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. www.themadrasday.in 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 (www.arcotroadtimes.com).

The better experience has also come from the ten years plus that we have spent on KutcheriBuzz (www.kutcheribuzz.com).

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 mylaporetimes@vsnl.com or at adyartimes@gmail.com

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 www.themadrasday.in. If you have queries, mail them to madrasday@yahoo.com.

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyqxFZ2x8jw.