January 29, 2011

Roaming festival hawkers

The Thiagaraja aradhana just got over.

This annual event is an occasion for musicians to pay tribute to one of the greatest composer of Carnatic music, Thiagaraja at the place of his samadhi in the small town of Thiruvaiyaru, close to Thanjavur.

Over five days and nights, 400 plus artistes perform for ten to fifteen minutes on a stage that faces Thiagaraja's shrine.

It is an anjali for musicians, vidwans and rasikas.

Over the years, a mela has grown around this event, much like a festival. This has given a different dimension to the aradhana. While the concerts carry on back to back, morning to late night, townsfolk and Thanjavureans and visitors to the aradhana can also soak in the mela.

Ram Bhat who runs the popular Matsya Restaurant in Egmore and his wife was at Thiruvaiyaru this week; while Ram's wife enjoyed the concerts Ram and I decided to explore the fringes of the fest.

Our first stop was the famed Andavar joint in the town centre known for its Asoka halwa. Passing by this landmark the previous evening, I had seen lots of people sitting at tables and assumed that besides halwa, Andavar would also serve great tiffin.

It did not as we got to know when Ram and I checked in. Two kinds of halwa, a variety of savouries fresh from the kitchen is what you get here. And as a recent concession, Andavar serves only curd rice, sambar and pickle at lunch time. And you can have halwa as dessert.

Ram had already done a recce of the bylanes of this town and was disappointed that not a single food hawker could offer something local. So since a fiery molaga bajji had fired his mouth and he wanted to find out the cause of the fieriness, we went back to the makeshift shop and realised that the hawker sprinkled chilli powder on the molaga bajjis!

We located a few hawkers selling paniyaram. They were good.

But Ram said he could not find local toys or crafts here.

All that was sold was either plastic or cheap, imported stuff. And they were sold by a community of people who travelling around the state, from festival to festival. From towns to cities to villages.

These nomad hawkers lead a life of their own and it is governed by a calendar of festivals. At temples and mosques and churches.

One week they are at a teppam or thai poosam celebration, the next they head to Thiruvaiyaru. It is a mentally-databased calendar that keeps their business going.

They are in Mylapore for the Panguni fest of Sri Kapali Temple, they are at the Annai Vailankanni feast in Besant Nagar and in Nagapattinam and of late, they have included the annual Mylapore Festival in their calendar.

Truly a fascinating life of a colorful community.

January 22, 2011

Open Science centres to kids


Curly Wee and Beetle Bailey were my favourite comic strips, courtesy The Mail.
The now-defunct eveninger of our city would be mine after Dad had run through the newspaper rather late. He would be home at about 6 p.m. and every evening he would pick up his copy of The Mail near the Jaffar's roundabout on Mount Road.
The Mail must have inspired me a lot.
Its office was 75 metres from the building where we lived and the only time I got to see it from the outside was on Sundays, when the family would walk down to the bus stop near The Hindu, its neighbour to make it for Sunday Mass at St. Mary's Co-Cathedral on Armenian Street.
On the pillars of the newspaper's office were a few notice boards which carried posters that screamed the top news headline of the day and enticed people to buy a copy.
I wish I had walked into those presses then.
I did a few years later when a senior Ed who used to handle Journalism classes in college invited us over. And our first little news items got published.
I didn't have time to share this story of mine with Prof. Dr. Asit Baran Mandal who is the Director of the world renowned Central Leather Research Institute in Adyar when I met him this past week.
I was a judge for what is perhaps the oldest oratorical competition in the Madras University zone and a prestigious one to win many decades ago. Named after
Dr. A L Mudaliar, a famed Vice-Chancellor of the University, the event has paled over the recent years. CLRI does its best to generate interest but the skills shown on stage were rather poor.
On the sidelines of this event I put it to Dr. Mandal that institutions like his and the many in what may have been a Science City should take more steps to get students from the Adyar neighbourhood to see the facilities, interact with researchers and meet scientists.
Yes, CLRI hosts a bunch of toppers every year.
But it could easily host a group from every Adyar school and help ignite the sparks not only among the brilliant but also among the ones who can only stare at the name boards and cannot enter the campus.
I hope the Prof. Mandals can do this.

January 14, 2011

Kolam exhibition in Mylapore?

Can we mount a Kolam Exhibition on a mada veedhi in Mylapore and make it a huge attraction?

This is an idea that played on our mind when cycles, bikes, cars and tourist buses were allowed to run over 113 kolams on North Mada Street once the kolam competition was over last Sunday evening.

The Mylapore Traffic Police did not hustle us but they were under pressure. Demands from frenzied shoppers and impatient motorists who wondered why a kolam fest was held on a road.

In a jiffy, a number of fantastic designs had been smudged. Only a few remained intact when we walked down the mada veedhi later that night to relook at the displays and let our ideas spin.

And then it struck me – could we mount a Kolam Exhibition here next year and make this space special in the time of margazhi.

Barricade one half of the road, allow people to draw kolams at anytime till as late as 10 p.m., mount special lights to floodlight this space and invite the people of this city to enjoy the spectacle.

After all, the kolams are at the centre of the annual Mylapore Festival which is sponsored by Sundaram Finance and they need to be centre stage as ever.

The event deserves the stage. We get people from Aynavaram and Mogappair, kids from ‘Mangollai’ and men from Mambalam who stretch themselves to showcase their best on this veedhi so it would be but proper to think of ways to turn this into a weekend exhibition without inconveniencing Mylaporeans.

If you too have ideas on this, share it with us – at mylaporefestival@yahoo.com

One positive aspect about this Festival is its ability to get inclusive.

Over the years, we have been able to accommodate the women who set up tiffin stalls, the narikuravas from Thiruvanmiyur who park their carts showcasing chains made of beads and nomadic toy-sellers who now have to peddle plastic goods from another land.

These people also add to the colour of such a Fest.

A decade ago we floated a kolam contest which required the judges to go to the door-step of every house that registered.

Today, that event has a life of its own.

If you missed it, enjoy the pictures and videos at www.mylaporefestival.com

January 08, 2011

Mylapore Festival has more to it this year

On Sunday morning, when writer-historian V. Sriram starts his heritage walk from the Gandhi statue on the Marina, he will be leading a group of people down the famed Edward Elliots Road.
As he covers a fourth of that long, long road, on the southern side a fleet of five cycle rickshaws will start from Our Lady of Light Church on a tour of inner Mylapore.
Both tours are part of the heritage experiences that are integral to the annual Mylapore Festival which is wholly sponsored by Sundaram Finance.
Sriram says there are at least 40 key personalities he will have to talk about as he takes people on his Edward Elliots Legacy Tour. Which means those who join him at 6 a.m. will have to enjoy a walk that will be over two hours and end at The Music Academy.
The annual Mylapore Festival (on from Jan. 6 to 9) is much more than just three dozen events, food and crafts, kolams, music and heritage.
It is the celebration of spaces, of people and of issues that relate to it.
Chantal has flown in from France to be here to document the two kolam contests (Jan. 8 and 9 - 3.30 p.m. onwards on North Mada Street). She spent many years in India, more in Kerala, learning the arts there. Based in Mylapore's popular Karpagam Hotel, Chantal is soaking in. Hers will be yet another addition to small films which have been made at the Fest as part of a documentation process.
Exhibited on the rolling shutters of the giant house for the temple ther, are a selection of pictures that 12 children took as they went on a PhotoWalk of the area. Hopefully, such visual documents will be repeated to add to the treasure of pictures of Mylapore.
Helped by my artist friend Gita who now works for Madras Craft Foundation, I invited five young artists to sit inside Sri Kapali Temple and paint on 2 x 2 canvases on whatever inspired them here. Their works of art will also be exhibited at the Fest site and sold later.
Two householders have invited us to sit and discuss ways in which we can put their residences which have stood on/off the mada vedhis for over 50 years to good use. Can we make these places community documentation centres? A space for talks and film screenings? A museum?
There is more to the festival and I am glad it is happening.
Do come this weekend.
If you need infor, check out www.mylaporefestival.com. If you can checkout the pictures and the many videos on the website to get the flavour. And if you have friends or relatives who have roots in Mylapore, tell them about all this!

January 01, 2011

A festival for Mylapore neighbourhood

When you design and execute a cultural festival in a neighbourhood, all kinds of people become your friends.
You make these friendships on the streets and lanes, in the temples and shops.
And they remain with you.
As yet another edition of the Sundaram Finance sponsored Mylapore Festival rolls on Thursday next ( Jan.6 to 9), I get to renew my ties with most of these people.
There is one person who will not be found in a familiar place.
Nagarajan used to be our godfather of sort on Pitchu Pillai Street where all our young, creative people set up shop and turn the street into an Art Street.
His quaint tiled Mylapore house was just the fa├žade we needed for this street. Nagarajan lost a legal battle recently and had to vacate this place, so we won't have him there any more. But he has not stopped visiting the street that was his home for decades. And we hope he will give us all the help he has rendered these many years.
Lots of people love a festival.
So when we took a bunch of kids on a PhotoWalk on Christmas day, a family which owns a wonderful old house on the mada veedhis invited us in and let the kids enjoy their rosemilk from the world famous Kalathi shop in the corner.
Our longtime cyclerickshaw friends will also be with us, to take 10 people on a slow ride on the Heritage Tour of the area next Sunday.
Our friends who sell flowers and mangoes want to know when they need to shift their shops a bit to accommodate the chairs in front of the main stage.
There is more to a Fest than mere events and action.
People make it.