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 ( 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
Don't stop with a line. Give us at least two paras! Tips and all.