September 25, 2010

Hyper-local advertising

Hyper-local advertising seems to be on the rise.

Posters, messages and scrawls you get to see at street corners, on TNEB junction boxes and on the avenue trees.

They seem to offer leads to life trends.

Jobs are always on offer.

So are cures for cancer and impotency.

Between the two, the host of services can range from offering to teach you how to download songs or arranging to clean your overhead tank.

Across our office, in the corner of a busy junction we have a hugely popular fruit juice shop. The shop has been written about by all the city dailies and is counted to be among the ten most popular ‘joints’ for young people.

I think it scores high on four counts - range of juices, the quality, the speed with which they are served and the refills most customers enjoy, for free.

I still have not tried out the Sharjah Special here.

At any given time, there are 25 to 30 people hanging out at this joint. So now I know why the abandoned traffic police booth that some sponsor erected at this junction has become the notice board for hyperlocal advertising.

Somebody is looking for housewives, retirees and youth to canvas for SBI Life.

Another is promising assignments that allow you to work from home. Rs.8000 if you work part time, Rs.16,000 if you work fulltime and Rs.5000 if you work all through Sunday. There is a promise too - you don’t have to make phone calls, you don’t have to attain targets. Just work!

There is also a dirty war of handbills that is going on in this nook. Between agents of internet services providers.

Last week, a leading newspaper launched its campaign - it had part time jobs for young people.

Fighting for space and produced on cheap recycled paper are the posters of a Sex Clinic located in a lane of Triplicane.

Hyperlocal advertising does work. You have to choose the locations in the neighbourhood.

September 18, 2010

Crows above, cars below

What has been your crow experience?

Have you found the bird cawing at your kitchen window, threatening to fly away with an evening snack? Or providing you the wake-up call so that you can be up for your morning walk?

Everybody has a crow experience.

It may not be the favourite bird but it is perhaps the only one that survives in our neighbourhoods.

For some weeks now, I have been enjoying crows at work. Rather, creating a family.

Our office in Alwarpet is on the second floor and on a busy road where the vroom of traffic has become a part of our working life.

But we do have a bonus. The tall avenue trees whose branches spread across the road and into out building create a circle of green and shade.

Trees are always humming with activity and if you are up there and choose to look closely, you can catch the whirr of the bees which time their entry into our office after dusk, the summer blooms that sail gently on to the tar below and the crows who have made nests.

One nest is metres away from the parapet wall and there is a lot of activity in it I presume.

It looks firm and cosy but to me it seems to be in a precarious position - a sway of the lead branch and that nest and all the eggs or lives in it will hurtle to the tar below.

It is a foolish thought. Birds have brains and this set of crows must have made a wide choice too.

The past week, I observed that the crow was content to sit in the nest and keeping warm the eggs in there. While one crow does the job, another keeps watching from a closer branch.

Curious, I spoke to K. S. Sudhakar of the Madras Naturalists Society who is a practising chartered accountant and has an office down the corridor. Do the male and the female take turns to help in the hatching? Do crows really care for their chicks?

They do care, Sudhakar tells me. It is the koels who ‘hijack’ the nests of the crows. These birds lay their eggs in a crows nest and let the latter do the rest! When they come back, they may even sideline the crow’s chicks. . .

In the nooks and braches of our neighbourhoods, despite all the destruction and mess, nature survives.

Do the crows trust us?

September 11, 2010

Grassroot democracy in Chennai

Did you know that the Mayor of our city is an early riser, devotes at least 30 minutes to yoga and is willing to go that extra mile to support those who work for the less-abled?

M. Subramaniam is seen as a pro-active Mayor. At least, he is not seen merely waving flags at DMK rallies (of which he is a senior member) or snoring in his chambers.

Someone told me that our Mayor occasionally goes out into the city incognito to get a better understanding of the city, its residents and his staff.

I have not caught him in dark glasses, Tees and faded jeans on an electric cycle in our neighbourhood.

But I believe that something did tick in his head recently.

Mayor Subramaniam has authorised the formation of local groups for each of the wards of our city.

They can discuss local issues, debate ways in which to address them and chart local plans.

Wards are a collection of colonies in a neighbourhood. A councillor represents each ward at the Corporation Council and he/she is elected by people. Some wards are reserved. These councillors handle local issues, mainly civic and they have a say in these affairs at the local, zonal and city level.

The system then represents democracy at the grassroot level.

But does it really work?


The elections are marred by money power, goondaism and manipulation and most people never participate in them.

Elected councillors rarely interact with local communities and are often seen working closely more with officials and contractors than local people and their representatives.

Civic works and development do not often address what the communities want. So while workers are busy relaying the pavement alongside a 30-feet bridge with fancy tiles, the pavements on either side are in a shambles. And while saplings are being planted on 3rd Avenue, bushes have over-run the sidewalks of 3rd Street.

Mayor Subramaniam says he wants people, NGOs and civic groups to work alongside councillors and his officials at the ward level.

You have a role to play. Want to?

September 04, 2010

Art in Chennai's Public Spaces

The Goethe Institut, more commonly known as Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai is celebrating its golden jubilee.

The big day is to be celebrated late this year but the events have begun to unfold.

German language teachers, retired staff, artists, actors, directors, dancers and curators and all those who have had strong bonds with the Bhavan have been treated to warm parties where nostalgic memories were shared.

One interesting project to mark this jubilee caught my attention. And the man who will put it together is artist B. O. Sailesh who lives and works from Cholamandal.

The Bhavan has been located in the Thousand Lights neighbourhood for about 25 years at three different addresses.

Its current modern premises stands at a key intersection. On one side are the sprawling bungalows of the rich who live behind huge gates, many of which are making way for stores and boutiques for the wealthy of our city. On the other is a neighbourhood where the poor and the middle-class reside.

Sailesh has an art installation in mind - to be ready later this year. And he proposes to create this piece of work from things that people who reside here have no use for.

His team will go door to door, brief the residents of this project and come back to make the collection.

Sailesh is trying to see how this concept ties into the jubilee of the Bhavan that has played a great role in this city. And how the dynamics of the collection and installation relates the MMB to its neighbourhood.

Chennai Corporation lost a great opportunity to encourage a similar process when the City Fathers decided to paint the public walls, especially those on the main roads.

Cultural icons, tourist destinations, natural landscapes and excerpts from the Thamizh epics greet those who choose to slow and stare.

When the project was mooted, it was decided to contract the students of the well known College of Arts in Periamet for this assignment. The contract fell because the civic body could not match the fee the college wanted.

So the jobs were given to the men who once created those gigantic and colourful promos for our films and elections.

Most of them are without much work with the era of the over powering flexi-sheets. Flexi-banners greet guests to a kid’s first birthday. So these contracts will hopefully bring them some money.

However, had Mayor Subramaniam and his team networked with neighbourhood groups and artistes, schools and residents and encouraged them to take over public walls, that art would have been truly of the people.