July 25, 2008

Living in a City of Power Cuts

I must treat Electricity Minister Arcot Veeraswamy. He has brought some changes in my lifestyle.
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

Fate of Chennai's watchmen

Our watchman is gong to lose his job.
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

Reaching Out to Local Schools

How do we get individuals to share talent and time with 'have nots' in a neighbourhood campus?
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

Mount Road, Jafar's and more . . .

Many people have fond memories of Mount Road.
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 - sashinair63@hotmail.com
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