December 24, 2009

Broadway memories in Christmastime

I located Thomas Rodrigo & Sons in Broadway. And enjoyed the maddening life of this part of George Towne this past week.

Rodrigo does not own property here so it has made its nth shift in the 137 years of its existence. Founded by a man who hailed from deep south and set up shop across the ocean in Colombo, it is now managed by Pius. Rodrigo is not the magic land of statues, crucifixes, crib sets and tabernacles as it used to be.

Pius says he would not be able to make wooden statues because getting workmen even to do the routine ones was now a big problem. And yet, this Christmas dozens of shoppers streamed in to buy crib sets and statues.

Pius has moved his home from Jones Street to Velachery ("you are guaranteed some peace when you get back home") but the chaos of Broadway makes it the place that is unique to our city.

We shopped for buntings and crepe paper on Anderson Street. It was not dirty and shopping was smooth and easy. Everywhere you saw the Chinese invasion - Santa stickers, decorations and star sets.

Refreshed at Rolex where people are always gorging into biryani or parottas and mutton paya or bun-butter-jam, we waited for the rain to subside.

I looked at the expanse of what is now the local bus terminus. Once the famed Fruit Market, Mom would have stared in nostalgia - of the times she shopped here for raisins, cashews and nuts and then crossed over to buy Kashmiri chillies.

George Towne is now for hawkers and the poor. Sell their wares at daytime and crouch under the sunshades and abandoned stores at night - that is what most people of this place do.

Four naughty boys, three in pilgrim black in preparation for Sabarimala, gambolled on the pavement, sharing a glass of Rolex's hot chai.

One broke into a song and aped a character in 'Renigunta' while another respectfully gave an ear to the plea of an aged woman who had called it a day.

The rain did not deter the shoppers.

We made sure the crib set we had bought was safe from the rainwater.

George Towne is a different world on a Sunday morning. Explore it then. You may meet our Renigunta group. But Anderson Street will be quiet.

December 19, 2009

Cribs and Kolu dolls . . .

Paths cross. And they meet at some point.

Thomas Rodgrio & Sons was on my mind.

The shop we turn to at Christmastime.

A friend suggested The Good Pastor Depot run by the Brothers of St. Paul in the Catholic Centre - St. Mary's Cathedral campus.

The Depot offers a variety of greeting cards, decorations and books but you must be an early bird here or else you get boxed in.
Armenian Street itself can box you in, especially on a Tuesday when the faithful queue up to pray at St. Antony's.

Weren't some conferences of The Music Academy held at the community hall of this cathedral? Those were times when George Towne was the hub of commerce, wealth and the arts. When veena Dhanammal was the queen of all she surveyed.

The very hall where grand wedding balls and Christmas parties were held in true European style. . .

Paths cross. And their meetings are significant in local histories.

Thomas Rodrigo has always been with us. For a generation that grew up on Moore Market and festival shopping.

I knew the shop had moved to Broadway, its other hub. But some one said it had moved again.

It was here that we bought the crib sets, the stars, the buntings at Christmastime.

Now, a group wanted their children to jointly create a crib.

With Copenhagen dominating the space, we chose to opt for waste, leftover materials and eco-friendly stuff.

Jesus anyway was not born in a swank hospital.

But we couldn't skip Rodrigo.

It was a mini Moore Market by itself and kids would love to explore it.

And as we chose to leave, we met a family whose daughter was here from the USA.

The lady was heading for Ponnambala Vadyar theru, alongside Kapali Temple.

To buy dolls for the kolu.

Paths cross. And they are significant.

December 12, 2009

Chennai needs cultural hubs

A number of people will say that Mylapore is at the centre of Madras. (Some, that it is the centre of their universe!).
I would say Alwarpet may be left of centre but is a better location.
I am not camouflaging a promo on behalf of Akshaya or MARG to further the cause of real estate.
Rather, the location has to do with access to events that happen around us.
Everybody would agree that Mylapore is the best place to access kutcheris.
Stir up at 2 p.m. after a siesta, enjoy a steaming cup of filter coffee, refresh, fetch the grand daughter from
P. S. Senior, walk down to the temple, enjoy Sanjay Subrahmanyam for free and pick up sambar onions and vazhai-poo on the way back home.
There are people who wouldn’t blink twice to trade much of their possessions for a small apartment overlooking the kulam.
And there are others who seek out every box of a hall to host a music fest here.
But the cultural side of this area is changing.
English theatre and life style entertainment is now staged in Alwarpet.
Book launches, tete-a-tetes and film screenings take place in this region.
Thamizh slapstick plays, Hindustani music concerts. . . you can check them out here.
Isn’t too much concentrated in just one zone of this city?
The December season has rolled. Unlike in the past, we have more music fests in the suburbs and they cater to a community that has resettled and connects with its roots.
But why aren’t the comedies and the plays and the fun stuff going to Anna Nagar or Adyar or Mint?
Some may say it has to do with infrastructure. Others, sponsors and patronage.
But things can change if leaders of the community
open up.

Kalakshetra under Leela Samson has opened its doors to Theru-koothu and Muhammed Basheer’s plays, ‘Spaces’ under Sadanand Menon is now a destination for rockers, headbangers and activists and a Saidapet group hosts art and street theatre.

Should the city council be involved in creating better spaces? Or should artistes trigger the change?

December 06, 2009

San Thome's Christmas Community

Why is a puppy a great gift for a child?
Ask Francis Lazarus of Kotturpuram and he will tell you a Christmas story. And why now? We are in December!
Francis’ story is his own. Theatre artiste, singer, marketing person and event manager, Francis’ family belongs to the Mount Road generation. They used to live off General Patters Road and Francis’ dad has loads of stories to share of Mount Road. Of Buharis and church choirs, Casino Theatre and Christmastime.
Francis himself must have been among the first set of models who crept on to the ramps in this city at a time when fashion and style were in their infancy and the Vivek Karunakarans and Rehanes must have been toddlers.
The puppy story came up in a conversation we had this past week about a little event that the San Thome community is attempting this month.
Residents, businesses, churches and institutions, in many small ways are putting their hands together to present the San Thome Christmas Fest ( Dec.15 - 31).
A fair amount of buzz takes place in this neighbourhood. In the churches and school campuses and in many homes. Carols, plays, Santa tours, cribs, parties . . .
But much of it is restricted to spaces between walls or behind them.
The Fest attempts to take is beyond those lines.
Share and celebrate in the Christmas spirit.
Events for children and elders supported by local musicians, great cooks and enthusiastic youth.
And gift giving is part of the season.
That’s where the puppy comes in. Francis tells me that when he was a kid, puppies were given as gifts. It allowed the kids to learn to care for it, feed it, take it for a stroll and do more.
In doing all this, you became responsible, caring, sensitive and the rest. You too may have puppy stories to share.
Tell them here!