December 24, 2010

It's Christmas time!

There is a bit of the Moore Market spirit at this shop in George Town. And for people who rewind to the past, Moore Market brings fond memories especially at Christmas time.

Good Pastor Depot is something of an institution in its own way. A destination for many senior Catholics of this city.

Located on the ground floor of the huge building behind the landmark Catholic Centre and in the campus of the heritage St. Mary's Co-Cathedral and its neighbour, the equally famed St. Mary's School, this depot as it is called, has everything that a home and a church requires, for religious and for social functions.

I was there a few days ago, on a shopping spree.

A crib set, a little Christmas tree, balloons, illumination serial lights, some buntings and greeting cards.

This is quite a big shopping list by my standards but I enjoyed the experience.

The Brothers of St. Paul, who run this store were swamped that afternoon but they served with a smile as did their staff who were really stretched.

Wonder how cool they would have been today, on Christmas eve!

Shops like these weave magic around you if you suspend your matured ideas! Shops that our kids would love to soak in.

I had waded through the swathes of devotees who head to the cathedral on Tuesdays to pray at the shrine of saint Antony, managed a parking lot inside the Catholic Centre and rewarded myself with extra time at the Good Pastor Depot.

It was a nice experience.

In the old days, the Community Hall on this campus hosted wonderful parties, dances and wedding receptions.

The parish priest says they do not hire out the hall for such functions any more.

Christmas has moved to the five star hotels and swank malls. Not for me, these places.

December 18, 2010

San Thome Christmas fest

Putting together a community event or project is not easy in this city.

Not everyone believes there is a role to play in the public space.

A small bunch of people who reside in the San Thome neighbourhood are trying to promote a Christmas event.

This will be the second edition of this festival.

The ideas are small, the goals small. But the effort has to be sustained.

Two women have taken the lead to lend a hand.

Vimala Padmaraj and Sheela D’Souza were part of the team last year. They are on this year too despite the many commitments they have at Christmastime.

This may not be very obvious in San Thome though it is in Mylapore.

Just as many people who live abroad head to Madras on Christmas eve to soak in the

Margazhi music and dance season, a small number also fly in to the city to spend Christmas and New Year with their families in San Thome.

San Thome had a wonderful December season decades ago. Migration of many families led to a decline in the festivities.

The more recent community effort is to allow residents here and others to soak in the season’s spirit, even if you are not a Christian.

Vimala and Sheela are doing all they can to run three events that have been planned.

A party-games-contest mela for children will take place on December 26 afternoon and the team hopes all the children of San Thome and Mylapore and areas on the fringe will sign up (you can call 98846 88984) and have a party!

There is also a Christmas party for senior people. Music, games, eats and fellowship are on the cards. You can call the cell number given above to register. This will be on December 27 evening.

The Revival Singers of San Thome are also doing their best to present a grand music concert in San Thome on December 26 evening. They have invited a band of talented young musicians who will rock the place after the Singers have done their Christmas act.

There should be snacks stalls at the venue - St. Bede’s school campus.

Besides the events, Anthony and his friends of San Thome are coaxing owners of stores and residents on San Thome High Road to illuminate the spaces this season.

Hopefully, the spirit of Christmas will be infectious.

December 04, 2010

Christmas party at San Thome

This was unexpected. But welcome. Who would run away from a party?

My first Christmas party for the season arrived at a time I least expected.

On Thursday.

It happened at St. Bede’s that evening.

Vincent Felix always makes it a point to invite me to events at this over-a-century old school. I am glad I accepted his call earlier this week.

Vincent is among the few ‘old boys’ of this Anglo-Indian school who studied here in the 40s. He is 84 (he passed out of school before India became independent) and he has lots of San Thome and Mylapore stories to share.

And when he shares them on the sprawling grounds of St. Bede’s where boarders play vigorous games of hockey and basketball until dusk, these stories come alive.

On Thursday he told me how he was the only dayscholar among seven boarders in senior school who were caught redhanded by the Rector on the beachside, for enjoying the company of the girl-students from other city schools who had to write their final exams at St. Bede’s!

“Today, we celebrate Mother Mary’s birthday so I am sparing you the flogging,” the padre had told the boys. “But you will have to clean the chapel as reparation.”

It was a great evening - for Vincent Felix and members of the Old Bedeans (the alumni) had put together a Christmas party for the boarders, all Anglo-Indians.

There was music, they had Santa, there was a Christmas tree and the boys sang a few carols. And they roared when all of them got gifts, bought by the alumni.

And when the special biryani was served, the boys were the happiest lot present.

The padres were also there and it was a perfect Christmas party.

I only wish the boys’ band had time to perform after dinner. But then, there are rules to follow in a boarding. The show had to close.

For the Old Bedeans present it was indeed a wonderful evening.

Hopefully, there will be many such evenings this Christmas for you.

November 13, 2010

Welcome to December Season 2010

It is that time of the year when we work a tad closer with the community of musicians, dancers, sabha managers and gurus of the classical, performing arts.

We are on the edge of yet another December Season - a season when this city hosts hundreds of concerts of Carnatic music and of classical dance and dozens of fringe events.

Many people say that the ‘season’ is getting chaotic, maddening and bloated.

That is because more and more sabhas come alive in December, more and more artistes fight for a place on stage, schedules get longer.

I guess this is some thing you have to live with till the wheat and the chaff get separated.

However, the December season is unique, has a character of its own and must be celebrated and supported.

The web site that we manage - Kutcheribuzz - was a child of the December season. Over a decade ago, we braved monsoon rains and negotiated unhelpful sabha managers to post the concert schedules of all leading sabhas to provide a simple utility space on the Web.

The site has grown in many different ways and directions. But at the core we have tried to get the community to be part of it.

This December season we want to drive the community collaboration further.

We would like to get rasikas to file reports on what they saw and heard in the auditoriums. Those who love taking great photos can also contribute them to the web site.

There is also space for short videos.

Artistes are also welcome to e-mail short notes on their new productions, collaborations or lectures. So can arts institutions.

E-mail us at - Or call 044-24994599.

November 04, 2010

Record your stories

Did Mylaporeans stick to Mylapore when it came to shopping at Deepavali time or did they go to China Bazaar and Rattan Bazaar?

Who were the big and popular names among neighbourhood shops?

What was the atmosphere at home when the seniors and the young, relatives and friends gathered to make sweets and snacks?

Times like festivals are times when you can indulge in lots of social history.

And record it if one can, simply because much of it does not get into print or go online and because much of these records will die with the passing away of every generation.

At our newspapers we do make an attempt to record memories of people who have great stories to share. These efforts are few and far between because there are countless stories and many story-tellers but very few people who volunteer to document them.

I pause for a few seconds when I run through the Obituary notices of very senior and colourful personalities that reach our desk for publication. We have lost another set of stories that this man or woman may have shared had we had a long conversation . . .

Is it important to record the experiences of people who used trams and state-run transport buses in the past and of major events at school campuses?

Is it useful to collect photos of social events like weddings and grihapravesams that took place in 1960s and to save the annual reports of leading organisations?

Everything that are troves of stories of our past is important.

It is easy now to document all this in the age of technology. But we volunteers.

October 30, 2010

An NGO needs space ...

Would you know of some one who would be happy to rent out a portion of their house or property for an organisation that promotes trees?

Rent it out for a nominal amount.

If you do, then Shobha Menon will be extremely happy with the news.

Shobha lives in Kotturpuram and manages ‘Nizhal’. What began as a personal endeavour has now evolved into a Trust which is involved in a host of projects in our city.

Projects that focus on trees.

Protecting trees. Growing more of them. Increasing tree cover. Sensitising people to them and their importance.

Nizhal’s work has been recognised. The Mayor of our city has appreciated its record and service and one of the major projects that the Chennai Corporation has encouraged this NGO to do is to work closely on the greening of the Adyar bank in the Kotturpuram area.

Their Tree Walks invite people to walk through their neighbourhood, get to know avenue trees and the species better and helpcare for them.

This week, Shobha called me because she feels comfortable bouncing ideas on me.

How could Nizhal get a nice space in the city which could be the venue for a permanent exhibition and study centre on trees?

I suggested three options.

One, convince the Mayor to build a space on the banks of the Adyar in the vast expanse that is being greened now. If the city Corporation can promote gyms, study centres, badminton courts and libraries, it can also develop space for the environment.

Two, explore a collaboration with another voluntary organisation, the Rain Centre which is based in Mandaveli and promotes rain water harvesting. This NGO works out of a independent house and it could consider building further to accommodate Nizhal.

There is a third option. Appeal to the community to provide space on rent that a NGO can afford.

Is there some one out there who has a large heart and a green mind?

October 23, 2010

Ideas for Mylapore Festival

I want your suggestions.

How do we go about organising an event that must design the biggest kolam on a mada veedhi?

It is that time of the year when I put on another of my caps. That of the director of the annual Mylapore Festival.

The 2011 edition of this Fest, now known in many parts of the world will be from January 6 to 9 on the eve of the Pongal festival.

As we sat down to jot down all the ideas that came by, one was of creating a huge kolam in which everybody who attends the fest on that evening participates.

I will wait for your suggestions.

Yes, we will have the Kolam Contests which are our flagship events. On two days, in the evenings providing space for 125 people each evening.

Here, you may want to share another idea.

For the 2010 contests, we made a departure from the past. We asked the participants to design a kolam on a grid of 24 dots. There were a few apprehensions but when the contest was over, the variety of designs were simply fantastic.

So what is the challenge we could pose to contestants next January?

Your suggestions are welcome.

This is a Festival that uses public and private space even as we remain sensitive to the immediate facilities that are important to residents and businesses.

Hence, challenges confront us each year. With them come suggestions - from well-wishers, patrons and people.

So we are moving the series of talks that we have, talks on themes related to Mylapore to a Mylapore house. The idea came from people who said that since a small number attend such events a more cosy space would enhance the experience.

We are also making sure we have T-shirts for kids. Young parents were disappointed as were their children. They will not be in January 2011.

Little things also make a Festival.

Do share your suggestions please. Mail them to -

October 16, 2010

Getting kids to write local stories

This is a story I love to retell every time I run writing workshops for children,

It happened during one of our annual summer workshops.

One of the assignments that school students are pushed to do is to go out at short notice, choose a point of observation and take in the details.

Raghav was the fun one in that particular batch. He was itching for action.

So, on one sunny morning when the group reassembled in the hall after the 20 minute assignment, a titter ran through the group. Some tried hard to suppress a laugh. Others giggled. And I could only roll my eyes.

Minutes later Raghav doubled in and everybody burst out laughing.

Well, Raghav had taken his assignment rather seriously that morning. He had decided to check out the ‘wine shop’ which was around the corner at that prominent and busy junction. At first, he stood on the pavement and took in the scene. Then he stepped in and began to ask the salesboys a few questions.

When they realised that Raghav wasn’t going to buy liquor and was proving to be a pest, they threw him out. Watching all this happen were the other members of the group.

I did not hear from Raghav after he finished the course.

But that incident is a nice anecdote to use while training children in journalism.

Every year, at this time we invite school students who wish to get a feel of journalism and want to tap their writing skills to work alongside us on our newspapers.

This is a Childrens’ Day special that we offer this young community.

We spend a couple of hours briefing them and then guide them on their assignments.

All the reports that deserve to be published get into print in November. And the stories go with bylines, the only reward we can offer children.

Over the decade, a few have gone on to graduate in media and become media professionals. Few stick to journalism.

So if there are children out there who wish to sign up, please do so rightaway. This is not a fun assignment. And I will not ask you to visit a wine shop. But if you are game to jump on to a catamaran off Elliots Beach to spot a dolphin and write on this experience, sign up.

October 09, 2010

Make Kapali temple zone heritage area

There is a lot we can do about the core of Mylapore.
And when Navarathri unfolds, I go into a tizzy!
It is the time when an idea keeps running through my mind like a crazy worm.
Why don’t we declare the three mada veedhis and their sister lanes WALK ONLY zones?
These veedhis come alive at festival time.
They turn into a fascinating space.
Dolls, flowers, beads, bangles, handicrafts . . .these and more bring alive these veedhis and create a throbbing life that is core to this city.
But madness rules the streets.
Everybody who drives to this place in a car wants to honk, honk and honk to find a parking space.
Every car driver wants to head straight to the destination that is important to him and his family.
Is this not the time to leave our cars and bikes some place away and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the veedhis?
There is a lot we can do about the core of Mylapore.
And when Navarathri unfolds, I go into a tizzy!
It is the time when an idea keeps running through my mind like a crazy worm.
Why don’t we declare the three mada veedhis and their sister lanes WALK ONLY zones?
These veedhis come alive at festival time.
They turn into a fascinating space.
Dolls, flowers, beads, bangles, handicrafts . . .these and more bring alive these veedhis and create a throbbing life that is core to this city.
But madness rules the streets.
Everybody who drives to this place in a car wants to honk, honk and honk to find a parking space.
Every car driver wants to head straight to the destination that is important to him and his family.
Is this not the time to leave our cars and bikes some place away and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the veedhis?

This is a heritage precinct and it must be accorded Grade A status by the city’s planning authority.

And we must get the Mayor and the Head of the Chennai City Traffic Police to support creative ideas that preserve the status of this zone. ( We have a Mayor who now wants to offer cycles on hire to visitors at Marina Beach. So I am sure he will nod for a ‘WALK ONLY’ zone even if it is operative for a few hours every day)

Yes, we also need to have all the residents and businessmen and shop keepers of the zone to sit together and agree to a ‘midway’ solution. Yes, we do want customers to flood the local showrooms but can we ask them not to drive their cars into the dolls set up by a poor hawker from Kosapet?

Yes, it is still warm and sticky but can we coax ourselves to enjoy a nice walk down the veedhis?

And we must get the Mayor and the Head of the Chennai City Traffic Police to support creative ideas that preserve the status of this zone. ( We have a Mayor who now wants to offer cycles on hire to visitors at Marina Beach. So I am sure he will nod for a ‘WALK ONLY’ zone even if it is operative for a few hours every day)

Yes, we also need to have all the residents and businessmen and shop keepers of the zone to sit together and agree to a ‘midway’ solution. Yes, we do want customers to flood the local showrooms but can we ask them not to drive their cars into the dolls set up by a poor hawker from Kosapet?

Yes, it is still warm and sticky but can we coax ourselves to enjoy a nice walk down the veedhis?

October 02, 2010

Namma Arcot Road launch

A hotel, a film academy, a school and a group of residents in the Arcot Road neighbourhood are attempting to do something that has not been done before.

To curate and present a bunch of events, once every month which will make this a ‘happening’ neighbourhood.

The Arcot Road area is quite a dull and drab place, especially for people who would like to enjoy a short and light event on a weekend evening.

There are discourses, bhajans and concerts. Nothing more.

Some residents may head to the Café Day coffee shop on the third floor of the Mega Mart store in Alwarthirunagar and gossip, others may head to the Durant Bar at Hotel Green Park and some others may head to Saravana Bhavan or Vasantha Veedu to enjoy a long dinner.

It is against this background that the neighbourhood group is coming together to launch a concept under the banner of ‘Namma Arcot Road’.

The group intends to host a variety of events - talks by interesting speakers, workshops for kids, shows by young musicians, heritage walks in the local area, screen docu-films and do whatever else they can handle with five pairs of hands.

Madras Day’ celebrations have certainly inspired this group.

The strong response to a package of events for kids and talks for adults at a local hotel motivated this group.

Their first efforts bore fruit.

They got people who are willing to provide their spaces to hold the events. They have people who are willing to give talks and hold events. And they also got people who promised much and then slipped away!

The ‘Namma Arcot Road’ project is being launched this weekend.

If it is to be successful it has to be a community effort.

Last weekend, two organisations in Adyar put their hands together to host a simple event - the screening of a fantastic wildlife film on India’s Tigers made by the famed Shekhar Dattatri. The response was very good. Adyarites do have lots to choose from.

If the Arcot Road community wants theirs to be a happening place, they have to set aside the TV remote and get off their sofa sets.

September 25, 2010

Hyper-local advertising

Hyper-local advertising seems to be on the rise.

Posters, messages and scrawls you get to see at street corners, on TNEB junction boxes and on the avenue trees.

They seem to offer leads to life trends.

Jobs are always on offer.

So are cures for cancer and impotency.

Between the two, the host of services can range from offering to teach you how to download songs or arranging to clean your overhead tank.

Across our office, in the corner of a busy junction we have a hugely popular fruit juice shop. The shop has been written about by all the city dailies and is counted to be among the ten most popular ‘joints’ for young people.

I think it scores high on four counts - range of juices, the quality, the speed with which they are served and the refills most customers enjoy, for free.

I still have not tried out the Sharjah Special here.

At any given time, there are 25 to 30 people hanging out at this joint. So now I know why the abandoned traffic police booth that some sponsor erected at this junction has become the notice board for hyperlocal advertising.

Somebody is looking for housewives, retirees and youth to canvas for SBI Life.

Another is promising assignments that allow you to work from home. Rs.8000 if you work part time, Rs.16,000 if you work fulltime and Rs.5000 if you work all through Sunday. There is a promise too - you don’t have to make phone calls, you don’t have to attain targets. Just work!

There is also a dirty war of handbills that is going on in this nook. Between agents of internet services providers.

Last week, a leading newspaper launched its campaign - it had part time jobs for young people.

Fighting for space and produced on cheap recycled paper are the posters of a Sex Clinic located in a lane of Triplicane.

Hyperlocal advertising does work. You have to choose the locations in the neighbourhood.

September 18, 2010

Crows above, cars below

What has been your crow experience?

Have you found the bird cawing at your kitchen window, threatening to fly away with an evening snack? Or providing you the wake-up call so that you can be up for your morning walk?

Everybody has a crow experience.

It may not be the favourite bird but it is perhaps the only one that survives in our neighbourhoods.

For some weeks now, I have been enjoying crows at work. Rather, creating a family.

Our office in Alwarpet is on the second floor and on a busy road where the vroom of traffic has become a part of our working life.

But we do have a bonus. The tall avenue trees whose branches spread across the road and into out building create a circle of green and shade.

Trees are always humming with activity and if you are up there and choose to look closely, you can catch the whirr of the bees which time their entry into our office after dusk, the summer blooms that sail gently on to the tar below and the crows who have made nests.

One nest is metres away from the parapet wall and there is a lot of activity in it I presume.

It looks firm and cosy but to me it seems to be in a precarious position - a sway of the lead branch and that nest and all the eggs or lives in it will hurtle to the tar below.

It is a foolish thought. Birds have brains and this set of crows must have made a wide choice too.

The past week, I observed that the crow was content to sit in the nest and keeping warm the eggs in there. While one crow does the job, another keeps watching from a closer branch.

Curious, I spoke to K. S. Sudhakar of the Madras Naturalists Society who is a practising chartered accountant and has an office down the corridor. Do the male and the female take turns to help in the hatching? Do crows really care for their chicks?

They do care, Sudhakar tells me. It is the koels who ‘hijack’ the nests of the crows. These birds lay their eggs in a crows nest and let the latter do the rest! When they come back, they may even sideline the crow’s chicks. . .

In the nooks and braches of our neighbourhoods, despite all the destruction and mess, nature survives.

Do the crows trust us?

September 11, 2010

Grassroot democracy in Chennai

Did you know that the Mayor of our city is an early riser, devotes at least 30 minutes to yoga and is willing to go that extra mile to support those who work for the less-abled?

M. Subramaniam is seen as a pro-active Mayor. At least, he is not seen merely waving flags at DMK rallies (of which he is a senior member) or snoring in his chambers.

Someone told me that our Mayor occasionally goes out into the city incognito to get a better understanding of the city, its residents and his staff.

I have not caught him in dark glasses, Tees and faded jeans on an electric cycle in our neighbourhood.

But I believe that something did tick in his head recently.

Mayor Subramaniam has authorised the formation of local groups for each of the wards of our city.

They can discuss local issues, debate ways in which to address them and chart local plans.

Wards are a collection of colonies in a neighbourhood. A councillor represents each ward at the Corporation Council and he/she is elected by people. Some wards are reserved. These councillors handle local issues, mainly civic and they have a say in these affairs at the local, zonal and city level.

The system then represents democracy at the grassroot level.

But does it really work?


The elections are marred by money power, goondaism and manipulation and most people never participate in them.

Elected councillors rarely interact with local communities and are often seen working closely more with officials and contractors than local people and their representatives.

Civic works and development do not often address what the communities want. So while workers are busy relaying the pavement alongside a 30-feet bridge with fancy tiles, the pavements on either side are in a shambles. And while saplings are being planted on 3rd Avenue, bushes have over-run the sidewalks of 3rd Street.

Mayor Subramaniam says he wants people, NGOs and civic groups to work alongside councillors and his officials at the ward level.

You have a role to play. Want to?

September 04, 2010

Art in Chennai's Public Spaces

The Goethe Institut, more commonly known as Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai is celebrating its golden jubilee.

The big day is to be celebrated late this year but the events have begun to unfold.

German language teachers, retired staff, artists, actors, directors, dancers and curators and all those who have had strong bonds with the Bhavan have been treated to warm parties where nostalgic memories were shared.

One interesting project to mark this jubilee caught my attention. And the man who will put it together is artist B. O. Sailesh who lives and works from Cholamandal.

The Bhavan has been located in the Thousand Lights neighbourhood for about 25 years at three different addresses.

Its current modern premises stands at a key intersection. On one side are the sprawling bungalows of the rich who live behind huge gates, many of which are making way for stores and boutiques for the wealthy of our city. On the other is a neighbourhood where the poor and the middle-class reside.

Sailesh has an art installation in mind - to be ready later this year. And he proposes to create this piece of work from things that people who reside here have no use for.

His team will go door to door, brief the residents of this project and come back to make the collection.

Sailesh is trying to see how this concept ties into the jubilee of the Bhavan that has played a great role in this city. And how the dynamics of the collection and installation relates the MMB to its neighbourhood.

Chennai Corporation lost a great opportunity to encourage a similar process when the City Fathers decided to paint the public walls, especially those on the main roads.

Cultural icons, tourist destinations, natural landscapes and excerpts from the Thamizh epics greet those who choose to slow and stare.

When the project was mooted, it was decided to contract the students of the well known College of Arts in Periamet for this assignment. The contract fell because the civic body could not match the fee the college wanted.

So the jobs were given to the men who once created those gigantic and colourful promos for our films and elections.

Most of them are without much work with the era of the over powering flexi-sheets. Flexi-banners greet guests to a kid’s first birthday. So these contracts will hopefully bring them some money.

However, had Mayor Subramaniam and his team networked with neighbourhood groups and artistes, schools and residents and encouraged them to take over public walls, that art would have been truly of the people.

August 28, 2010

Making neighbourhoods lively

Binita Sashi and Gargi Advaithi love children. So they have created their world around them.
Both reside in K. K. Nagar in the western neighbourhood of this city and while they manage their own ventures in the sprawling neighbourhood still dominated by the Housing Board apartment blocks, they put their heads together to organise workshops and summer camps.
The duo were also responsible for a string of events to mark Madras Day. The gracious general manager of the Green Park Hotel in Vadapalani volunteered to provide a banquet hall free of cost and even offered refreshments to the guests who enjoyed workshops, story-telling and two talks.
The attendance at this event on a wet Sunday triggered ideas in Binita and Gargi.
Of the need to create and host such events that would make this part of the neighbourhood a happening place.
Religious discourses, classical music concerts and Sanskrit and Bhagawad Gita classes populate the calendar here. A play or a fun fete pops up as a surprise.
And Binita and Gargi feel that it is time they made an effort, a real, earnest effort to provide this neighbourhood with some interesting programmes.
Public talks on fascinating subjects seem easy to think of. If a network of speakers can be built and the owners of spaces like Hotel Green Park can play host, then the talks will fill the annual calendar.
The duo have worked closely with a local school which has a large but simple auditorium. Now this space can be used to stage plays in Thamizh and English or hold theatre workshops. If groups can volunteer freely, then another set of dots will fill the neighbourhood calendar.
Binita and Gargi are setting out to play a role in the public space. And if you can help in any way, I am sure the duo will appreciate it (contact - 99404 50495/ 96000 83124).
Look at how Sadanand Menon has made available two wonderful spaces at 1, Elliots Beach Road in Besant Nagar to any body which wants to host not-for-profit events - rock concerts, plays, film screenings, talks. . .

August 21, 2010

Communities celebrate the Madras Week

Ashwin Prabhu says missing Madras Day hurts.
A CitiBank executive now based in New York Ashwin is one of the many who would give a hand to soak in these celebrations.
A keen quizzer and winner of many a quiz, he says what he will miss most is the annual Madras Quiz, scheduled for August 22 afternoon at a school in Mylapore ( info is at
I posted Ashwin’s e-mail on the blog that is part of the Madras Day web site ( I felt it reflects the passion and intensity that many people have begun to express for this city now called Chennai.
As the ‘Madras Week’ enters its final phase, I realise that there is a lot more than the events, talks and contests that is beginning to well up.
Gallery promoter Chitra in Alwarpet located references to the contribution made by her great grandfather while working alongside architect Robert Chisholm who left his stamp on this city with his brand of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
Chitra’s curiosity led to a collection which she went on to display at her gallery in Alwarpet.
Out there in suburban Nanganallur, a community which organised an event for the first time, invited two of the earliest residents of what is called a mini Mylapore to narrate stories of the early days of this colony.
Antique collector Moses brought a small but fascinating collection of coins, pictures, books and maps to an exhibition  that is on till Sunday evening at Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram in Kilpauk. Buttons worn by the Governor’s music bands, kerosense lamps used in bungalows and a rice measure (‘padi’) made in Madras!
Former Railwayman and numismatist G. Ram Mohan of Alwarpet timed the release of his little book on his life and times for this week. The famed colony of Palathope, Mylapore dominates the narrative.
People have begun to treat their own histories seriously and are proud about them. Some have begun to collate and document them.
People, communities and neighbourhoods make a city. Not just politicians, statesmen, filmstars and business barons.

August 14, 2010

Madras Week

Where in Madras would you find Beer Shop Lane?

This could make a straight but heady question for a Madras Quiz. And I wonder if quizmaster Balaji Thirumalai would want to include it for the Madras Open Quiz that he will conduct in Mylapore in the afternoon on August 22.

We were intrigued when musician Barry Rosario took us around the Perambur which was the hub of the Anglo-Indian community once upon a time.

I am sure Mayor Subramanian will not be amused with this name if his zonal officers consider to rename this street but if they do so, a bit of local social history will be wiped off the local map.

‘Madras Week’ (August 15 to 22) provides an opportunity to do many useful things focussed on the city.

Research for talks or texts that can be presented to an invited audience. Collect photos and documents for an exhibition. Videograph for documentaries that can be screened across the city.

It also provides the space for people who possess histories, documents and stories to make them known to a larger audience.

Recently, I spent time at the small archives of the Madras-Mylapore diocese of the Catholic Church at the Bishop’s House in San Thome.

Father Vijay Kiran, who holds a doctorate in this field has taken charge as the archivist and is in the process of setting this dusty, messy house in order. It will be a long and arduous task but a worthy one if the local church and the Bishop support this hugely important project.

I have invited the priest to give a talk on the Cathedral next week and I hope this will encourage others to do so in future.

Another person who may be able to present a colourful talk is Keith Peters. I sounded him out when we met at the funeral service of Mithran Devanesan, Madras’ maverick theatreperson who passed away this past week. (Mithran too would have had stories to tell of the city’s English theatre history).

Keith, a bass guitarist is a regular at A R Rahman’s studio and concert tours. We grew up in the 60s on the fringe of Mount Road and music was always in the air. For, the Anglo-Indian musicians abounded in this part of the city - Royapettah, Pudupet, Mount Road, Thousand Lights . . .

There is a lot happening in Madras that is Chennai. Soak in. More is at

August 07, 2010

Vote for best sambhar!

Would you have Chennai or Madras on your Tee?
The prize-winning entry for a Tee contest held last year for Madras Day had the Chennai legend.
Sonali Seth submitted a design and worked on it after her entry was chosen to be the best.
That design has gone on the Tees (available in black / white) which are now on sale (you may see an image of the Tee on Madras Day’s Facebook link).
But two keen followers don’t think Chennai is apt.
Rajkumar Brian seemed unhappy and said so in so many words while quiz-whiz V. V. Ramanan shared the sentiment. Said Ramanan - We are celebrating Madras Day!
Comments, feedback and suggestions are always welcome. (You will see many more on the Facebook page)
They make this unique event organic.
There were lessons to learn from the Photowalk for Kids that Yocee organised in Triplicane last Sunday. From Ratna Café to Presidency College
(I breakfasted at Ratna 3 weeks ago on the famed idli-sambar combo and felt that Ratna’s sambar is not the best in Madras. My schoolmate friend C. K. Murali who grew up in Purusawalkam says Welcome Hotel in that area serves the best sambar - go on and nominate your ‘best sambar’ joint of Madras).
Kids were invited to shoot stuff that fascinated them but they were equally curious and wanted to learn more. Of horse-drawn carriages and old bus stop boards and of Hindu High School . . .
The walks for this year seem very attractive. Pradeep mails to say he has closed his tour of Madras’ temples in George Towne (90 have signed up) and surely, Sriram must be packed with that ‘See George Towne by Night’ that ends with a glass of hot milk!
The good news is that small groups across the city have also designed events. And if you have not, there is a week to think of one.
Street Food of Chennai anybody? A walking-eating tour!

July 31, 2010

St. Thomas Mount. Triplicane. Hertitage and nooks

What is bunk tea?
Tea made in the bunkers? Tea not made from tea leaves?
We were at the foothills of St. Thomas Mount. Richard O’Connor had come to meet me because we wanted to make a recce of this area and find out if there was a possibility of hosting a Heritage Walk for the Madras Week celebrations.
It was 4.30 p.m.
‘Would you like to have bunk tea before we set out?’
I was puzzled.
There exists a colourful lexicon of the Anglo-India language and though I have moved with them for many years, I had not heard of ‘bunk tea’.
Richard, who works for the Customs at Chennai Airport Complex and lives on the ‘hill’ pointed out to the tea shop with the asbestos roof, as if to answer me.
‘That’s the bunk!’
I got it.
And from the teashop owner there was more to learn when I asked him why the tea looked orangish.
‘People want it strong so we mix Kannan Devan and 3 Roses’.
I thought of that blackboard kept outside the old India Coffee Depot off Mount Road, behind India Silk House and the coffee mix they offered to customers.
There is so much you discover, experience and feel when you volunteer to take a closer look at places.
Anwar, photographer and researcher was tentative about hosting a Heritage Walk that took you to the last days of the Nawabs.
So I joined him for a recce of the Palace of Chepauk and of Triplicane. This area was our haunt when we were teenagers. But Anwar had the history of places we took for granted included a simple arch over a street that is 6 feet wide.
When we looked around for a tea shop, we stopped at a nook that sold samosas, vadas and a sweet made from beaten rice and sugar sold in a street where once the devadasis are said to have lived that bordered a
quiet mosque.
Madras Day / Week will hopefully show you a city you have not known or seen or felt. is your guide.

July 24, 2010

anglos' music world in Madras

Pals. Kwalitys. Gaylords.

What is the connection?

If you lived in Madras of the 60s you may have heard of them.

They were the popular entertainment spots for those who could afford them.

Music. Dining out. Cabaret.

And all of them were on Mount Road, now Anna Salai.

All three have passed into history.

A soiled shred of the Pals avatar seems to survive today in the area where the original was on swing. But you wouldn't even want to climb the grimy staircase that promises to take you to some evening entertainment.

With a wine shop-bar on the ground floor one can imagine what to expect in that dark hall.

The past weeks I have been working on what will be a documentary on the Anglo-Indian Community's world of music in Madras.

So I have been listening to stories of pre-Independent Madras and of the city of the 50s and 60s, of the heydays of the film recording studios, of the canabalisation of orchestras by electronic music and the dominance of the DJs.

Pals, Kwalitys and Gaylords provided these musicians spaces to perform and earn some good money after dusk.

Sadly, we have not been able to get our hands on pictures of these places that must find a place in a docu-film. Our search will have to prolong.

But the stories we are recording are fascinating.

Earlier this month, we enjoyed recording a packed rocking concert at the Museum Theatre.  Themed "Blazing Guitars", this concert featured Anglo-Indian musicians and was 100% country music.

There is more to do. Beatrix D' Souza of San Thome, professor, writer and former MP promises to tell us stories of the days of the Governor's Bands in Government Estate in pre-1947 India and musician Barry Rosario will be our guide through Perambur where the Railway Institute was the music and dance hub.

If you have pictures and stories to share, do e-mail.

July 17, 2010

Community Websites

We launched the beta version of the Mylapore Times web site a few weeks ago.

Built on a WordPress structure and designed for our needs by R. Revathi who runs the Yocee web site for the children of Chennai, we have kept things simple and straight.
And we have begun to post reports and pictures more frequently nowadays and will be graduating to daily posts soon.

We have also received the first stream of comments and feedback.

One suggestion has remained with me this past week.
A lady said that if we could provide some basic inputs that media requires, then people like her who are strong in their language skills but cannot be at a fulltime assignment could edit or write for us.

A web site scores when it is driven by the community, more so in the case of all the newspapers that I am involved in. And I believe that we must involve interested people.

I have been learning and sharing lessons with our experience at Arcot Road Times (

The better experience has also come from the ten years plus that we have spent on KutcheriBuzz (

What does stand out is the need to involve the community.
We don’t have to teach people how to write or how to email.
We need to show people what kind of content can make web sites like ours work, we need to learn from the tech-savvy readers small things that can better the user experience and we may want to share with people how we work and how they can join us closely.

In the days to come, we intend to have small meetings in the neighbourhood.
The outcome will help us as we steer the sites in Mylapore and later in Adyar.

Meanwhile, your feedback and ideas are welcome.
Mail me at or at

July 12, 2010

Chennai or Madras

Should Chennai Corporation create a space for citizens to discuss, debate and discourse on issues that affect our city?
It should.
It does.
It does by way of providing space, time and funds to councillors who are elected in 155 wards of this city. Councillors who are supposed to speak for the community they represent.
But do the real issues come up?
Take the case of the proposal to change the names of streets and roads.
A city’s civic body should have opened up the issue for discussion and debate, sought ideas and suggestions.
These would have enlightened all of us, the councillors and the Mayor.
‘Madras Musings’, the fortnightly devoted to all that is Madras and Chennai ran columns on the history behind the names of prominent street and road names. In a way, it gave all of us the hint that the names of people who had contributed to this city should be retained.
Chennai Corporation oftentimes takes its people for granted. Or sidelines them.
This week, a small group of residents of the Leith Castle area in San Thome said they visited the city Mayor to impress upon him the need to retain the name and gave him a bit of the history behind it.
They returned disappointed because the Mayor dismissed their contention and said so coldly.
I was amused when I read that the Corporation had even asked two new hotels to change their names because Mount Road was part of their names.
The reasoning - since Mount Road was renamed Anna Salai years ago, the former could not be used.
These are proper names and I don’t see how a civic body can keep ordering people and exceeds its powers.
It is a form of extremism. And it should be challenged.
It is up to citizens to get the Corporation to open up, to provide it a space for debate and to respect its views.
So speak up when you need to.

July 03, 2010

Madras Day 2010

The 2010 celebrations of Madras Day, that is Chennai Dinam will take place from August 15 to 22.

Being one of the catalysts of this event, I thought it would be appropriate for me to trigger an interest in all those people who want to take a lead in the celebrations.

Madras Day is of, by and for the people of this wonderful city.

What began as a one-day event has now become a week-long affair with over 100 events across the city.

Talks, heritage walks, exhibitions, contests, sales, film shows, music and dance . . . .all these have been conceived, hosted and run by people.

We do not have a centralised command, we do not engage a event management company, we do not go after sponsorship and funds.

But we do seek out hyperactive communities, groups and clubs who have the capacity, resources and passion to get involved, come up with their own event and celebrate this city.

Here are some leads you can build on now (we are seven weeks away from the event).

If you live in an interesting neighbourhood you can organise a heritage walk and make people aware of the greatness of the area.

Adyar, Thiruvanmiyur, Vadapalani, Vepery, George Town, Kottur, Royapuram, Gopalapuram, Triplicane. Every neighbourhood has its landmarks, its famous people and its distinct architecture. Do some research, plan the route and invite people and end the walk with a nice breakfast!

If you have senior people who have stories to share of Madras of the 50s and 60s, organise a talk.

If people can share old photos of the city, present a slide show or have an exhibition.

A show on Anna Nagar or of K K Nagar or of East Coast Road as it was 25 years ago. The neighbourhood will be fascinated.

Organise a fun cycle/bike/car rally - give people clues on the city’s less-known landmarks and drive them off to locate them. End with a picnic at Fort St. George or in Guindy Park or atop St. Thomas Mount.

Your effort is vital to celebrate this city. You can get backgrounders on the past celebrations at If you have queries, mail them to

And when you do finalise your event share the info with us.

Now, take a look at what a young city-based band called Null Friction did with a song called ‘ Madras’. Go to

June 26, 2010

Renaming Chennai Streets

There is a move in Sastri Nagar, a neighbourhood in Adyar to rename the streets and roads.
Some busy bodies said that since the City Fathers have decided to consign most British names to the bin and rename streets after Thamizh scholars it is time a nagar does its bit.

I have been invited to put in my two-bits because some one said I indulge in history and heritage.
So they said as long as I refrain from suggesting Portuguese and Armenian names I could contribute.
But there is a lot of work on our hands. There are 15 Cross Streets and 10 lanes in this nagar. And one main road.

I agreed with the busy bodies that the Cross Streets are pretty dull as far as names for streets go.
When I first moved to this neighbourhood I thought the simple names made sense. It would be easy for guests and visitors to locate our places since there was a logical process in naming the streets.
But when a young man came looking for ‘Pepsi’ Uma’s residence and we made some enquiries, then we realised there were a few bends in the location of some streets.

15th Cross Street was not located after 13th and 14th but on the fringe of the nagar. The Corporation officials must have got it wrong somewhere when they plotted this place.

I find that most people do not use the name of the street. They know them by the name of the personalities who reside there. I used to refer to Vazhapadi Ramamurthy’s place when he used to live closeby till his death. My istriwallah kept referring to the Governor’s street as his alternate space! ‘Pepsi’ Uma, the TV anchor joined the name call more recently.

So here we are with the grand idea of dumping the Cross Streets and Straight Lanes of our nagar. Our busy bodies say we act fast to pre-empt the City Father from burdening us with names that are two metres long. And of people we never knew or have not seen.

Veteran Congressman P. Ramachandran used to be our neighbour so I wonder if our street may want to have his name. Maybe the City Fathers should leave it to the community to rename their streets.

Whatever our busybodies do, I would not want them to change Cart Track Street! This is a small patch that links two busy roads. It used to be the only path for carriages from this part of Adyar headed to the sandy swathes now called Besant Nagar. The past is important for the future.

Cart Track Street - it is there in the Corporation’s records!

June 19, 2010

List heritage places

If you are aware of red brick buildings built in the 19th century in the city, one man is interested in your leads.
D. Hemachandra Rao is back at his research and documentation desk for another project.
Documenting the red public buildings of Madras.
A retired civil engineer and heritage enthusiast, Rao has many documentations to his credit.

Last year, he completed an assignment on the classical bridges in our city and made it the theme of a special postal cover. Since then, he has been writing to the Chennai Corporation to make the best use of these old bridges, known for their architectural design and not to demolish them.

Rao has gone on to shoot pictures of the red buildings. And there are a good number around. The landmarks inside the Museum complex in Egmore, the buildings along the Marina and in the Goshen Hospital campus in Triplicane (‘Gosha Hospital’) and the Veterinary Hospital campus in Vepery.

He has some more on his list, including the oldest set of police stations like those in Mylapore, Royapettah, Chintadripet and Triplicane.

And if you do know of others which stand out for this unique building style, Rao will be happy to get your leads (you can call him on 98408 70172).

If you are proud of our heritage there a bit more you can do now.

Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has invited us to suggest a listing of all heritage buildings which it will locate, evaluate and notify later.

It accepts suggestions on places which are of historical significance in terms of people who lived there or events that took place on the premises. You can also suggest buildings for architectural design and spaces of cultural heritage.

CMDA intends to work towards drawing up a Heritage Act that will protect these landmarks and provide their owners with bonuses like special land development rights.

You can send suggestions to the CMDA office in Egmore or e-mail them to

Look around your neighbourhood and start listing.

June 12, 2010

Exploring St. Thomas Mount

I play a tourist guide when relatives and friends pass through this city. And there is one tour that I promise them for obvious reasons.

A church tour.

This tour starts at the Cathedral in San Thome, touches the Annai Velankanni Church in Besant Nagar and the church atop the ‘little mount’ in Saidapet and ends at Saint Thomas Mount.

Recently, my friends suggested that they would have time for just one destination and since they were to take a flight out, I suggested Saint Thomas Mount.

I did not take them directly up the hill to the church. Rather we decided to explore the area at the foothill.

St. Thomas Mount was a cantonment of the British. It began in a small way and expanded over years to include the areas of Meenambakkam and Pallavaram.

Today, a Catonment Board runs the administration of this region of our city. Little of the heritage of the 18th century survives, but a walk around the foothills of the mount is rewarding, especially if you do it on a Sunday morning.

Barracks, offices, an ancient Garrison church, the polo ground, garages, stables, parade grounds . . . this area has a lot to offer the interested traveller.

The walk up the hill - you may choose the pathway of steep steps or the metal road - is a nice experience. And at the summit, the tour of the small heritage church and the splendid views of the city are a reward for time well spent.

An ideal way to maximise the fun element of this trip is to include a picnic brunch/lunch, partaken on the top of this mount. Sandwiches, juice, fruits and cakes!

There are many neighbourhoods on the fringes of our city which are attractive picnic destinations.

Some are dominated by temples, some retain architectural classics, others treasure the relics of the British, a few retain the village that the area once was and a few others are home for trees, birds and butterflies.

If you have been to some exciting destinations in or around our city, do let me know.

And if you haven’t had a picnic for some time, plan one now.

June 05, 2010

Vox pops on sensitive issues

What do you do when a cardiologist at a well known hospital insists that your dad has to undergo an angiogram without waiting for the results of the preliminary tests and you begin to have doubts about the consultation?

And you soon get feedback that the doctor likes to take his patients to the operation theatre?

First, you seek an alternative and save your dad from an ordeal. Two, you warn others of dangers that lurk in our hospitals, however reputed they claim to be.

Earlier this week, I received a mail from a person who said he had a tense time at a city hospital. The mail detailed his unnerving experience and the things he had to do to get out of the situation.

Obviously, this mail was doing the rounds of all those who were on the correspondent’s contact list.

How does one handle issues that relate to medical services which are sensitive and complex?

How do we brief people on our ‘experiences’ at hospitals and clinics when we have to deal with ‘grey areas’?

You can take the serious issues to court.

But what about basic issues that bother us at hospitals, banks, temples and police stations?

Today, the Net provides the space and medium to highlight these issues as and when they happen. Also, they reach a larger number of people and sensitises them to slack services, hefty billings, crafty schemes or shoddy work.

When our readers write to us on such issues, we publish the letters that touch on broader issues which we think affect the lives of the community.

There must be some space for vox pops.

Banks, hospitals and state agencies certainly do not take kindly to the publication of such issues.

‘Had it been brought to our notice we could have easily handled it.’ This is what many would say.

Today though, lots more is being communicated on the Net. And some of it is shaping opinion and impacting on the people, businesses or agencies they are critical of. Especially when the observation is genuine and reasonable.

May 29, 2010

Local avenues for youth

Sai Janani is one of the students who attended a fortnight long course in Journalism and Writing that we ran at the ‘Adyar Times’ office.

She lives in Tambaram and when she queried about this short course I asked her twice if she would want to travel the distance to attend classes held in Adyar.

She was firm on her decision and she had a plan too.

After class, Janani would hop across to her grandmom’s house closeby, refresh, have lunch, take a bus to Tambaram, scout for a news story, do the field work and get back to Adyar to her grandmom’s place to repair for the night.

It was easier to stay in Adyar and be on time for class than chase a Tambaram-Adyar bus.

If travel was tiresome, finding stories was daunting. But Janani seems to have persevered.

She wrote on a local kho kho team which has done well and is training local lads. She quizzed PWD engineers who were directing road widening work in Tambaram and she spent time at a ‘home’ for AIDS-infected women run by an NGO.

For a novice, for some one who is in school, the effort was good. And I am sure the girl, like many others who attended this course must have learnt a few new skills.

However, the course made it very apparent to me how little people seem to know of their neighbourhood.

Is it important for young people to know their environment?

I think it is.

For this knowledge, experience and understanding will stand in good stead now and in the future.

There are many avenues where you can start.

Local newspapers are surely great starting points. They provide you a variety of assignments that take you to different places and people and put you in different situations. So if you are the sort who likes to meet and talk to people and write, this is one avenue.

If you are nature or civic conscious, join the activities of a community group. One that works on the beach or protects turtles, or a group that works at a local nature reserve.

Get involved in an active association for residents of the colony where you live. A body which not only deals with issues that affect its members but also addresses issues like traffic management and security in the locality.

Not-for-profit social welfare bodies are another starting point for youngsters.

You don’t have to look beyond the neighbourhood if you really want to get involved.

May 22, 2010

Dr. Reddy’s Foundation is a unique Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.
It runs short training courses which impart basic and special skills to poor youths and prepares them for a job in different sectors.
Thousands of young men and women have benefited from this Foundation which is promoted by the hugely successful Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories in Hyderabad.
The Foundation runs a few centres in our city.
Earlier this month, the head of the Chennai Chapter of the Foundation ( contact phone - 23651797) mailed a brochure and a letter with a request.
It was an appeal to the local media to publicise the short term courses offered locally so that people would be aware of them and also share this information with families and youths who stand to gain from it.
In the city, there are courses in retailing and hospitality, sales and BPO and they are run in places like Mint and Velachery, Triplicane and Ayanavaram, typically neighbourhoods where the need is immense.
I shared this information with a teenager who has been working part time at our office. Ayyappan, a Chennai School student has just got his Plus Two exam results and he is not in the clouds. He did not score high in math and chemistry and though he has begun applying for engineering courses, he is unsure.
Ayyappan’s parents work in the construction industry and they are hoping that their son will study further and get a job that will change the course of his life.
Information and opportunities like the ones that Dr. Reddy’s is providing to youths like Ayyappan rarely reach their homes or schools. Hence, they are not able to make the most of what is on offer alternatively.
We must create an informal/formal channel which makes available such information to those who can gain from it.
Our photographer R. Saravanan at Mylapore went that extra mile to locate and talk to two students who topped in their schools. He came back with stories of young people who just cannot afford college education though they have excelled.
Perhaps the request for financial support from the well-off will change the course of these lives.
There are many more in our neighbourhoods who can make a mark if they are provided small funds and educational and vocational guidance.
You have the opportunity to contribute.

May 15, 2010

Housing Board colonies become history

K. K. Nair used to be a battle-scarred veteran in the Sports Department of the Indian Express when I started freelancing for this newspaper in the early 80s.
He was the sort who never knew retirement.
I lost contact with Nair when I went my way, though I heard later that he was given an assignment with the group’s publication on astrology!
Recently, I renewed contact with him.
We run a column called ‘Rewind’ at the Arcot Road Times ( which features senior residents of this neighbourhood who recall their early days in the area.
It is, in some ways a social history document. We ask people to talk about the geography and the features of the area, their living experiences and the day to day practices that dominated their lives in the 50s/60s/70s.
Nair was not exactly the first set of people who came to live in K. K. Nagar, a neighbourhood designed and promoted by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board to provide affordable housing to people.
Those were the days when the Board either sold plots or built apartments of the ‘M’ and ‘T’ type - in K. K. Nagar, Anna Nagar and in Besant Nagar.
Nair was aware of the Board’s offers but he says he did not have the money to think of investing in property till somebody forced him to apply, put in a word and a plot was allotted to him under the journalists’ quota!
Nair had loads of stories to share for the ‘Rewind’ column including one on how the thick scrublands and small groves in West K. K. Nagar and Nesapakkam provided just the conditions for small groups to brew local liquor and sell it after dusk.
And he still could not forget the day he had to employ men to chop down a huge mango tree in his compound that gave abundant fruit every year and was a kind of landmark on his road.
Today, the face of all these Housing Board colonies that were promoted in the city is changing. And the change is rapid.
All the ‘M’ and ‘T’ type blocks, the artisan plots and the larger houses are giving way to rows and rows of new blocks of apartments.
Since all these plots were large, the space to develop is substantial and real estate companies are happily grabbing the rights to demolish the HB blocks and build modern ones.
In many ways then, the Housing Board features which dominated the neighbourhoods of Ashok Nagar and
K. K. Nagar, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur, Anna Nagar and Mogappair are lapsing into history.
Nair, like many others, now lives in an apartment, having sold his plot to developers. But he is happy that he lives close to a Sri Ayyappa Temple where he is an active volunteer.

May 08, 2010

Spirit of Summer Holidays

Summer madness.
You may have heard of it.
Summer freedom.
You may have witnessed it.
You will, if you stay home on weekdays.
Groups of young boys doing the rounds of the neighbourhoods, free from the drudgery of the routine of school and the burden of examinations.
Last week, still in bed as the clock sounded the morning hour of seven I heard a collective roar float across the colony.
It took some time for me to assume that the exclamations were coming in from the north where the local playground is located.
Later, as I left for work I noticed bands of boys of all sizes and shapes trudging out of the ground carrying bats, balls and stumps.
They must have had their fill of a quick cricket match played on empty stomachs and it was now time to take a break.
The boys wore colourful clothes. Tees, shorts, cargos.
Boys often want to amuse themselves all the time. Some just cannot keep their hands to themselves.
And in summer, there is only one target – mangoes.
There is a certain thrill in bringing down mangoes from trees in a neighbourhood garden. Looking for the proper stones, taking aim, knocking down the fruit and scampering from yelling house-owners or irritated watchmen.
Summer freedom.
The boys who live close to the beach enjoy a picnic every other day.
Patrolling policemen and warning boards do not stop these boys from doubling across the sands and diving into the sea.
They are always looking for adventure. Perhaps to hijack a lone catamaran. Or look for a perch that can serve as a diving board.
The sane among them paddle or roll around on the shore a dozen times and conduct another game of cricket on the sands. Beach cricket, like 20:20 has its own thrills.
Boys love to take out their cycles this season. Riding doubles and trebles adds to the thrill. There are nooks to be explored.
The quiet end of the beach, a leafy bungalow whose owners are out on their holidays or the far corner of  an untenanted campus.
Simple joys of summer hols.

May 01, 2010

Neel Metal Fanalca has failed

This is an ‘open’ letter to the Mayor of Chennai, M. Subramaniam.

And it has to do with the private agency which has been signed on by the City Fathers to clear and dispose garbage in four zones of this city. Neel Metal Fanalca.

We have a Mayor who is at work. Consistent, on-the-job and committed too.

So I hope he gives this issue more than passing attention.

Yesterday, in the city council, many councillors had only harsh words for this agency. Some of them wanted the Corporation to terminate this contract. Some others wanted stringent action.

The Mayor has promised to act - he says he will pack off Neel Metal from one of the zones where it operates.

Many people would tell him that he should pack them off for good.

Neel Metal has to go. Now.

This is a company that just did not do its job from the month it took charge.

It never learned from its mistakes. It refused to improve and it seems to be enjoying its contract despite criticism from all sides.

And so I wonder, and so do many others - how does the state tolerate such an agency?

Neel Metal is paid well for the job it has been contracted to do. It had lessons to learn, follow or adapt from Onyx, the private agency which did the same job in the earlier years.

But it has failed. Miserably.

The money that is paid to Neel Metal is from the money we tax-payers pay to the city Corporation.

It has to be accountable. But it has not been so.

How then does Mayor Subramaniam, who is so keen about the state of this city allow this agency to carry on with its shoddy work?

I do not think Neel Metal can be given a third chance.

So, Mr. Mayor, instead of packing it off from one zone, pack it off for good and please find a better alternative.

April 24, 2010

Think of the birds . . .

The banana tree in our apartment campus is in bloom. And baby fruits have begun to emerge.

We looked at it for a long time yesterday morning - these are rare sights for those who live in a concrete jungle.

The tree needed attention - it has begun to tilt probably due to the weight of the blossom of flowers, and so this Sunday we will use coir ropes, create a support and ensure that the tree remains upright and the fruits grow well.

There is another job to do this Sunday.

Put up a water pan on our trees - water for the birds.

Besant Nagar resident Kamla Ravikumar’s experience which she shared with an e-group triggered the thought.

Kamla seems to have a thought for the birds at summertime. In our concrete neighbourhood, we must realise that there are hardly any water sources where birds can enjoy a bath and quench their thirst.

There used to be a time when the public water taps were such sources.

Taps or water pumps where people who did not have water supplied to their homes joined the queue.

The flowing or stagnant water at these pumps served our birdies well.

A few crows and the odd sparrow, the only form of birdlife that the concrete jungle accommodates.

Kamla has been keeping mud pans and pots on the open balcony and on the terrace and filling them up with water.

She has had to refill them often - an indication of the demand for water at this time of the year.

You can also hang or fix these pots and pans on the branches of trees. Even on the trees that line your campus walls.

If you wish to be generous, you can provide grains in another pan.

These are little things we can do for our winged friends. And if you have children around, get them involved.

April 17, 2010

Activist readers

Do you follow-up on reports you publish?
This is a question readers ask me on e-mail or in person.
Is there some impact that words and pictures make?
On officials, on people, on the community.
There is some impact. But there is no magic.

If a newspaper could catalyse huge changes then it would be a fantastic achievement.
But you and I can make bigger changes if we could work together.
We have a role to play; so do you.

A few people think that by dashing off e-mails to the newspapers or writing a string of letters, some kind of magic will happen.
It will not.

In Mumbai, an NGO is executing a simple exercise as far civic issues go.

It invites people to use their cam-cellphones or their digital cameras to shoot pictures of serious civic problems and post them on a Web space.

Officials of state agencies are asked to take a look every now and then - for they can decide if the problem is real and serious and how they are going to deal with it.

Perhaps it also records the civic office’s response to such issues and makes apparent in what is also a public space.

Now, if a newspaper like ours reports an issue it is difficult for a small team to keep a tab on it all the time. But people who live in the area, people associated with the issue or civic conscious people can certainly keep an eye on it and update us.

A tech-savvy group certainly can tap into technology to create spaces that help keep a tab on pot-holed roads and garbage piles if that is what worries your colony.

Another volunteer group can list community complaints and ask the correspondent to update them every now and then - online.

I am sure there are many other ways in which we can followup on issues and ensure our actions create an impact.
I would like to hear from you.

April 10, 2010

Plan to redesign T. Nagar

This is a vision statement.

It runs - To develop T. Nagar into a sustainable world-class shopping destination which will function harmoniously with the residential, cultural and environmental characteristics of T. Nagar.

Our City Fathers are turning their attention to T. Nagar. They want to re-develop, revitalize, re-construct, re-engineer, renovate, re-visit, re-store, resurrect, restructure and revive what is probably Chennai’s hottest neighbourhood.

Early, this week, they organised the first public consultation on this project.

Holding such consultations is a fairly simple task for the state - you pick up a list of what you believe are the stakeholders: in this case they are residents, shop owners, hawkers and local policemen, cull from a list of city civic activists, invite the city media and key officials and roll the ball.

I did not have an invitation but decided to gate-crash. Nobody objected. As long as you have your two-bit to contribute at the mike, any organiser is happy with your presence.

There is drama at such consultations. Some speakers can spit fire and brimstone, some use the occasion to settle old scores and some love to hang on to the mike.

Anyway, guests get their share of a free run of views, suggestions and opinions and then the consultants take over.

Consultants always have some grand ideas.

In an age where Photoshop is child’s play, a consultant can clip pictures of a Korean subway shopping mall and paste them on the Mambalam railway station or copy scenes from a community park in Brussels and enliven the atmosphere that exists at Paanagal Park!

I am really not sure how ‘public’ these public consultations are or what purpose they really serve.

Public consultations are a must and should be open and democratic exercises. And they should respect much of what people have to offer.

I did not have much to offer at the T. Nagar consultation for I was there to observe what went on at such public fora on issues that affect our city.

But I did make a few suggestions.

To print simple, colourful brochures outlining the vision, plans and ideas for T. Nagar and circulate them at all the shops and apartments in this neighbourhood.

To feature the salient features and designs on display boards and erect them at public squares in this district

To launch a web site exclusively on this project and encourage lots of interaction and communication between stakeholders, the public and the state and their designates.

I think when such huge and critical issues concerning us all are floated the first thing to do is to be transparent and encourage lots of debate, discussion and participation.

April 03, 2010

Documenting the city in films

What were the most commonly used landmarks in Thamizh films of the 60s and 70s when the film maker wanted to establish a link with Madras?
Central Railway Station and the LIC building on Mount Road.
But there was yet another city landmark that was a favourite of our film makers.
Marina Beach.
I remember the remarkable film director Sridhar recalling his tryst with the Marina. He not only got his flashes of inspiration while strolling on the lawns of the beach or sitting there for a while, but he also shot some of his popular song sequences here.
If you are a keen film buff you may have noticed how these film makers shifted their locations as the city began to get crowded.
Besant Nagar was a new favourite. It still is. But in the 70s, the Elliots Beach and more importantly, the avenues leading from the beachfront provided quiet shooting locations for the crew.
Popular cinema also records the life and times of a city, a city quarter, a neighbourhood and of its people.
It is a social document.
So when ‘Angadi Theru’ released last week and the previews had a lot to talk about this film which is based on life on Ranganathan Street in T. Nagar, I was keen to watch this film.
Everybody who loves shopping in this city knows about Pondy Bazaar and Ranganathan Street and here was director Vasantha Balan, who had impressed with his previous film ‘Veyil’ handling a subject that may not be box office material.
‘Angadi Theru’ is a good film and a brave effort.
It documents the life of one of Chennai’s busiest shopping zones - its businesses, the owners of these ventures, the people who work there and the people on the fringe.
It documents a slice of Chennai’s life.
There is another film that should also interest us. ‘Madrasapatnam’ has attempted to set a story in this city of the early 2oth century.
If you get to watch any of these films, share your comments, particularly on the ways in which a city gets to be part of the film.

March 27, 2010

Making docu films on Chennai

They call themselves Vanniyakula Christians. A small community which grew in the groves of San Thome, close to Foreshore Estate.

Their forefathers may have headed to Madras from places like Pondicherry and the Madurai region.

One is not sure if they were Christian converts even before the migration took place or if they became Christians after they grew roots in a place which is still rich in the saint Thomas tradition.

Being a close-knit community, they held strongly and proudly to their customs and beliefs and when they had to assert themselves they even challenged the institutional Church of this land.

One lasting legacy has been the celebration of the feast of a saint that is dear to them. Saint Lazarus. A saint who is believed to be the patron of lepers and the sick.

How this saint became a patron of the Vanniyakula Christians, who are commonly referred to as Naickers, is diffused in legends and oral traditions.

Was it because the San Thome grove once used to be the refuge of sick people who had no home of their own and sought refuge in a saint and in the church that the Jesuit missionaries established here?

Or was the saint a favourite patron long before people migrated and he remained in their hearts after they made a new home in Madras?

I have heard stories of the celebration of this feast the past years. And when friend F. J. Vincent, a senior San Thomite, former Bedean and church activist shared with me many stories of the past and of the community he too is part of, we decided to make a docu-film on this feast that is unique in local church history.

We hope to screen this film next weekend at an event that is being organised for all those who wish to produce docu-films on our city.

Films of this nature are few. A shame for a city that has a fascinating history, people and character.

With more and more young and creative people looking at avenues that challenge them, this is the time to get media students and professionals to spare time to make docu-films on our city.

If you are keen, then drop by at Alliance Francaise on April 3, 3 p.m. Three films will be screened and there will be a dialogue on this movement. To correspond use

March 20, 2010

Spaces are ours!

I spent the past week in Chidambaram, at the Natyanjali Dance Festival that is held every year on the occasion of Mahasivaratri at the magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja.

My team at KutcheriBuzz web casts some of the recitals on all five days of the Fest while I provide the reportage.

While the stage in the eastern prakaram of the temple provides the space for dancers from all over the country and abroad to offer their ‘anjali’ the mornings often end up with animated conversations at the kalyana mantap where artistes and their guests are served breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On one morning, we had a conversation with scholar-teacher Dr. B. M. Sundaram and the livewire secretary of the Natyanjali Trust, A. Sambandam who is also an advocate.

We talked about the nadaswaram tradition in temple spaces and Sundaram, who has researched, documented and written on this artiste community said that Chidambaram is possibly the only temple where this tradition continues in its best form. And it can be witnessed at its best during the Navaratri and Arudra celebrations when the artistes perform as the procession winds its way through the mada veedhis from and to the temple shrine- an all-night affair.

Spaces and traditions are closely intertwined.

The nadaswaram conversation in Chidambaram brings me to the condition of spaces in our neighbourhood.

Spaces for art and for recreation, spaces for conversation and for the environment.

Last week, the community in CIT Colony in the Mylapore neighbourhood enjoyed the civic success they had achieved. They worked hard with the city’s civic body to convert a disused play area into a neighbourhood park.

Now, residents here can go for their daily walks, let their children indulge in fun games and sit around and chat as the sun goes down.

This space is now their own.

Importantly, they seem to be aware that unless they take charge of the space and maintain it, it may slide into a condition that the playground was in until recently.

The city’s civic body undertakes many development works. Though some of them are fancy and isolated which end up as wasted money, the ones that do serve a neighbourhood must be managed by its residents.

Story sessions, a walkers club, monthly music concerts, yoga classes . . . organised, hosted and managed by local groups will keep these places alive.

Spaces need our sustenance. So do the arts.

March 13, 2010

Share your talent!

Will children enjoy a Summer Camp which teaches them a set of traditional games and promises them a week of fun?

Asha from Hyderabad thinks kids will.

She was responding to an earlier column of mine which touched on what kids could do this summer.

Asha said that since we were involved with the celebration of the annual ‘Mylapore Festival’ (it would be easy for us to tap our resources and host a camp of traditional games.

I appreciated Asha’s suggestion after I scanned her blog.

A native of Tamil Nadu, she has lived in Bangalore and is now in Hyderabad. Her blog is populated with long posts on traditional food, customs and life of the past.

She hopes that this document may come in handy for her children when they grow up if they decide to take the best out of the old!

Two others responded to my other idea - of a camp by the seaside. One, a trekking enthusiast says he will help organise a long walk on the waterfront and into the scrub jungle.

I particularly appreciated the idea of the ‘Trekking Polama’ concept that the Chennai Trekking Club hosted to mark its anniversary where its members used the occasion to demonstrate to people how to plan and prepare for treks and how a tent is set up and stuff like that.

Another young man has been enthusiastic to demonstrate the art of angling.

When was the last time you really held a large fish or a crab in your hands?

I am sure kids would love the angling experience even if they are not fish-eaters. I am doubly sure that my young friends in the kuppams would be thrilled to demonstrate how to catch crabs in the backwaters!

I must say that most of our Summer Camps for Kids are boring, dull and unimaginative. The fun element is missing in most cases and many host them to spin some extra money.

And we still have parents who send their kids for ‘special classes’ during summer hols

This may well be the time when our talented adults can get imaginative.

In our neighbourhoods, there are people who love gardening or painting, animators and biologists, designers and Frisbee players. You could spare a few hours and offer to share your skills with our kids.

In return you may learn a bit from them and this experience.

We are doing our bit. A Journalism Camp. Info at

March 06, 2010

Tribute to a committed citizen

Did you notice that funerals of our time are like flowers that drop off the ‘thoongamoongee maram’?

Our neighbour dies, condolences are passed on quietly, the mourning is subdued and the funeral is over quietly and life moves on.

In an increasingly cocooned and frenetic world we are like flowers on an avenue tree.

At our newspapers, we make an effort to look at these flowers when the day is done and they have gone to sleep.

I woke up this morning to the news of the passing away of a man I knew better as a neighbour who would chat a bit in our colony.

The previous night, an autorickshaw had dropped me off at the street corner and I had hurried home, keen to watch the second half of the India-Spain World Cup hockey match, a make-or-break tie for India.

I have this habit of glancing at the two streets that cross the colony - perhaps this habit has grown out of a journo’s training. You always take a second look at things.

The sign of a death was simply not around though my neighbour lived on the other side of a street junction.

The morning newspaper announced his death. And I said a prayer.

P. V. Srinivasan was a man I liked. Because he kept a tab on the neighbourhood and when the ‘Adyar Times’ rolled out 17 years ago, was one of those regular correspondents.

A retired scientist at the Central Institute of Leather Research (CLRI), one of those national institutes that dot the Guindy region, Srinivasan often wrote letters on the positive uses of leather and leather footwear.

A few lines on how this material best suits us in our torrid climatic conditions would appear dull stuff but to us, it was a letter worth publishing. It was useful information that came from a professional who wanted to share a bit of useful knowledge.

Srinivasan was also a civic conscious citizen. He kept an eye on Sastri Nagar, making a note of the problems as he went about his morning walks and on errands later in the day. Dead streetlights, need for speed breakers, suggestions for maps of colonies, polluted water . . . .

Back home, he would put them down on an inland letter and post it to us and to other newspapers.

He called a spade a space and if things were set right by the state agencies, he also had a warm word of appreciation for them.

State agency staffers have told me that they respected Srinivasan’s observations because he neither blew up a problem nor complained needlessly.

He was the neighbourhood’s watchdog, a committed citizen.

We need dozens and hundreds of Srinivasans for our neighbourhoods if we are to enjoy a free, well-facilitated and peaceful life.

We need people who report the hiccups that plague our colonies, those who follow-up on projects that the state provides us, trigger responses when other people violate laws or flout their power and engage with elected representatives and officials.

Postcards and inland letters, the Internet and a responsible media can make a difference.
Srinivasan did.
So can you.

February 27, 2010

Plans for kids this summer

Children, lend me your eyes and your ideas too.

Because I am in the planning mode ahead of your summer holidays and have been wondering how we can link up with you this May-June.

A few ideas began to set off last Sunday when I took a group on a Walk inside the Fort.

In that group of 32 were three children, all residents of the K K Nagar-Virugambakkam neighbourhood.

One, a boy with a notebook tightly held seemed to know Indian history well and filled in with recaps as we hopped from Clive’s House to the western ramparts and to the King’s Barracks, now crumbling with the Army’s stores.

When we wound up outside the Fort Museum that morning, the threesome said they thoroughly enjoyed the walk.

How did you come?” I asked anxiously as the group dispersed.

“Dad brought us . . he is in the parking lot.”

“And don’t you want to take him to the museum?”

‘No, he doesn’t like this but he will wait for us”.

Here was a Dad who may not have had a special interest in cutlery, Cornwallis and cannon balls but let the kids enjoy what they wished to.

I’d like to know if we could organize a few special Heritage Walks only for senior children this summer?

The Fort must be one. What about other places that you may want to explore?

Mount Road or My Ladye’s Gardens or the Guindy National Park?

Your ideas will help us plan just for you.

I am also planning our annual Journalism and Writing Camp. Perhaps this year we will hold it for 10/12 days in late April so you can enjoy the whole of May on a holiday.

We have two classroom sessions every day and we also invite young journalists to talk to the participants. We ask the kids to contribute to a blog and if the reports are good, we use them in our weeklies.

What else can we provide young writers-to-be?

Maybe one trip that takes you to a news hotspot?

Or a trip to the High Court or a printing press?

Give us your ideas to make this Camp great for those who sign up.

Also on my mind is an overnight camp in a fishing village and lakeside space where you spend time in the countryside and also learn alongside kids of the villages - how people fish, how to understand sea life, how a cattamaran works. . you get to climb up a crumbling fort and watch the stars at night.

I look forward to your mails at my blog.

For Walks go to

For the blog on our annual Journalism Camps, go to -

For the seaside camp, put your message in a bottle!

February 20, 2010

Madras Walks

Was Madras born out of one man's fancy for a woman in the Portuguese countryside?

I am asked this question sometimes by people who join me on the heritage walk of the Fort.

Obviously, they have read a little more than the core history of this fantastic place that led to the creation of Madras.

The story goes that one of the prospecting Englishmen of the Company who sailed down the Coromandel chose this piece of sandy strip of desolate land so that he could be closer to his lady love.

There isn't much to this story but there is more to the story of a dead body in the Elambore River which the Englishmen first let the locals handle by themselves but later intervened and introduced some laws for the land.

There are dozens of stories one can share on a Walk around the Fort. But they could distract from the variety that visitors can enjoy in this city within a city.

The moat, the underground chambers, the ramparts, the flagmast, the buildings and barracks, the church and memorial stones, Admiralty House and bungalows on 'Snobbery' Street and the Museum . . .

These heritage walks are conducted by people who are passionate about some aspect of the city. Its community, its history, its temples, Nature, the arts. . . .

But because the people who conduct them do so when their bread-and-butter assignments provide a break or when passion overtakes them, Heritage Walks are few and far between.

However, of late we have found that the interest in such walks is growing and so we floated Madras Heritage Walks with a web site ( URL - which would be an umbrella for info on such walks.

We hope to present at least 3 walks every month. Most will be the tried and tested packages but there will also be some nice surprises.

Some will be free, some paid ones but all of them, we hope will be enjoyable experiences.

Pradeep Chakravarthy will run the second edition of his hugely successful tour of an ancient Velachery Temple and its environs in late March while D. Hemachandra Rao is waiting for the tides to raise the level of the water in the Buckingham Canal to organise a slow boat Heritage Tour from a point off the East Coast Road to recapture the experience that your grandparents had when they went on a picnic to Mahabalipuram.

We also invite people who are experts in an area's history to design a Walk and offer it to the city and tourists. The markets of Royapettah, the churches of Broadway, the landmarks of Royapuram. You are not called to become a tourist guide. Rather, be a story-teller on a hour-long walk and do this when you are free.

The e-mail to use -

February 13, 2010

Document your life!

When you are in the right place at the right time, a lot can happen.
C. P. Venkataraman was one such man who was in the middle.
Working in the Telegraph department may appear to be an unexciting job.
It was not.
Ask any telegraphist of the old days and a nudge will produce a string of 'believe-it-or-not stories'.
Venkataraman found himself in some exciting spots that his job took him to in the Madras of the 30s and 40s.
Cricket matches, for example.
He was in charge of setting up and running the communications for this sporting event and when the Aussies came visiting they found in Venkataraman a reliable man who ensured they could could talk to their wives and families uninterrupted and assure them back home that Madras was not overrun by snakes and elephants.
In return, the Aussies posed for keepsake pictures that the proud Telegraph person showed off to his colleagues.
There was also a war time assignment when he had to co-ordinate the job of setting off the war raid warning sirens in this city.
He was the sort of man who made friends easily and when he grew roots in the Mylapore area he came to know the biggest and brightest lawyers of the land like Sriman Srinivasa Iyengar. (His family says that Venkataraman pushed the agenda to have a road in the area named after this towering personality).
At Pachaiyappa's, he had rubbed shoulders with C. N. Annadurai who went on to become the leader of the DMK and a state chief minister.
Recently, his family celebrated C. P. Venkataraman's centenary, making a handsome donation to city based voluntary bodies who are doing immense service to less fortunate people.
Dr C. V. Geetha, Venkataraman's daughter had spoken to me when she was making preparations for this milestone.
I took that opportunity to make a suggestion. A suggestion I made after I heard some of the anecdotes that made Venkataraman who he was.
Create a PowerPoint or a slide show on the person and present it to the family, relatives, guests and well wishers at the centenary event.
Dr. Geetha called me soon after the event, keen to share some pictures of the celebration. And she told me that she had worked on my idea and the presentation was appreciated.
I am hoping this adds to the social history record that some of us are building today.
Celebrations, compilations, books and records are not meant only to be on the famed and the successful.
They have to be on people who have led interesting lives.
There should be one or two people in your family tree who have made a mark or contributed immensely.
A engineer who designed the bridges of our city. A doctor who set up a free clinic and ran it for 50 years. A teacher who changed the face of a school.
Please compile pictures and records and jot down information on them.
Circulate them amongst your family and relatives.
Create social records.