March 27, 2010

Making docu films on Chennai

They call themselves Vanniyakula Christians. A small community which grew in the groves of San Thome, close to Foreshore Estate.

Their forefathers may have headed to Madras from places like Pondicherry and the Madurai region.

One is not sure if they were Christian converts even before the migration took place or if they became Christians after they grew roots in a place which is still rich in the saint Thomas tradition.

Being a close-knit community, they held strongly and proudly to their customs and beliefs and when they had to assert themselves they even challenged the institutional Church of this land.

One lasting legacy has been the celebration of the feast of a saint that is dear to them. Saint Lazarus. A saint who is believed to be the patron of lepers and the sick.

How this saint became a patron of the Vanniyakula Christians, who are commonly referred to as Naickers, is diffused in legends and oral traditions.

Was it because the San Thome grove once used to be the refuge of sick people who had no home of their own and sought refuge in a saint and in the church that the Jesuit missionaries established here?

Or was the saint a favourite patron long before people migrated and he remained in their hearts after they made a new home in Madras?

I have heard stories of the celebration of this feast the past years. And when friend F. J. Vincent, a senior San Thomite, former Bedean and church activist shared with me many stories of the past and of the community he too is part of, we decided to make a docu-film on this feast that is unique in local church history.

We hope to screen this film next weekend at an event that is being organised for all those who wish to produce docu-films on our city.

Films of this nature are few. A shame for a city that has a fascinating history, people and character.

With more and more young and creative people looking at avenues that challenge them, this is the time to get media students and professionals to spare time to make docu-films on our city.

If you are keen, then drop by at Alliance Francaise on April 3, 3 p.m. Three films will be screened and there will be a dialogue on this movement. To correspond use

March 20, 2010

Spaces are ours!

I spent the past week in Chidambaram, at the Natyanjali Dance Festival that is held every year on the occasion of Mahasivaratri at the magnificent temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja.

My team at KutcheriBuzz web casts some of the recitals on all five days of the Fest while I provide the reportage.

While the stage in the eastern prakaram of the temple provides the space for dancers from all over the country and abroad to offer their ‘anjali’ the mornings often end up with animated conversations at the kalyana mantap where artistes and their guests are served breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On one morning, we had a conversation with scholar-teacher Dr. B. M. Sundaram and the livewire secretary of the Natyanjali Trust, A. Sambandam who is also an advocate.

We talked about the nadaswaram tradition in temple spaces and Sundaram, who has researched, documented and written on this artiste community said that Chidambaram is possibly the only temple where this tradition continues in its best form. And it can be witnessed at its best during the Navaratri and Arudra celebrations when the artistes perform as the procession winds its way through the mada veedhis from and to the temple shrine- an all-night affair.

Spaces and traditions are closely intertwined.

The nadaswaram conversation in Chidambaram brings me to the condition of spaces in our neighbourhood.

Spaces for art and for recreation, spaces for conversation and for the environment.

Last week, the community in CIT Colony in the Mylapore neighbourhood enjoyed the civic success they had achieved. They worked hard with the city’s civic body to convert a disused play area into a neighbourhood park.

Now, residents here can go for their daily walks, let their children indulge in fun games and sit around and chat as the sun goes down.

This space is now their own.

Importantly, they seem to be aware that unless they take charge of the space and maintain it, it may slide into a condition that the playground was in until recently.

The city’s civic body undertakes many development works. Though some of them are fancy and isolated which end up as wasted money, the ones that do serve a neighbourhood must be managed by its residents.

Story sessions, a walkers club, monthly music concerts, yoga classes . . . organised, hosted and managed by local groups will keep these places alive.

Spaces need our sustenance. So do the arts.

March 13, 2010

Share your talent!

Will children enjoy a Summer Camp which teaches them a set of traditional games and promises them a week of fun?

Asha from Hyderabad thinks kids will.

She was responding to an earlier column of mine which touched on what kids could do this summer.

Asha said that since we were involved with the celebration of the annual ‘Mylapore Festival’ (it would be easy for us to tap our resources and host a camp of traditional games.

I appreciated Asha’s suggestion after I scanned her blog.

A native of Tamil Nadu, she has lived in Bangalore and is now in Hyderabad. Her blog is populated with long posts on traditional food, customs and life of the past.

She hopes that this document may come in handy for her children when they grow up if they decide to take the best out of the old!

Two others responded to my other idea - of a camp by the seaside. One, a trekking enthusiast says he will help organise a long walk on the waterfront and into the scrub jungle.

I particularly appreciated the idea of the ‘Trekking Polama’ concept that the Chennai Trekking Club hosted to mark its anniversary where its members used the occasion to demonstrate to people how to plan and prepare for treks and how a tent is set up and stuff like that.

Another young man has been enthusiastic to demonstrate the art of angling.

When was the last time you really held a large fish or a crab in your hands?

I am sure kids would love the angling experience even if they are not fish-eaters. I am doubly sure that my young friends in the kuppams would be thrilled to demonstrate how to catch crabs in the backwaters!

I must say that most of our Summer Camps for Kids are boring, dull and unimaginative. The fun element is missing in most cases and many host them to spin some extra money.

And we still have parents who send their kids for ‘special classes’ during summer hols

This may well be the time when our talented adults can get imaginative.

In our neighbourhoods, there are people who love gardening or painting, animators and biologists, designers and Frisbee players. You could spare a few hours and offer to share your skills with our kids.

In return you may learn a bit from them and this experience.

We are doing our bit. A Journalism Camp. Info at

March 06, 2010

Tribute to a committed citizen

Did you notice that funerals of our time are like flowers that drop off the ‘thoongamoongee maram’?

Our neighbour dies, condolences are passed on quietly, the mourning is subdued and the funeral is over quietly and life moves on.

In an increasingly cocooned and frenetic world we are like flowers on an avenue tree.

At our newspapers, we make an effort to look at these flowers when the day is done and they have gone to sleep.

I woke up this morning to the news of the passing away of a man I knew better as a neighbour who would chat a bit in our colony.

The previous night, an autorickshaw had dropped me off at the street corner and I had hurried home, keen to watch the second half of the India-Spain World Cup hockey match, a make-or-break tie for India.

I have this habit of glancing at the two streets that cross the colony - perhaps this habit has grown out of a journo’s training. You always take a second look at things.

The sign of a death was simply not around though my neighbour lived on the other side of a street junction.

The morning newspaper announced his death. And I said a prayer.

P. V. Srinivasan was a man I liked. Because he kept a tab on the neighbourhood and when the ‘Adyar Times’ rolled out 17 years ago, was one of those regular correspondents.

A retired scientist at the Central Institute of Leather Research (CLRI), one of those national institutes that dot the Guindy region, Srinivasan often wrote letters on the positive uses of leather and leather footwear.

A few lines on how this material best suits us in our torrid climatic conditions would appear dull stuff but to us, it was a letter worth publishing. It was useful information that came from a professional who wanted to share a bit of useful knowledge.

Srinivasan was also a civic conscious citizen. He kept an eye on Sastri Nagar, making a note of the problems as he went about his morning walks and on errands later in the day. Dead streetlights, need for speed breakers, suggestions for maps of colonies, polluted water . . . .

Back home, he would put them down on an inland letter and post it to us and to other newspapers.

He called a spade a space and if things were set right by the state agencies, he also had a warm word of appreciation for them.

State agency staffers have told me that they respected Srinivasan’s observations because he neither blew up a problem nor complained needlessly.

He was the neighbourhood’s watchdog, a committed citizen.

We need dozens and hundreds of Srinivasans for our neighbourhoods if we are to enjoy a free, well-facilitated and peaceful life.

We need people who report the hiccups that plague our colonies, those who follow-up on projects that the state provides us, trigger responses when other people violate laws or flout their power and engage with elected representatives and officials.

Postcards and inland letters, the Internet and a responsible media can make a difference.
Srinivasan did.
So can you.