August 31, 2007

Ideas for Madras Day 2008!

The 'Madras Day 2007' story has not got over yet.
This Sunday, we are screening some of the better-produced documentaries which film makers had entered in a contest.
The screening is at Srinivasa Shastri Hall in Luz, from 3.30 pm onwards.
As a finale to this session, we will screen a rather provocative film made on the city of Chennai, once Madras, by Venkatesh Chakravarthy.
It is called 'Chennai - The Split City'. It runs for about 70 minutes but if you like documentaries, you should not miss this film though it has been screened at different places this past year.
Our intention is to get film makers to do more films on our city: its life, its communities, its people, its warts and all.
I will be very happy if 'Madras Day' can drive people to make films on our city so that we have a growing collection of visual footage for the archives, for screenings and for dissemination.
We had a call from St. George's on the weekend.This school was late on the 'Madras Day' schedule but was keen to motivate schools in their neighbourhood to join them in a festival dedicated to the city we love.
And St. George's had another request - could we help provide a person who could take their school children on a tour of Fort St. George?
Acceding to this request was going to be difficult - all of us who had been deeply involved in the 'Madras Day' celebration had retired.
Would you imagine this? We had 84 people on the walk around the Fort on Saturday last and 72 the next day, Sunday.
And our guide, Dr. S. Suresh, the archaeologist, never complained though he was on duty on both days.
Which brings us to a suggestion we have for our schools - would it not be a great idea if each school trained a teacher or two to double up as guides on at least two heritage courses in our city?
They could take groups of their schools on walks, one at a time, throughout the year. And then train a different set of teachers who could take charge.
And thereby, keep this cycle alive. . .It would also be great if senior and fit residents of the city who intimately know areas like Egmore, George Towne, the Marina, Mylapore, San Thome, Adyar, Kilpauk, the film studio neighbourhood of Vadapalani . . . . could themselves be guides on special tours through these areas.
If these men and women took the lead to showcase our well-known, heritage-rich neighbourhoods, they would be doing all of us a great service.

August 25, 2007

We will be doing the rounds of the fort even as you read this.
Fort St. George is perhaps one of the most fascinating campuses in our city.
And to mark 'Madras Day' which has turned out to be 'Madras Week', I got Dr. S. Suresh, the archaeologist friend ( the one who organises trips along railway tracks and takes groups on Roman trails) to spare time to lead the fort walks.
Suresh often brings along a set of vintage coins, Roman and Pallava and others, to pep his preface to the walk which starts from the parking lot opposite the fort.
And going by the calls and e-mails we have received, the walks on Saturday and Sunday (starting at 7 am) should be packed.
The security at the gates of the fort may wonder why a contigent of 40 people want to get into the fort ( which also houses the Secretariat) at an odd hour!
Earlier in the week, I took a group of students of M. Ct. M. Chidambaram Chettyar school to this area to kick off a tour of north Madras.
We have been working hard to arrange tours for a few schools on either side of the 'divide' and the response has been wonderful.
The M. Ct. M. students came alive when we shared the stories on the fort with them and this set the mood for the rest of the tour through Royapuram, Kasimedu and Thiruvottriyur.
Amazing was also the response of the girls from a Royapuram school who brought the north Madras stories to three school campuses in the south.
When we broke for 'tiffin' in Besant Nagar, the girls tucked in the idlis in a jiffy and doubled out to enjoy a few minutes on Elliots Beach!
Two positive things seem to have happened during 'Madras Day 2007'.
Our young community has shown greater interest in our city and the intensity will grow if they can be inspired and motivated.
Also, the north-south exchange is showing promise and we only hope city schools will follow-up on the recent exchanges that have taken place to get to know our people better.
Meanwhile, after a well-deserved break, Suresh and I want to meet again and plan a new trail through the city.
A trail for 2008.
Maybe, we will hint at it on the web site -

August 18, 2007

A T-shirt for Chennai

I hope the Tiruppur hub has good news for us.
Scheduled to arrive in the city on Monday is a pack of the all-new Namma Chennai T-shirt.
And I am hoping that many die-hard folks of this city will like it.
The T-shirt for our city idea has everything to do with the 'Madras Day' which is rolling out now.
We chose to have a contest to create a design for a Chennai T-shirt and last year, a design student, Shreyas, won the prize for her effort.
We then invited this bright, young girl to work further on the basic design and if you check out the web site - - you will get a peek at Shreyas' new design which our well wishers in Tiruppur have promised to deliver as finished product.
Going by the many e-mails that are flowing in - the mail ID is - Shreyas' design seems to have caught the eye of young people.
One diehard resident doubled into our office this week in anticipation of the new T-shirt and though disappointed, ( the new Tee is due for an official release on Wednesday, August 22) decided to buy the 2006 Chennai T-shirt which sports a large kolam.
Well, in keeping with the spirit of 'Madras Day', which is to keep the community at its heart, we have not invited Trisha or Madhavan or Anu Hassan to launch the Tee.
It will be launched at a contest for city schools at a hall in Luz next Wednesday.
The first order is for 100 Tees ( each costs Rs.100) and if the lot disappears in a week, it may well become a collector's item because we may not produce them all over again ( The Tiruppur folks say our order should be nothing less than 5,555 numbers!)
The response to the 'Madras Day' events is heartening.
It is good to see the city's community responding positively.
Ashok Leyland's PR and Communications department called to say it will freely lend its special bus specially designed for children for all 'Madras Day' events in which children are involved.
So, on Monday, the bus will carry 30 children from Kalaimagal Vidyalaya in Royapuram, to four schools in central and south Madras on a yatra to present glimpses of north Madras by way of villupattu and story-telling in Thamizh.
'Madras Day' is all about the city and its people.
And I am hoping that a band performing at Sunday's Freedom Jam Rock Show at the YMCA Nandanam campus will dedicate an original song to this city.
Or at least inspire, like Shreyas was, some one to write a song on this city: Madras that is Chennai.

August 10, 2007

Positive responses to Madras Day 2007

My friends in Kilpauk must be cross with me.
I had to skip the Kilpauk Utsav this year.
The Utsav is a unique neighbourhood celebration.
And it brings people together.
The community spirit seems rather strong in that part of the city.
For, when they heard about the 'Madras Day' celebrations, some friends in Kilpauk wondered how they could get involved.
And then came a call from my photographer friend, D. Krishnan. A well known art gallery was preparing to launch its second gallery in the Kilpauk region, so would there be some bright idea of marking this event?
A 'Madras Day' event of course. For this gallery also features lots of pictures of 'old Madras'.
And if the promoters of the gallery could encourage a collaboration with the Kilpauk residents and host a talk on the city, the circle would be complete . . . .
Well, perhaps this is possibly the best manner in which people celebrate the city. Network.
Another friend of ours has come forward to host a series of events in Alwarpet.
Writer and art critic Lakshmi Venkataraman who now manages 'Gallery Sri Parvati' has offered her space to host an exhibition and a series of talks during 'Madras Week'.
The ball began to roll quite fast in Alwarpet when writer and arts promoter Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and writer Charukesi volunteered to anchor an evening of readings of essays, fiction and poetry in Thamizh that focussed on our city. Madras that is Chennai.
Now if you have been scribbling verses on this city of ours, you may want to bring them to the evening of readings and perhaps, read aloud too.
From the other side, in the Vadapalani neighbourhood, executive Krishna Kumar Menon has offered a hall at the Green Park Hotel he manages, for a city event.
Story teller Randor Guy will be there that evening with a running commentary on lots of film clips which used Madras as a location in the 50s and 60s. And the 'Spring Into Reading' team has lined up events for children at the same venue.
In the Adyar neighbourhood, arts promoter V. R. Devika is hosting a special quiz. A quiz devoted entirely to a very special person - Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. In the course of the quiz, Devika plans to present lots of little known information on this great woman of the city.
It is still not late for your neighbourhood association or group to think up an event that celebrates our city.
And if you wish to keep a tab on all the 'Madras Day' buzz, check out

August 04, 2007

Walks in the city

When I have time to listen to stories, I drop in at Dr. Suresh's house.
This quiet nook in Padmanabha Nagar in Adyar is just the place to engage with this enterprising archaeologist.
Suresh is pursuing an interesting vocation - archaeological tourism.
At the end of yet another story-telling session this week, he took the train to the Nilgiris where he is putting together a project for a well known travel company.
I have promised to accompany him on his next trip to the Blue Hills. Beacuse if I do make it, Suresh will take me on one of his favourite trails.
Walking along the tracks of the 'toy train' from Coonoor.
There are lots of stories to be shared off the tracks, he tells me.
There is another trail that we have put together for the celebration of Madras Day (August 22), a day to celebrate the founding of this city.
It is the Stone Age Madras tour.
Not many of us are aware that the city and the local region was inhabited by Stone Age man, some 40,000 years ago.
The first Stone Age artefact discovered in India was in the Pallavaram area in the city's suburbs.
Dr. Suresh will cover this theme at a public talk on August 18 evening and the next day morning, Sunday, lead all those who wish to be part of the tour to a Stone Age region located near Poondi, about 80 kms from the city.
That trail, a rather challenging one (we did a recee this week) will lead you through rocky terrain and scrub forest to a large natural cavern inhabited by pre-historic man.
(Details on this and all other 'Madras Day' events are being posted on the website -
Now you don't have to look for an adventurous theme to celebrate this city of ours.
If you are a school teacher, you could plan a neighbourhood tour for your students. To help them discover places they haven't seen.
One group has come forward with a simple initiative - to draw up a trail that starts at Fort St. George, goes through the University Campus, then to Bharathi Memorial in Truiplicane and Vivekananda Museum off the Beach Road, to Queen Mary's College, along the DGP's office, to All India Radio and the San Thome cathedral and ends with a picnic on the Marina.
'Madras Day' does not call for wild parties, colourful wrist bands and ribbon-cutting events.
It invites you to enjoy the good things about this city.