December 31, 2011

Kolam contest goes world-wide


Partying between shopping for kolam maavu and shooting for a film on a painter of kolu dolls may not be the best way to celebrate this season.

But then I do not have an option.

At this time of the year, my team and I is busy seeing through the final acts of the famed December Season of classical music and dance, managing the weekly newspapers and working on the countdown for the annual Mylapore Festival ( this year it is from January 5 to 8 in the precincts of the Sri Kapali Temple, Mylapore. www.mylaporefestival.com).

There is a lot of fun partying this way. I am still unsure what my friend C. K. Murali has in store for New Year's day but I am sure that I will make time between kolam maavu and kolu dolls to get to Murali's place.

We are feeling good just now because some special guests plan to attend the widely-known Kolam Contests which are the flagship events of the Fest, wholly supported by Sundaram Finance.

To recap, a one-hour long Kolam Contest which we hosted in a school playground over a decade ago actually made way for this Festival.

Today, the Kolam Display has caught the attention of people in various parts of the world.

Three guests will be here this year. Chantal is an artist and scholar from France. She has come back for the second time to soak in the December season and to film the kolams.

Dr. Sunita Vatuk is professor at Rutgers Univ. in the USA and will be here to study the kolams and the women who design them.

Deborah Keller-Rihsn is a professor and arts organiser in the USA and she too wants to witness the spectacle as part of her study.

Three weeks ago, I briefed the city's Commissioner of Police, J. K. Tripathy of the importance and the need to permit us to have the 100 kolams displayed on the weekend till late in the evening on North Mada Street.

Fully-lit, these kolams will make a great art display. The display will allow tourists, visitors and guests to enjoy the showcase of a fantastic tradition through the January night.

Much like the flower display in the town square of  Ghent in Holland.

If the Kolam Display becomes a reality, it will be wonderful for our city.

December 25, 2011

Showcase Chennai's art festival


When Prabhu Edouard was a teenager, the music bug bit him and he made his way to Calcutta to learn to play Hindustani music on the tabla. One big break in his career took him to France.

This past week, Prabhu had the final concert of the India tour of a jazz world music trio he is part of.

The Saiyuki Trio performed at the Alliance Francaise in the city and it was a very interesting concert. Alongside Prabhu was an internationally known guitarist, the French-Vietnamese maestro Ngyeun Le, and Japanese Koto virtuoso Meiko Miyazaki. who plays on the vintage music instrument that is closest to a chitra-vina.

The trio cut an album about three years ago and since then, have been on the road around the world.

After the city concert was over, it was time for Prabhu to catch up, first with his family from Pondicherry, and then with his friends from that town. And that is when I got introduced to this talented musician.

For the next two days, we were his guides to the famed December Season in the city. For, these Paris-based artistes wanted to be at as many Carnatic music concerts as they could.

So they hopped from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar to Indian Fine Arts' show at the Bala Mandir hall, also in T. Nagar and then to The Music Academy and on the next evening, to Kalakshetra campus in Thiruvanmiyur.

Prabhu's day was made when he and his wife took a walk down Elliots Beach, had tiffin at Murugan Idli Shop and walked around the verdant Kalakshetra campus before checking out the concerts there.

Lots of musicians and arts-loving tourists pass through our city this time of the year.

They get a whiff, a sniff, a glimpse of the music and the dance that dominates this metro in December.

But there is hardly a place or a group to turn to for help, guidance and briefing. If there was, hundreds of people would come to enjoy what we have to offer.

It is time artistes, sabhas and the state made a serious effort to showcase this city's unique art festival.

December 17, 2011

Record oral history

Professor T. N. Krishnan is an internationally known Carnatic music violinist and a very senior vidwan. His fans are legion. I am one of them.
But there is another reason why I would not miss a meeting or a kutcheri where he is featured.
Prof. Krishnan is a charming raconteur. And he has lots of stories to share and anecdotes to give you.
On Thursday evening, the famed violinist who is in his 80s was decorated at the opening evening of the art festival of the 111-year-old Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha which has its roots in Triplicane but does not have a hall of its own.
At a function held at a community hall tucked away in a street that runs of the well known landmark of Jammi Buildings in Mylapore, Krishnan got into rewind mode.
He took us to the times in the 40s and 50s when Triplicane was the hub of the classical arts, of the days when he rented a little house in a lane off Sri Parthasarathy Temple, of the moods of the temple precincts.
Those days, Parthasarathy Swami Sabha's kutcheris were held at Hindu High School, said Krishnan.
But since the hall was on the top floor all the vidwans had to make an effort to climb up. But greats like Ariyakudi and Semmangudi would all be there half an hour before the concert began which was always at 4.30 p.m.
"We would play for close to four hours", said Krishnan.
We at Kutcheribuzz have begun recording stories that vidwans like Prof. Krishnan share with the audience.
We intend to post these audio clips on the web site (www.kutcheribuzz.com) as we cover the famed December Season of music and dance this year.
Oral histories of the art and the artistes are aplenty and they are shared at many events which allow for talks and exchanges.
Much of it is not documented and the loss is great.
Your parents, grandparents and elders also have stories to share - on art, or on a neighbourhood. Or on lives and people.
Perhaps you may want to record them now.

December 11, 2011

Indian Christian Art


What is the colour of temptation?
And of sin?
Purple. And black.
There were 12 framed pieces of art on the wall. Mostly done in crayon. And the 12 pieces were an artist's interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, the widely known Our Father.
Fr. Thamburaj, a Jesuit priest took me through his creation he had worked on for close to a year, keen as he was to see how people looked at his work.
He told me that he himself had seen it differently on one morning when he woke up and looked at the pieces and realised that while the first few pieces were in bright colours, the next few were in deep, dark colours but the series ended positively. Amen!
Father Thamburaj's artworks on the 'Our Father' must be a rare series in this part of the world.
Better known as a passionate preacher, a vocation he pursued after he moved out of Loyola College, this priest is also a artist.
This past week, he and a few others were present at a function held to launch a fantastic book on Indian Christian Art, whose co-author is another well known Jesuit, Fr. A. Amaladass. A book that is possibly the best document on this subject.
The community of Christians who are artists and sculptors is small.
I got to know one many years ago.
A. Alphonso Doss is a senior, well known artist who came from Bangalore in the late 1940s to study at Government College of Art, Madras and went on to become its Principal.
I got introduced to him when a friend wanted a Christian backdrop to a musical he was producing. Since then I have spent time at Alphonso's space in Virugambakkam, a  place he chose to go to when PTC buses used to run on red earth paths ploughed through abandoned rice fields and rest under clumps of palm trees.
Every now and then, Alphonso has let me enjoy his 'Christian' works - Jesus washing the feet of a disciple, Jesus breaking bread at the Last Supper, a damsel holding up a lamp, waiting for the Master . .
Alphonso, I suspect is not a regular church-goer but he has his beliefs and even in his advanced age, paints like a man fired up by the Holy Spirit!
Meeting this small group of artists and listening to them was interesting. For, many non Christian artists since the Mughal times have worked on Christian themes. There has been a dialogue. And it seems to continue even today.
Fascinating.
And to be reminded that the stone-carved cross set inside the church atop St. Thomas Mount is a precious piece of Christian art.

December 03, 2011

Music makes Madras

If jazz swings you, then you may want to listen to the music of a man who is said to be a big star in distant Norway.
Bassist Arild Andersen has played with many greats and made a name for himself around the world.
This past week, he and his band mates, saxophonist Tommy Smith and percussionist Paolo Vinaccia were here in the city to perform at a few campuses and at the Alliance Francaise before traveling to Auroville and thereafter to the JazzYatra in New Delhi.
Andersen, who is in his late 60s displayed his wizardry at the group's concert at the Alliance and for the audience of about less than a hundred it was an evening to remember.
Here was an opportunity to listen to world class musicians.
I had to skip a Carnatic music concert by the internationally-known violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam to be on time for Andersen's show on the other side of Mount Road. Having enjoyed the music of the violin maestro on many occasions, the choice to head for jazz was the right one.
There is a lot of music in this city of ours.
To be able to listen to a Carnatic music concert at 4 p.m. and then drive to another venue to enjoy a jazz concert at 7 p.m. is heaven's grace for anyone who soaks in the arts, for those who wish to explore music.
December is that time of the year when our city hosts what is perhaps the biggest music festival of its kind anywhere in the world. When dozens of organizations host Carnatic music concerts of the maestros, the stars and the bright talents.
The day starts as early as 7 a.m. with the academic sessions of lectures and demonstrations and progresses into concert after concert that end at 9.30 p.m.
For many connoisseurs, their lives in December are wrapped around this festival. Lots more tie in their holidays with the December season.
For the managers of the arts organizations, there is much at stake in hosting the fests and they go all out to seek sponsors in order to ensure the show goes on.
Very few look up to the state for help and monetary assistance.
This is a wonderful collaboration - of managers, artistes and rasikas - that this city can be proud of.

November 27, 2011

Local NGOs you can suport


Nimmu has the land, the spirit and lots of eager children who want to study. But building classrooms has been a struggle.
This community activist who resides in Kotturpuram has done all she can to build a little primary school that can be a warm place for children whose fathers are auto drivers and mothers are maids in the neighbourhood.
For years, Nimmu has managed to run a centre on the fringe of a Slum Board tenements campus on the banks of the Adyar but this journey has been uncertain. And dangerous too - once a bunch of goons attacked the school and threatened this activist.
But Nimmu, who has fought many a civic battle inside courts and outside has not given up.
Now, there seems to be some progress. But she needs money and that is not easy to come by.
"How do you raise funds?" That is the question that is on Nimmu's mind.
It is a question that is also on the mind of another activist. Shekar Raghavan is fairly well-known as the propagator of the rainwater harvesting technique.
For many years now, he has sat on forums, lobbied with government agencies and helped communities set up rainwater harvesting systems in offices, apartments and houses.
Shekar's time and advice comes free. You have to pay for the material and to the men who work to create this facility. Setting up a RWH system does not take much time.
But at the end of the day, Shekar finds that he does not have the funds to keep going. To keep promoting this concept.
A fat donation at the start served him and his team well. Now, the time  has come for Shekar to look around for new benefactors.
But the man who resides in Besant Nagar says he is not sure how to generate funds.
"I don't mind begging for support but small help isn't going to be of much use", he says.
Shekar has not sought donations from people whom he has advised and guided on RWH. He says doing this would mar his campaign. He would be happy if corporates chose to support his Rain Centre in Mandaveli.
There are lots of people like Nimmu and Shekar who work on different projects which affect us all. Many will be happy to receive our support.

November 20, 2011

Remember people who contribute


Offering a tribute is easy. Remembering a person is not.
Three hours from now, November 18, 3 p.m. I will be at the Memorial Meeting at the Union Christian School in Chetput.
The meeting celebrates the life of a young man who went by the name of Jesson Varghese.
Jesson died in his sleep at his home in Triplicane. He was about 50.
He had been to his doc the previous week for his annual medical check-up and was told that all was well with him.
Days later, I had to stare at an Obituary advert in 'The Hindu'.
I stared and stared at the advert before I called up his sister.
Jesson died less than 10 days after I wrote about him here, in my column. I had written on our relationship with the Mac. Steve Jobs had just passed away.
Jesson was a tad disappointed that he could not push what we had started on many, many years ago. A free-sheeter called 'SideWalker'. He didn't share that disappointment with me. His brother John did share his brother's thoughts when the two of us sat and went down memory lane in the room where the Bishop had blessed Jesson's cold body before it was taken to the cemetery.
As I prepare to share my thoughts of the young man at Union Christian, I wonder if I should tell his friends and the community if we could go beyond the Condolence Meeting to remember Jesson.
Many years have rolled by since another friend of mine passed away. A. J. Desouza was one of the finest athletics coaches this side of the country.
He groomed a legion of athletes who went on to win laurels for themselves.
But AJ, as we and the world knew him did not earn many friends and chamchas for his no-nonsense attitude.
Today, AJ is history. And forgotten. But for some reason I have a sticky thought - that this man needs to be remembered. He deserves it. After all, AJ did a lot for this city's sports community.
Should we host an annual Beach Race in his name? Can we have a trophy or a scholarship awarded at the state level to the best young athlete?
The thought remains - how do we remember ordinary people in our communities who have done extraordinary things?

November 13, 2011

Role for mentors


There was a time in my career when I got to watch Thamizh films well before they were released in theatres.
Sometimes at preview halls. Sometimes at post- production time. Sometimes at special screenings.
Those were the days when Rajinikant and Kamal Hassan were strapping heroes gyrating to loud music inside AVM's floors, bashing balding baddies and romancing Madhavi or Ambika on the lawns.
I have moved away from the world of films but have not stopped watching interesting releases.
I wonder if you got to watch 'Vagai Sooda Va'?
I thought it was a good effort. But all the hype around '7aam Arivu' restrained me.
So recently, when I was at a meeting with some 100 young people, I touched on Murugadoss' film.
'Is it interesting enough to watch?, I asked. The feedback was negative. I had made up my mind.
I was not talking about cinema to these young people.
The Mahindra Pride School, located in a huge bungalow in a posh, inner colony in Alwarpet has a mission - to provide basic job skills to young people from economically weak sections and prepare them for employment.
Every season, the School admits over 100 youngsters from the city and outside and trains them in skills required to manage retail stores, communicate at a BPO desk or serve guests in hotels and restaurants.
The task is not easy in this day and time.
One set of young people has preconceived notions and want to live with them. Another set is grappling with the newer challenges in life.
The team of trainers at this campus works hard to deal with these issues even as it holds well-designed training programmes.
To pep up classroom sessions, the School's managers also invite professionals to chat with these young people.
That is how I got here a fortnight ago.
In the course of my interaction, talk and discussion, '7aam Arivu' and 'six-pack bodies' provided the lighter touches to the session.
It was time well spent.
If we look around us, we will realise there are places that will gladly welcome people who wish to share, train or mentor. Make your move.

November 06, 2011

December Season makes Madras!


November 1 is All Saints Day in the Catholic Church calendar.
For us at the KutcheriBuzz web site, it is the day on which we informally launch our backend work for the famed December Season.
Letters to clients, meetings with printers, chats with volunteers, alerts to sabhas, e-mails to artistes and the like.
Besides going a tad hyper on our web site, we also publish two guides on the concerts that rasikas might find useful and, for 18 days in December, we bring out a daily free-sheeter that shares the buzz of the 'season'.
( For those who are new to the 'season', the city hosts hundreds of concerts in Carnatic music and classical dance featuring the best and the brightest at over two dozen venues and, with the best and the worst of all that it has come to be, the 'season' is still a unique event).
Working on the fringe has its rewards.
It took us years to convince sabhas to share with us their concerts schedule so that the info could be made public well in advance to allow visitors to plan their travel.
We also promoted the BB ( bed and breakfast) concept amongst local householders for the 'season' when we got queries from rasikas outside Madras.
Most visitors head to the Woodlands Hotel or to Hotel Karpagam since they are well located but there are rasikas who would love to have a cosy space of their own in the heart of Mylapore!
Over the years, a few fringe events are also taking place during the 'season'. Film screenings, seminars, tours and the like. And these are bound to enrich the package that Madras has to offer in December which is possibly the best time of the year to be here!
For some reason, the state has not made the best of the Dccember Season though M. Karunanidhi did make a grand statement once, when he was in power, that the 'season' would be promoted well.
Staging a dance fest in Mamallapuram, a concept that was launched by some senior, international dancers many years ago is alright.
But doing simple things like launching promos, organising guided tours and offering tips at tourist destinations should draw more people to this city for the 'season'.
After all, the December Season also makes Madras.

October 30, 2011

Monsoon in Madras

If you choose to ignore the rotting garbage climbing on the broken Neel Metal Fanalca bin at the street corner and the vile-looking cables lying naked in the half-done drains on the roadside and look at the plant and animal life as the monsoon breaks out, there are little things to be enjoyed this season.

From terrace tops, you may sight the first flight of birds heading south.

The skies take on different forms too and the images become solid and severe as the rain-bearing clouds either hang above you deliberately or sail into the horizon taking their bounty to a land that must have sinned that much less!

I sighted a formation on Deepavali morning that looked like an elephant which was watching the celebrations down below, quite amused.

At the foot of the trees, a few worms crawled under the dead leaves and a gurgling sound echoed from the large wells that were sunk in the ground to tap the rainwater of this season.

I peeped through the small openings of the well and could scarcely see the water level but when the sun came out, a silvery reflection from down below told me that that this well would be able to take a lot more rainwater this November.

That night, we opened a window to gaze at the lightning, heralded by the roll of thunder. Would the flash find its way into the bedroom and look for overworked souls? Or could we tease it of its limited reach?

The hourly news bulletin entered its nth loop on the abandoned telly. There was the weatherman at his desk, in his turkey-towel covered chair, leaning at the mikes of the TV reporters.

'There may nor may not be rain tomorrow. There will be thunder and lightning followed by rain here and there . . .

We laughed at the prediction.

That night, the elephant in the skies came down. It lost its way, slipped into the open drain and got entangled in the cables.

October 23, 2011

Let's work with ward councillors


Why is your 'Letters' page so dull and boring?
It was a question from a well-wisher and reader who resides off the East Coast Road.
'Every time I turn to that page it is always full of letters on garbage and bins, roads and flooding, mosquitoes and barking dogs', he continued.
The easy way to defend myself would have been to suggest that most readers assume that the 'Letters' page is meant exclusively to highlight civic and local problems.
Or perhaps, our readers do not get inspired enough to share an experience of a walk down the Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar or on 'discovering' stone craft inside the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore.
Or perhaps, readers believe that posting civic issues in widely-circulated and respected newspapers could get some attention.
Whatever be the content, letters are always welcome and given priority at our Desk. And we do know that they trigger some reactions, sometimes positive.
As the results of the elections to the Chennai Corporation council come in and a certain trend seems clearly evident even as I write this, I am trying to see how letter writers and local area councillors could play a more pro-active role in the five years ahead.
There is a community of people which shoots off complaints or throws suggestions and expects the elected and the officials to get a job done.
And there is a community which does not care a thing.
But for the people of our neighbourhoods who do care a bit, there is an opportunity to get involved in many different ways in your area.
Most people who have now become councillors of your wards may not have even raised a finger in community life. Some may be people who got the ticket and the 'yes' vote because the ward is reserved for women and the man who aspired for the ticket did the second best.
In many wards, you are going to have councillors who have little to do with grass root politics and are hardly aware of a councillor's rights and responsibilities.
And yet, if a few good men and women in each ward step forward today and form a group which can work alongside the just-elected councillor, things can change.
Discussing key local issues, drawing projects, lobbying for funds, creating links with local communities and auditing civic projects and services are some of the many things that people of a ward can do.
It is one thing to dash of a letter to the councillor asking him or her to get the garbage at your street corner cleared and another to be part of a group that draws up a garbage clearance plan and helps to keep it in place.
Imagine the positive impact a neighbourhood group and a councillor working together can have on local affairs.

October 16, 2011

October 17 is voting day!

Three days ago, I received a call on my cellphone.
The caller introduced himself as A. K. Moorthy of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK).
I could not recognise the caller.

There are only two people from the PMK that I know fairly well.
One man used to be the chairman of the Adyar-based Chennai Corporation zone. He recently contested in the state Assembly election and lost.

The other is our contractor for the annual 'Mylapore Festival', the man who puts up the stages, stalls and pandals in the Sri Kapali Temple zone every mid-January.
I then realised that I was listening to a smart, recorded message from the PMK's Chennai Mayoral candidate, A. K. Moorthy.

The party's Anbumani Ramadoss calls him Action King Moorthy. There is some credence to that localised honorific. Moorthy is said to be pretty good at getting things done.
Many railwaypeople will tell you stories of how this man who used to be a Union railway minister got many projects moving for this part of the country.

Moorthy's political graph dipped these past years and now he seeks my vote and yours to be the city's Mayor.
His message was sharp and clear that morning. But I was not impressed. Anybody who says he will get rid of mosquitoes, clean up the garbage and address growing traffic problems is on to a beaten track and a tad dull for the city of Chennai that is Madras.

Our candidates for the post of local councillors say the same thing.
Not that these are not core issues that confront a neighbourhood. But surely, there are smart ways of setting a local agenda in a local election.

On October 17, you will have the opportunity to vote for your Ward Councillor as well as the city Mayor.
If you are serious, this is your best opportunity to get involved a little more in grassroot democracy.

The ballot is important. Casting it will need 30 minutes of your time. But if you think that the ballot can get rid of mosquitoes, garbage and potholes then I would advise you to go off on a weekend holiday to Yelagiri or to Bangalore.

Voting is just part of a process. The more important part is of playing some role in contributing to local governance.

Suggesting ideas and plans. Creating spaces for the elected to interact. Looking at civic budgets and following-up on projects. Civic audit. Lobbying. Campaigning. Collaborating.

October 08, 2011

Mac made our newspapers possible

Apple's home page greets us when we open some of our Macs at our office. It is a default page alright but it does not irk me at all.
Today, the image of the man who changed the face of technology greeted me.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple had passed away earlier in the day and Apple was paying tribute to him in that iconic signature that it has been celebrated for for ages now.
To me, Apple is part of the reason why we are here. It was the enabler for a bunch of us who were keen on publishing in our college days, in the early 80s.
Today, I work on Macs and these computers have made it possible for me to reach out to you for the past two decades.
In the summer of the late 80s, I joined Jesson Verghese at his small desk in a bylane that runs off Wallajah Road, a stone's throw from the Chepauk cricket stadium and a street away from the famed Nair's Mess.
Jesson had signed off from the Indian armed forces to help his aging Dad at his printing press and was keen to publish 'something small', while the publishing itch I had developed in school had got under my skin.
Keeping us company as we scribbled, planned and groaned in Jesson's office was a little Mac whose monitor was as small as the Samsung Tab that is being hawked today.
Jesson tells me that it was a Mac LC made for the South Asian market and that he paid Rs.4.75 lakhs for the Mac and a printer. It was a princely sum for an entrepreneur in a Triplicane nook but it made our work so easy and simple that design and pre-production were the least of our worries.
It was that little Mac that helped launch 'StreetWalker', a city-based free-sheet periodical that ran for a few years before circumstances forced Jesson and me to go our ways.
Some years later, in 1993 when I worked on the 'dummy' for the first set of free neighbourhood weeklies, 'Adyar Times' and 'Anna Nagar Times', compatriot K. S. Ramakrishnan provided us a set of Macs.
Since then, the Macs have been an integral part of my publishing life.
They have given us the freedom, the choice, the facility and the wonderfulness to publish from a simple desk for a small community, at a time when most people assumed that newspaper publishing was the domain of the Jains and the Mahavishnus.  Desk Top Publishing was made real.
Thank you, Steve Jobs!
This column came off a ten-year-old iMac in Bondi blue!

October 01, 2011

Youth Report for Local Newspapers!


It was a Sunday evening in January last year. We were leading a small group of children on a Mylapore PhotoWalk through the lanes of this neighbourhood.
The event was part of the annual Mylapore Festival supported by Sundaram Finance.
As we wandered down Ponnambala Vadyar Street which is packed with little shops that sell religious needs and flowers and garlands, a blip burst out of the skies and as it careened downwards, it blew into a spiral of expanding smoke.
One of the boys in our group, aimed his camera and kept shooting at the happening. People gathered around him. And then we realised that the space rocket launch at Sriharikota scheduled that evening had failed. And the development had been photographed by a young student in a bylane of Mylapore.
For many years now, our neighbourhood newspapers have been doing a little bit to encourage teenagers to report and write for us.
Our idea is to get them to go out into colonies, get acquainted with the people, the nooks and the institutions, try out their communication skills, jot down facts and come home and file a report.
If the reports are newsy and timely, they are considered for publication in our newspapers.
We also encourage teenagers who like to shoot pictures or illustrate a feature we may do.
This is our annual programme which we have tied into Children's Day. While the selected children can work through 4 weeks, their reports are published in our November issues.
Some children have made the best of this opportunity and used their by-lined reports to gain admission to media schools. Some have produced this file and got jobs after graduation.
The experience of joining a policeman on his late night beat or talking to Navaratri doll hawkers on the mada veedhis or spending time at a Home for elders is certainly exciting for children who love to write real time.
This opportunity is open once again. At the Adyar Times, Mylapore Times and Arcot Road Times. (advertisements in the current issue should provide the info).
Grab it. And make the best of it, my young friends!

September 24, 2011

Chennai Corporation Poll 2011: Want to Contest?


It is over four months since Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were elected. But the man who represents the Velachery Assembly constituency still has not opened an office this side of the area, in Adyar.
M. K. Ashok of the AIADMK has his base in Velachery. A few local associations there were quick to invite him over for a meet, share their woes and get some assurances.
To be fair to Ashok, he has also toured the leeward side of his zone but only when some civic-minded residents badgered him.
He promised to open an office in Thiruvanmiyur two months ago. That has not happened. The Assembly sessions must have kept him busy. Crossing the chaotic Vijayanagar terminus is also a bother!
However, his party colleague who got elected from Mylapore, R. Rajalakshmi not only carved an office space at a local Corporation complex but also publicised her new e-mail address.
Is some one out there maintaining a MLA Report Card?
The process of elections to local civic bodies has just begun.
You and I will be called to choose our local councillors, the men and women who can talk for us on local issues at the Corporation's Council and get things done.
Political parties have already got into the act and their caravans will soon be criss-crossing our neighbourhoods.
This time, with Greater Chennai a reality, urban panchayats/municipalities have been brought under the civic body and hence, residents of these areas (like the ECR) will also vote for their councillors.
Are we thinking of encouraging civic-minded people, elders and activists to stand in this grassroot -level poll?
They say there is no space for candidates who are not backed by or are from political parties?
Should this discourage young people and seniors who have been at the forefront of activism on issues like waste disposal, water harvesting, beach restoration and law and order?
Projects worth many crores of rupees are suggested by a councillor during the five-year tenure. Much of this is actually 'advised' by the civic body and is not the choice of residents of that ward.
In some cases, the councillor is hardly seen in the ward.
This is the time for committed people of the area to stand up and throw the cap in the ring.
By the way, your ward number has changed. Info is available at the Chennai Corporation's web site.

September 17, 2011

Chennai Traffic Police on Facebook


Chennai City Traffic Police became Facebook-y recently.
There are posts on traffic snarls, bus breakdowns and diversion alerts.
And there are leads to data on fines, new initiatives and what the CTTP is thinking of doing in future.
Stern, stiff and critical messages of the public are also allowed.
But the most welcome feature is to invite the public to shoot a picture of a traffic violation or a related problem and post it here and I am told the men in khaki and white are acting on the reported violations.
On Sept.14, Ramanathan Srinivasan posted a photo to record a ‘No Parking’ violation near Sutherland in Velachery at peak hour time.
J. P. Benoy Paul of Adyar posted a picture of the pavement alongside Ambika Appalam and Nilgiris stores in Kasturba Nagar to demonstrate the conditions pedestrians have to face in our city.
There is a very serious problem that Mylaporeans are enduring the past months. A problem created by the now ‘one-way’, now ‘two-way’ and ok, now ‘one-way’ systems of the CTTP.
These policies affected Alwarpet, Abhiramapuram, Raja Annamalaipuram, Luz and Mylapore.
Today, all ‘one way’ rules in the neighbourhood are generally flouted at every junction.
More serious, many people have been brushed, knocked down or injured for no fault of theirs by cyclists, bikers and cars who care a damn. The worst affected are our seniors.
So we at ‘Mylapore Times’ are mulling over an idea that should help bring to book the violators and lead to some order in these zones.
We will shoot photos of the violators, jot down their vehicle registration numbers and publish them online and in the newspaper.
The first step has been taken in this issue of ‘Mylapore Times’, in the ‘Letters’ column.
Local newspapers in the West do just this. It helps a thin police team haul up violators.
We want your comments and ideas on this move. Meanwhile, I have posted this idea on the CTTP Facebook page. I am hoping Sanjay Arora, the Addl. Commissioner will also comment.

September 10, 2011

Use public spaces!


He took out a Givency box from his cotton bag, opened it to take out five photo albums and began to take me through his travels in the United States.
Vasanth is a nationally-recognised cinematographer but he belongs to the era of Padmarajan, Bharathan and Sethumadhavan, famed Malayalam and Tamil film directors.
So, given a camera of whatever make or size, Vasanth is bound to shoot. But the pictures are differently shot and we know why. "It's a very intuitive thing," he says.
There were a few hundred photos of the outdoors in New Orleans, New Jersey and New York.
The unsaid but evident line that ran through almost all the pictures were that they were shots of people in public spaces - in parks and zoos, avenues and beaches.
So much was happening here - buskers in the act, a music band of three entertaining people, teams of two playing a local and simple game, women sunning themselves . . .
Vasanth seemed pleased with the pictures he had taken and wondered if the material he had would make for a good photo exhibition.
That night, I chanced on a short film on BBC World. On the move of civic agencies to restrain buskers and musicians from playing in Central Park, New York.
Musicians said that the move was an infringement of their basic rights, some people said the acts could be restrained and some others, that such shows spoilt the quiet of the open spaces.
In our own neighbourhoods, Chennai Corporation has created lots of open spaces in the past few years but communities do not seem keen to make good use of them.
Whenever amateur musicians of a band seek help, I direct them to these places. The hiring fee is small, the basic facility is okay and if the acts are regular, residents are bound to sit around and enjoy the music or the theatre.
The trend set at Nageswara Rao Park in Luz and the Corporation Park in CIT Colony of holding kutcheris must inspire many others 'take over' public spaces.

September 03, 2011

Walks can teach us a lot!

Can we have a Walk of the haunted houses of Adyar?, asks Binita Sashi.
Binita is part of the 'Namma Arcot Road' initiative whose main aim is to organise unique events for the Arcot Road neighbourhoods to liven up its social life.

Haunted houses of Adyar?
I hadn't heard of them until a daily newspaper published a feature on some of them.

Deep inside sprawling, hidden estates of Adyar are dilapidated bungalows which appear to be surviving in a different time but are some of these really haunted?
Stories are key to a successful Walk and we may have to do some spadework before an enterprising person launches this Walk.

Uma Vangal teaches film students at the L. V. Prasad Academy in Saligramam. She has lived in Perambur. Now, she says she would like to launch a Walk which can showcase the Anglo-Indians, their lives, hangouts and all.
All she will need is some encouragement.

These are positive responses following Madras Day 2011.
To me though, the growing interest and keeness shown by school students this year is food for thought.
The initiatives must come from the people who educate the young minds.

At least three schools in Adyar are said to have Heritage Clubs. With the help of resource people - dance gurus, officers, businessmen and the rest - who are long-time residents of the Adyar neighbourhood we could create at least half a dozen Walks which last for 45 minutes.

A Walk down Gandhi Nagar's 4th Main Road would be fascinating if it touched on three aspects - the creation and growth of this 'Co-op' colony, the great people who lived here and the changing face of the area.

Actor Mohan Raman ran a Walk on the Old Studios of Kollywood, restricted to people who paid for this Madras Day event.

Now, if groups like 'Namma Arcot Road' could get a few resource people and invite Raman to educate them on this Walk, we could have a dozen guides who could educate the students of this area.

Cinema is core to our lives today and Walks can be educative too.

August 27, 2011

Fort St. George Walk: any day!


How do you manage 62 people who turn up for a Heritage Walk at the Fort, part of which is a high security zone?
That was my challenge last Sunday, at the first of two walks that I contributed to this year's Madras Day celebrations.
Online registration was on the increase.
'Register my mom, my friends and myself too!' 'Can I also bring my friends?' 'Do they allow cameras?' 'Where exactly is the car park outside the Fort?'
This was turning to be a 'running' online exchange and when you celebrate the city you have to be nice to its citizens.
When the tally crossed 30, I decided to send formal applications for permission to the police, at the Fort and to the zonal ACP. They were friendly.
'Sunday shouldn't be a problem, you come!"
On Sundays, the car park turns into a mini Chepauk. Over a dozen matches are played  on the tar, criss-cross, by young men from George Town and Sowcarpet. Last Sunday, the walkers created a new community.
As the audio speakers at the Amman temple outside the main Fort gate crackled into a song and policewomen in salwars designed huge rangolis on the tar, I hoped the spirit of the celebration would seize the security services and help us cross the dry moat.
It didn't work that way. Men in Safaris will be men who have the last word. "You haven't applied to us so . . "
'But it is Madras Day, these are guests and they have come from all parts . . .
' But this is a security zone and you have not applied . . .
' No, we will not go close to the Assembly complex. We will go straight to St. Mary's . .'
It took 20 minutes to negotiate quietly. In the end, the Man in Safari said OK and he sent his Constable in Safari and the Fort Station SI in Khaki to be with us, lest we strayed.
We didn't. Though I later thought that saying 'Now this building needs to be bombed!' in front of the monstrous Secretariat Headquarters could have landed me in trouble.
The Walk around the Fort is a wonderful tour on a Sunday morning. I guess the 62 did like it. When we exited, the Amman shrine had been covered with a blanket of samandhi poo.
There are more Walks this weekend.
But we want more volunteers to take people out on Walks in Perambur and Adyar, in Royapuram and in Triplicane.
For me, the Fort will always be on my list.

August 20, 2011

What about local battles?

Ashok Rajendran was a candidate in the Mylapore constituency in the recent elections to the Tamil Nadu state Assembly.
He was among the few which the Makkal Sakthi party put up across the state. They blew their whistles hard to let people know that the whistle was their symbol, impressed a few people and have lived to fight another day.
Ashok has been chatting with me about the prospects of young people in the local elections which have to be held by end October. We get to vote our reps to the city council or to the local panchayat in these elections.
Unfortunately, parties like Makkal Sakthi are so thin in strength that they do not have the numbers to even make an impact outside election time in our wards and neighbourhoods.
Ashok and his colleagues however are whistling on. A campaign against liquor has been going on and currently, they are involved in the India Against Corruption campaign which Anna Hazare and his team has triggered and given momentum to.
In Adyar, many young people and some seniors have been seen lending their support to this campaign. They all seem earnest, spirited and vocal too.
But it seems to me that many people get activated only when a massive, nation-wide movement gets going. It seems to me that people wait for some big thing to happen in order to raise a voice, carry a placard or skip lunch.
We do not see these people when issues plague the cities and neighbourhoods where they live and work.
Or is it that we are weak or frightened when it comes to local action? Or is it that such issues are not exciting to address?
The Lok Pal bill is not a magic wand. And any form of it will work only if change happens at the grassroots. And the campaign is sustained.
Would you like to be a Watchdog of local civic projects? Database them, record their execution, audit them?
Would you like blow the whistle when a local official demands money for a water connection or the local policeman wants to be gratified to allow you to take out a rally by the beach?

August 14, 2011


N. Ramaswamy is a trigger-happy young man. He has to carry his camera with him wherever he goes and when an image grabs his attention he clicks. Clicks many times.
And he looks at our city differently oftentimes.
Ramaswamy has a web site called ChennaiDailyPhoto where he posts all his photos, on a daily basis.
One at a time, with pithy captions which are informative and commentative.
Nowadays, Ramaswamy even takes his son on his perambulations and the little one has also been taught how to look through the lens.
Ramaswamy joined hands with Yocee, a web site for Chennai's children to host a Photo Walk for kids for the 2010 edition of Madras Day.
The children liked it so much that Yocee's Revathi decided that for the 2011 edition of Madras Day, they would host two walks. One on Saturday that will take the group though the old parts of Royapuram in north Madras, and one on Sunday that will be through the leafy neighbourhood of south Chennai, alongside the Tholkappiya Poonga (Adyar Poonga).
Collaborations of this nature are what makes Madras Day tick.
In a corner of the Adyar neighbourhood is Yellow Bus, a space for young children. The lady at the wheel of the Bus has been among the first to draw up a dozen and more events for Madras Day.
This year she took another step. She has collaborated with a students group at Besant Theosophical School and an enthusiastic artiste to produce a villupattu production on Madras that is Chennai.
If the show strikes a chord when it is first performed next week and if the school managers permit, we believe this show should make the rounds of a few campuses during Madras Week.
Voluntary collaborations and proud citizens is what makes Madras Day special.
We are just hoping that even as she strains every nerve at the budget session of the Assembly, chief minister Jayalalithaa will also do her bit for this city - start the process to have a Heritage Act in place.

August 07, 2011

51 things to do in Chennai

There were two churches I got to know well when I was small.
The St. Mary's Co-Cathedral on Armenian Street which is today more popular for the devotion to saint Anthony by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
And the Cathedral in San Thome.
I got to know them better because of a never-ending stream of nuns in transit who stopped over at our home on Mount Road. Mom was part of a family which followed the practice of encouraging girls to heed the call of vocations. And those were the days when missionaries travelled to distant stations like the North East.
Our home was a 'homely' stopover for nuns who had to take a train from the West Coast to Madras and then, the Howrah Mail.
Mom was a great host and the nuns enjoyed her trademark menu of 'sannas' and coconut chicken curry.
If the nuns were sufficiently rested, they did not mind quick trips to these churches. I accompanied them.
Both places continue to be on my 'must visit' list and I strongly recommend them to visitors and tourists.
Greater than the history, the heritage and the uniqueness of places is the experience they offer.
So, in connection with the forthcoming 'Madras Day' celebrations (www.themadrasday.in) a group of us have launched the '51 THINGS TO DO IN CHENNAI' blog.
Attempts have been made to create similar lists and these are useful. Web sites of travel publications and tour companies also provide community-driven listings.
We are hoping that this '51 Things To Do' list will try and suggest places, people, things and events that are truly Madras/Chennai and offer the 'experience'.
So instead of suggesting a visit to the church atop St. Thomas Mount we would suggest how to enjoy your visit by taking the one-hundred plus steps to the top, the views you should not miss and the other little places around this church.
To ensure that this '51 Things To Do' listing has the local flavour, it is best enriched by people like you who know this city well.
Lots of people, especially young people highly recommend visiting the Broken Bridge behind the Theosophical Society, a bridge which once linked Urur kuppam in Besant Nagar with Srinivasapuram in Pattinapakkam. The bridge collapsed many years ago. They say the view and the experience at sunrise or at sun set is amazing.
A walk on the Marina, well stocked with sundal, bajji and raw mango slices dipped in salt and red chilli powder is a Madras must do.
I am sure you too can make a recommendation. Go to www.51thingstodoinchennai.blogspot.com.
Don't stop with a line. Give us at least two paras! Tips and all.

July 30, 2011

COME, BE A PART OF MADRAS DAY 2011

If you live in Adyar or in Besant Nagar, would you like to organise a Heritage Walk on Besant Avenue?
If you own a restaurant in Egmore with space to accommodate at least 40 people for a talk on the Gujaratis of Madras would you lend this space for the event?
Welcome to Madras Day. Welcome to the spirit of this celebration of the city.
It is all about people to people, this Madras Day thing that comes up in late August (Aug.21 to 28 this year).
And we as the catalysts are amazed at the manner in which this event grows.

* Dr. S. N. Nageswara Rao is Associate Professor at the P.G and Research Department of Historical Studies at Sir Theagaraya College in north Chennai.
His email says it all -
 "A few years ago I participated in a small way. This time, we at the college are eager to participate. We would like to support you with volunteers and also borrow exhibition material and display the same in our college library so that more students will become aware of their own heritage. On our part the Department is planning to host talks and walks focusing more on North Madras. We have asked our students to collect old photographs from their relatives and friends featuring old buildings and famous personalities . . .

* Arjun Ranganathan from Infosys has been in touch. And his e-mail reflects the enthusiasm that corporates are showing in this unique celebration.
Writes Arjun - We would wish to organise the Madras Week celebration in our company. The idea is to make our fellow employees from northern states to understand the spirit of this city and appreciate it and also bring a sense of pride for the people from the state and this city.
    
* Banu is doing her Master's program in Arts Management at Dakshinachitra. This is her support - I wish to volunteer for the events, especially Heritage Walks.

* Wrote T.S. Padmapriya who blogs at http://aalayamkanden.blogspot.com - "I am a great fan of Madras and would love to volunteer in some way in the Madras Day events - especially heritage walks.

* Wrote Reena Rajan, a manager at The Residency Towers Hotel - It gives me immense pleasure to invite your association with our hotel. We confirm our venue availability for the meet . . .this would be accompanied by a hi - tea session.

Come, be a part of Madras Day. You have to start now. www.themadrasday.in has all the details.

July 24, 2011

Voices of the People

Can community groups play a role in shaping state policy? If yes, how can they go about doing this?
Two events of the week made for some reflection.
We had gathered at the Journalism and Communications Department of the University of Madras after a viva voce of a doctoral candidate, debating the highs and lows of the thesis presented by a journalist who works for the 'Dina Mani' in New Delhi.
A senior academic joined us and the discussion took a different path.
It had to do with the schemes of the new government of Tamil Nadu - to provide laptops to all students.
A debate is going on among academics, activists and educators on the merits of loading it with the software of a dominant company. Is this public money well-spent? Will not such a deal fix the state to keep paying more as upgrades are required and will this be worthwhile expenditure?
Or would it be better, as some state governments have done to employ Open Source software?
Governments find it easy to set up high-power committees and high-level teams to look at all kinds of issues.
But what about sane voices from ordinary people with extraordinary wisdom and knowledge? Are these voices ready to be part of citizens' panels and let themselves be heard?
Can Jayalalithaa create that space as she moves forward in her new term as chief minister?
The second reflection came up over coffee at a school soon after the school's annual scholarship award programme.
The school's managers and senior teachers were talking about measures that they were taking to cater to poor students.
That is when the need for a breakfast scheme came up.
Thousands of children run into classrooms without having a morning meal. They slump on the benches and then fall asleep, unable to bear the pain of hunger while the drone of lessons goes on.
The state has a huge noon meal scheme in place.
But isn't a breakfast scheme far more important and key to the student community?

July 17, 2011

Wanted: your memories of Woodlands Drive-in

If you used to attend sales meetings here. . if you had dates with your boyfriend here . . if you got your big idea for a movie here . . if your life was intimately linked with the Woodlands Drive-In restaurant on Cathedral Road, we would like to connect with you.
Because three people are hoping to make a documentary on this iconic space of Madras.
When this restaurant had to be closed down because of legal wrangles which the Woodlands group lost, lots of people were emotionally upset. Some even wanted to gather at its gates and express their unhappiness. Some gave vent to their feelings on their blogs.
My friend, Mohan Das Vadakkara, who is a roving cameraperson of this city rushed to that verdant campus even as the kitchen was closing down on the last day of operations to shoot those final moments.
His 30-minute-long footage will hopefully serve as the thread to weave this docu-film. And since the group needs to record the best memories from the most passionate of Drive-In fans, this is a call that is going out to them.
Singer P. B. Srinivas may have been the most seen face at this restaurant. He spent half his day here, a turban on his head, a shawl that fell to the floor and sheaves of papers and booklets on which he scribbled all the time.
Tearing him away from this place was difficult - Srinivas now spends time at the restaurant at Hotel Woodlands.
But there were many others whose lives ebbed and flowed here. Almost all of them were at the Drive-In to feast on its truly Udupi food - sizzling masala dosas, yummy sambar vadas, steaming coffee.
Everybody loved the drive-in and relax concept though many drove in, parked here and remained for hours!
For those who had failed at an interview, for those who were being driven by sales targets, for those who needed to stop and stare, Drive-In offered a warm refuge.
If the parking lot provided anonymity and quiet, the self-service section was noisy, unregulated and crowded at most times.
Drive-In was a landmark. Like the Central Station, Marina Beach, Sri Parthasarathy Koil.
And when it closed, a heritage space was taken away.
In its place stands 'Semmozhi Poonga'. A showcase, in name, of a government that was in power not so long ago.
Lots of people continue to savour the Drive-In days.
If you really have some special incidents to share, do e-mail to - themadrasday@gmail.com

July 10, 2011

How can community newspapers use tech?

Councillor N. Santhanakrishnan represents his community and ward in the Valasarawakkam Municipality at the far end of Arcot Road.
Like most neighbourhoods in the suburbs of our city, his ward has the good and the bad sides of living.
This week, N. Santhanakrishnan called us because he was terribly agitated with the manner in which officials were dealing with the waste that is generated in that area.
They had converted a playground into a yard to first stock vans and equipment and slowly turned this place into what they called a transit yard for garbage.
Following the call were others. Residents who provided inputs and one person who offered to shoot a picture of the dump yard that was located bang in the middle of a dense residential and business space.
Collated, these inputs helped us report this story in the 'Arcot Road Times' newspaper.
Of late, we at our newspapers are keenly encouraging readers to become part of the news-sharing and gathering process.
It is this hint that a senior citizen of the Mylapore neighbourhood picked up to alert us of what he thought was a clear case of land grab of a huge property that should belong to the community.
He heard that a hall that stood on that prized plot had been demolished overnight and metal sheets erected all around the plot. And when the buzz was that this plot could be on the selling block, he alerted us and gave us all the background material.
Hopefully, it will help the Mylapore Times team to report on this development.
We do receive a stream of pictures and short notes on community events. They are important for a neigbourhood weekly.
We also receive pictures of pot-holed streets, garbage mounds and broken furniture in the park. These too help us highlight local civic conditions.
But very few people are ready to stick they neck out and alert us to more serious developments in our neighbourhoods. Issues like covert encroachments by big - timers, slip-shod civic work by contractors and human rights violations can best be reported when people take the lead to share information.
We also hope to use tech tools to enable the process of making information available in the public domain.
If you would like to share ideas on how our community newspapers can tap into tech applications and resources to make this happen, do let us know.

July 02, 2011

Enjoy Country Music of Anglo musicians

Tommy Smith is a name musicians of the 50s and 60s of Madras would remember. So would people who frequented the clubs or enjoyed the festival dances.

Tommy ran a popular band in the city, played for the big names in the film music world of Vadapalani and when the time was right, migrated to Australia where he is highly respected by the Aussie artistes.

But Tommy has not severed his ties with Madras and his friends across India, some of whom still play jazz and pop at clubs, hotels and studios.

These past few years, Tommy has been flying into India for two reasons. One, to make his pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni, near Nagapattinam (dozens of Anglo-Indians from all over the world make a pilgrimage on foot from Madras to this coastal shrine on the eve of the feast in September).

Two, to perform with Anglo-Indian musicians of this city for a concert that raises funds for community projects.

Harry Maclure who runs the 'Anglos in The Wind' magazine from Anna Nagar and his team has managed to brand these concerts very well.
Themed ' Blazing Guitars', the first edition of this concert at Museum Theatre last year was a sell-out and when the last country music song echoed in that 150-year-old hall, it was close to 10 p.m. and few had left the place.

This time, Blazing Guitars' second edition moves to The Music Academy on July 9 evening and in the lead is Barry Rosario and his band who performed last year.
Barry has managed to group some of the best young Anglo-Indian talent in this city and joining them will be veterans like Tommy Smith.

Tommy ducked hiccups in the airline schedules, performed till 2 a.m. last weekend at his regular club shows, got into a hopping flight at 6 a.m. and landed in Madras to keep his date for the Blazing Guitars show.
Truly some amazing support this!

Country music runs deep in Anglo homes and colonies and next weekend's show is bound to be a big hit for anyone who loves music, especially vintage music.
If you want to relive the 60s and enjoy the wonderful Anglo-Indian spirit, be there at the Academy. Dress code ( suggested) - checks and jeans. Don't bring the guns, even if the are just toys.

June 25, 2011

Solar panels at street corners?


A few days ago, there was a little drama that took place on the main road where the office of the Mylapore Times is located.
Black jelly spurted from the tarred road, flames shot up, the smell of burning wires enveloped the place and smoke swirled up.
Once again the local power cable which supplies power to our building which is set in a complex owned by Chennai Corporation had crumbled, unable to handle the load required to keep over 30 shops and offices going.
The impatient, evening rush-hour traffic smothered the drama and we resigned to the inevitable - working in the sweltering heat and under emergency lamps and in candle-light.
We have learnt to work around the daily dose of hour-long power cuts. And when the unofficial ones strike us, I some times choose to go up to the terrace and sit under the canopy of a Rain Tree that rises from the neighbour's compound and spreads across our terrace.
If the sea breeze sets in in the afternoon this is the place to be.
During one recent break on the terrace, I mused over the idea of fixing solar panels to draw natural power for our Macs and making little of the current power crisis.
Perhaps, if we did this we could convince a few others in this complex to adopt the technology. And get the Chennai Corporation Commissioner to acknowledge this effort!
There are a few simple ways in which civic and community issues can be addressed locally.
The effort is missing or is rather lame.
Recently, a resident of the Adyar neighbourhood wrote to the 'Adyar Times' newspaper to highlight the practise of local shops using all the lights and neon signs they had fixed inside and outside their shops at a time when we are facing a sever power crisis.
This was a timely point to make.
But did the Electricity Board officials of Adyar get to read this letter?
If they had, they could have started an informal campaign to coax shops to switch off their 'decorative' and promotional lighting and thus save some power.

June 18, 2011

Madras Week 2011: how can you celebrate?

A small group has a date to keep in June. It is the group which catalyses all that goes on in the name of Madras Day.
Madras Day, for those who are new to the celebration is an annual event which attempts to celebrate the founding of this city of ours and all that it stands for.
What began as a simple, one - day event some years ago is now a unique celebration which hosts close to 100 events that it is now covers over a week.
So we now choose to rename Madras Day as Madras Week!
The Madras Day group's June meeting is for brainstorming. To think of core events, to list resources and people who can contribute, to share ideas on how to grow . . .
The 2011 edition of Madras Week is to be celebrated from August 21 to 28 since August 22 is now observed as Madras Day (the day a deal is said to have been signed between the local ruler and a rep of the Company to own a piece of sandy land which grew into Fort St. George and led to the formation of this city).
We are very keen to get lots of communities and groups involved this year and hence, getting the word across as early as we can to set the ball rolling.
It is all about sharing, networking and putting hands together.
IT professional and writer Pradeep Chakravarthy is best known for his tours of temples where he taps into records and inscriptions to tell stories. Now Pradeep is sparing time to give talks at a few city schools and take a few student-groups on walking tours in south Madras.
Writer-historian V. Sriram has compiled a list of over 20 speakers who can deliver great talks on subjects related to the city. Crime, cinema, temples, archaeology, Gujarati community, the Anglo-Indians, theatre, cricket . . . .and more.
Actor and collector Mohan V. Raman is willing to share his prize collection of postage stamps and Thamizh film and theatre materials to people who will display them carefully. He is also open to invitations for talks " but only if there are at least 30 to 40 keen people in the audience."
But Madras Week needs dozens of passionate people to share, link, network and execute to make this celebration a success.
The unique character of this event is that it is all about people doing their own thing with their own efforts and monies. There are no corporate sponsors, there are no state-driven plans and there is no one single mela.
After all, this is a people's celebration.
So this is the time to invite schools and colleges, clubs and community groups, artists and musicians, bikers and Hashers, Rotarians and Freemasons . . . to plan events that celebrate this city of ours.
Some leads are at www.themadrasday.in. E-mail - madrasday@yahoo.com.

June 11, 2011

Mango Party is a fun idea!

Theatrepeople will be familiar with Ranga Shankara of Bengaluru.

Promoted by the well known actor Arundathi Nag who toiled for years to set up this unique space for theatre, Ranga Shankara which is located in the upscale neighbourhood of J. P. Nagar in Bengaluru is now known across the country and outside.

Plays are held here throughout the month/year though the accent is on Kannada and space is provided to all shades of theatrepeople.

This week, the Ranga Shankara invite in our electronic mail box was for a unique event.

It is hosting its annual Mango Party on June 12.

All you need to do is bring along a kilo of mangoes of your choice and contribute to the mango pool that will be created at this place.

Later, at an appointed time people can gather around, choose the fruits they like and enjoy them even as musicians and actors entertain the guests.

Ranga Shankara is also hosting a special Mango Party only for children and I am sure those who will attend will enjoy it.

This is the kind of fun event that can be a huge hit in a community.

There used to be a small group of vintage Hindi film enthusiasts who met once a month at Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar.

They came from all over the city and each was asked to bring snacks made at home which would be sufficient for the entire group.

The men would devote an hour to singing the evergreen songs they grew up with and then pass the snacks around.

Our neighbourhoods still have some quiet, open, green spaces where communities with ideas and enterprise can gather at least once a month and indulge in creative events.

You don't need sponsorship, you don't need chairs and tables and mikes, you don't even need permission from the local police for they would gladly support such informal events.

But we do need creative people who can use public spaces creatively.

If you or your group has been doing some thing like the Mango Party do let me know.

June 04, 2011

Roar for CSK but support volleyball too!

The roars at Chepauk were deafening last weekend. Chennai Super Kings had won the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League T20 cricket and won it with ease.
Well before the CSK players lifted the trophy parties hit the top and there were lots of people outside the M A Chidambaram cricket stadium and in city clubs and bars showing off their CSK colours.
If the IPL continues to be well managed and presented year after year, it could duplicate the success of international club football.
And our city will have lots of CSK fans who will want to roar more often.
Chepauk was our destination if there were matches on the weekend that we could watch for free in the 70s. The stadium was a fifteen-minute walk from home. Every other youngster in Chepauk and Triplicane could play cricket.
The Egmore stadium was our destination on the other side of the river. It took us 5 minutes to get there from our school if we took the short cut of jumping over the wall that protected the hockey field.
The Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, as it is called today hosted three intense sports activity. Hockey, volleyball and tennis. A few chess diehards would play games under the shade of the campus trees.
Hockey and volleyball attracted our bunch of schoolboys. While the city hockey league matches began at about 2 p.m. the volleyball court came alive at about 4 p.m.
There was one man who drove everything about volleyball at the Egmore courts and he was a roly-poly man called P. John. He not only nurtured generations of volleyball players but also saw that his Nellai Friends Volleyball Club became legendary.
Everybody who played, cheered or gawked at the games in Egmore knew this man and made sure to be at the matches he organised here.
I am told Nellai Friends is perhaps the oldest such club. It is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. And the celebrations come at a time when the Indian Volley League (IVL) has just been launched and will be in action in our city from this weekend at the Nehru Stadium. Nellai Friends is involved and it wants sports-lovers to be there.
The IVL also needs our support. So if you love sport, make time to be at the stadium. There are some exciting teams in action and volleyball too can excite you like cricket does.

May 28, 2011

Create the OMR community

If you have your home in the OMR neighbourhood or you have friends who live there or you intend to buy an apartment in the area, here is a lead you may want to make a note of. . .
Old Mahabalipuram Road is now Rajiv Gandhi Salai. I certainly do not approve of this name change, for some names carry a heritage that must live with the present.
Once it was a little more than a mud track (I would love to hear from oldtimers of Adyar, from the retired CLRI community on their own memories of this road).  But in recent times when the state decided to promote it as the IT highway and the plans found a level after some bubbles burst, its character changed.
The large expanses were bought by big-timers in the real estate business who promised us of high rises which ran up into the skies over Muttukadu and Padur.
The new residential apartment blocks though have been slow in coming up in keeping with the climate in the realty markets. But in the years to come OMR, as we now call this region will be a sprawling neighbourhood.
Friend G. V. Krishnan moved into an OMR apartment recently. An unexpected turn in his colourful life.
Krish retired from the Times of India after a long, eventful career at India's leading newspaper. He belonged to the old school of journalism and must be glad he moved out before the slap-dash business became part of the new TOI.
Krish retired to the hills of Coonoor and since his fingers were itchy and he wanted to remain connected, launched a simple Web site on the Coonoor community. It became quite popular around the world.
Krish had to move home, this time to Mysore. Once settled, he launched another Web community called the Mysore Blog Park. That too generated interest, attention and debate.
This year, Krish made yet another move and came down to OMR. And last fortnight, he launched a blog called OMR Resident.
Krish makes good use of the skills he employed in his career. In this case, he focuses on posting stories on the OMR. Sunrise over the Muttukadu backwaters, local service providers who shuttle between Siruseri, Padur and Kelambakkam, maddening traffic, useful nooks to source curd, bread and greens and development at the complex where he resides and is the area around it.
Krish hopes people who have come to live on the OMR will post their own bits of info and enrich it. If that happens, it will be one online space which will really benefit this community.
Log on www.omrresident.blogspot.com.

May 21, 2011

Seniors find ways to relax

There is a small community of radio listeners who love the SLBC. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
These are people whose day cannot be made unless they tune in to the Western Pop Music programme that goes on air every morning on SLBC.
The Top of the Pops of the 50s and 60s is on the airwaves all the time. Engelbert Humperdinck, Jim Reeves, Elton John, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton and of course Elvis Presley.
This is a Listeners' Request show and the presenters have been on the air for decades.
It is that warm, personal communication and the still hugely popular music that makes this community tune into SLBC day in and day out.
Recently, in the course of a meeting with a resident in my neighbourhood I realised how this evergreen programme of the SLBC was the lifeline for senior citizens.
Shirley leads a retired life though she is in her late fifties. She hardly has any relatives and the few friends she has have been cultivated at the church she attends, which is not too often.
Shirley is coming to terms with all the ills and pains that come with ageing.
But she says the isolation that a changing neighbourhood in a place like Adyar forces on seniors like her is something that she is coming to terms with great difficulty.
Few neighbours talk freely. Fewer still are willing to extend a helping hand. Most keep to themselves, she says.
So it is the radio which is her companion. She has her favourites. Old Pop Hits on SLBC and a few Christian worship programmes. And her day is made when a SLBC host calls and chats 'live'!
Recently though Shirley has chosen another option to fight loneliness.
She has bought a cellphone and she encourages the few friends she has to call her. But there is one condition - the cellphone line is kept open only for two hours every morning.
I can't afford the bills and I hate these pesky marketing people, she says.
In our fast-changing neighbourhoods, some senior citizens have found ways to enjoy the sunshine. Many though want some warmth.

May 14, 2011

Interact with your MLA

We now have a new Member of the state Legislative Assembly (MLA) to represent us.
As the results of the 2011 elections sink in and as a new government prepares to take charge, we too have a role to play in the months and years ahead.
For all those who chose to come out of their homes on a hot April day to cast the ballot, the act was just one important step in a democracy.
We cannot stop with just that.
Now is the time to get involved.
At our newspapers, in Adyar, in Mylapore and in Arcot Road we made our own little contribution in this election.
We chose to report on the run-up to the election - on the campaign, the contestants and the issues affecting the constituencies.
To make use of the technology resources, we set up web sites and posted information almost everyday.
This effort did have some positives because there was a steady stream of visitors to the sites and they seem to have used the information made available to voters.
Now that the MLAs have been elected and they begin to execute their responsibilities, there is lots more that we can do together.
On our side, we plan to report on these representatives and on their work in our newspapers. We will also launch fresh web sites which will tap into simple tech tools that allow the MLAs and the people to share ideas, post comments and raise issues.
But this alone will not be enough.
This is the time for civil society groups, residents' associations and civic-minded people in our neighbourhoods to join hands, conducts meetings with the MLAs, interact and work together.
On election eve, in some places people hosted face-to-face meetings with the candidates.
Those were small starting points.
The more important steps must be taken now.
To engage with our reps. And we need to start today.
If you have ideas to share and wish to contribute, e-mail to our newspapers.

May 07, 2011

Chennai's stores could take a afternoon break!

For many, shopping is a huge experience, something to look forward to, to get excited about, to indulge in.
For some, like me watching shoppers makes interesting observation.

Earlier this week, I visited a jewellery store located on a  busy road in the Virugambakkam neighbourhood.
Young Ashish who graduated a couple of years ago was blessed by his Dad to branch off on his own, having learnt the tricks and the ins and outs of the trade for many years.

This is a business that runs in the Rajasthanis and those who have moved away from the basics of lending money, and from pawn broking have gone into businesses. Jewellery is one of them.

Ashish's dad was perhaps the earliest to set up shop in this part of the city. He launched himself over three decades ago when the fields and scrublands on either side of Arcot Road were slowly being measured and marked to be sold as plots to middle-class families dreaming of a house of their own.

Arcot Road was then the pathway to moviedom, a time when people gathered at the railway gates in Kodambakkam to gawk at film stars in their cars, waiting for the trains to pass by and let the gates be opened to vehicular traffic.

Today, the once-suburban colonies are sprawling neighbourhoods and Ashish is banking on this growth to fuel his fortunes.
As I sat at the young man's grandly designed new store I watched men and women immersed in their quest to buy some jewellery. Some made a quick selection, paid in crisp notes and left, a couple took time to select a pair of gold bangles, went out to get cash at a ATM and were happy with their buy and one lady and her daughter spent close to an hour to value bits of used jewellery, choose a new piece and sign up on a chit scheme.

The buzz though was because Akshaya Tritiya was at hand!
When the last shopper of that day had left and Aahish was free to chat with me, it was close to 10 p.m.

On a stuffy, hot day when the temperature was soaring at about 41degrees it was a relief to enjoy the air-conditioning in that new store.
I wonder why shops and retail businesses in our neighbourhoods keep their doors open from 9 am to 10 pm, when in summer, few people will stir out between 1 and 3.

Isn't there a lot to be gained by closing down at that time of the day?  Retailers in parts of Pondicherry and Goa do it to enjoy a leisurely siesta and it pays!

Today, local shopping peaks after 8 p.m. Retailers have realised the needs of changing lifestyles and demands. Perhaps, a long break at lunch time in a tropical zone is a profitable practice.

April 30, 2011

Jigarthanda, Anjappar and food reviews


If you are from the Madurai region you would be familiar with jigarthanda.
It is a form of falooda.
Jigarthanda is served in a tall glass with layers of thickened milk, rose syrup, china grass and ice cream. Most people like to drink it but some street-corer shops offer you a steel spoon with which to relish the layered contents.
On a stuffy summer's evening, this speciality of Madurai is a delight. If you are new to this city, all you need to do is to slow down at a busy junction and look for a nook that is crowded and you are sure to have located the popular jigarthanda joint.
I have sampled the stuff at different joints in Madurai and found that there are variations of it. The most recent experience was the cooler that was sold by Muslims. The ordinary jigarthanda which cost ten rupees was more like a juice while the special, priced at thirty rupees had a generous layer of semiya and a big scoop of ice-cream.
Here in our city, there is a jigarthanda outlet outside Murugan Idli Shop in Besant Nagar. I am yet to check it out. I also have an invitation from a group of entrepreneurs to sample the jigarthanda at their restaurant in K. K. Nagar.
Perhaps, a foodie should start a jigarthanda listing web site that should help us navigate the best spots in Madurai. (A Facebook group records the recipe!)
I think our city needs a restaurant review web site that is no-nonsense in content and blunt in its reviews - in addition to the many web sites, blogs and burps that foodies refer to.
More so because restaurants are opening and closing like kariveppillai in boiling oil. Many are rich in d├ęcor and low on quality of food, high on branding and average on service.
Last week, dining at an Anjappar restaurant in T. Nagar I witnessed a diner rattle the stewards and the manager. As soon as the chicken curry was served at the table, the young woman stirred it to find it contained a few thin shreds of meat. She blew a fuse. The manager tried to defend but she would have none of it.
'Serve us well or we will walk out,' she said sternly.
The couple got an extra plate of chicken curry in minutes.

April 23, 2011

Picnics on ECR

Summer picnics.
I wonder how many of us get excited about organising one and then going out with family and friends to enjoy it.
At this time of the year I get calls from friends who bank on me to suggest weekend picnic ideas. They are looking for day trips that are simple and interesting.
Interesting for children who are now on holiday.
My suggestions are often biased. Biased towards a bit of history and heritage and the environment.
No, I am not suggesting another bout of an educational exercise for kids who must have had enough of their exams and preparations for a new academic year.
But if the picnics can also be journeys of discovery then there is a plus in them!
The East Coast Road (ECR) is my favourite suggestion as it must be for many, many families.
This region offers so many little nooks to discover and journeys that can break with a picnic lunch!
You could 'discover' the Buckingham Canal from the Thiruvanmiyur point to the Marakkanam lake. Once a busy transport route, there are little vestiges of the past that may interest you. The locks are one of them. At Kelambakkam, at Muttukadu, at Thiruvidanthai . . .
Pick up a map before you set out. Cruise along the ECR when you get close to each of these spots. Park your car and walk across to the edge of the Canal. There are always surprises.
If you start early in the day you will find a host of birds at the Kelambakkam point. You may even see people busy working on a few salt pans in this area.
At Muttukadu, walk past the Boating Place of TN Tourism, alongside the Canal and you will get a nice view of the locks. When the Indian boats sailed here and the wind died down (which was often) the boat-hands would walk along either bank and pull the boat, using ropes tied to it, doing so till the wind picked up again!
Well, this is one of the many suggestions for a summer holiday day trip.
Yes, it is not meant for easy-go picnickers.
A weekend that is just a little different out in the open is what you will remember.

April 16, 2011

TN Elections: Educated go out to vote

There was a positive feature to Elections 2011 in the two constituencies I chose to focus on  Voting Day, April 13.

Many young people stood in the queue to cast their ballot. As did many ‘upwardly mobile’ people.

This is perhaps the first time in many, many years that I have witnessed this trend at the polling booths in the Mylapore-Adyar neighbourhoods.

Though the neighboruhoods now fall under two constituencies since a new one called Velachery was carved out and Adyar now comes under it, the character and colour of these areas is pretty much common.

I chose not to be in the queue at 8 a.m. but to catch up with the news. And when I did walk out at 11 a.m. and walked past two polling booths, there were at least 30 to 50 people at each polling station. Working couples in their 40s, young professionals, senior citizens and many women.

Many people came in their latest cars, cursed the heat but chose to stand in the queue though some who decided they were VIPs walked past the police to the booth and were challenged by seniors in the queue. “This is one day when all of us are equal!” piped up one old man.

The trend was quite similar is many places. People seemed determined to vote.

But as the first round of voting trends came out it was evident that less than 70% of the electorate in the neighbourhood had cast their ballot. So while the turnout of the educated and the well-off was positive, there were many people who were partying in Bangalore or watching television at home or simply could not be bothered because they had not received the Voter Slip at the doorstep.

There were many hiccups. Names not listed in the electoral rolls. Pictures missing in the rolls. Mix-ups in booth numbering. Lazy poll officials. Officials who discouraged you from opting for 49(O). And yet, I got to know that many people made an effort to negotiate these hiccups. Or gave up after an argument.

The new MLAs will be known only a month later. If you start to engage with him or her from then on, you will be going beyond merely voting.

April 09, 2011

T N Elections: beyond the vote

In the heart of Colachel, which hugs the sea in Kanyakumari district, a cavalcade of union minister and Congress (I) leader, G. K. Vasan grinds to a stop at a traffic junction for an impromptu election speech.
The act takes place in the searing April heat for fifteen minutes but all those who have gathered and are passing by stop to listen and then disperse as the caravan heads to Nagercoil.
In his simple office in Colachel,  Fr. J. Joseph sits back and talks about the involvement of the Christian community in politics and in state elections. Midway, he picks up a spiral-bound file and says, "This has all the information that empowers our people."
The Catholic priest, a Vicar Forane who oversees six parish units in this region refers to a conscious effort by the Church and the community leaders to database all the schemes and projects due to this community which enables people to address politicians and officials and engage them.
Caste, religion and community continues to play a huge role in electoral politics and it shows in the 2011 state elections.
So what role do you play in your constituency?
In a few days, the state goes to the polls. On April 13.
And we will have the opportunity to exercise what is perhaps the biggest gift of democracy.
How many of us will really take the trouble to cast the ballot?
How many of us have given some time and thought to the election process? Who are the candidates? What do they stand for? Who really deserves to be supported? Or do we need to demonstrate our disapproval?
I am a tad unhappy with the overly tight regulations that the Election Commission has brought to bear on the campaigns. There are no posters around that will help us to put a face to a name. To know who the candidates are. There are no spaces where candidates and parties can post their agendas and promises and hang their symbols.
Elections are celebrations too. And campaigns need to communicate.
And while civil society is jumping up to hold fasts and take part in candlelight processions for a Hazare, it does not even contemplate hosting community meets for candidates in the fray and for residents in the local constituency.
This is the time for small and active groups to engage with the candidates in a constituency. And to build systems that will be in place when a new legislator is elected to represent you and me so that the engagement moves forward in the days to come.

April 02, 2011

TN Elections 2011: Meet the Candidates

You organise a New Year party in your apartment complex.
You do your two-bit for a Go Green campaign in your office. You join the walk on the Marina for your Rotary Club's anti-obesity drive.
How about doing your two-bit during this election?
Look around you and you will find an opportunity you should not miss.
There is positive-ness in the air.
Small groups of people are coming together to host face-to-face meetings with the candidates who are seeking your votes and promising you a few good things, a few hollow things and a few tall things.
These people, who live in your neighbourhood are creating a platform. A space where candidates and voters can meet in a less sticky atmosphere. Away from the heat of a campaign.
These are the platforms where you and I can engage with the men and women who want to be our reps.
You can listen to what they have to say and make decisions, collaborate, persuade and challenge.
All this can be done in a civil manner.
You can even help make them raise issues and adopt those which your community feels are important.
The campaign slogans have already become stale. Scams, dynastic rule, price rise, goondagiri. . .yes these are issues at one level. But candidates hardly talk about constituency-level issues.
Traffic management. Environment degradation. Plans for kuppams and slums. Budgets for local civic projects. Law and order.
This is where you come in. You and your community will know these better than the candidates. Raise them. Push them. Or try to understand them.
Hopefully, these meetings will not end with the campaigns. They must be regular and make the new MLA accountable.
That process starts now.

March 26, 2011

Why your vote counts

Can we really make a difference in an election? At the local level for the City Council, in the Assembly poll or for the Lok Sabha?
Or are politicians making us looking like fools once elections are over?
I think we have been fooled time and again because we allow these reps to get away.
Can you recall the name of the man who was elected Member of Parliament for the South Chennai seat?
Clue: he was from the AIADMK party.
Clue; he was not a film star
Clue: he was a man some AIADMK cadres knew.
The man's name is Rajendran and he is from suburban Chitlapakkam. He won by a whisker, he posed for pictures, he received garlands, he was seen in Delhi a few times and that was the last we saw and heard of him. At least in this part of a huge, high-profile constituency.
Winners of a losing party in this part of the country can be pretty soft.
In the end, it seems to be a game of numbers. So, can we make a difference?
Friend K. Satyanarayan, a book publisher who also has an interest in politics and community life was encouraged with the launch of two web sites for this state election ( www.mylaporevotes.wordpress.com and www.velacheryvotes.wordpress.com).
So he did some homework and mailed us some interesting notes.
• There are 206,078 voters in the Mylapore constituency for the 2011 Assembly elections
• In the past two elections in 2001 and 2006, the winner polled around 62,000 votes.
• The victory margins have been very low in 2001 and 2006. It was as low as 6,047 votes in 2001 and just 1,657 votes in 2006.
• The average turnout over the last 4 Assembly elections was 54%, with the maximum turnout of 63% in 2006 and the lowest turnout of 41% in 2001.
• The past four elections have all been two horse races, with the winner and the runner-up together accounting for 90% of the votes polled.
• If the same trend continues in 2011, a candidate would need to get about 51,000-55,000 votes to win the Mylapore seat.
I assume Satya has not mailed the info for mere armchair debate.
If you read between the lines, there are a few messages for us all. Your vote will make some difference. Be in in Mylapore, Velachery or Virugambakkam.
Before we cast that ballot, if we can engage with the candidates now we may not be 'cheated' the way the elected MP did!

March 19, 2011

Elections 2011 - Websites on Mylapore, Velachery

If you ever come across an autorickshaw with the legend N. Murugan emblazoned on its canvas roof at the rear in the colours of the DMK party you may help me fill in on some political gossip.

One of the many dozen auto driver friends of mine had a story to share the other day when I hired him for a ride to work. He claimed Murugan was a DMK strongman and owned lots of auto.

Autodrivers do have their fingers on the pulse of the city and they have lots of info, leads and gossip. And they talk or even sing if you tickle them on their trips across town.

At Election time, you can dip into their small talk and get a sense of what is going on around you.

My OMR auto driver friend is betting on the return of Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK party. “I am a AIADMK man driving an auto that is owned by a DMK man,” he told me. ‘But take it from me, amma is going to come back.”

This can be a dipstick taken a month before we all go out to cast our vote in State Elections 2011. It may tell us which way the wind is blowing in some regions and with some people but it is
early days yet.

They used to say that most auto drivers in the city were pro DMK.
Actually, most were great fans of the late MGR; many in their 50s still are though not all side with the AIADMK of the day.
The more diehard fans of MGR were the cycle rickshawallahs. That generation is gone but the few who remain are proud to display photos and stickers of their thalaivar.

At elections, we cannot be swayed by idols, TV sets and grand alliances of the kazhagams. We need to look at the candidates, their parties and their policies.

The tragedy of today’s politics is that if the winner belongs to the losing party, not only is he or she cut to size, even that constituency is ostracised. That is why Mylapore MLA S. Ve. Shekher knew which sandwich to butter.

Where does that leave a voter?

Engagement is key. It is not enough for us to know about the parties and the candidates and vote for the best choice but to engage with the man or woman who has become the legislator of our constituency.

To help share information on the candidates, raise local issues and provide utility data that voters need, we have created two web sites for Elections 2011. One for the Mylapore Assembly constituency and one for the new Velachery constituency (which covers all parts of Adyar).

The URLs are - www.mylaporevotes.wordpress.com and www.velacheryvotes.wordpress.com

You may not only use the info and respond to reportage but also share your notes. Since this is completely local, please remain focussed. However, let not your acts be restricted to an online activity!
Engage in all ways you can.