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.