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.