August 28, 2010

Making neighbourhoods lively

Binita Sashi and Gargi Advaithi love children. So they have created their world around them.
Both reside in K. K. Nagar in the western neighbourhood of this city and while they manage their own ventures in the sprawling neighbourhood still dominated by the Housing Board apartment blocks, they put their heads together to organise workshops and summer camps.
The duo were also responsible for a string of events to mark Madras Day. The gracious general manager of the Green Park Hotel in Vadapalani volunteered to provide a banquet hall free of cost and even offered refreshments to the guests who enjoyed workshops, story-telling and two talks.
The attendance at this event on a wet Sunday triggered ideas in Binita and Gargi.
Of the need to create and host such events that would make this part of the neighbourhood a happening place.
Religious discourses, classical music concerts and Sanskrit and Bhagawad Gita classes populate the calendar here. A play or a fun fete pops up as a surprise.
And Binita and Gargi feel that it is time they made an effort, a real, earnest effort to provide this neighbourhood with some interesting programmes.
Public talks on fascinating subjects seem easy to think of. If a network of speakers can be built and the owners of spaces like Hotel Green Park can play host, then the talks will fill the annual calendar.
The duo have worked closely with a local school which has a large but simple auditorium. Now this space can be used to stage plays in Thamizh and English or hold theatre workshops. If groups can volunteer freely, then another set of dots will fill the neighbourhood calendar.
Binita and Gargi are setting out to play a role in the public space. And if you can help in any way, I am sure the duo will appreciate it (contact - 99404 50495/ 96000 83124).
Look at how Sadanand Menon has made available two wonderful spaces at 1, Elliots Beach Road in Besant Nagar to any body which wants to host not-for-profit events - rock concerts, plays, film screenings, talks. . .

August 21, 2010

Communities celebrate the Madras Week

Ashwin Prabhu says missing Madras Day hurts.
A CitiBank executive now based in New York Ashwin is one of the many who would give a hand to soak in these celebrations.
A keen quizzer and winner of many a quiz, he says what he will miss most is the annual Madras Quiz, scheduled for August 22 afternoon at a school in Mylapore ( info is at
I posted Ashwin’s e-mail on the blog that is part of the Madras Day web site ( I felt it reflects the passion and intensity that many people have begun to express for this city now called Chennai.
As the ‘Madras Week’ enters its final phase, I realise that there is a lot more than the events, talks and contests that is beginning to well up.
Gallery promoter Chitra in Alwarpet located references to the contribution made by her great grandfather while working alongside architect Robert Chisholm who left his stamp on this city with his brand of Indo-Saracenic architecture.
Chitra’s curiosity led to a collection which she went on to display at her gallery in Alwarpet.
Out there in suburban Nanganallur, a community which organised an event for the first time, invited two of the earliest residents of what is called a mini Mylapore to narrate stories of the early days of this colony.
Antique collector Moses brought a small but fascinating collection of coins, pictures, books and maps to an exhibition  that is on till Sunday evening at Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram in Kilpauk. Buttons worn by the Governor’s music bands, kerosense lamps used in bungalows and a rice measure (‘padi’) made in Madras!
Former Railwayman and numismatist G. Ram Mohan of Alwarpet timed the release of his little book on his life and times for this week. The famed colony of Palathope, Mylapore dominates the narrative.
People have begun to treat their own histories seriously and are proud about them. Some have begun to collate and document them.
People, communities and neighbourhoods make a city. Not just politicians, statesmen, filmstars and business barons.

August 14, 2010

Madras Week

Where in Madras would you find Beer Shop Lane?

This could make a straight but heady question for a Madras Quiz. And I wonder if quizmaster Balaji Thirumalai would want to include it for the Madras Open Quiz that he will conduct in Mylapore in the afternoon on August 22.

We were intrigued when musician Barry Rosario took us around the Perambur which was the hub of the Anglo-Indian community once upon a time.

I am sure Mayor Subramanian will not be amused with this name if his zonal officers consider to rename this street but if they do so, a bit of local social history will be wiped off the local map.

‘Madras Week’ (August 15 to 22) provides an opportunity to do many useful things focussed on the city.

Research for talks or texts that can be presented to an invited audience. Collect photos and documents for an exhibition. Videograph for documentaries that can be screened across the city.

It also provides the space for people who possess histories, documents and stories to make them known to a larger audience.

Recently, I spent time at the small archives of the Madras-Mylapore diocese of the Catholic Church at the Bishop’s House in San Thome.

Father Vijay Kiran, who holds a doctorate in this field has taken charge as the archivist and is in the process of setting this dusty, messy house in order. It will be a long and arduous task but a worthy one if the local church and the Bishop support this hugely important project.

I have invited the priest to give a talk on the Cathedral next week and I hope this will encourage others to do so in future.

Another person who may be able to present a colourful talk is Keith Peters. I sounded him out when we met at the funeral service of Mithran Devanesan, Madras’ maverick theatreperson who passed away this past week. (Mithran too would have had stories to tell of the city’s English theatre history).

Keith, a bass guitarist is a regular at A R Rahman’s studio and concert tours. We grew up in the 60s on the fringe of Mount Road and music was always in the air. For, the Anglo-Indian musicians abounded in this part of the city - Royapettah, Pudupet, Mount Road, Thousand Lights . . .

There is a lot happening in Madras that is Chennai. Soak in. More is at

August 07, 2010

Vote for best sambhar!

Would you have Chennai or Madras on your Tee?
The prize-winning entry for a Tee contest held last year for Madras Day had the Chennai legend.
Sonali Seth submitted a design and worked on it after her entry was chosen to be the best.
That design has gone on the Tees (available in black / white) which are now on sale (you may see an image of the Tee on Madras Day’s Facebook link).
But two keen followers don’t think Chennai is apt.
Rajkumar Brian seemed unhappy and said so in so many words while quiz-whiz V. V. Ramanan shared the sentiment. Said Ramanan - We are celebrating Madras Day!
Comments, feedback and suggestions are always welcome. (You will see many more on the Facebook page)
They make this unique event organic.
There were lessons to learn from the Photowalk for Kids that Yocee organised in Triplicane last Sunday. From Ratna Café to Presidency College
(I breakfasted at Ratna 3 weeks ago on the famed idli-sambar combo and felt that Ratna’s sambar is not the best in Madras. My schoolmate friend C. K. Murali who grew up in Purusawalkam says Welcome Hotel in that area serves the best sambar - go on and nominate your ‘best sambar’ joint of Madras).
Kids were invited to shoot stuff that fascinated them but they were equally curious and wanted to learn more. Of horse-drawn carriages and old bus stop boards and of Hindu High School . . .
The walks for this year seem very attractive. Pradeep mails to say he has closed his tour of Madras’ temples in George Towne (90 have signed up) and surely, Sriram must be packed with that ‘See George Towne by Night’ that ends with a glass of hot milk!
The good news is that small groups across the city have also designed events. And if you have not, there is a week to think of one.
Street Food of Chennai anybody? A walking-eating tour!