February 23, 2008

Creating Heritage Walks

A group of people who are passionate about this city are firming up what we do off and on. And that is take people on walks/short tours.
This Sunday, one group will explore three old railway stations - Egmore, Central and Royapuram.
And to put together a worthy tour there is home work to be done and recees to be undertaken.
'Poochi' Venkat is a passionate railways fan. He is just back from Kanpur (Cawnpore) after attending the annual conference of the Indian Railway Fan Club Association started by a few IITians many years ago ( web site - www.irfca.org).
I had seen Venkat and his associates going nuts when the trains on the suburban metre gauge were making their last trips before broad gauge took over (if those trains made your life, share your experiences at my blog).
There were many emotional farewells that night as the 12.01 rolled out of Egmore and headed towards Tambaram.
I managed to get Venkat to help me explore Egmore this week.
There weren't astonishing treasures and at the end of the wooden stairs that lead to the dorms, we were in for an unpleasant sight.
If ever you have some time to kill at vintage railway stations, you should do so in their waiting rooms. You will feel like a maharaja!
But here in Egmore, men were layering granite and closing up the roof to enable air conditioning.
If walks are meant to take people closer to what has been and is ours, they also bring us closer to harsh realities. There is little respect for heritage.
Though I am aware that our Anglo-Indian friends of Vepery and Pursawalkam are few in number (and they are the ones who have a fund of railway stories), we are now trying to put together an Anglo-Indian walk in that part of our city.
'But what is there to show you?' my friend asks, wondering if I live in a suspended world.
But we must carry forward with what is left so that it will be respected.
And so we are looking for senior people who would consider a particular area or a few roads in this city worth a nice heritage walk.
We want people who can share with us the histories, bring them alive and tell stories to our guests who want to get closer.
Vepery, Triplicane, Mount Road, Royapuram. . . .stories of these places and others are welcome. Write to - madraswalks@gmail.com.
Did you know that there is a tour through Asia's biggest slum, Dharavi, which gets you close to some of the hundreds of smart entrepreneurs who live there?

February 15, 2008

Looking for birds: the MNS show

Were you part of the fifty teams which were chasing birds a couple of weeks ago?
If you had a swell time, it pays to share your experiences.
Because K. V. Sudhakar would like to hear more of them.
Sudhakar is part of the core team of the Madras Naturalists Society (MNS) and though the group has kept a low profile, it has contributed a lot to the environment of the city.
And if there are positive and warm experiences of the Bird Race that MNS hosted for the first time in our city, they are bound to enthuse people like Sudhakar and his team to do more.
The Bird Race got many people excited. Most of them weren't pro bird watchers. But they wanted to be part of the excitement. And the response surprised MNS.
Can you imagine a team waking up at 4 a. m. so it could be at Pulicat Lake at 6 a.m. and another team driving down as far down south as Madurantakam to tote up a huge number of birds they had actually seen that day.
The Bird Race turned out to be a fun event and sponsors like HSBC should now confidently dig deep into their CSR account and support many such events in the city.
Sudhakar seems convinced that young people are keen to get out and get some fresh air and do the extraordinary thing.
His office is down the corridor and at our last chat session, we convinced him to have a monthly event and tap into the Bird Race registrations.
MNS organises tours to a variety of places - sanctuaries, forests, hills. . . And because it is a professional body and has veterans in it, you get special facilities and treatment.
You go to places where the junta cannot go and you make the best of the lodges and bungalows in amazing locations!
I am also hoping MNS organise short trips. To Pulicat and Nellore, to Chembarapakkam and Nanmangalam.
If you are keen to join MNS, you can e-mail Sudhakar at kvsudha@gmail.com

February 09, 2008

Marina Beach: How do we make it ours?

When was the last time you dug your hands deep into the sands of the Marina and played with it?
Or, took your kiddos to the beach and had pure fun building sand castles?
If you haven't indulged in the second act, do it now. Your kids aren't going to forgive you later in life!
Last Saturday had to be Beach Day for me. I had to judge the sand works that children were supposed to create on Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar.
When I arrived, I found that even the dads and moms had joined the kiddos and their enthusiasm was amusing all the young men who were pumping iron outside the Corporation gym here.
Most teams had built forts. One created a volcano, making good use of the shards of bricks and red tiles strewn in the corners - they made the lava!
My vote for the top prize ( and co-judge Nithya Balaji agreed) went to the team which had built a mud house with a terrace, having a courtyard, a well and a compound wall. It looked earthy and went with the theme that the 'Tree of Life' festival chose for this part of its events.
Elliots Beach and the Marina should be a hot spot of activities for children this summer. You need to pop up ideas and let them fly on the sands for children. Games, sand works, sculptures and snacks! And their day and yours will be made.But like many, we have our concerns.
Waste sinks into the sand, food leftovers line the seafront, broken bottles litter the corners. . .
Few seem bothered about our beach, our greatest natural treasure.
Our civic body is keen only to build, construct, beautify.
It has some thing like thirty crores in its account and it desperately wants to spend it. And spend it fast.
So it is rolling its plans in great haste. You should stop by to witness the rip-off that is going on in the name of 'beach beautification' opposite the Secretariat.They have ripped off a perfectly well laid pavement, dug up a slice of the lawn and re-laid the length with polished granite, creating raised platforms at intervals. A swank bus stop has come up too.
All this when this area does not have a beach. It is the fringe of the Madras Port!Similar plans are to roll out on the Marina, in Besant Nagar and in Thiruvanmiyur.
All this has the stuff I need to write a book titled - How to Spend Thirty Crores in 30 days. Any publishers keen to sign me on?

February 02, 2008

Spit and be fined!

So what does a Conservancy Inspector do in your area?
If the question draws a blank look on your face, time to get educated.
You are going to see more and more of him very soon.
I rarely saw one.
And there have been occasions when some people in my colony took me to be the Conservancy Inspector.
Perhaps they caught me looking at the gaping holes in the drains that run alongside my apartment block.
I have this habit of looking closely at street corners.
That is because they have character.
The habit began when I repeatedly found people answering Nature's call behind the EB box, under the avenue tree or against our wall.
Since then I have had some dirty fun at the expense of people who let go in public.
I shout so loudly at them that they are forced to stop the free flow midway and scamper. I am not sure if this is bad for the kidneys but it surely keeps off men from our street corner.
Garbage bins are always placed at street corners. When those large, green bins were brought in by Onyx it was fun to watch people living at the four corners surreptitiously drag the bin at night to their corner. Since the advent of the bins, our maids have become great shooters. They toss the garbage bag into the bin even as they zip across to their next job.
Street corners are roundly abused.
The 'maistry' dumps rubble here. The wedding hall cleaners, the leftover food and leaves. And gardeners, garden waste.
I was amused when I found a wooden figure of a serene Ganesha near the bin. My smart watchman placed the deity in a nook and said it should be left where it is. What favours Lord Ganesha brought for us.
Shortly, our Conservancy Inspectors will be busy looking at street corners too. Once the city Corporation gives them the authority to fine people for spitting, answering Nature's call and dumping waste.
They are going to have fun locating offenders. And slapping fines. To do that they will have to be in uniform.
Call in the NIFT students.