July 30, 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.