July 25, 2009

Madras for our children

How do we get our children to know our city better?

Its history and its people. Its landmarks and its contribution to our country.

This is one of the questions that comes up as we plan for Madras Day 2009 (www.themadrasday.in).

My colleague on the Madras Day team, R. Revathi runs her own web site for children of this city. It is called Yocee ( URL - www.yocee.in). Revathi has begun to populate her web site with little online events for children and hopes to add more as ideas pop up in the days to come.

The Chennai chapter of INTACH, led by S. Suresh and Prema Kasturi have networked with a dozen city schools. These will be the hubs of a series of events centred on Coins.

If Ashok Leyland spares the colourful special bus that it has for children's activities, we may repeat what we did in the past years.

Take students based in Central and South Chennai to landmarks in North Chennai and vice versa.

The Madras Naturalists Society plans to organise a trip to Pallikaranai marshlands for two reasons - to spot the growing number of birds which have been flocking to this water body and also to show people how we are destroying this valuable and rare nature reserve by dumping tons of garbage we generate and then burning it.

Just the sort of trip that our children should sign up for this season.

There is lots more residents' associations and campuses can do for Madras Week. And they can easily look for themes for children in their backyard.

How does the city's sewage system work? K K Nagar's schools can ask Metrowater to open its gates at Nesapakkam.

What really goes on at the Port of Chennai? Schools should ask the Port Chairman to allow short tours of this campus, security issues notwithstanding.

What are the important landmarks in our neighbourhood? Have an exhibition in the campus. . .

July 18, 2009

'Madras Week' or 'Chennai Vizha' ?

Is it Chennai or is it Madras?
This is the obvious question that people ask us everytime we talk about our city.
It is both, I would suggest.
After all, a city is of many parts.
But how are you involving the Thamizh speaking citizens and the kids in our city Corporation schools?
We expected that question at a tete-a-tete with the media we had on Friday evening when we shared out thoughts on 'Madras Day 2009'.
Calling it 'Chennai Dinam' or 'Chennai Vizha' is not enough, we know that.
How can we be inclusive when we think of ways to celebrate the city?
My thoughts go back to a visit to Kalaimagal Vidyalaya school in north Madras. It was their Project Day. And in a darkened classroom the students presented a villupaatu-styled show on the Heritage of North Madras.
They had created huge photo exhibits of key landmarks of the region, split up each image in a way that it created a 2D effect when they held it up behind the performers and story tellers.
We brought this troupe to a few schools on the other side of the Cooum river.
How I wish we had built on that excellent production and prepared a bigger one for Chennai Vizha 2009.
Perhaps we need to make greater efforts to be inclusive.
Deepa Ramakrishnan offered help this Friday in that direction.
Deepa is a reporter for 'The Hindu' and covers north Madras and the Chennai Corporation.
She has promised to help us network with a few Corporation schools who can participate in exhibitions and contests and go on to create events on the neighbourhoods they come from.
She will also try and convince Rajesh Lakhoni, Chennai Corporation Commissioner to put on an exhibition on the Corporation, which is a landmark institution of out country.
If you can help to network and invest in ideas and action, step out for your city.

July 11, 2009

Adyar-Mahabalipuram Boat Service

We are planning a boat journey on the Buckingham Canal.
From a point off Panayur on the East Coast Road to Mahabalipuram.
Would you like to give the boat we hire a name? What would be an appropriate one?

Many senior citizens of our city have shared with me stories of their picnic trips to Mahabalipuram fifty years ago. Of a time when they got to the Lattice Bridge point of the Canal which was constructed in 1887 and runs from Pedaganjam in Andhra Pradesh to Marcanum (Marakkanam) off the ECR.
It was a long, slow but pleasant journey. The sail would go up if there was sufficient wind but in most cases two men would pull the boat on the landside.
Long before Mahabalipuram became a destination for tourists from our city, the boats were the only means of transport - carrying firewood, salt, rice and agri produce.
They moved north from the Mahabalipuram and Marcanum / Cuddalore region to the city and those from Nellore and Ennore travelled south and northwards to areas that are now in Andhra Pradesh.

Last week, I joined heritage buff D. Hemachandra Rao in rediscovering the Canal south of our city. Rao is documenting the Canal and armed with a simple but informative book written by the English engineers who worked on this project, we undertook the journey by road.
We wanted to look at the locks and bridges of the Canal, and thanks to a Jack-of-all-Trades resident of a Mahabalipuram village who appeared out of the blue and knew lots more about the Canal and its life, we got a lot of work done.

Ramu has promised to organise a boat trip on a section of the Canal he knows best. But it will have to be undertaken only after a good monsoon when the water level will go up and the boat can take at least 10 people.
The boat landing place in Mahabalipuram where Rao, then a six-year-old and his family got off is now a garbage dump yard ( you will notice it on the left of the new bridge that links the ECR bypass on the fringe of Mahabalipuram town).
If the PWD can dredge the Canal and the Tourism department can arrange traditional boats, an Adyar-Mahabalipuram by Boat Service will be an attractive proposition.

July 03, 2009

Madras Day 2009

Plans for Madras Day 2009 are about to roll. So how can you and your community or club or association become an integral part of it?
Start in your backyard. You don't have to raise a thousand rupees. You don't have to run from pillar to post. You don't have to print posters and banners. Do it in your area. All you need is some nice ideas, some enthusiasm and some smiles and warm words.
Think of  a local heritage walk. Now. Which is what a bubbling lady in Kilpauk is about to do. She started on it last year but gave up because she wasn't sure if Kilpauk was al that exciting. It is. And she has realised it. Well, it doesn't boast of Jack the Ripper kind of nooks and Hollywood Boulevard kind of avenue, but it has character and history and stories.
The Water Works is unique. The Votive Shrine church is unique. The cemetery for Christians should be checked out. Add to that list public statues and private bungalows and small colonies and you have a fairly interesting trail for an August weekend.
Our friend in Kilpauk is calling up the Dignity Foundation to meet up with senior residents of the area who can come on the walk or be at the milestones on the trail and share their memories.
I think this is a small and wonderful exercise to celebrate the city.
Shanthi Krishnan did just that in Adyar and she had 40 people trailing her - they surrendered to the heat at the fag end and headed for a sumptuous breakfast but the event worked. Shanthi hopes to repeat the Adyar Walk this Madras Week.
These initiatives should inspire many of us to take the lead and think of a Walk project for Madras Week (August 16 to 23).  Thiruvanmiyur, San Thome, Gopalapuram, Luz, Nandanam, Vadapalani . . .there is a Walk in every area.
Walks can be one way of celebrating the city. Exhibitions can be another. Photo-walks can be another. Talks on a city theme or subject. Contests too. Just keep an eye on www.themadrasday.in. A T-shirt contest is rolling.