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!