December 27, 2008
I took a walk in the Leith Castle area on Christmas evening to share time with a few friends and was greeted by scores of lit stars and twinkling decorative bulbs hung on the branches of trees.
Leith Castle is a quiet area of independent houses, gardens and free streets.
I was tempted to call Francis Lazarus, ask him to collect a bunch of singers and request a concert at the end of Leith Castle Centre Street!
If Mumbai's East Indian community could do it why couldn't we?
On the Saturday before Christmas day, the community in Bandra closes St. Anthony's Lane, puts up a stage, fills the lane with chairs and invites local musicians to perform here.
Professionals, amateurs, kids, bands . . . all of them take turns to turn on the festival spirit.
And this year, they even composed a special carol for Mumbai. And when a well wisher got to hear of the new song which did the rounds on MP3, he volunteered to produce a music video in all of 24 hours.
I am convinced now that San Thome will get a life next Christmas.
Dr. Boaz at the St. Thomas by the Sea Church (yes, the St. Thomas English Church) has promised to link up with the youth groups to plan for December 2009.
And octogenarian Vincent who is always in the thick of events and festivities and will fly out to Australia this weekend would do his best to get us some free tickets to Hong Kong for a lucky draw.
I am most encouraged with what our auto rickshaw drivers of San Thome created - a simple crib at the end of the lane where they have an auto stand.
If we can network the schools and convents, parishes and stores, colonies and auto stands, San Thome will be different.
If you have ideas, drop them off at my blog please.
December 20, 2008
This December I want to go back in time.
For Moore Market got a life of its own at Christmastime.
Had it survived the fire that helped in its destruction it would have easily rivalled CitiCentre and Spencer Plaza and held its own.
There was so much to do at this market.
Pore over secondhand novels, try out smart frocks and Tees, sift through the decorations, marvel at the crib sets, take a look at the noisy parakeets and strike a deal with some antique pieces - Moore Market was a magical world at Christmastime.
Families from Narasinghapuram and Chintadripet, from Vepery and Perambur, from Arakkonam and George Towne had to check out this market at this time of the year.
I can't forget Thomas Rodrigo & Sons store which sold everything that a Christian family required. I particularly remember a smallmade man who had the gentlest of voices and slightest of frames who guided us through our shopping.
Then he was a mere salesman. Today, he appears to me like a gentle poet.
Rodrigo had a range of cribs and we bought one only at this store.
It also had a store in Broadway but I rarely stopped by there.
I think it still exists - perhaps living out the years.
Spencers of old was another hub. A hub to order the goodies - turkey and sauces and cheese and flour and all that which went to make a great Christmas lunch.
Old timers tell me that Spencers would bring in decorators to do up the entire place and in a prominent place, rotate cardboard numbers which set the countdown for Christmas - 8 more days to go! 7 more days to go . .
I wish San Thome got a life of its own.
Well after the rushhour traffic has died down on San Thome High Road, the stars that have been put up at St. Bede's school create a little magic off this road now.
I wish many others would follow St. Bede's and put out the stars all along this road, till the Foreshore Estate point. On rooftops, trees and balconies.
Some others could play carols on their music systems.
And some others decorate their trees with lights and buntings.
Some could keep their gates open and share kulkuls or a piece of cake with strangers who tarry to take in the ambience. . .
And young men with guitars and mouth organs could walk through Custian Beach and Rosary Lane, Dooming Street and Leith Castle, playing the songs of the season. . .
I wish San Thome got a life of its own at this time of the year.
December 13, 2008
November 30, 2008
She had lots to celebrate.
Lady Sivaswamy Girls School, an institution inMylapore with a remarkable history behind it, had themed its annual exhibition 'Women Achievers'.
There were exhibitions and talks and plays.
But one section of the show was abuzz - the stalls set up on campus to showcase and sell little things that senior students had made in their spare time.
Most of the products were quickly snapped up by student colleagues and guests.
Ear rings, purses, wrist bands . . .
Now, the girls had realised that their skills were valuable and that if they worked on a business idea they could be successful, A realisation that is key to youngsters who hail from commercially challenged backgrounds.
Meera Rao is a veteran craft guru and lives in Abhiramapuram. She had trained and guided hundreds of people, mainly women.
And when she has time she goes out of the way to train art and craft teachers in local schools so they in turn can teach and train senior students in the classroom.
The school event and Rao's work brings me to an idea that should be a neighbourhood endeavour.
Can we have a group of people in our neighbourhoods who do three simple things free time?
One - compile a list of the gifted and talented people in their neighbourhood who are willing to volunteers to train not so well off students in art, crafts, cooing, electronics.
Two - network with local campuses which lack extracurricular facilities and mentors and arrange for classes and workshops for students.
Three - raise funds to keep these projects going.
f such a group cam bring the two together then we should witness a wonderful development.
Kamla Ravikumar runs a studio in Kalakshetra Colony, Besant Nagar. She teaches art to two different groups - children and adults. Last year, we invited het to work with children at Nageswara Rao Park in Luz and teache them how to create stuff with clay. The kids wouldn't let her go!
I am sure Kamla will be willing to spare an hour for a local Corporation school if a group networked with her.
May be it is an idea the ever-active Thursday Ladies Club based in the same area can take up.
If you do know of such initiatives elsewhere, please share them with me. Mail me.
November 23, 2008
This week we have idiappams or string hoppers as they are called in Sri Lanka.
The pitter-patter of the rain continued through last Saturday night.
I was in Egmore catching up with schoolmates.
When I waved down an autorickshaw close to the midnight hour the drizzle grew in intensity.
At a road junction two men waved us down. 'Indira Nagar, said one unconcerned that a passenger was in the rear seat.
We couldn't leave the duo in the rain so we asked them to hop in. But we also had to accommodate a 'koodai', which we did.
And the 'koodai' set off the conversation.
The two had just wound up serving idiappams at the grand wedding at the grand hall we had left behind in Egmore.
This was their business. They specialised in making puttu and idiappams at weddings and social functions.
One rupee for an idiappam is what they got paid.
And when the wedding contractors did not engage them, they would send their men 'on the line'.
'On the line' meant selling the foodstuff door to door in the neighbourhood - in Thiruvanmiyur and Indira Nagar, in Gandhi Nagar and Padmanabha Nagar.
On some days, 100 pieces would be sold, on some 200. And by noon, the job would be done.
And all this came out of a 100 sq. ft nook somewhere in Indira Nagar.
Would you like to have Kushboo idlis?
There was another cook who specialised in making them.
And what did they serve with the string hoppers?
Just sugar, the man said. If you want 'kadala' curry then there was another person who would supply us.
From the nooks of our neighbourhoods, such wonderful enterprises.
Would you like to have their contacts?
Tarry a bit - let me sample the food next weekend and then share my recommendation too!
November 09, 2008
Obama. A chorus drifted across the hall.
And we knew where the popular vote in Chennai went.
The President-elect is the poster boy of young people in our city.
Evidence of this fascination was in plenty at two halls at the Taj Coromandel Hotel where the American Consulate hosted an event where the results of the election to the White House in the USA were broadcast.
The hosts didn't expect the flood.
There were close to one thousand students who came by to get a feel of the counting process and the analysis that went with it.
Students from over ten city schools let loose their curiosity and then when CNN declared the winner, there was a buzz all around.
Dominating this gathering were young people who should be eligible to vote in a year or two.
One was Kartik Chidambaram son of the Finance Minister and the other, Americai Narayanan. Both Congressmen.
Narayanan, if you recall, was an independent candidate in the last assembly election. He chose to take this path after the Congress did not get this seat in the seat sharing deal.
This was a brave attempt but it did not work.
So when I met him at the Taj event I asked him if you would chance to address such young people at Citi Center shopping mall, on Elliots beach and at Inox theatre and cultivate a new community of young voters who wanted change and wanted candidates like Obama.
We still have not seen young people showing an inclination to take part in local politics the way they are enthused about Obama's campaign and his personality.
The youth who did throw their hats (they had studied at IITs and IIMs) which included a candidate in the Mylapore constituency, got an impressive share of votes. But they vanished thereafter.
How proactive our young people in their neighbourhoods, their communities?
Earlier this week, five girls from a Mylapore school dropped by at our office late in the evening. They were there because Padmini Miss had asked them to. The English teacher had read about our November offer to students to write for our weeklies and coaxed the five to explore this opportunity.
Most of them were ignorant of their neighbourhood. One of them did not even know that a huge nature project was being developed metres away from her home.
So I took some time off work to chat with the five, share some tips and set them on a few assignments.
Rooting for Obama is fine.
What role can you play in your neighbourhood?
November 01, 2008
'Sir, Vishy Anand is going to talk to us live so can I cover it?'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes sir, I just got an e-mail invitation and I want to go!'
'I am not so sure Hari but go and check out what it is all about'
45 minutes later Hari called back.
'You were right sir, it was just a get together to celebrate Anand's win'
Hari resides in the Adyar neighbourhood and attends a local school.
Ever since we announced our annual project this year to encourage school students to go out and report and write for our weeklies, Hari has been calling me every other day and floods me with story ideas.
He managed to work on one story - profiling a chess coach.
That was easy because Hari is also a student of this coach.
It didn't matter - I liked his enthusiasm and we wanted to encourage him.
November is the time for young people in local schools to work with us.
Our intention is not to get them into journalism but to get them to move out of their homes and colonies and look around. And to learn a little more.
We began this programme over a decade ago. In the past, we had dedicated an entire issue to the reportage and pictures of our young reporters and writers.
Later, we chose to accommodate their contributions through November. The link - Childrens Day.
Over the years, I have seen a gradual decline in the interest shown by students in writing and an abysmal ignorance of the world around them.
When they suggest the local clothes store and the gaming zone as story ideas you know how small their world is.
In some ways, we have with us a generation that is narrow in its interest and engagement.
Parents have forfeited their responsibilities.
Does it make sense to broach a subject like the project to beautify the Elliots Beach even as the family takes a brisk walk in the sands and sits down for a snack?
Would you like to take your son or your daughter to the gates of the Kapaleeswarar Temple tank and, while gazing at the gushing rainwater talk about how the tank is linked to a network of drains and how water retention can recharge the groundwater.
We need to encourage our children to explore their neighbourhoods.
If there are excited Hari Shankars out there you are welcome to contribute to our weeklies.
October 25, 2008
It did not occur to me to ask Harry MacLure why he chose this name for his magazine.
Yet, there is a ring to this name. Perhaps a zing that makes it click.
And click ii has.
Recently, Harry's quarterly on the Anglo Indian community celebrated its tenth anniversary with a fantastic blast at a hall in this city.
Vintage music, colourful dances and a fun play Harry scripted and put together.
He should have also had a dance party like the ones that Shiraz in Egmore and the Railway Institute in Perambur hosted in the gold old days.
For, Harry and his team deserve our congratulations for this publication.
Simply because bringing out a magazine for a small community, excelling in its quality and sustaining it for a decade is very, very difficult.
When the first issue rolled out in August 1998, "Anglos in the Wind" looked more like an in-house magazine of a corporate.
Founder Les D' Souza put his money and enthusiasm in it and stood by it.
In course of time, "Anglos . . . ." came to be a first class production.
The profiles of the community's grand people and star youths, the stories on the heritage that this community has created in India, the focus on issues that affect Anglo Indians, the collage of events that the community held in the pockets where the diaspora has settled down - United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, the Gulf - and the tidbits on weddings, obituaries, get togethers . . .
The magazine packs a lot between its creative covers.
From his nook in Anna Nagar, Harry, a professional artist and designer, has made every issue unique.
I particularly loved one issue which had on its cover an illustration of a Mail train gently rolling across a little town, its Anglo Indian driver waving out to a little boy staring at it from the yard of the Railway Colony. A magical illustration it was.
The anniversary issue is a collector's special. It has features by some well known writers like Ruskin Bond, Allan Sealy and the Gantzers.
Try and get a copy. Better still, become a subscriber.
"Anglos in the Wind" is not a 'limiting, exclusive' magazine.
4208 0058. That is Harry's number.
And the email ID - firstname.lastname@example.org
October 18, 2008
To take part in the celebrations and enjoy the kolu that the Avvai Kalai Kazhagam had hosted.
As we negotiated the streets and lanes we discovered a new zone - streets where tailors, cutters and masters produce hundreds and hundreds of affordable, simple informal wear for men, youth and children.
At first, I assumed these one room places were recycling leftover cloth and making utility products out of them.
But when I zeroed in on piles of what looked like sports suits and struck a conversation with the workman here I got to know that this zone in Royapuram was a hub for simple, informal wear and that these clothes are sent to all corners of the country.
North Madras is still a fascinating place.
Yet it remains neglected.
Its residents though are waking up and saying - we won't take things lying down. We are going to fight.
But this isn't a street fight.
There are strong campaigns that are taking shape.
In a corner of the building where the Avvai Kalai Kazhgam women members meet I met people who were putting together the nuts and bolts of a campaign that will dominate the city.
The campaign to get the proposed Metro Rail project extended from Washermanpet to Royapuram and Tiruvottriyur.
In that nook of Royapuram, activists had been planning every step of this campaign. They had chatted with people.
Then they designed and produced booklets which enlightened residents on the importance and need of the Metro Rail - with imaginative illustrations and captions. And later, on a wet working day, held a rally in the neighbourhood.
More is to follow. This is a serious campaign. By a determined community.
Civic campaigns have to be planned and organised if they are to bear fruit.
Phone calls to complaint cells and pithy letters to newspapers alone will not work in this day and age.
A sharp, willing and determined group in Besant Nagar has been able to check the extravagant 'beach beautification' plans of the city's civic body. Challenged it when workers flouted the regulations.
Filed a Right to Information petition to ferret information and used that to pursue their case.
Much more can be done if citizens devote some time to public issues and lend a hand to local campaigns.
October 11, 2008
But after extension of our apartment I have started keeping it in the extended area. Since I am working I am not able to invite lots of people and limit my invitation to close relatives and friends and a few of my neighbours.
Our colony has a group of women who participate in the chanting of 'Lalitha Sahasranamam' during Navaratri in many houses.
But I am unable to partake in such events due to my work schedule.
Yet my interest in decorating the kolu and inviting a few people home keeps me happy . .
This is an extract from an e-mail Jayshree Ganapati sent to www.arcotroadtimes.com.
I did not ask her permission to reproduce it.
But I chose to post it in my column because, in simple words, it illustrates best the spirit that Navaratri generates in many of us.
And in times when traditions make way for glitz such simple efforts need appreciation.
Reason why we have done our bit to highlight the efforts of so many families.
'Adyar Times' received close to 100 calls a week after the newspaper announced the annual Kolu Contest. The avalanche was not because we were offering gold coins or silver bracelets to the winners.
Families like to invite others over - to host them and show them their work.
Yes, the traditional kolu needs all the attention and reverence that it must be given.
It also lets people tap their creativity.
'Mylapore Times' offered to post photos of kolus on the Net so that the world could enjoy them. Our photographer, Saravanan ended up with the toughest assignment! Imagine crisscrossing the neighbourhood to shoot pictures at 75 different homes. . .
Take a look at the Kolu Gallery we have designed at www.kutcheribuzz.com/navarathri2008.
This is perhaps the best showcase of Navarathri Kolus.
At www.arcotroadtimes.com we were busy through the week. We asked families to take pictures of their kolus and mail them to us. We were surprised. 20 families responded. As did Jayshree Ganapati.
Some others chose to report on the festivities.
The warmest notes came from two huge residential apartment complexes where families put their hands together to host community kolus. . .
My memorable Navaratri experience this year was at the kolu that the Avvai Kalai Kazhagam, a womens group hosted in Royapuram. In 15 panels, they highlighted the stories associated with Thirugnanasambandar. All the minute 'model' work was executed by these women and the kolu was open to the community of this area.
If you visit the online kolu pictures gallery, please post your comments. They are valuable.
October 05, 2008
We launched www.arcotroadtimes.com, a web site focused on the neighbourhoods across K. K. Nagar, Vadapalani, Virugambakkam and Valasarawakkam.
It was a scratchy start - all our projects have debuted in this manner. We chose to build on a WordPress template and started gingerly. Since then, the web site has demanded a lot from us.
And the climbing graph of our visitors is pushing us.
Community news and info web sites call for a unique approach. Get the community involved.
And it isn't easy.
This Navaratri season we are trying to coax people to mail us pictures of their kolus and community celebrations.
Since most people own a digi-camera, shooting pictures is easy. But e-mailing them calls for some effort.
Most of us to assume that people in the metros are Net-savvy. Not correct.
So we have to hold a hand and SMS tips to help seniors connect.
But it is worth the effort.
For, the gallery of pictures generates immense interest and triggers interaction, e-mails and more inputs.
Which is how a web site like www.arcotroadtimes.com will grow.
We have a small band of senior students who send us campus reports. Yes, half of them are dictated by their teachers or their file lists all the winners of certificates and medals the school team won at the essay contest on 'The dangers of smoking'.
But with encouragement and cajoling, the reports get better.
We do have the intrepid colony reporters too.
One man has to e-mail us every week on anything that happens in his sector - broken manhole cover, overflowing sewage, dropping tree trunk, blaring taxis.
He doesn't expect us to post the litany.
I am hoping his keen eye will one night catch the shadow of a fleeing thief and that he will go after the shadowy rogue and the chase will have an exciting denouement. And that he will report it, firsthand.
Well, we at Arcot Road Times aren't waiting for wild stories. We don't encourage them.
But the web site is growing with the community's contributions. Slowly, local businesses have begun to show interest. A local home-based caterer is excited - he wants to e-mail his weekend offers and is willing to watch the response.
A pharmacy, open 24 hours, is talking too. So is a local builder of apartments.
The process is exciting.
Do take a look at this web site. Your ideas, suggestions and comments are welcome.(E-mail - email@example.com)
September 26, 2008
As the name suggests, this place is known for its halwa. But there are a few other things on its menu which has drawn people for over 50 years.
Bread and peas masala is one.
I was there on a Sunday and the young man who was in charge did not seem to be in a particularly good mood.
I had hoped to engage him in a conversation and catch up with the House's recent development. I failed.
Wonder if it was the rain which had affected his business or was he simply bored with this trade?
Restaurants and eating joints have a lot to do with our lives. What they do, how they entertain people and their colourful histories tell us who we are.
I wanted to check out another place. Yes, an eating place in the busy Thousand Lights area of Mount Road.
The Irani Restaurant, a hole in the wall, was the last refuge of all those who had closed work after 11 p.m. and wanted to satiate their hunger with simple, hot, good food. Parathas and mutton kurma or ‘paya’.
This Irani which had maybe six tables would be busy at that time. And this was the pre-BPO and IT boom era.
The Irani, which morphed into something unremarkable, is no more on the map of our city.
This Navaratri I intend to explore the Mint Street and Sowcarpet area to find out if the old has given way to the new and why.
The street food business is still alive and well in those parts. And a few new restaurants have opened up, offering authentic Gujarati and Marwari food.
The festival season should be the best time to explore.
One area where street food can become a huge draw if some things were done right is the Triplicane-Zam Bazaar hub.
You may not get the best biriyani and kebabs here now because the fast food joints compromise a lot.
But if we were to clean up the inner streets after dusk, cut off the traffic, put out the tables and benches and begin cooking in the nooks, we would have a great food destination.
September 20, 2008
Here is an opportunity to tell the city Corporation why it should respect its citizens.
Citizens who walk to exercise, to shop, to run errands and to go and meet friends and relatives.Keep a date this Sunday with a group which calls itself 'Walking Classes Unite'.
Karen Coelho and her supporters are the prime movers behind this simple campaign. A campaign to get back our sidewalks, our pavements.
Karen who researches and teaches at the MIDS in Adyar has done extensive work on the basic amenities provided to people in north Madras. She has now focused on the walking classes. Karen and Venkat and the rest ran a campaign on the OMR, now Rajiv Gandhi Salai, in the Thiruvanmiyur section, some time ago. They invited some young people who attend rehab and training sessions at 'Vidya Sagar' because they are children with special needs.
The group started at one end of the OMR pavement and made a note of the obstructions, cracks, ups and downs, width and other such features of this pavement. It was in some ways an audit. You can imagine the results - this was certainly not a pavement even normal people can use.
On Sunday, September 21, the Walking Classes group is launching a bigger campaign. They want all of us who care to assemble at the Triumph of Labour statue on the Marina at 4.30 p.m. and walk on the pavement till a point in the sands of Srinivasapuram off Foreshore Estate. Hopefully, this campaign will lead to more sustained efforts to impress on the City Fathers the need to build proper pavements. And the efforts will bear fruit if the campaign is localised and intensified. There are a few core issues though.
One - a blatant plan by the city's civic body to reduce pavements to mere appendages of main roads ( there are places alongside the flyover in Alwarpet where the apology is reduced to about five inches!).
Two - does one tackle encroachment and misuse of sidewalks by converting them into roadside green spaces?
Three - why have councillors in most zones of our city approved proposals to redo sidewalks in inner colonies where people do not need them at all?
Karen and Co. have a long campaign ahead. Give them a hand please instead of cribbing.
September 12, 2008
I have and I am wondering how far I can go on this.
My response follows what we have been doing at our community newspapers for some years now.
Covering civic issues and community-elected leaders a bit closely.
We have reported on the last two civic body elections.
We have wriggled our way into the counting centre to report firsthand on the atmosphere and the process and told the story of violence and ballot tampering at this level.
The reportage may not have made a huge impact.
But it has not stopped us from keeping the focus.
When our resources allow for it, we sit on the fringe of the meetings of our ward councillors and put out details of the projects they propose for you and me.
Some people may wonder if we are wasting costly newsprint on such coverage.
I don't think so.
Besides providing vital information, such reportage provides the more responsible amongst us to take a closer look at the proposals, engage with the councillors or officers and ensure that the best is provided for the community.
There have been occasions when letters in the media and pointed questions raised by the people have got our local leaders to make changes for the better. But these, I must admit, are few and far between.
So when I found that an avenue in my neighbourhood was to be widened as so may others were being proposed, I took a closer look at what the officers had in mind for our community.
And found that the men and women who did the hard work had dug up parts of the roots of almost all the old avenue trees that gave the road some character, lots of shade and greenery.
I called up the Corporation's zonal officer. This man sticks to his job and is at it. But you can never get access to him. His cellphone has a melodious spiritual song and the voice box overflows.
So, I send a letter to him, suggesting ways in which we should protect these trees.
But I don't hear from him.
So I courier a letter to the Commissioner, an SOS.
For a week now, the entire work on this road has come to a standstill.
Not because of my letter surely.
And I wonder if the Big Boss would have asked his officers to show some concern for the trees.
Meanwhile, I get an environmental activist to examine the trees and suggest the simplest way to allow aeration even as the road is relaid / expanded. I share it with the Corporation zonal office.
I don't hear from there.
Am I feeling dejected? Defeated?
I only wish ten others also played their roles in the community.
September 05, 2008
Raja Seetharaman died on Wednesday night.
And we have lost a young man who worked tirelessly for this city.
He died in an accident on the premises of the Mambalam railway station. And when the news trickled to us from the GH mortuary on Thursday morning, all of us who worked closely with him went numb.
I did too.
On Sunday we had met at the formal release of the first part of a three-volume gazetteer on 400 years of Madras that is Chennai produced by the Association of British Scholars in India, a finale to the Madras Day celebrations. And we had chatted for long over coffee - on how we could, in 2009, take to north Madras an exhibition that he and colleague D. H. Rao had put together at the Rajaji Hall in the Government Estates this year.
Raja was his buoyant self that evening. He was dead three days later.
He had invited me to his splendid house in Chintadripet (chinna tari pettai) on many occasions and here I was at his place to attend his funeral. In a heritage house which had also been a stop for people who had taken part in the Walking Tour of Chintadripet that V. Sriram had conducted for Madras Day 2008. Hardly a fortnight ago.
On Thursday, Iyyah Mudali Street was for mourners.
Raja was a passionate collector of coins, postage materials and wedding invitations.
But he rarely showed off his collection.
Instead, he was a tireless worker and organiser. The sort of man who went many extra miles to ensure that a show on the city's history/heritage was a good one.
He was on stage at Rajaji Hall a fortnight ago, launching that exhibition for Madras Day and rewarding us with a special postal cover he and Rao had helped to bring out.
We will miss Raja.
But all of us who work in small ways for this city hope to do some thing in his memory.
I wish our city-based newspapers would recognise men and women like Raja.
They rarely do.
When I suggested to a reporter of 'The Hindu' that a tribute be published, I was told that since Raja was not a celebrity his editors would not buy the story.
Our media does not believe in celebrating our own people. People who go out of their way to contribute to this city.
It is busy chasing celebrities at nightclubs and hotels.
And this attitude is a real shame.
Tributes to men and women of substance, of our city are a must. I hope our newspapers and our community recognise this.
August 29, 2008
Murali works for the telecommunications department.
Had he been with the Anti-Vice Squad of the state police, he would have been Vice Murali.
Murali must be in the Andamans now. He was transferred recently from his base in Chennai and I am sure he is going to miss this city.
For, Murali was the sort of person who just could not miss an interesting city event.
You would see him at a docu-film screening, a book reading session, a talk or a heritage walk or at an art gallery. And he would cover as many as three events through one evening.
If he didn't carry books he had just bought he would have the camera slung across his chest.
So when he walked in midway through the Madras Quiz 2008 event last Sunday, I invited him to give the prizes to the winners. I think his eyes went moist. The gathering gave him a big hand when they heard how passionate he was about city events. And I shook his hand a tad longer to tell him that it was great to have him here on the eve of his relocation.
That morning, Murali's wife and child were with us on the Mount Road Walking Tour. The young girl kept taking notes furiously and walked the two-hour length without complaining. Murali of course was with V. Sriram doing the tour of Chinna-tari-pettai ( Chintadripet), on the other side of Mount Road.
It is people like the Muralis who provide strength to community-driven initiatives. We need enthusiastic people to support the ideas of energetic individuals and groups.
So when Adyarite Shanthi Krishnan SMS-ed me on Sunday that the Adyar Walking Tour she put together had about 50-plus people we knew Shanthi would feel good for taking the effort to put that Walk together.
Shanthi and I were on Google Talk to discuss this idea since she was holidaying in the USA. We announced it 24 hours after she landed in the city.
The enthusiasm and generosity of a few resource people who were invited to share stories on histories and heritage of the local places of Adyar enriched this Walk.
Some positives from Madras Day 2008.
August 23, 2008
No, the city has not changed overnight.
But small changes should take place.
I am just back from a warm function held at Rajaji Hall inside the Government Estates.
In a different time, the Estates were our backyard. All the boys who lived on its fringe played here.
And then, somebody said ghosts haunted some parts of it.
They said that when I got fever every other summer weekend after cricket games in the open here.
Ghosts and fevers did create colourful stories to add to freewheeling legends on the Estates but much later I knew our exhausting hours in the sun must have been the cause of those fevers.
A nice exhibition is on at Rajaji Hall - of coins, postal covers, pictures, rare books . . on Madras.
For the first time the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department has got involved in a 'Madras Day' event. Now, its officers say they would like to work closely. Perhaps start with collaborations on walking tours.
On one side you support city-centric efforts and on the other you get to showcase your city to others.
The events seem to act as a trigger.
A Tawker who now lives in the USA calls me up.
He wants to detail the history of his family, Gujarati businesspeople who once were prominent names in our city. The Tawkers of Mount Road.
Little on this family seems to be available and this young man seems keen to research.
Beatrix D' Souza, a prominent leader of the Anglo-Indian community here is encouraged to present a talk next year.
So when she shows me her childhood haunts ( again, Government Estate because her dad was a musician in the Governor's band and their winter quarters were on the Chepauk fringe of the Estates) I suggested a talk on the contribution of the Anglo-Indians and Goans to the Film Music world of Madras.
Ours is a fascinating city.
Just be proud of it. Madras. Chennai.
August 15, 2008
He mailed us this week and he wants to tell his world that Chennai is celebrating.
Now this man is indeed a true Chennaite. And lots more will be happy to join the Madras Week celebrations that have just rolled out.
We are thrilled. For the manner in which the spirit is infectious.
Young fashion designer Vivek Karunakaran keeps a busy schedule at his design studio off the East Coast Road. But he is sparing some time to go through the submission for the Tee design contest and choose the best idea so that we can invite the person to design the Chennai tee for 2009 (by the way, the popular 'Kapi' and 'Kolam' Tees are up for sale now.)
Shanthi Krishnan flew in from the USA, overcame jetlag and is putting together the Adyar Walking Tour even as I write this. A tour that will take people from Theosophical Society, through Besant Avenue and end in Kalakshetra Colony where KK, the theatreperson and his actors, plan to present readings of essays and stories on Chennai that is Madras.
Our e-mail box is filling up.
An enthusiast worked on Google Maps and linked it to the Events Calendar at www.themadrasday.in so it would be easy for people to locate the venues of over 50 events.
Vani from NY writes in to say she is going to miss the events this year and this could be the time when she does not want to be out of Chennai.
The effervescent Chandroo (Chandrachoodan) is overworking himself with an idea we shared.
Madras by Night!
If all goes well, that is if he gets a sponsor for a bus, he should be leading a tour of the hotspots of the city that come alive after 8 p.m. Pondy Bazaar to Mint is the tentative schedule.
The tempting tour though is the Madras Street Food tour. In the heart of Sowcarpet and around and ending on Marina for molaga bajjis.
Chandroo says most foodies are giving the thumbs down for the kaiyendhi stall in Pondy Bazaar, off the flower stalls, so they may strike it off their tour. What do you think?
This tour is planned along with the Chennai Foodies online group.
The Frisbee players on Elliots Beach mailed in - they will be dedicating their boot camp that ends on August 17 to the city. Catch them after 6 am on the beach.
The MadBulls - yes, the Bullet riders who believe all other bikes are just scrap metal -want help from old time citizens on places they can visit in north Madras after checking out the Rail Museum.
And if you like quiet evenings, check out the talks hosted by Chennai Heritage-Madras Musings.
For all the info, photos, blogs and leads on Madras Day 2008, log on to www.themadrasday.in
August 08, 2008
Today, people who know call it the 'broken bridge'.
Because it collapsed many years ago.
Nature lovers head here to chance on seasonal birds.
Photographers to shoot the setting sun.
Couples to snatch quiet moments.
Poets to walk on the clean, white sands.
Desperadoes to stalk at night.
Years ago, a MGR film was picturised on this bridge.
Name that film!
This is a sample of the kind of questions you will be challenged with at the annual Madras Quiz on August 24 afternoon.
This past fortnight, compiling the questions for just one of the many Madras Day events, has challenged me.
But we have to make this good. Can you imagine a diehard quizzer who is flying in all the way from the Gulf to be here for the annual Landmark Quiz (due Aug.15) and for the Madras Quiz!
He was in the winning team in 2007 and the duo sure want to extend their reign!
We won't make it tough. But it should cover the city at large.
As I write this, we have over 55 events lines up for 'Madras Day 2008'.
And still counting.
Will the Mad Bulls be able to pull off an engaging circuit that covers the fringe of North Madras? If they do, that's one more event. (Mad Bulls? Madras Bullet Riders Club!).
(One more teaser - MadBulls - you know who they are. Chennai Kings - you know who they are. Mambalam Mosquitoes - who are they?)
There are at least 18 talks scheduled for Madras Week (Aug.17 to 24).
At least 10 walking tours ( V. Sriram is marketing one called 'Ladies of the Marina')
A string of poetry readings and a documentary film fest.
But we'd like more. Very community based, community driven.
Shanthi is flying back from the USA on 12th and hopes she can put together the Adyar Walking Tour.
Swahilya just told us she will take people to some cool landmarks in north Madras one Saturday morning.
And don't miss out on D. H. Rao's labour of love - a photo documentation of the Buckingham Canal - to be displayed at the exhibition at Rajaji Hall (no, they haven't demolished the hall in Govt. Estates; maybe they will after the Madras Week)
For all the info, log on to - www.themadrasday.in
August 02, 2008
Sure, go ahead.
Facts are sacred and keep it simple.
And, keep to a deadline.
Maithily kept to the three guidelines. She even guided our photographer. And this weekend, her report with her byline appears on page one in the Mylapore Times.
This isn't the first time that we are using reports filed by readers, wellwishers and freelancers.
But from now on, we will keenly encourage citizen journalism.
Our mailboxes and trays are always full - invites, pictures, reports, attachments, promos, jpeg files . . .
That is a given for a newspaper or a publication.
We actively encourage people to report their events. And give them a few tips, if they have the time to listen. In some cases, people are only keen to get their 5 cms of space on the pages.
We would encourage reportage on events and serious issues, local as they are.
B. R. Kumar is an old friend. A man who has left his mark in the world of radio. Kumar makes time to write on local issues for 'Adyar Times'. (You will come across his letter in the Letters section of the weekly this Sunday). And he is so persistent and focused that there seems to be some reaction from the men who manage our lives.
When you write on local issues you provide on-the-spot and first hand coverage for a community newspaper. You have the facts, the details and the men and women who are part of the event. All you need to do is to take pen and pad and go to work.
Keep out the biases, avoid the frills, get to the facts and let the information be complete. And don't try to impress the newspaper or pull a fast one!
We would like to have more Maithilys and Kumars enriching our newspapers.
July 25, 2008
No, he hasn't arranged power-lifting sessions for me.
The daily power cuts are the cause.
Is it politically correct to use 'power cut'? Perhaps power management is the right word. . . . it isn't a nuclear deal, says Pranab-da, it is a power agreement.
So how has life changed?
The discipline started with clipping the schedule of power cut timings of all the areas and pasting them into my diary. It is not enough if you are aware of the ‘cuts’ in your neigbourhood - you should also know when your mom-in-law's house is in darkness, more so if you are visiting the family after a long time. Sticky people don't like visitors at that point.
I carry this timetable because there's a bit of juggling that I have come to do - a new skill, so thank you again Mr Veeraswamy.
The power goes off at 10 a.m. in our area. Which means I who used to delay my breakfast till 9.30 and my shower till 9.17 have shuffled the timings.
What my genial doc couldn't get me to change, the Power Minister has.
Since I have restarted my morning walks, the early breakfast is certainly a healthy practice.
All this means that I who used to read four daily newspapers now have to toss up two and save the strain on my eyes - imagine reading sentences in 7 point in the Events column of ‘The New Indian Express’.
Another blessing is that at least some of us realise that our motor that works up the water also has a life of its own and needs some rest. Our watchman kept saying he had to run the motor twice before 10 a.m. Where was all the water going?
Now we don't suspect anyone, I guess. All of us are out of the bathroom before the 10 a.m. blip.
Down at my office in Alwarpet, the blip is at 1 p.m. Fantastic. That should get me out of my seat to break for lunch. I got into this bad habit of having lunch at 2.45 p.m. and my genial doc said I would invite ulcers.
I haven't slipped out at 1 p.m. yet but if Veeraswamy extends the power cuts for a few more months, I should be on my way to good eating habits.
There is however a hiccup because of the blips.
The power cut in the area where the 'Adyar Times' office is located starts at 4 p.m. And my colleagues wonder if we can shut shop at 4 because we close anyway at 5.
I don't want to take this problem to Veeraswamy. Would you have some suggestions?
July 18, 2008
We have two of them doing the shifts and the older of them has to go.
The community in our apartment block decided his fate. They said he was getting on in years and could not climb the steps to the overhead watertank to see if all was well in there.
Fair enough. The old man was the one we 'recalled' when a younger chappie from the neighbourhood was 'dismissed' for being drunk during duty hours.
The bad news hasn't disturbed the old man.
What has been playing on his mind is the news that watchmen in the Vadapalani area have died in mysterious circumstances.
One had his head smashed in. Another sank into Purgatory. And the third was murdered . .
So our senior watchman is worried.
I don't think he is afraid of death.
He wonders why people would want to kill watchmen unless they come in the way of a burglary attempt or are witness to a gory murder.
He isn't unduly perturbed about losing this job. He will find another soon in Besant Nagar. Elderly couples who spend four months abroad hire them out to sit/sleep on their verandahs.
He knows he will not be paid what the 'agency' men get. That is four thousand rupees.
'Agency' men are the people who register with a security agency, are given uniforms and shoes and badges and caps and sent to apartment blocks where residents are willing to pay six/eight thousand rupees.
Most residents though will not pay for able-bodied security men. And when they pay peanuts they don't get monkeys but poor old men who drag on with their lives and are thankful for the leftover 'sambar sadam' some kindred households provide.
We still haven't understood what it takes to live in apartment campuses. Because we need water and elevators and lighting for the staircase, we are willing to pay a few hundreds for these bills.
And who will pay for repairs, renovation and whitewashing and painting of common facilities?
There isn't any balance in the 'sinking fund' for all that.
Now, can anyone tell me what a 'sinking fund' is?
July 12, 2008
I have tried out some ideas but few have worked.
Often, those who make contact are seeking a job.
'Mylapore Times' works closely with a middle school in Raja Annamalaipuram.
Every year, we try to enlist the support of people who can engage the children in extra-curricular activities.
Once, a young artist from Adyar and a dancer from Mylapore handled classes on this campus and lo! the children who attended them not only enjoyed the sessions but went on to excel at a few local competitions.
But the call for a volunteer to continue the dance and performance sessions the next year drew a blank. So we had to fall back on a resource who made a living by taking classes at a number of schools.
I wonder if we can create a bank of volunteers who are keen to share talent and time at local schools.
There is a large Corporation Higher Secondary School close to our office in Alwarpet and I believe its students would welcome guests who can interact with them through the year.
Perhaps one can host workshops on basic skill training and effective communication.
Or show the students how to use software in basic design.
Or take classes in spoken English.
Off and on we do hear of one school adopting another in the neighbourhood.
This is a concept that should be encouraged.
Recently, as part of the jubilee celebrations of Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan schools, the teachers at its K. K. Nagar campus started workshops at the local Corporation school in MGR Nagar, which isn't far away.
I am told that the collaboration will continue through the year.
If you have heard of similar 'adoptions', I would like to have information on them.
We do have the Lions and Rotary Clubs supporting local schools.
But what we also need are people of the neighbourhood who can dedicate some time for the children next door who seek better education.
July 04, 2008
My invitation in this column to fill me on stories on our city's most important road drew quite a response.
Sethuraman used to work in that area from 1946 and 1975 and he has been sharing a few stories and providing me web links to stories I should read.
Sethuraman now lives in Adyar and is in his 80s and I hope he will be able to join us on the Mount Road Heritage Walk ( due in late August 2008).
The Walk will be one of the many events planned for Madras Day 2008 celebrations.
Francis who is with the choir at the San Thome Basilica has invited me to chat with his parents who reside in Kotturpuram.
His grandmom resettled in a lane off General Patters Road after her flight from Malaya. Francis' dad loved to be at the 'bioscope' (cinema halls) of Mount Road. He will have a fund of stories for us!
Are you aware of less-known but fascinating nooks on Mount Road we must visit on this Walk?
We will have a pit-stop at Buharis Hotel for tea and samosas - am hoping Buharis will be a warm host the way it was in the 60s when it 'refreshed' the RSP members of Christ Church school!
Out in Vadapalani, Hotel Green Park has come forward to provide space for a variety of acts that Sashi Nair is putting together - readings, puppetry, contest for kids and a talk on 'Temples of Chennai'.
Nair is hoping that the idea of a 'Walk of the Film Studios' will be realised. If Randor Guy makes time to lead this Walk, I am sure Nair will have a huge crowd behind him.
If you too can help Nair by volunteering in the Vadapalani area, you can e-mail him at - firstname.lastname@example.org
Our intention is to get every neighbourhood in this city to ideate, plan and host its own events that makes 'Madras Day' special.
We would like to hear from bikers and beach walkers, from rock bands and poets, film makers and scholars. All of them can create unique events that celebrate the city.
Perhaps this is the time for poets to write on the city and meet at My Ladye's Gardens to read these verses.
Perhaps this is time for 'Substance' and 'Public Issue' to compose songs on the city and perform them.
The place to network - www.themadrasday.in
June 28, 2008
People who studied at Christ Church, shopped at India Silk House, watched movies at Elphinstone Theatre and swooned at Jaffar's Ice-cream Parlour.
I am looking for the Mount Road generation of the 40s and 50s.
Because I am preparing for the Mount Road Heritage Walk.
A walk which will be one of the many events being lined up for the annual Madras Day celebrations ( Aug.17 to 24 ) this year.
I grew up on Mount Road with the offices and presses of 'The Mail' and 'The Hindu' for neighbours.
Narasinghapuram was our backyard and the small Anglo-Indian and Goan community gave us our friends.
Today, the quiet Ritchie Street ( by the way who was Ritchie?) is a flourishing market - once known for radio and electronics and now for computers and IT.
So how did India Silk House and Chellaram's grow to be the biggest fashion stores of their time?
I want to know a little more about this.
I have pictures of the construction of the first subway in our city - at the Mount Road Round Tana. But I have heard stories about the wartime chamber that existed here - below where the statue of Annadurai stands today.
I want to learn more about this chamber from those who may have been inside it!
There is so much to do to prepare for a Walk. And in this case, where ever other building or landmark on Mount Road oozes history and holds colourful stories, the task is daunting.
The small group which is igniting people with ideas for 'Madras Day' is keen to get many more community groups to start working on events that celebrate this city.
Walks can be simple, fun and fulfilling too.
You can discover your neighbourhood or a part of your city.
Kilpauk, Triplicane, Royapettah, Perambur, Egmore, Vepery, Chetput, Mambalam, Mint, Gopalapuram, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Adyar, Vadapalani . . . .
All these places are rich in social history.
And a small group can easily set up a walk.
Explore the place, research a lot, draw a route, create the buzz and go!
And to read more about 'Madras Day' check out www.themadrasday.in
June 20, 2008
Or breakfast in bed?
Which one would you prefer?
If you are on a holiday, both I suppose.
I had read a lot about the 'bed and breakfast' deals that families offer tourists but had not had the occasion to experience it till I charted a trip of upcountry Sri Lanka.
Most of my trips to this island have been to its north - on work. So when the opportunity to travel elsewhere arose I purposely looked out for the 'bed and breakfast' facilities on Sri Lanka's tourist map.
There were different options I chose including one in the estates where our host, a lady in her 60s, had only two interests - to cook for us and to play scrabble.
For sometime now, Tamil Nadu Tourism has been trying to promote the 'bed and breakfast' concept in this city and around.
I did chance on a small list of families who had once registered on the department's web site. The list did not enthuse me.
Tamil Nadu Tourism has not given up.
It is now promoting this concept all over again - with advertisements and flyers and at meetings.
But will the 'bed and breakfast' idea really work in our city?
I am sceptical.
Chennai likes to live in its own world and is wary of guests.
Visitors can take a break on the 'pyol' but families will think twice before inviting them into the drawing room.
Chennai likes to seal its personal spaces.
And that is why the 'bed and breakfast' idea may not really take off even if Irai Anbu and Rajaram and Co. at the Tourism Department sincerely drive this concept.
Some of us who host heritage walks in the Mylapore area have also toyed with the idea of convincing families to host tourists. We have had little success.
One family allows our guests to settle down with coffee in its tiled drawing room and talks to the guests on traditions, customs, family ties and local practices.
Another pulls out its heirlooms and narrates stories wound around them.
These little experiences mean a lot to genuine tourists.
But we also get queries from people who wish to spend a whole day in a Mylapore house. If this can be their base then there is so much to soak in all around - a walk around the temple tank, a visit to the temple, a stroll in the bazaar area, a cycle-rickshaw ride, a meal with the hosts, an evening kutcheri . . .
For enthusiastic tourists, the 'bed and breakfast' offer is a perfect introduction to everything 'local'.
But is Chennai open to it?
June 13, 2008
I am not asking if you catch a cold or sneeze incessantly when it rains.
Does the rain make you want to go to the local park and be with the trees and shrubs as they take on a special green?
Or stare out of your window and see the patterns it creates outside?
Last month, a colleague of mine and I were in a village called Rudrapatna which lies on the banks of the Cauvery in Karnataka.
We were there to cover a music celebration - the consecration of a temple that is in the shape of a tambura which has been dedicated to the leading composers of classical music.
The village has also been the home of many well known music artistes over many generations.
The fest brought in hundreds of people and for many of us, the traditional, tiled houses were our temporary hearths.
The pre-monsoon showers broke one afternoon as we took a nap and my colleague lost time in seizing our video-camera, hopping on to the pyol and shooting.Shooting for over 30 minutes.
When we worked on the film much later ( you can watch a rough-cut film on the Rudrapatna Fest which has been posted on www.kutcheribuzz.com) we kept gazing at the textures of the dusty, worn tiles which were bathed in the rain. These were nice visuals.
Most of us have forgotten our terraces and roof-tops.
Even though almost all of us live in multi-storeyed apartment blocks we often keep the door to the terrace locked, fearing a nasty suicide by a lovelorn maid or a crazy neighbour!
The terrace is just the place to catch the wondrous formations in the skies as a prelude to a shower.
Perhaps you could catch a sudden flight of birds who can't afford to break journey southwards.
Or the trail of the setting sun who hates to be seen drenched and quickly sinks into the clouds.
Or the changing skyline as the clouds journey across the city and head to your neighbourhood or scurry away from you.
Perhaps monsoon time is an occasion to look up. From our terrace tops.
If you have time, you can do more. Walk down a tree-lined avenue and breathe deep or wander across a wooded campus.Head to the fringe of the beach.
Or go to the local market place and look for the bajji stall.Bajjis made at street corner stalls taste special.
June 06, 2008
In the past, you could have dumped it on the street or near the street-corner garbage bin.
Not any more. The fine regime of Chennai Corporation is on.
And I need your smart suggestion. How do I get rid of my broken sink?
I have nothing against fines. Fines on people who spit, relieve themselves, toss garbage around and litter public places.
My apartment is at a street corner, a rather busy junction though ours is an inner colony. When a family in our complex nursed a drum stick tree in the corner and shared the fruits with us we appreciated the effort of the old lady. And the sambhar tasted real good.
Much later I realised that the drooping foliage was a convenient cover for passers-by to indulge in jet streams on the compound wall.
You may accuse me of being a heartless man for chasing away these men who are midway through their jet-stream. But you would pardon me if your bedroom is close to a wall that is soaked in urine.
So yes, our civic body must fine such people.
But how do I get rid of my sink?
I thought of disposing of it when our watchman grabbed his forty winks at midnight. It didn't work.
I tried again when the power broke down at night. But a neighbour on the top floor suddenly flashed an emergency torch all around and almost embarrassed me.
I think I may have to turn to my lawyer now. He is the kind of person who does not read the small print in the rule book; rather, he is an expert at picking the loopholes between the lines.
Maybe the City Fathers didn't foresee eventualities like the disposal of broken sinks and faded car covers.
I still haven't seen Corporation Inspectors doing the rounds.
Will they be in khaki, deep blue or NIFT-designed uniforms?
I have told my maid to go by the rules - toss the garbage bag into the green bin of Neel Metal Fanalca and ensure it doesn't spill out.
Having made enemies of NMF, this may be the opportune time for 'lets-give-it-back-to- him' exchanges!
May 30, 2008
They vary from place to place.
Mine are bookshops and stores which sell hundreds of magazines and newspapers.
I have one such destination in Besant Nagar. I have been frequenting it for about five years now. This place isn't a shop; it is a hole in the wall but this 'hole' is a prime location in this neghbourhood.
It is my favourite because the owner stocks all kinds of titles and allows me to browse as long as I wish to.
The English magazine titles have kept changing all the time.
But the periodicals in the vernacular have expanded. Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi magazines and newspapers are now on the racks and this is an indication of the changing face of this neighbourhood.
This street corner nook is also a nice observation perch for people like me who want to stop and simply stare at the world around us.
People snacking, others shopping, still others struggling to find parking space . . .
This is a Sunday evening and as the lights come on, all that I can see are shops, shops and shops.
This is the heart of Besant Nagar. Once a sandy plain.
And here in the bowel of the colony are traffic jams on a Sunday evening. Three traffic policemen gamely manage the chaos - the rush headed to Elliots Beach, the streams originating from Vailankanni Church and the MTC buses leaving the terminus in the far corner.
Traffic jams in Besant Nagar.
Traffic jams in Vannanthurai, 300 metres away.
Traffic jams in Sastri Nagar.
Inner colonies have changed forever. The landscape, the facades, the roads.
How are we going to manage these sweeping changes?
Are we thinking about ways to address them?
Last night, I almost walked into a metal barricade as I took the bend to my hearth. I hadn't expected these barricades to be placed inside a colony. But there were two on each of the four streets, off the intersection.
A couple of nasty accidents had taken place at this junction.
So the police felt that the barricades would slow down rash drivers.
Simple solution indeed!
May 23, 2008
All on the performance of Neel Metal, the private agency contracted by Chennai Corporation to clear garbage in four city zones.
And since we would like to encourage other voices to be heard, I felt I would take a back seat this week and present excerpts of some of the comments. More comments are welcome!
Vaishna Roy said - Neel Metal is making an awful hash of it. They are neither professional nor thorough. Only the bin is emptied - pavements, streets and gutters are left filled with leaves, blown-away paper and plastic bags. I remember the system of separating garbage had been started but that's all over now. If there is a movement against Neel Metal, I would like to be part of it.
An anonymous comment went - You are being generous to Neel Metal. They get only 1/10 in my book. The staff are rude and clean areas only near politicians' houses. Onyx was far better any day.
A resident of 6th Cross Street, CIT Colony writes - I would second the anonymous writer in awarding 1/10. Even after repeated phone calls to the Corporation office in the area and sometimes to the AC, the situation has not improved.
Another 'anonymous' comment - I fully endorse your views on Neel Metal and the pathetic show. It should be 0/10. The vast ground behind TTK Hospital (Indira Nagar) has become a dumping ground for Neel Metal. Something has to be done and urgently too, otherwise the whole of Indira Nagar would become one big garbage dump.
Another 'anonymous' comment - Neel Metal Fanalca is a miserable failure. Can we get Onyx back and dump Neel Metal?
Radha Gopalakrishnan of Kalakshetra Colony wrote in - I think you are being very generous in rating Neel Metal Fanalca 3 on a scale of 10. Please come to Kalakshetra Colony: you might revise your figures! We would give it a zero rating.
Months ago, Kalakshetra Colony Welfare Association organised a public meeting with N M F and the Chennai Corporation and invited residents of the Colony to come along and participate. It was clearly a sycophantic exercise.
Xavier Pillai of Kasturba Nagar, Adyar said - Bins in certain areas are emptied only on occasions and not at frequent intervals. Sufficient bins have not been provided. The sweepers appear on occasions - they sweep the garbage, pile it up and leave it there without collecting it!
Ramamani wrote to say - I live in CIT Colony and have been witness to their "good work" in keeping the city clean. It looks like Neel Metal's city is restricted to CIT Colony's First Main Road sector.
Neel Metal has not done its job.
T N Swaminathan of Sastri Nagar (Adyar) says - You have been generous in giving a score of 3/10. I would give them 0. Sastri Nagar streets are seldom swept. The question now is - what can we do beyond an audit to throw Neel Metal Fanalca out and get Onyx back? A signature campaign?
May 16, 2008
Yes or No?
If you are, tell us what you think is good about its work.
If you aren't, vent your feelings.
For, it is time people took a close and hard look at Neel Metal, the private garbage clearing agency engaged by the Chennai Corporation to work in four of the ten zones of this city.
If you asked for my opinion, I'd rate it 3 on a scale of 10.Yes, 3/10.On a summer afternoon, I would say 2.5.
First of all, I think the operations of Neel Metal are not all that hunky dory. And this has been the case from the time it was given the contract.
(I will leave the Chennai Corporation out of this column for now.)
Their launch was a disaster. Their follow-up was lame.
Now, this company seems to work on a leg and a half!
Its staff are disorganised at work. And that is evident on our streets and roads.
The door-to-door garbage clearance plan (which was slipped in quietly after it began its operations) has not been a strong one.Today, waste lies on all our streets. Off and on, it is cleared.
But this is not done systematically.
Bins overflow. The stink hangs around in many corners.
And that is why Neel Metal deserves just 3 on 10.
And yet, there has not been a concerted effort by us to audit the performance of a vital private operator who is paid our monies. To have an Open House on this subject. And to get the company to deliver or quit.
I have not come across many people who have sung the praises of Neel Metal.
I think there are more people who positively acknowledge the record of Onyx which did the same job earlier.
So if you value the taxes you pay the state, it is time to express your opinion loudly first and then be part of an effort to audit the company who is paid to clear waste and keep our city clean.
May 10, 2008
Or are you taking a look at the 'Times of India'?
Perhaps, you buy three newspapers - 'The Hindu', the 'Times' and the DC ('Deccan Chronicle').
You may not have the time to read all three but for less than ten rupees you can pick your choice from the 92 pages at your doorstep. And we haven't forgotten 'The New Indian Express', redesigned, repackaged and ready to be part of the newspapers' battle in this
city.For the past four weeks, a small group of us have been looking a bit more closely at all these four dailies.Now, we can take a break.
For, our annual Journalism Camp for senior school students has just closed. We began with the dailies, we lived with them and we learnt some thing from all of them. Some good, some not so good. Our group has always been small and out of the group, are a few sparks who go on to sparkle.
A very positive outcome of this year's programme has been the steady stream of writing assignments that the young people have accomplished. They are all posted on a blog ( http://www.mtjclass.blogspot.com/). There are a few pictures too. And jottings on what took place every day.
The experience has been varied.
Last Tuesday, we landed at the NDTV's Chennai bureau and found correspondent Sam Daniel
getting entangled into a breaking story - related to the wall that had been built to separate a Dalit and a upper caste community in the Madurai region.Sam lectured gamely between phone calls and 'to camera' feeds for two morning news bulletins.
All of this was a great learning experience for the students who join our camp to get an idea of what journalism is all about.
In the days ahead, three participants who reside in the same neighbourhood may launch a Net initiative.
A blog for Thiruvanmiyur perhaps.
Populating the blog will not be so difficult for this trio. They now know how to seek news and info, how to interview people and ferret details and how to write and post.If their initiative moves forward, then they will network with the livewires of Thiruvanmiyur and enrich this blog and create the buzz.
Neighbourhoods need to have such initiatives going.
Lets see what happens with this trio.
May 03, 2008
The annual Mylapore festival was on on the Mada Streets and I was taking a short break between the folk performances on the main stage.
A middle aged woman came up to me and introduced herself.
She said she had met me a long time ago and was aware that I was a journalist.
But now she wondered if I had a few minutes to spare.
She quickly told me about the serious problems that people like her had to face in Mylapore.
Families who lived in rented houses or apartments were being asked to vacate the place the moment the contracts expired.
Or, if they wished to stay on, then they would have to pay double the rent.
She said she was paying a rent of two thousand five hundred for a small place off the crowded streets of Mylapore.
Now, the house owner had found people who were willing to pay four thousand.
Hers was not a rare case, she said. Lots of middle class families faced the prospect of moving out of the core city areas where they had resided for decades and seek a roof in the suburbs.
Because house rentals had shot up.
I let that story pass.
But over the past few months, this story has been coming back. Only, the voices are different. The people though are from the same background.
A serious social churning is going on in our city.
Middle class families who cannot afford their own hearths and have resided for years on the streets and lanes of Triplicane and Mylapore, Royapettah and Mambalam, Nungambakkam and Alwarpet are told to get out.
For, a new set of people can now afford to pay fancy rents for accommodation in the city centre. And these are people who enjoy the fruits of the new economy.
Are there public platforms for 'deprived' communities to discuss such issues?
Are there forums where urban matters are seriously considered?
This past week, an NGO - Nandini Voice for the Deprived - hosted a meeting for families who have been severely affected by shooting rentals.
Is this a voice in the wilderness?
April 26, 2008
On Wednesday last, we were at the Annai Vailankanni Church in Besant Nagar.
The girls who are attending our annual Journalism Camp for senior school students opted for a field assignment and since a majority of them are from the Adyar region, we opted to start from the church and end in the kuppam area further north.
The intention of this field assignment was not to study a church. Rather, we went there to see how we could go about getting story ideas and leads, learn something new and examine the experience.
While we were at the church campus, trying to take in the myriad things that went on around us, Mayuri got curious about a gathering at the far end and walked across to observe the social event. The 'ear-piercing' was being celebrated!
When we regrouped, we realised that there were many Indian rituals and practices that were being followed on this campus.
Saris were being offered at the shrine of the Vailankanni madha, agarbathis were being lit beside the candles and coloured threads with petitions and vows were wound round the flag mast,
For everyone in the group, this was a new experience. So we spoke a bit about the Indianisation of the church.
Further down, we stopped to look at the Odaima-kuppam. Once an exclusive fishing village, its fringe facing the main road was now lined with eateries of all kinds, catering to the pilgrims who came to the Aarupadai Temple and to the madha church. The kuppam was changing.
On the other side, we took in the façade of the buildings. At the 'T' and the 'M' type houses, the first to be promoted by the Housing Board. We stood in the shade of a tree and I shared with the group my observations of the changing face of Besant Nagar.
Of times when there were no takers for these HB houses and when this 'nagar' was a sandy expanse.
As we walked further, we realised how the façade had changed.
Shops, eateries and more shops.
Bessy Beach is now a hot spot now for young people and the "M' types have made way for eat-outs, coffee shops and boutiques.
Hopefully, the two hours on the road was an educational experience for the group.
As they work on their assignments for this course, the students are getting to know their neighbourhoods better.
If you have the time, you can go through the stories and pictures they have posted on a blog - at www.mtjclass.blogspot.com
April 19, 2008
Many people may wonder why we should get worked up about the closure of a restaurant.
After all, businesses open and close every day in a city like ours.
So why get worked up at all?
And why should we talk for Woodies?
Woodlands Drive-in, located in the wooded, 320 grounds on Cathedral Road off Gemini Circle had to close down last week after the state won a legal case and can now take charge of this prime land worth Rs.1000 crores.
The state plans to create a Lalbagh of Bangalore in this area and this is indeed a positive step.
The state also asked the restaurant to close shop. The management of Woodlands has taken its case to court.
Setting all this aside, why then would some of us still want the Drive-in to be given a new lease of life?
Because it has been such an integral part of the lives of thousands of people.
Since the 1960s, people have come here for its 'Udupi' food. Some adored the channa batura, some craved for the crispy, hot bondas and some had to have its masala dosas.
It wasn't just the food that endeared people. It was the atmosphere. The sprawling woods, the facility to just drive in and be served while you were still lolling in your car, the 'self service' hall where salesmen, club members, creative heads, lovers, students and activists had a meeting place they could call their own.
That is why Woodlands Drive-in was special. And that is why places like these are a part of social heritage.
Times change. Priorities change. And it may not even be practical to conserve such places that make our lives, our histories.
But we should spare a thought for them.
On the other side of town, 'Coffee?' became a part of the lives of hundreds of young people. It was a nook in the wall but it was so warm that many people stopped by to unwind here with a cuppa and sandwiches.
When this coffee place in Raja Annamalaipuram shut shop this week to make way for real estate development, there were many people who felt they were losing something that was a part of their lives.
April 12, 2008
Some people are aware of it. Some people still have not heard of it.
And some people have become victims of it.
This is a story you must have read most recently in the newspapers.
Of a man who innocently responded to an e-mail from a private Indian bank of which he was a customer, shared confidential information assuming the e-mail was genuine and found that a fraud had been committed on him.
The city police to whom he complained is now investigating this case. Fraudsters and con men have been with us always.
They adopt the tricks that go well with modern living.
And in this technology-driven age, they phish.
There were times when con men used to present themselves as telephone inspectors, domestic gas suppliers, electricity foremen and income-tax officials.
Today, the easy way to cheating and quick money is via the internet. However, lots of people are in the dark about the tricks, frauds and con jobs of our times.
Some become victims. Often these people are senior citizens.
While banks, companies, state agencies and NGOs put out warnings, tips and briefings to empower people/customers, perhaps experience sharing may also help?
Would it help if the media published stories of the ‘distressing’ experiences of people? Not to show them up as victims but to focus more on the modus operandi of con people and the dangers around us.
I recall times when our newspapers used to receive letters from readers who wrote about attempts to cheat/dupe made by men disguised as telephone department staff to dupe neighbours.
Or of youths who acted like Indane gas suppliers and made off with valuables after they had gained entry into a house or an apartment.
Every now and then, there would be letters on this subject talking about attempted con jobs or of some new tricks that had been played on a resident of the colony.
In some ways, the publication of such experiences educates the neighbourhood; alerts them perhaps. What do you think?
The rash of crimes related to land grabbing in the suburbs and peri-urban areas of our city continue. Are we aware of how people who own land outside the city are victims of fraud?
Meanwhile, a charming lady who has just lost her rich father in Sierra Leone has e-mailed us. She wonders if we can come to her rescue and if all goes well, be the recipients of a goodly sum of American dollars.
Am sure this charming lady has e-mailed you too!
Phishing at work.
April 05, 2008
This is a question Fr. Patrick has to respond to when young people pose it when he talks to them about his department.
This priest is one of the lecturers at the Department for Christian Studies at the University of Madras. The Head is an internationally known theologian, Dr. Felix Wilfred.
This week, the faculty and some students here set up a meeting with a cross section of the community - pastors and nuns, researchers and social workers and media professionals - to brain storm.
How does one make the department known better to the world at large? And how can its education be relevant to the times?
To cater to more pressing ambitions, the department offers two PG diploma courses. One in Human Resource Management and ethics and another in Ethics and Bio-Technology.
Both courses are relevant to present-day businesses and young people who have attended them seem to have found placement.
I suppose if campuses and industry have pow-wow sessions often, the student community can be offered lots of interesting options.
Which is what another group of us have offered students who attended a diploma course in tourism conducted by the same University.
Marketing and conducting heritage walks in Thamizh.
Whenever we arrange such walks in our city - in Fort St. George, Mylapore, San Thome or at railway stations - we feel bad that we seem to have created such options only for the English-knowing community.
So we are now making an attempt to have heritage walks conducted in Thamizh and hope to motivate a group of young people to take the lead.
Which brings me to a 'summer holidays' theme I often broach.
Now hols should be just that - great hols. Trekking in the Nilgiris; driving down the Konkan, hibernating in the plantation bungalow of your friend's cousin's friend in Coorg.
And then there are Summer Camps!
And there are Summer Jobs. You not only earn money but you also gain valuable experience.
I would urge tech-savvy young people to launch a web site exclusively for Summer Jobs in this city, push businesses to make commitments and drive school and college students to the web site.
If such options already exist, do let me know - at email@example.com.
I don't need a job; I need a break!
March 29, 2008
How many people find that their streets have been taken over by rush hour traffic?
There should be a sizeable number.
Just now I want to share my experience in the Abhiramapuram and Alwarpet areas of the city which have witnessed major traffic flow changes.
Changes made by the Chennai City Traffic Police to ease the flow on two main roads in this neighbourhood.
Some may approve of them; others may damn them.
But it is quite apparent that the Traffic Police are investing time and effort in this project.
One morning, as I hopped off from an autorickshaw and walked across to my office, a Sub-Inspector at the junction asked if I could spare a few minutes. Would I like to share with him feedback on the changes that had been made in the area?
We spent 20 minutes at that busy junction.
The first ten minutes were devoted to feedback, ideas and the local experience.
But the next ten minutes was one-way communication. For, this Sub-Inspector who had once attended school in this area, seemed to be stuck in a rut in the police force for apparently no fault of his. And on this Friday morning, all he wanted to do was share his lows in professional life.
“I chose to share this with you because you kept listening,” he told me.
There is little I can do for him. But his frustration is not stopping this officer from jotting down feedback on the traffic changes effected here and sharing it with his senior officers.
The positive side of the change here is that police officer Sunil Kumar, now Addl. Commissioner of Police in charge of traffic, has posted officers and men at all the junctions where changes have been effected, assigning men from Mount Road, T. Nagar and elsewhere.
This has ensured that policemen are present in the area to guide and advise motorists throughout the day. And that feedback is recorded on the streets and roads.
Small changes have been made where corrections had to be carried out. And Sunil Kumar says he is open to ideas as long as the changes benefit a large number of people.
Well, these changes will help us travel faster but a more severe problem is affecting us all.
Motorists are creating ‘bypass’ routes through residential colonies to avoid clogged main roads.
Kalakshetra Colony, Padmanabha Nagar. Mandavellipakkam, Abhiramapuram, K. K. Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Taramani, Velachery . . .
How are we going to tackle this serious development?
March 22, 2008
Via the internet.
This class 12 student is keen to sign up for our annual Journalism Training Course this summer.
To qualify for it, applicants have to demonstrate their skills and keenness before we invite them.
Bharathi e-mailed a short report on a main road that runs through her nagar. I do not expect senior school students to impress us with some smart newsgathering and writing. But with a few tips and some encouragement, they can do impressive work.
Despite the unseasonal rain, Bharathi was quick to go out and work on her story - so if there are traffic problems on this main road, why doesn't she take a closer look at them and include such details in the report? And how about talking to local people to get their views and add them to the report?
The excited girl is at the job. What is the deadline, she asks me!
Our annual journalism course is open to all students in the city - but it is not only for students who may want to opt for studies in media/journalism/writing. It is also meant for those who want to explore the world around them, pose questions, collect information and share it with others.
It is not an exhaustive course though it runs for 20 days but it does push participants to undertake field assignments, to meet people and talk to them, to look at local issues and to write on them. Everyday.
These reports and pictures are posted on a web site (you can visit http://www.mtjclass.blogspot.com to see what the group of 2007 did). This enables others to take a look at the efforts of the participants. And they attract visitors long after the course is wrapped up.
We see this course as an extension of our work as a community newspaper.
Soon, we will also offer basic training to readers who may want to write for us. How do you think we should go about doing this?
Share your ideas at my blog - http://www.vincentsjottings.blogspot.com
March 15, 2008
There are many different ways to do this.
But are there bodies which can come to the aid of a community when it wishes to raise issues in a city like ours?
The City Traffic Police introduced changes in the traffic systems in the Alwarpet-Raja Annamalaipuram neighbourhood last Saturday.
Perhaps central to the changes was the intention to decongest two main roads and to help motorists drive freely and smoothly.
Less than a week hence, residents and shop owners are agitated and some of them have got together to articulate their views.
On one evening, some of the owners of the local stores got together at a local restaurant, debated the issue and jotted their comments on the problems created by the new traffic system.
When residents began to feel the effect of the changes on the roads and streets - especially the problem of seniors unable to cross the main road because motorists were now zipping on the 'one-way' road - they too got together for a meeting to express their views.
But how would they make their views known to the Traffic Police?
What should they do next?
Some of them turned to me.
The 'Mylapore Times' had reported the plans long before they were implemented. Readers who e-mailed their reactions to the plans had got their letters published.
More letters came in the mail last week. We published them too.
The Traffic Police must have studied the traffic patterns to plan the changes. But they did not arrange for public meetings at which they could have got sharper comments and suggestions from people who live in this area.
Here is the problem - state agencies rarely interact with the community and people too keep away from engaging with the state.
The group in Alwarpet and R. A. Puram succeeded in getting a call across to the Jt. Commissioner in charge of Traffic. A sharing of views took place.
How about engaging the councillor of the area? A contact was made.
And why not get the local MLA involved too?
A signature drive is now on. 100 signatures are not enough. So the forms are still doing the rounds.
Meanwhile, the group got other ideas - establish contact with the media, send them a press release, invite them to do on-the-spot stories on the issue . . .
But sustaining a campaign is tough, said one group member.
Very true. Sustaining civic campaigns in communities is a challenge and few people are prepared to keep on track and be in for the long haul.
Fewer still want to stick their necks out.
Groups are fighting for the protection of the Pallikarnai marshlands. Residents of surburban Chrompet and Pammal have run a series of agitations against the state's move to acquire their properties for an airport project. Groups in north Madras continue to challenge the Corporation for dumping garbage from the rest of the city and forcing local people to live with stink and poison.
It is tough.
If your local association or civic group has been on a campaign, do share your experience.
March 08, 2008
To cover the annual Natyanjali Dance Festival at the famed temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja.
For three years now, our team at KutcheriBuzz.com has been web casting this unique festival which begins on Mahasivaratri evening.
Now in its 27th year, the fest started in a small way when a few arts enthusiasts joined hands with the local administration to launch a dance fest in the outer yard of this great temple.
When we first came here, we began the coverage with reportage.
Then we posted dozens of pictures every day.
Later, we hopped across to places like Thanjavur and covered the fest from the magnificent Brihadeswarar Temple.
And when we joined hands with Premanand of ChennaiStream, we began web casting excerpts of the performances.
This is a new and challenging experience. Recording the recitals, jumping off to get soundbytes, shooting pictures and uploading the clips from an abandoned nandavanam close to the stage.
The web cast and daily coverage provide an audience anywhere in the world the opportunity to get close to a unique festival.
Ten days from now, the same team will be at Mylapore.
To web cast at least two key events of the annual Brahmotsavam of Sri Kapaleeswarar Temple.
Capturing the festivities and web-casting them almost instantaneously, with a running commentary done as we shoot inside the temple. On the mada veedhis and from roof-tops, it is a great way to bring the atmosphere close to people anywhere in the world.
Technology has made all this quite easy to execute.
But you need to be innovative and enterprising.
So, if there is a unique event in your backyard, go out with a digital camera, a mike and a smart commentator and bring these local events live to the world!
March 01, 2008
Or relaying of inner streets.
But as citizens, we simply do not care to do so.
Lakhs and lakhs of rupees of the taxpayers monies are spent on civic projects. A good fraction of it is wasted.
But as taxpayers we do not care.
Last month, the city Corporation spent a tidy sum on advertising its tenders calling for contractors to lay footpaths in different neighbourhoods.
Such documents can astonish you if you read closely.
In Adyar, our photographer went out to shoot pictures of footpaths in four different areas. He came back with a sample which told a story.
A stretch of a path which was rarely used had been dug up - to be re-laid.
Elsewhere, the height of one section was taller than the other.
In another place, the pavement had atrophied into the wall of a company.
Time and again, all our newspapers receive letters from senior citizens who discuss footpaths. And we know why these letters are so strongly worded.
Senior men and women go out to shop, take short walks to loosen up or walk across to a kutcheri or to a library. And they dread the traffic and try to find pavements which are either not there, encroached on or in bad condition.
When we built our flyovers, our engineers got rid of the pavements alongside the flyovers to widen the service roads.
And now, after a simple investigation in my neighbourhood I find that the Corporation intends to lay pavements where they are simply not required - in the inner streets.
How do we deal with such atrocious development?
How do we ensure monies are spent on genuine civic needs?
One thing is clear - the civic body does not provide space for interested citizens who wish to play a role in community development.