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 www.madraswalks.com

For the blog on our annual Journalism Camps, go to - www.mtjclass.blogspot.com

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 - www.madraswalks.com) 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 - madraswalks@gmail.com

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.

February 06, 2010

Let's bomb this bridge

If you are on the verge of launching yourself as a local entrepreneur, there are a couple of nice businesses coming your way.

Much, if not all has to do with civic services.

A little birdie at the city father’s office has let me in on this information and in the true spirit of a community communication I felt I should make it public.

We have now moved to the age of the RTI (Right to Information).

I will not reveal the source but have given you the hint because I don’t want the poor engineers and officers at the civic body’s local office to be thrown into the Buckingham Canal by their superiors (the Cooum is best for those contemplating suicide, murder, foul play and cinematic acts).

Lets get to the business.

The birdie says that the days of the small jobs is over.

That is why you don’t find people clearing the wild bushes on our pavements, replacing broken tiles on sidewalks, repairing collapsed drains and mending broken rails on bridges.

That is why it does not help if you keep cribbing about corroded playthings and leaking manholes.

That is why they ask you to now e-mail these plaints if you wish to take up an issue: these go down a depthless pit in the Web that has lots of space. You will get polite acknowledgments. A smiley zips at the press of a key.

That is why all those tenders you see in your newspapers are big. Big jobs.

A few crores for the expansion of a bridge (and a few lakhs for the demolition of the original built in the days of the Brits). A few crores to relay the pavement on the beach. A few crores to demolish a shopping complex and build a giant one in its place. A few lakhs to renovate an entire park.

Now, these projects are for the Big Boys.

But there may be space for the Small Men too.

There were some trials.

They gave a job to some one to maintain our street lamps.

They awarded a contract to another to run the loos.

Now they may want to hand over the work of clearing wild bushes, cleaning drains of waste, filling potholes and watering the traffic islands.

This civic body isn’t interested. Its workforce is spent and tired. Its officers have their cellphones switched off. Our councillors . . . god bless them.

I have a one-time job to offer - am looking for a skilled pilot who can bomb only the Adyar Bridge. Not the old, the other.

Those who suffer its pain day in and day out will gladly pay for this job. There is no need for a tender - the bridge will gladly slip into the Adyar.