January 30, 2010

Sarathy's life

Sarathy is in class six. He studies at a high school run by nuns off the East Coast Road and lives on the fringe of a small patch of paddy fields his father owns, handed down the generations.
One of three children, Sarathy likes to go to school but when it comes to homework and serious study he does not sweat over it.
He would rather explore the world outside.
We met Sarathy during a recent visit of this area, once hit by the tsunami. He was sitting on the edge of the Buckingham Canal and watching the waters closely.
He should have been in school that Wednesday but he had told his class teacher that he would like to rest - since he was recovering from a stomach ailment.
Instead of going home he had set up locally-made traps in the quiet waters of the Canal and hoped to net a dozen crabs before the sun went down that day. They would make a great curry for dinner.
Other boys, who rarely went to school spent more time netting prawns in the inland waterway and selling them to the well-heeled who sped to Pondicherry in their Xylos.
Sarathy was glad to have our company. He left his post on the Canal, took us around the neighbourhood, told us about the histories of the church and the temple, picked up dried snake skins to tell us about the reptiles that haunted this area and introduced us to the kuppam, the fishermen and the fish.
As we sat on the catamaran and enjoyed the sea and the scenery he told us about the tides of this season and grabbed a few baby crabs and displayed them as if in a zoology lab.
His immense knowledge and experience of the place, his environment and his community impressed us.
What sort of education would be best for these Sarathys? How could one build on the immense knowledge and the skills they possess?
His class seven friend wants to become a civil engineer. Sarathy's elder brother wants to go to a polytechnic. But Sarathy is still to make up his mind.
As a sprawling SEZ and residential city springs up on the other side of this highway, the kuppam people hope to see a fund of jobs - maids, drivers, electricians, watchmen.
The Sarathys though would impress in fisheries, ecology, environment.
Who will make the connect?

January 23, 2010

Volunteers make Mylapore Festival

Vignesh and Naveen are on a special assignment this week. They are working on two jobs simultaneously at the annual Mylapore Festival.
Producing 3-minute videos of what catches their fancy at the 40 events spread across four days. And documenting the Fest the way they see it.
They use a still camera and a video-cam and are learning new ways of producing short videos that they have begun to post on YouTube
You can take a look at the second video they produced at the Morning Kutcheri in Nageswara Rao Park (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SGHwpHNZ8Y)
Vignesh and Naveen are two of the three dozen young people who are active volunteers at this unique Fest.
They are the backbone because they have to run events, manage the artistes and audience and put up with pesky people!
Rahul and his team of Sharanaya and Ganesh are in charge of Hospitality. Their menu card is small - rose milk, samosas, idli -gostu and coffee but their responsibility is big. They cater to all the artistes at the evening events, shuttling between kitchen and venues.
They do this because they like doing it.
Deepika is new to the city. That has not discouraged her from running the Talks event every evening. That done she hops across the street and helps four others issue tokens to hungry visitors to the Fest on the Food Street.
Janani Sivakumar is the new emcee on the main stage. While at engineering college, she has presented events on campus: she worked hard this week to fashion a script and present the shows held in the Sannidhi Square.
The Fest team also has senior people lending their hand.
Jayaraman is a fulltime volunteer, involved with a ‘Don’t Talk on your Cell Phone While Crossing Rail Tracks’ campaigns at railway stations and counting donations dropped in the hundis at some leading city temples.
He is a regular at the Fest and can be seen at the Info Shack, keeping account of souvenirs like Tees, coffee mugs and framed photos sold here.
Volunteerism is an integral part of the Mylapore Festival.
Just as most of the events are built around Mylapore and its people and institutions.
A jewellery store offered space to hold the ‘Mylapore Rewind’ series.
And the sponsorship from Sundaram Finance has made it all happen.
If you still have not been to the Fest, make sure you are soaking in it this weekend. (Details at - www.mylaporefestival.com)

January 16, 2010

Anglos and hockey

When a junior police officer scores three goals in a inter-zone state police hockey meet what would you expect his captain to tell him during half-time?

'Hey, do you know who the goalie is? It is Walter Davaram!' (Davaram was City Police Commissioner and went on to become DGP).

And what would you expect Davaram to tell the successful player in the opposite camp?

'Hey, I don't mind you scoring goals against me but don't bang the ball into my body!'

The most colourful stories you can get to listen to are from Anlgo-Indians. They tell them straight, with the original colour and a dash of humour.

I heard dozens of anecdotes of the community, the city and its life at a very unique event that Harry Maclure put together to celebrate the contribution of Anglo Indians to hockey.

Harry edits and publishes a wonderful quarterly called 'Anglos In The Wind' from his hearth in Anna Nagar. This magazine tells stories everybody can enjoy though it focuses on one community. Now and then, Harry also puts together events that celebrate the Anglos.

Last week, it was a toast to hockey.

About 20 teams from all over the country played a tourney at the Mayor Radhakrishnan stadium in Egmore. The soft drizzle and the misty mornings set the atmosphere for the battle on the astro turf and though there were a few gashes, the games were fun, I was told.

As a teenager living on the edge of Narasinghapuram I used to join my Anglo-Indian friends when the local team played in the league. City league hockey used to be tough, lively and prized.

On a given evening, a local team could rattle the India team which, to a point had many Anglos too.

Stanley Bruit, now a resident of Australia specially flew down for Harry's celebration. He did not have the chance to convince the local hockey teams made up of Anglos who are 60 years plus.

Stanley took his VRS as Assistant Commissioner of Police in the city and he was one of the guests at the Dance and Dinner Show Harry hosted in San Thome's St. Bede's Anglo Indian High School, once a cradle for hockey.

Stanley and his colleagues regaled us with a flood of anecdotes which took us back to the heydays of the Madras City Police and of Anglo-Indians here. Perhaps, two would be appropriate to retell.

A strapping Stanley had played a great match at the Madras Gymkhana and after the game the then Police Commissioner came up to him and asked. "Would you like to join the Police?"

Stan said no and told his father what had happened. His father was aghast.

"Sonny, you don't say no when the Police Commissioner offers you a job!"

Singaravelu was present when Stan played well again at another match.

"Aren't you the boy I spoke to last time?"

'Yes sir!"

'Would you like to join the police?"

"Yes sir!"

In a year's time Stanley was in the Madras City Police.

When the K. Bhaskaran-led India Olympic team came to play some warm-up matches in Egmore against the City Police, the score showed 4-0 at half time in favour of the Police!

The India coach came into the local camp and patted the boys.

"Can you guys go slow, please don't demoralise our boys!"

Said Stanley at the Dinner, "We used to practise everyday at Egmore and we could beat any team here."

January 09, 2010

Dayakattam .. Kotsu .. Sugarcane!

Have you come across a simple game which requires the use of sugarcane pieces?

We came across one in Andimadam.

This is a town on the Kumbakonam-Vridhachalam road.
It is sugarcame country so the roads are dominated by labouring trucks that groan under the weight of stacked sugarcane which gives these vehicles the look of a overgrown porcupinish hairstyle.

This is not the best of times for sugarcane colonies,
it seems.

Not if you go by the standard posters printed in all-green and pasted on public and private spaces.

The demand for better prices has been in the air for some time and even the extraordinary mist is not dampening the spirits of these farmers.

We should not have been on this road. Ours was to have been the Ariyalur-Perambalur route to get back to base.

But driver Sukumar seemed to have pressed hard while we dozed off and then come to grief when the rumbling sugarcame trucks rode over the potholed highway faster than our car.

We stopped at Andimadam for tea at a roadside eatery. That is when we noticed two simple schoolboys playing with a sugarcane piece. One of them faced away from the other, tossed the piece in the air and teased the other to catch it.

If it was dropped, the cane was measured on the ground and points toted. A third person, a young man seated on a cycle doubled up as the umpire and scorer.

We were too tired to get up and take a closer look at the game but the simplicity and innocence of it got
our fascination.

The fascination for simple things of life marks the annual Mylapore Festival which begins on January 21 and runs for four days.

There is no place for razzmatazz, shooting stars
and loudness.

You can draw your best kolam on one street, take a look at a textile print demo in another, buy idlis and gostu in another and settle down to theru-koothu in the square.

This is a festival for everybody - not just for Mylaporeans.

So this is the time to tell your friends and relatives to mark the dates and be here. In Mylapore.

Don’t be surprised if you came across a sugarcane
eating contest.

The info is at www.mylaporefestival.com

January 02, 2010

What is jottings?

What is Jottings all about?

And what am I doing here?

As I write the very first column for the new year 2010, I thought I would look back and look forward.

On Jottings.

When I started the column 17 years ago, there were two simple guidelines for myself. Nothing more. And that can make writing a tad difficult.

One. The column is not an editorial. It is a freewheeling column.

Two. It tries to focus on neighbourhoods and communities and all that is part of them.

After all, Jottings is written for a neighbourhood newspaper and almost 100% of what goes into the pages must be in that spirit.

I have an open mind on the subjects that I choose to write on. Some evolve as the week progresses, some keep bothering you, some come as surprises and some are simple and straight.

The easiest part is in the writing. It probably takes five minutes on the Mac.

Do I have a writer’s block?

Anybody who enjoys the world and the people in it and also write cannot have a writer’s block. Not even the 41 degrees of Madras summer makes me sweat a pint extra.

However, I dwell on some public issues a tad longer.

Issues that must be stated and most importantly issues that people are afraid of, shy away from or are uninterested in.

Increasingly, people are keeping to themselves. Or refuse to take a stand.

That is why the state and its minions run roughshod on us.

At times, Jottings has been strident. There is a need to be so. When I look around, I realise there are very few voices in the city that continue to speak for communities, for people or on issues.

The joy of life inspires this column too. Be it the Renigunta act of our young friends in Broadway, the cheeky plans of young activists in Besant Nagar or the Veda Patasala I rediscovered yesterday on a Mylapore street.

Thankfully, this column does not carry an illustration of a photograph.

If it did, the first Jottings for 2010 would have gone without a picture because Saravanan, one of our photographers spent the day in hospital with his wife to welcome a new born.