August 29, 2009

Network Community Projects

Early this year, on the sidelines of a media seminar I happened to chat with film director Sp. Muthuraman. I asked him if he could help us organise ‘walking tours’ inside AVM Studios in Vadapalani.

Muthuraman belongs to the AVM ‘family’ and AVM and Prasad are the only two big film studios that survive in this city.

Muthuraman did not warm up to this suggestion. He acknowledged that tours inside studios were good for the public but he said he was always wary of letting people get close to shooting floors or production centres because fans always got the better of the crew and the actors.

Muthuraman had a point. But I have not given up on this idea as we keep expanding the walking tours of our city.

Muthuraman lives in the Vadapalani neighbourhood and he also lends a hand to community projects quietly.

Next weekend, in Saligramam he will launch the sale of paper bags which have been made by school dropouts.

This is a project thought of and supported by a local group of Sai devotees of this area. This group has been working among boys who live in the slums along the Buckingham Canal in Mylapore. Finding that it was a tough task to get these boys back to the classroom, the group did the next best thing - taught them a simple skill and got them to do paper bags and thamboolam containers.

This accomplished, they hope the sales of the bags in bulk will earn these boys decent returns.

Hopefully, this Sai devotee group can network with the large stores in Vadapalani and K. K. Nagar and Virugambakkam, expand that to Mylapore and ramp up this community project.

There are any number of little community projects that are run in our neighbourhoods.

Could we have smart people who can help to network them across the city so that they grow into significant enterprises?

August 22, 2009

Madras Week

Remember Deepa?

Deepa Sekar of Kilpauk who took the first steps to organise a Kilpauk Heritage Walk on the occasion of Madras Day?

Well, Deepa and her group went on to host that Walk last Sunday though there was more than one occasion when they ran into frustrating walls and almost gave up.

Close to 30 people took part in it and in that group was the well known writer and novelist Timeri Murari whose family history is entwined with that of Kilpauk in some ways.

Deepa, who specialises in making paper jewellery mailed us back to say that the Walk had made a significant impression in her life. “I now know how special Kilpauk is and that it not only has a life but also a soul,” she said.

And added, “How I wish my school and many others taught history differently - by walking the talk!”.

I write back to Deepa (for weeks now this has been my task - to encourage dozens of people to think of and plan ways in which we celebrate the city during Madras Week).
I told her that she should continue to organise the Kilpauk Heritage Walk throughout the year - for schools and community groups.

Here is a nice example of how Madras Day is contributing to the city’s outlook.

Midweek, I received a copy of a small book titled ‘Madras-Chennai - Its History and Environment’. The book has been written by Nanditha Krishna of the
C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in Alwarpet and published as a Prodigy imprint by New Horizon Media that is run by two young people - Badri and Satyanarayan.

It costs twenty five rupees, is easy read and a book you should gift to your children. It will introduce them to the city.

Also in the mail bag was another little book in Thamizh - ‘Madraasil Mirudu’ written by Vasantha Surya. It is all about growing up in the city in the 60s and has been published by Kalachuvadu. Another book you can gift your kids.

Here again is a nice example of how Madras Day is encouraging people to add to the literature on this city.

Lots has taken place this past week.

If you want to catch up with the final lot of events, check out the info at

August 22 is Madras Day.

August 15, 2009

On the eve of Madras Day. . .

It is well past 10 p.m.

Christopher Roy from Nandanam calls me up. He wants to talk about Madras Day. These are calls I cannot refuse (and I wouldn’t pass on this job to a call center!).

Roy grew up in the campus of the YWCA on Poonamallee High Road and he wants to highlight the Great Pond in this campus.

A water body which has seen its best and worst but has remained a well nurtured water body for many, many years. Roy learnt of the Madras Day late but wants to do some thing simple.

So we agree to invite the neighbourhood kids and students to the Y campus and jot their impressions about the Great Pond.

It is a small but significant event. Local events are what have made the concept of Madras Day a unique, evolving, community driven process.

Chandrachoodan runs the PhotoWalks. He invites people over to walk down alleys and bylanes and also to take pictures of the historic precincts and colonies that you and I have not seen or heard of.

Chandru has also been a passionate Madras Day supporter.

But this time around, he was a disappointed man.

He had plans to organise walking tours inside Madras Port and Central Station and the Southern Railway headquarters campus. So he mailed letters. Made a dozen calls. Made personal visits. Was shunted from one office to another. And finally gave up.

(But he has organised four interesting Photowalks this week).

Chandru’s efforts have been frustrated by officers who live and work in this city. Perhaps they have little time and value for their own institutions.

So how do we get such officers to open their gates to people?

As the 2009 edition of ‘Madras Day’ opens, I have a request to all those people who are in charge of heritage institutions, all those who have a lot to do with this city. . . Please make an effort to organise an event that will celebrate this city.

If you want to tell us about it, e-mail us at

August 08, 2009

Destination Madras!

If you are proud of this city and you have friends and relatives in Bangalore or Puduchery, in Coimbatore or in Kochi, this is the time to invite them over to Madras.

Drive down, take a train or hitch a ride.

Tell them to be in our city between August 15 and 23.

Because this is the best time to soak in the essential Madras that is also Chennai.

Soak in ‘Madras Week’.

If they like the outdoors, they can check out the ten heritage tours/walks the city has put together. Through marshlands and reserve forest, down alleys and on the edge of the Marina, the walks will open your eyes to a city we may not have known.

If your guests are the cerebral types, underline the two dozen talks/lectures that will be hosted at different venues in the city.

A young man from Coimbatore wants to make sure he gets a seat at Randor Guy’s ‘Scandals that Rocked the City’.

If your friends love performances, there are many options (I am sharing with you just a wee little here and am not partial too!).

Actor-writer Pritham Chakravarthy is presenting a solo performance to unspool all the stories she has heard and collected of another part of the city that many of us just do not know - North Chennai.

At two cool venues, musicians of this city will play their original songs and some of these songs have a lot to do with our city. (Wonder, if someone out there has been inspired to write a song on Bessie Beach or alleys of George Towne?).

There are dozens of events to choose from and plan your own Madras Special (the web site to log on to -

And if all of this does not appeal to you, create your own weekend ‘Lets Explore Chennai’ kind of schedule.

If you discover some gems, do let me know at

Finally, here is a teaser - What is the theme of the Special Postal Cover to be released on Madras Day (August 22) this year?

The answer could be at

August 01, 2009

Spaces for theatre, sport; Chennai need them.

Two Sundays. Two destinations. One issue.

Koothu-p-pattarai is a well known theatre company based in our city. It is run by N. Muthuswamy, a celebrated playwright and director.

Many of its actors have gone on to make a name for themselves in theatre, cinema and the arts.

Some years ago, the company moved to the Chinmaya Nagar area in the western part of our city and developed a simple but attractive theatre space.

I had not seen a play in this space and so chose to be at one two Sundays ago. It was a Thamizh play by another celebrated person, Ramanujam. The sudden monsoon rain and gusty wind that lashed the space heightened the atmosphere as the play moved into its final stage.

Catching up with the K-p-p people I learnt that the company would now have to rent an alternate space because the present owner of the property had given them notice to move out.

Here was theatre space that was simply the best for contemporary plays, with unlimited facility for lighting and space for the audience that made them an intimate part of a play . . . soon it would be a thing of the past.

“We have asked Kanimozhi to help us get space in a Corporation school that they may want to close down,” said one actor.

“We’ve asked local schools to give us permission to rehearse,” said another.

Chennai is a cultural capital and we don’t have space for our theatre community. Not even space to rehearse.

Last Sunday, I was at the D. G. Vaishnav College campus in Arumbakkam where former India table tennis star V. Chandrasekar runs a TT academy which has produced some star players.

This Sunday, Vidya Sagar who runs his own TT academy in south Chennai was hosting the finale of an annual TT league he promotes.

I joined Sagar as he drove back home.

“How often I wish Chennai Corporation helped us with space for our sport!”, Sagar said.

Our civic body has lots of space. It is developing many of them.

Perhaps Mayor Subramanian could think of ways of collaborating with the Muthuswamys and the Sagars to create specialised spaces in all our neighbourhoods - for sport, theatre and the arts.