June 28, 2008

Wanted: Info on Mount Road!

I am looking for people who lived on/off Mount Road.
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

'Bed & Breakfast' in Chennai

Bed and breakfast.
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

Pre-Monsoon Showers in Chennai . . .

Does the rain affect you?
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

Chennai Corporation fines!

The sink in your bathroom collapses and cracks and you need to dispose of it.
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!