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.