November 30, 2008

Networking gurus and campuses

School Principal Nirmala was doubly excited. And she did not contain the effulgence.
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

Idiappams and puttu from our nooks . . .

Last week, the chappati was food for this column.
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

Election and young people

Obama! The hail was faint.

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

Getting Students to Report and Write

P. Hari Shankar called me excitedly.
'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.
Buzz us.