at ways in which priests and nuns can leverage the Net to reach out.

The presentations here reminded me of a recent attempt that has been made in a colony in Thiruvanmiyur in south Chennai.

The residents of upmarket Valmiki Nagar, which lies on the seaside of the East Coast Road (ECR), have formed a new association to address local community issues.

They have formed an e-group to post, discuss, share and interest on these issues.

Perhaps this is the easiest, fastest and most effective way in which busy house-holders can still make a space/time for issues like bad roads and speeding bikes, garbage clearance and better achievement.

One member in this group was quick to react to a fire that broke out and destroyed a richly furnished apartment. Having observers that the local fire sericemen were not fully equipped and trained to address such accidents in high-rise apartments, he decided to post a note.

And a suggestion – join hands with the city Fire Service Department to train the locally –based fire servicemen in the area and hold mock drills periodically.

After all, high rises were already a part of the ECR and OMR landscape.

I am sure there are other communities who tap the Net to network locally and address local issues.

I would like to hear from them. The address of my blog is down below!


April 07, 2007

Church and the city

Holy Week provides time for reflection.
And our thoughts need not be merely personal.
It is Good Friday. And what comes to my mind this afternoon is - how our local churches are evolving.
'Power House' is a different kind of church. It has two spaces. One on the Velachery-Taramani Link Road. And the other is a hall rented out at the posh Abhirami Mall in Pursawalkam for movies and entertainment.
The services at 'Power House', I am told, really swing. Swing to some great music and, in between is time for preaching and reflection.
Pastor Jeyakaran Immanuel goes out of his way to entertain lots of IT professionals.
In a way, I might say that this is a new church that reaches out to a neighbourhood whose character is of the modern times.
One dominated by youths working in the IT/BPO industries.
Close to Bangalore's Airport, Father Adolf Washington is using the Internet to get closer to the flock of his parish. He has weekend online chat sessions with the youth. He posts the time table of the religious services on the Net. And he welcomes people to book online, Holy Mass offerings, and pay when they come to church.
Recently, retired urban planner Anantha Ranjana Doss, who was with the CMDA till recently, invited me over to a meeting of pastors of city churches.
Here was an attempt to find ways in which pastors could go beyond the religious services and the social welfare projects of their church and play an active role in their neighbourhood.
Since I am keen about local politics, I chose to talk about how the congregation could be enlightened about ward elections, role of councillors and how local issues could be addressed.
Dr. Paul Appaswamy who teaches at the Madras School of Economics was also a panelist. And he said that the concept of a 'parish' has almost vanished.
We no longer stick to the church of our neighbourhood to attend Holy Mass. Nor do we demonstrate a huge loyalty to it in other ways.
So then, what role would modern-day shepherds play in such changing communities, Paul asked.Perhaps you can reflect on this and share your comments on my blog!