September 26, 2009

Watch sport at stadiums

The Bertram tournaments hosted by Loyola College are on top of the calendar at this Jesuit institution in Nungambakkam.

Almost all the young stars in tennis, basketball, volleyball, shuttle and table tennis have etched their names on the rolling trophies here.

The matches in the final stages would draw a sizeable audience especially when word went around that someone big was to play.

In my time at Loyola, the volleyball games were tight affairs and were fought to the last point. Besides the host, teams from Tirupattur and Tiruchi provided us with some outstanding matches. And when classmate Dinesh told us that he has entered the top league in the tennis singles, we would head to the court where our cries would be drowned by the roll of the electric trains on the Beach-Tambaram lines.

The Asia Womens Basketball Championship which was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Periamet last fortnight gave us an opportunity to watch some excellent sport. Some of us decided to head to the stadium on the weekend.

Such trips can get interesting if you go off the beaten track.

So instead of rushing to the stadium one evening we turned into the Periamet neighbourhood.

Periamet is a small hub for the leather goods business. You can also shop for caps, uniforms, belts and other such accessories. A 4 x 10 shop has interesting things to offer.

Periamet is also the hub of the Muslim community. And since it was Ramzan time, there was a buzz in the air.

Food was on our mind and we did not have to go far to locate a counter at a hotel which had just received a fresh supply of haleem, kebabs and custard. There were dozens of hands fighting for the parcels and it didn’t cost us much to snack and pack some for people at home.

September 21, 2009

Use your camera. Document

Videographer-friend Mohandas Vadakara and I are doing a bits-and-pieces job on Mount Road, now called Anna Salai.
We head to this road now and then and shoot the things that catch our fancy.
Mount Road was once the showpiece of the city of Madras. It had a slow death. We may not be able to give it a new lease of life but we can document it.
Progress is slow on the Sundays when I work here. That is because the nooks and crannies of Mount Road are rich in history and whispers.
Narasinghapuram is a small colony that lies behind the offices of ‘The Hindu’, the now-defunct ‘The Mail’ and of Simpsons.
It was once a colony of Anglo-Indians and Goans. The radio market took shape in this area and devoured the living spaces. Over the years, the radio market has given way to the electronics bazaar.
Narasinghapuram is taking a lot of my time because the people who lived here in the 1950s and 60s have lots of stories to share with me. Hopefully, those stories will help us film this part of Mount Road a tad better.
Mount Road always sets off something in me when I am there or when I think about this road.
My fingers begin to itch when I walk through some streets and lanes of the city. And I feel that sensation in Mylapore at this time of the year.
This is the time when anybody who has any type of video camera should go out into the streets of Mylapore and start shooting the sights, sounds and smells.
In some ways, these small, amateur videos can contribute to the documentation of a city, its people and its life.
Recently, I realised that substantial video footage on kolams exists. And most of it has been shot during the annual ‘Mylapore Festival’ that my team and I design and direct. This was a festival that started as a kolam contest 13 years ago.
Part of this footage has now been included in a documentary made specially for UNESCO as its recognizes the kolam to be what we call ‘living heritage’.
This is the season for all those who have little video cameras to go out and shoot the interesting things you see around you in this city.
Spare a little more time on this effort and you can have a wonderful film on your hands. Post it on the Net and the world will enjoy it. And those images will live for posterity.

September 12, 2009

Is Chennai Corporation really citizen friendly?

Last fortnight, when one side of the main road where my office is located was flooded after a spell of rain, I went online and lodged a complaint on the web site of Chennai Corporation.(

A SMS popped up on my cell phone to acknowledge the plaint. Minutes later, another SMS told me my plaint had been forwarded to the local staff. A third SMS informed me that the engineer had seen this plaint. And a fourth said action would follow.

48 hours later the local area engineer called me. He was polite and repeated the plaint. He said he too was aware of the problem. And that it would be set right soon. How soon?

In January 2010, he said, still polite, because new drains had to be laid on this side of the main road and that such works could be started only after the year-end monsoon.

I politely told him that the Chennai Corporation’s contractor had relaid the pavement alongside our office complex with smart, red tiles but every time I had to get out of the office complex I had to step on the smart red tiles and step into dirty, stagnant water.

There is a bit of buzz now on how our city Corporation has moved into the age of computerisation, online payment and digital mapping.

All of us should be proud of the development.

But this development is certainly bypassing some thing that should be central to a city’s civic body.

The need to involve the community in planning, debating and collaborating in all its projects.

Instead, Chennai Corporation acts like a benevolent Godfather that is proud to launch and implement hundreds of projects, big, fancy and small, and help us all lead a pleasant and peaceful life.

Is there no way in which proposals and ideas mooted at the zonal level cannot be made transparent to the community and their ideas incorporated too? Or is this the preserve of only the local councillors, who are elected by the people?

Is there a better way in which interested citizens can take a look at major civic projects before they are voted for in the City Council and carried out at dead of night?

The same technology that enables us to lodge plaints online and receive polite calls from engineers can be used to open up projects, proposals and ideas to the people of the city.

And we must get this to happen because there are a bunch of people who care for the city as much as Chennai Corporation does.

September 05, 2009

Tribute to a community activist

There are a few people in this city who have consistently raised issues of public interest and kept them on top of the agenda.

One of them was retired bureaucrat A. K. Venkatasubramanian who passed away a few days ago.

AKV, as close friends called him, devoted almost all his time and energy to a few key causes that are important to us. One of them was to get the Election Commission to let voters exercise Rule 49 (O) which allows a voter to record that he/she does not wish to vote for any of the candidates who are in the fray in that particular constituency.

There were times when this crusader felt terribly frustrated and very disappointed that people in our city remained a passive lot especially when it came to their role in public issues.

I was a close observer of a process that AKV and his group attempted two elections ago when local city councillors were to be elected to the Chennai Corporation.

The Adyar East seat was a reserved one, reserved for women. Past records showed that a councillor in the Adyar-Mylapore region won such elections by garnering a mere 10 to 15% of the votes in that ward. This was possible because over 50% of the electorate did not bother to cast their ballot.

AKV and his team helped to choose an educated, community activist who was a resident of the area as a candidate and then convinced heads of local residents’ associations to campaign in their backyards for this woman.
If 12% of the educated in this ward could be convinced to vote and vote for this woman, against women put up by the political parties, all of whom had little or no political or community service record, then a new beginning in grass root politics in the metro could be made.

The group went home with fond hopes but they were utterly disappointed. People stayed at home and watched TV on polling day.

Much later, as AKV went about setting up Citizens Centres across the state - a forum and space where local communities discussed and pursued public issues - he tried to establish such centres at the ward level in this city.

Again he met with a disappointing response. Imagine not being able to get a few people of a neighbourhood who could found these centres and liaise with the local MLA, councillors and officials and be the voices of the local community.

An activist in a public space needs the community to support campaigns. Sadly, in Chennai few people want to be part of that space.