December 30, 2012

Be part of Mylapore Festival 2013

How did the little colony called Thygarajapuram in the heart of Mylapore come about?

The story goes that two dozen and more Carnatic music vidwans decided to purchase a little plot for themselves and do so in one place.

It was also the place where the Sri Thyagaraja Sangeeta Vidwath Samajam had taken root.

One of the vidwans in that group was the late Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar whose birth centenary was observed recently.

As his son Jayaraman dug into old files, he came across a few old photographs. One, of the ground breaking ritual of the Sri Thyagaraja Sangeeta Vidwath Samajam. The other, of Sambasiva Bhagavatar and his family standing outside their humble abode.

Both pictures were dog-eared, tinted but clear and both are valuable. For, if we get the copies done right they will be part of the Vintage Mylapore Photo Exhibition, one of the 20-plus events that make the 2013 edition of the Mylapore Festival, sponsored by Sundaram Finance. ( Jan.10 - 13, 2013).

The collection is still on - after all this is not an easy task. Some people who possess old pictures do not want to part with them, some let these become garbage and others are a bit sentimental.

The Mylapore Festival is a sum of the little parts that reflect the colour, life and heritage of this place which is at the core of our city.

And getting people and families involved gives it strength.

So when we asked educationist Dr. Vatsala Narayanaswamy if we could host talks on the weekend evenings at her 1950s art deco bungalow, she happily agreed to play host.

In the same vein, the managers of Hotel Karpagam always reserve the extra big rooms for our artistes. This year, the 25 strong artistes of the Bhagavata Mela troupe from Melattur in Thanjavur camp here to present two productions over two nights.

And two of our regular resources, V. Sriram and Dr. Chitra Madhavan will lead two different Walks on the Sunday of the Fest.

This is a Fest that tries to tap into local resources, uses open spaces inside a temple and around it and joins hands with the community to showcase what we can of the city's heritage.

So if you want to lend a hand or be part of the Fest, buzz us. Our web site is at And our email ID is -

December 22, 2012

Christmas stars are few

Will the night temperature hold at 22 degrees or will this stifling heat of the day in December wipe out the chill that we have been enjoying for some weeks now?

My December watch has been on the temperature. And on the night skies.

I can sense that the mild wintery season is slipping even though margazhi is only into its second week.

The skies though are clear and a sight to behold - a better visual treat if you were to look up as you drive from the Royapuram side of our city, keep to the beach road and head south.

One night this past week we slowed down on San Thome High Road, looking for the trademark string of small paper-made stars that are strung right across the campus of St. Bede's School in this area.

Christmas stars are a rarity these days. And many of those that go up, more by force of habit hang in isolation.

As we went down the neighbourhood, we were greeted by another long string of stars, lit up and neatly hung across the open campus of a CSI church.

At the midnight hour, these looked delightful though they competed for attention from a 'running' glow-sign quoting Saint Luke about 'redemption drawing near.'

Days earlier I had walked into the store at a church, a shrine which attracts thousands of people on weekends, Hindus and Christians from all over.

I did not have a shopping list nor did I intend to shop here. Perhaps a single paper star that hung on the doorway had got my attention and curiosity drew me in.

In a corner between shelves of religious magazines, statues and rosaries and medals I chanced on crib sets made from plastic and bamboo, with a Rs.200 price tag on each.

They make things easy for all those who wish to set up a crib at Christmastime. Buy the shell, buy the accessories and buy a box of statues, assemble them and lo, a crib would be ready in ten minutes.

The walkabout took me to the Decembers when we used to germinate mustard seeds in mud packs so that we could set up 'fields' around the crib!

Times have changed. But kids still believe in Santa Claus and Christmas gifts. Keep the innocence.

December 15, 2012

Foodies day out at sabha canteens

The December season means different things to different people.

Artistes, PR companies, tourists, foodies and autorickshaw drivers.

In a way, all of these communities make the 'season' special and an event to look forward too.

The city's foodies always keep an eye on the buzz at the canteens at the sabha halls, the hub for classical music and dance recitals.

This is a season when food fests for the Christmas and New Year season are aplenty. But for diehard foodies every restaurant, every 'mess' and every canteen is a place to explore.

I had my first nibble of the December season food last Sunday at a sabha in Mylapore. A sabha that goes by the name of Mylapore Fine Arts Club - now to explain why a sabha took on the name that has 'club' in it is another story for another day.

The sabha's festival inauguration is an event I have not missed, for no particular reason. It always begins with the chief guest invited to hoist the sabha's flag.

Once, when I realised that this flag was no better than a dirty, large napkin used at the dining table and mentioned it in passing in a daily-sheeter that KutcheriBuzz publishes for the December season, the then secretary went red.

This time though all was well and having sat through what was a rather pedestrian opening ceremony where many speakers made references to dancer Shobana's saree (she was an awardee that evening), I dropped into the canteen.

Vegetable bonda, a plate of mini iddlis and coffee got my nod. But it was opening evening for the caterer. The food had to be good!

A colleague who was at the same canteen a day ago realised that it was serving amavasya food - no garlic, no onion! And I am told the snacks were good.

By Sunday, all the sabha canteens will be open and offering their very best.

Hungry foodies though will besiege these places on Sunday for the meal. I know of Toyota-loads of families from Vepery and Egmore who dine at the sabha canteens and spread the word to all their friends to join them too.

On FaceBook, the city's foodie community has begun to review the food at the sabhas.

Am waiting to see which caterer is the winner this December.

December 08, 2012

Remembering Manna at December season

Sabha hopping is a bit like pub hopping.

You get to soak in the mood. Drink what is on offer. Get elevated. And make your evening an enjoyable one.

This is indeed a heady time for all those who love Carnatic music and classical dance.

For many rasikas, as they are called their December life revolves around this festival which is called the December Season.

I have friends in Bangalore and Coimbatore, Tanjore and New Delhi who start making plans for the 'season' in September - booking their travel tickets, reserving hotel accommodation and making a check list of artistes to listen to.

And once the sabhas put out their festival schedules, these friends tick the concerts they must be at and the lectures they can't afford to miss. And then there is the socializing to do and buddies to meet.

In many ways, the December Season is much more than just concerts, tiffin, concerts, tiffin, concerts.

For us at KutcheriBuzz (, the hopping begins in November and since we recently redesigned the web site ( we hope you take a look at it and offer your feedback!) the running around began weeks ago and now, we will be on our sabha-hop beat.

Mylapore and Mambalam are the two hot zones - so negotiating them is a tad easy but with festivals now happening in the suburbs and other city neighbourhoods, a look in is a must.

To reflect the mood, the buzz and the sights of the season, we chose to launch a Blog that is updated through the day and sometimes, from the sabha itself.

Some rasikas have begun to mail us and we welcome more. Contributions by way of short notes and pictures from your Berrys and iPads are welcome. (The blog is at

One person I will certainly miss this season was an old friend, 'Manna' Srinivasan now no more. Based in Delhi and very knowledgeable in the arts since his bureaucrat workdays, 'Manna' and I shared notes and gossip, had thick discussions and treated ourselves to tiffin.

He is still on my mind. The December season does have its imprint.

December 02, 2012

Be a civic campaigner in Chennai

There is lots more than smileys, wows and Sena-bashing on FaceBook.

For many it is a hub to chatter.

For others, there are ideas to share, points to make.

And for a journalist like me looking for stories on local issues, FB can also give leads.

I got one for this column.

Sundararaman Chintamani is a IT professional. He has varied interests and is a true-blue Mylaporean. And he looks around his neighbourhood and his workplace to talk about issues that affect us all.

Sometime ago, he seems to have blogged local civic issues.

Some days ago, Sundararaman had a long post on his FaceBook page. And it was serious stuff.

His observation was on one issue related to private traffic to IT campuses in Sholinganallur. He notes that there are many major IT companies in a ELCOT campus.

He says, daily over 1000 people come to this campus in cars. During peak hours, these people spend over 10 minutes every day, both in the mornings and evenings at the Sholinganallur traffic signal junction.

Sundararaman notes that if one roughly calculates the fuel spent while idling, it would touch rupees one crore on an annual basis.

Also, the loss on personal time would be more than Rs.5 crore.

So, is there a way to save lots of money?

Sundararaman works in the OMR zone. He says there are two gates to the ELCOT campus.  The rear gate from OMR side is always kept closed. He says the informal reason cited for this closure is the loss of revenue for the toll gate.

He says many people who may like to use this gate would have already paid the toll at the previous toll gate.

Sundararaman argues that ELCOT is keen about security and does not consider alternate ideas like special passes for IT staff.  "If the rear gate is opened permanently many IT company employees can save a lot time in travel. The fuel savings will be huge," he argues.

Finally, by rough calculations, Sundararaman says the total loss on fuel waste, idling time at the signal and going down to a further gate is Rs. 59,900,000 per annum.

There may be holes in this case but such observations/ suggestions help us address key, local issues.

We need observations, notes and audits. We also need campaigns and campaigners.

And we need state and private agencies to respect ideas and suggestions, evaluations and audit of/by the people.

November 24, 2012

Christmas spirit: Egmore, Pudupet

December Season ( the annual festival of classical music and dance) rolls in November.

Christmas shows premiere in November.

We don’t mind; as long as the spirit is intact.

I guess my first Christmas show to check out this season will be the musical that Mellow Circle is staging this weekend at Museum Theatre, Egmore.

For some years now, the Mellow Circle’s annual show has come to be part of a packed calendar of events for the season, a calendar which leads with the two-evenings of carols at the Madras Christian College school, Chetput, hosted by the Alumni Association and the Madras Musical Association’s ‘Carols by Candlelight’ held at the vintage St. Christopher’s School campus in Vepery.

All these communities put in a lot of hard work, spread across weekends in October and November, with plans that begin much earlier.

The Museum Theatre is by far the best space that lets the musical spirit wrap around you in the freezing air-conditioning and remains with you in the 24 degrees outside.

One wishes we had such shows in many of our neighbourhoods too instead of one in Egmore and another in Chetput. This is the season for young people to sing and act.

Lawrence @ Lorry Murray, a friend who now lives in the UK never tires of rewinding to the times he and his friends in Pudupet used to do the Christmas carol rounds. In the 60s and 70s, the area’s church zone used to be of the Anglo-Indian community.

1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Streets – as the local streets were simply called were their home. And the youths would hire a fish cart ( the gossip was that it was a beef cart) and pedal away to the homes of all their friends, even as far as Vepery, sing carols, tuck in the snacks, pocket the money and blow it on a party.

Pudupet changed after the migration. Many went to UK and Australia and many, to Madhavaram and Kolathur.

Now, the carols you may get to listen to here are sung in St. Anthony’s Church.

Your local church will soon have a Carols Evening. You are invited. And do take the kids along.

November 18, 2012

Recycle the stuff you use

How do we recycle toothbrushes?

The question stumps me.

But someone in Kotturpuram seems to have an answer and claims to have been successful at it.

That local community has invited him to a meeting that will discuss local civic headaches and the recycling idea will be demonstrated to those who care.

This business of recycling seems to be getting on top of the agenda in many cities but does not seem to impact on the 3000 plus tonnes of waste that we generate in this city.

At my offices, I am a bit concerned about the use of newsprint or paper. That is because we consume so much of it week after week, though for a very good reason.

Yet, it seems to me that my teams and I must be obligated to try and recycle paper.

For some time, I have done the simplest act - recycled the dozens of envelopes that come into out offices everyday by reusing them. Now, there are some stiff people who look the other way when they get a 'used' cover in their mail box or in the office tray.

Couriers can be discouraging people - they do not accept covers which have names and notes scored out even if we decide to paste a bright yellow sheet of paper on the used front to jot the address.

Our friends at 'Citizen Matters' in Bangalore, who are focused on civic issues and citizens rights have been driving twin campaigns.

One, to get people to pursue gardening, even kitchen gardening or terrace gardening.

Two, to recycle garbage.

So they play the role of co-hosts at neighbourhood events that are part fun, part knowledge-sharing. And it seems to work well on a weekend in J P Nagar or in Jayanagar.

Similar events have been hosted off and on in the Adyar neighbourhood but we need a focused, cyclic campaign that will yield results.

We at our newspapers will be willing to publish some terrific practices you have been following to lessen that garbage mound and recycle stuff.

Do write in.

November 11, 2012

Is the Deepavali zing missing?

If there is one activity at Deepavali time that calls for people to get together what would it be at your end?
Decorating the home?
Bursting crackers?
Or dining together?
My take is that cooking would be the fun thing for many people if you set it up well and not called it a dreary kitchen activity.
The past fortnight I have been asking my editorial colleagues to locate and talk to families who make it a point to prepare sweets and snacks the traditional way.
We were keen to do a feature on this trend but we could not do much.
Hardly any makes sweets at home. They order from Kakkadas or Grand, Sri Krishna or Sree Mithai.
Families are nuclear. They have hardly any time. And why sweat when foodstuff is delivered when ordered online.
For those who still prefer the best and the traditional, there are specialists who make the stuff for you.
I think festivals in the metro are passé. People celebrate every other fortnight or month and they even create an occasion to do so. And why not? We live life differently.
So Deepavali and Christmas are not a big deal really.
The auto-driver who took me home on Tuesday night was a worried man. "I have been going round in circles this evening and haven't got even festival shoppers," he said, hoping I would pay him an extra ten.
Decorative lights on stores are less seen in the shopping spaces in our neighbourhoods. Festival billboards are shouting out mere discounts. And fire-cracker outlets will open only on festival eve.
Friend V. Rajesh says the dying zing of Indian festivals was a theme he taught at a B-school last summer.
So will kids really believe in Santa Claus this Christmas?
It is a question I ask as we prepare to plan our annual Santa Gifting Tour for December in our neighboruhoods?
I think we need to be just kids if we want to enjoy festivals.
Meanwhile, I leave you with a message in chalk written on the wall of the Chennai Corporation School in my neighbourhood this morning - Happy Diwali. Safe Diwali.

November 03, 2012

Sacred Heart. St. Antony's. CSI School for the Deaf. Stories to Document

Rosella Stephen and her team at Indulge, the weekender of 'The New Indian Express' need a pat on the back.
Their fifth anniversary issue was out today and the 72-pager is certainly a 'must keep' issue for all those who know a tad less about this city.
Nooks for foodies, gracious life spaces for fashionistas, less known destinations for picnickers, joints for the eco-believers and more.
Anniversary issues are a challenge. And the journey they set to describe is even more interesting.
I am re-reading ' The School in the Park: A Hundred Years of Sacred Heart School', a coffee table book published for the centenary of this school in 2009.
The story of how the Presentation Convent nuns from Ireland came to Madras in 1842 is fascinating. Four months on an East Indiaman ship was quite a journey. As Rev. Mother Curran noted. ' Even during less turbulent weather conditions the vessel pitched so much that the passengers amused themselves by holding contests to see who could remain standing the longest . .'
I studied at a Presentation nuns run-school in Egmore's Pudupet area. St. Anthony's celebrated its centenary last year. A group of us have decided to publish a book on the school's history and re-reading Sacred Heart is essential.
Classmate Khaja has begun collecting black and white pictures. He enjoys the job because even as he collects data, he shows the pictures around and teases the alumni he meets - making faces go red, foreheads crease and smiles light up faces.
The stories of the Pudupet convent are fascinating and must be documented.
And I hope similar stories get documented in your lives and in the lives of neighbourhood institutions.
Later this month, St. Raphaels School in San Thome will formally celebrate its centenary. Run by the FMM nuns, the school's stories will also document the life and times of young girls in this area.
Also celebrating its centenary is the CSI-run School for the Deaf, also in San Thome. The old building that fronts the campus treasures lots of stories of pre-War days, of orphans and early school education and of course, education  of the less abled.
Closer, the Mahratta Education Fund is also celebrating its centenary and we hope to see a great souvenir/book from there.
It is time for people who head such institutions or have lived great lives to move away from adverts-packed souvenirs and hagiographic tales and use the occasion to document real stories and pictures.
How Pudupet changed from a Christian-Anglo-Indian neighbourhood to a Muslim one is another story. The record of that change will have its place in a book on the Pudupet school.

October 28, 2012

Kolu, a family celebration

'My husband did most of the work!", she says.

The man smiles.

"In fact he did seventy percent of it!:, she adds.

We shake hands to congratulate him.

We have finished distributing prizes to the winners of a kolu contest 'Arcot Road Times' newspaper held in that neighbourhood and it is winding up time - I have to get back to my desk to write this column, put 'Mylapore Times' to bed and prepare for the kolu contest finale in Mylapore!

But I love this exchange at the hotel's hall.

A gracious woman happy to introduce her husband and give him the credit though she had come forward to register and accept the prize.

And I like the scene on stage as our photographers click group pictures. Couples, families and women join hands - in many ways the Navaratri kolu is a family celebration.

There is so much to the kolu.

The traditional and the creative.

As we sit in the darkened hall and watch the 18-minute rough-cut video film of all the kolus whose families registered for the contest here, we realize that one family exploited its little terrace to the maximum, with 'sets' side by side.

"You should be an art director in films!", I joke.

But seriously, I think we should be having two sets of awards.

One for the traditional kolu and one for the creative parts that are created on their fringe.

I have known people who spend their sleeping hours after a ten-hour day job creating works for the Navaratri kolu.

Perhaps, we should have an exhibition of all these wonderful kolus, or kolu craft at one place in the neighbourhood. 

October 20, 2012

Madras Monsoon

Monsoon has broken. The weatherman is not so sure. But you and I must be feeling good about the rain.
Monsoon does things to us all. I indulge in verse forms.

 Where to, asks the auto man.
Where else in this rain, I say.
How about the ECR, he asks me.
I say, "Take me where I can meet the rain!'

Chennai-specific indulgences should touch the heart, the nerve or the funny bone.

As I roll a few more verses, encouraged by the patter on the window-sill I wonder if there are spaces on the Web which carry Chennai-specific humour.

After all, did I not read somewhere that Chennai laughs at itself the most.

Chennai Corporation Commissioner D. Karthikeyan cannot have the luxury of this indulgence at this time of the year. Nor would Mayor Saidai Duraiswamy.

But monsoon is just the season when the city's creatively fun community can take off in limericks, cartoons or just words.

What were the last words uttered by the man who decided to have a 'chai' and got electrocuted when he stepped into a huge pool of rainwater?

Our city's foodies seem to react faster than the creatives - when it rains.

Best places to snack this monsoon, I ask on the Chennai Food Guide FB page. Dozen suggestions in 24 hours.

Bajji at Janal bajji kadai in Mylapore. Venkateswara Poli Stall, West Mambalam is another. Ask for veggie cheese toast bread sandwich at 'extreme left' stall outside Alsa Mall, Egmore, Bajji shop outside Adyar Bakery on Sardar Patel Road ( Thirumalai Cutlets) and Kartik Ganapati's tip - buy snacks at Food Court at Citi Centre mall, head to its terrace and watch the rain fall on the beachside . .

October 13, 2012

Walks in the city

I am pleased I kept my word with the Architecture students at the Guindy campus this week.

This was a 'Madras Day' celebration spin-off-a promise to lead the students at the School of Architecture at Anna University on a Walk around Fort St. George.

I enjoy the Walks at the Fort on Sunday mornings - the Assembly / Secretariat is on holiday, the chief minister isn't like her predecessor who would zip down to work on the odd Sunday and the organ music from St. Mary's floats in the air.

The only stumblers are the police on security duty; they always want a letter from the Public Department and they are pleased if we keep off from the CM's office zone.

This week though, we had to schedule the Walk on a weekday and during 'working' hours.

A morning when a new Speaker for the Assembly was to be sworn in is just not the time to launch a leisurely walk. TV crews, MLAs, families and friends and partymen besides the stream of petitioners and hangers-on made this campus a colourful community space.

Plus, Madras' famed temperature soared to 36 degrees.

And yet, the Walk was worth the effort.

Our young friends have not been inside this Fort. Nor have they explored Pulicat or Gingee. Nor have they traveled as far as Tranquebar ( Taragambadi).

I couldn't blame them. If we could present Walks as fun, outdoor events they would sign up fast I suppose. Beer cannot be on offer but end the Walk with a picnic lunch and I am sure Walks would be attractive for teenagers and students.

Friend V. Sriram always wants to end his Walks at the closest Saravana Bhavan, for whatever reason. ( I am certainly not a great fan of SB).

On this sweaty October morning, this Walk was what the tourist executive would call a familiarisation event. An introduction to the Fort inside our city.

The Architecture teacher, Rajeswari said that the best thing about it was that the youths got animated and hoped they would go back to the Fort on their own.

This Sunday, another friend is hosting a Navaratri Walk down North Mada Street which has turned into a Doll Hawkers Market this season. It is free, simple and only for an hour (details at ).

If shopping is on your mind, join the Walk and shop later!

October 06, 2012

Navaratri Kolu Contest

Which image dominates the Deepavali festival greeting cards in North India?

That of Lord Ganesha.

Virugambakkam marketing professional R. Chandramouli has made the best of the festival for his own reasons.

Chandramouli collects images of this god who is the favourite of many people. And for Vinayaka Chathurthi, when our neigbourhood newspapers invited collectors to share their stories with us, Chandramouli wanted us to visit his home to take a closer look.

A collection of 400 plus, including one sun bathing on a green patch, sold in Singapore's shopping malls was amazing indeed.

And Chandramouli had more. He pulled out a bloated file and displayed over 100 greetings cards with another amazing variety of Lord Ganesha as the dominant image on Deepavali cards.

Our festivals are not mere celebrations. They also get people to celebrate craft and art, music and food and all the good things of life. So, at Navarathri time, the centrepiece kolu has taken avatars that spread from the centre. Families design and build kolus that have a theme, employ creativity and technology and present a little spectacle.

To acknowledge the creative talent and effort, our newspapers introduced the Kolu Contests over a decade ago. Just as we had introduced the Kolam Contest which has now grown into the annual Mylapore Festival.

The prizes for the bests are only a small part of the idea. More important is to tell families who are creative and celebrate tradition that the effort is indeed wonderful.

The displays at festival time have stories to tell, trends to spot.

One collector of Lord Ganesha told me that though hawkers now sold images of the Lord browsing at a PC or emulating M S Dhoni's helicopter shot, he stuck to collecting traditional works of craft.

In Mylapore and Arcot Road, we are tapping into technology at this year's Kolu Contests while at Adyar, a judge will carefully do the rounds of all those who wish to register for the event.

In the first two neighbourhoods, we will ask our photographers to shoot snappy video clips of the kolus whose owners have signed for the contest, get them edited into a short docu-film and screen them at a venue. The idea is to allow all the contestants to have the opportunity to view all the listed Navarathri kolus. And for the judge to sit at a PC and draw a list of winners.

Yes, in doing this some of the personal touch will be lost. But the film will also enable thousands of people in the neighbourhoods and around the world to enjoy your creations when we post the film on the Web.

We are open to ideas. Do share them. It was one such idea that provided a window to our readers in Arcot Road.

In our latest issue, since we could not locate a professional doll painter in the area we chose to list Saligramam-resident Lakshmi's name though she and her niece painted their kolu dolls for personal needs. There were a flurry of calls and we were a bit embarrased. But Lakshmi says she will help as much as she can!

September 29, 2012

How personal can media get?

Are we another form of FaceBook?

This was a question that popped up when I read a basket of anecdotes that all the people who made the early days of 'Anna Nagar Times' newspaper shared in a recent edition.

The special pages marked 20 years of this free, English weekly with which I was associated in its early days.

And Robin Sam, who used to report for it wrote that much before FB became a rage, 'Anna Nagar Times' was the FB avatar for the area.

Our newspapers have kept close to people.

Profiles, reportage and photos are an essential part of our coverage and our links with the neighbourhood we cover.

But how close should we get to people?

A report in a recent issue of a daily newspaper made me think.

The report was filed by a crime reporter and it was on a person who had committed suicide in the Adyar neighbourhood. It was evident that this was a straight case of a man who had decided to end his life for his own reasons.

That the man's wife happened to be an old friend of mine had its own personal ring to the development.

The report though did not stop at treating the case as it should have been - a two or three - para report.

Instead, the reporter freely fed into all the intimate details that any policemen working on a case would gather and log into his files.

So, here we had a report that touched on the woman's early life, her marriage and the subsequent divorce, her present occupation and her relationships, more on the man and his occupation and all the steps he had taken before ending his life.

How personal can we in media get?

The question becomes grave for a small, neighbourhood newspaper.

There was an occasion when we at 'Adyar Times' had a debate on a story we had done. We had carried a picture of an apartment where some people ran a prostitution business.

Was it right to also feature a picture of that complex?

Would the residents of that place feel uneasy about the coverage?

We have lessons to re-learn ourselves. Readers' feedback can also help us.

September 22, 2012

Classical music in Madras

When a musician completes 81 years of his musical journey and the maestro celebrating it is violinist Parur M. S. Anantharaman I take a closer look at the invite.

It is Vinayaka Chathurthi evening and though I have seen less of the giant sized images of the Lord and more of clay images at street corners across the city, Pondy Bazaar is as always abuzz.

What makes news in Pondy Bazaar today is the opening of Nalli Jewellers, just metres away from the Nalli Silks' art deco store around Panagal Park. Nalli Kuppuswami must have had a good reason to launch into jewellery had not the fever of this silks and gold bazaar got to him late in his career and as my auto swings past this new store I see scores of shoppers streaming in.

My destination is Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. A cup of coffee at the restaurant on the sabha campus and it is time to sink into the most comfortable cane chairs a sabha can offer.

On stage, Anantharaman looks more a rishi than a celebrated violinist. At the formal felicitation, guests extol the maestro's talents and his character.

He smiles, he acknowledges the warm words about him. And when it is his turn to speak, he has a few words of thanks.

Then, it is concert time.

It has been a long time since I heard the trio - the guru and his sons, with J. Vaidyanathan on the mridangam and Karthik on the ghatam.

The music cascades effortlessly. But Anantharaman is very much in his own world. His eyes flit from son to son and to the accompanists. He smiles, internally. One son cues him, even waves his hand to ask him to play on.

To me, it appears that he wants to just keep playing without a break. He in is own world.

I slip into mine. Amazed at the limitless Carnatic music that is available to all who wish to listen to and soak in it. Available at so many places in the neighbourhoods of Mambalam and Mylapore and now, in the suburbs of Valasarawakkam and Nanganallur.

Provided freely by these great musicians. Year after year.

Organised time after time by the sabhas.

September 15, 2012

Living in Bengaluru

You are new to the city.

And you want to get the issues at the RTO fixed, connect with the local tax authority, get your gas connection done and find ways to save water or negotiate the city's roads.

Can some one or some place help you do this and more?

It is a question that my friends at Oorvani Media in Bangalore asked themselves.

Last month, they launched 'Living in Bengaluru' and if all goes well, the publishers will look to run a second edition.

Written by the Oorvani team of writers and freelancers, the book is a handy guide - from property and local tax matters, to voting and voter ID cards, from management of apartment complexes and residential associations to tips on security and outdoor activities, this book has been welcomed by a cross section of people who address Bangalore's civic and community issues.

T. V. Mohandas Pai says that 'for the first time, citizenship has been made the centerpiece and focus in a publication.'

Catching up at a food court in Bangalore's sprawling Jayanagar neighbourhood, Oorvani's Subramaniam Vincent tells me that the positive response to this book is inspiring him and his colleague K. Meera to consider similar publications in the future.

Subbu is an old friend who, on resettling in Bangalore after studying and working in the USA chose to take to community journalism. Subbu and Ashwin Mahesh have done a great job in running India Together, a unique online civic journalism web site.

In Bangalore, Subbu launched 'Citizen Matters' as a print and online journalism venture and got communities to engage with local issues.

Now, they are moving into hosting local events like kitchen gardening and managing waste workshops.

"Living in Bangalore' will be a useful guide for lots of people who have made this city their home in recent years.

And 'Living in Chennai' must be thought of in our city.

Our Mayor, Saidai Duraiswamy has been asking his officers in the Corporation's newly-added zones to put up public information boards. Good.

Now if Duraiswamy can join hands with Rotary Clubs to publish 'Living in Chennai', it will be a useful venture.

Our friends at Oorvani in Bangalore will be happy and can be of help.

If you need the Bangalore book it is selling at Flipkart at Rs.89.

September 09, 2012

Rangoli Carpert on Bangalore's Commercial Street

Can local business support cultural events and help enliven the face of neighbourhoods?

They can.

Ever since I got involved in two major annual events – Mylapore Festival and Madras Day, I have been taking a close look at large cultural events across the country and bringing home ideas and lessons to share.

So on a windy Sunday morning this week, I was at Commercial Street, one of Bangalore’s  shopping hubs for many decades now, to soak in a unique event.

The Shri Vidyaranya Yuvaka Sangha is celebrating its golden jubilee and among the many events that it has planned, was a mega Rangoli Contest. The Sangha has a list of goals – and this event could also get into the Guiness Book of Records!

Hundreds of people, mostly women from across Karnataka had landed in Malleswaram in August to display their creative skills in the prelims of this contest.

Some inner streets of Malleswaram were cordoned off for the event but even as the rangolis changed the face of the streets into patches of vibrant colour and design, there were a few murmurs from residents.

Why did they have to hold a contest on the streets when Bangalore’s large, open playgrounds were just the places for such an event?

The hosts were certainly not keen to disrupt the Sunday life of residents and with tact managed to run the event smoothly.

The Commercial Street Rangoli Carpet, of 100 rangolis was well managed and a treat for thousands of people who streamed to the shopping zone.

Women from Bellary and Mysore, Bangalore and Kolar used most of the three hours they were given to design their best. Intricate, colourful and thematic.

A Kali-ma here, a Lord Vinayaka there, a Kathakali artiste here and a Zen-ish motif there. For me though, two 6ft by 6ft, intricate ‘maavu kolams’ set against earthen brown wash called for a second look.

Here was a nice collaboration of the shop-owners on Commercial Street agreeing to a cultural event on simple terms. It worked well for the businesses too. People walked into the shops after enjoying the rangoli spectacle while some shop owners offered on-the-spot gifts and one restaurant arranged for breakfast packs for the contestants.

The display was left for public viewing till lunchtime and thereafter, the hosts were required to wash clean the carpets of colour.

September 02, 2012

Madras Week on different neighbourhoods

The only stores I knew in George Towne were the ones that sold chillies and spices. Stores I had mentally noted when Mom did her rounds of this district.

In the days gone by, China Bazaar and George Towne were the shopping hubs.

So when I noticed that some members on the Chennai Food Guide FB page were from that area I did what a catalyst must do -spun a thread and left an encouraging note.

It worked. And that is how the Mint Food Trail came to be a new addition to the annual Madras Week celebrations which have just come to a close.

Having triggered the idea and hand-held it for a short while, I felt it would be a good idea to join the Trail. So last Saturday we headed to Kakada Sweets, a big name in the food world there and were greeted by many others who had signed up for the Food Tour.

Kakadas is best known for its Aloo Tikki Chaat and creamy badam milk and once the recommendation was made, the walkers fell over each other!

There were seven stops on this only-by-walk trail and on this stuffy, sweaty, grimy evening, discovering Mint's food nooks was much more than a Food Trail.

Murugan Sandwich Shop offered us its rich chutney cheese toast and murukku sandwich ( if you want to know what these are, log on to the FB page)

Ajab Mithaighar offered jalebis and ganthias, served with raw papaya chutney, a popular breakfast combo for the community here.

And the Kesar pista kulfi at Maharaja Kulfi Shop was just what you wanted after stinging your tongue with some spicy snacks.

Pratibha put together a team of volunteers which included Darshana Bokadia, Tara Kankaria, Tanmai and Uma Chordia, Dhruv and Aditi and each one of them gladly took us around to the shops, spoke about their lives and times and shared some shopping tips too.

These were people who loved their neighbourhood and given the opportunity to showcase it, did it proudly.

Remember, the Trail like all Madras Week events was a voluntarily-planned event.

It takes a bit of creativity and patience for a few to energise a group. It did work in this case and we were happy.

It did not work in Anna Nagar where I expected a bunch of senior residents to launch a Social Archives Project.

Our neighbourhoods need to have residents who know their backyard and their histories. And enjoy the memories.

See what a photo exhibition of Adyar in the 60s did to one person who lived his teen years in Sastri Nagar and is now a professional in the USA?

He mailed a photo of his teen group hanging out on the fringe of a cemetery which later became the Besant Nagar crematorium. It adds to the archives.

August 26, 2012

Madras Week 2012

This is a time to record our histories. Our stories.

And if there is one positive outcome of the annual Madras Week 2012, then it must be the willingness of people to talk about, jot down or make known their stories that deserve to be told.

Last week, Renuka Ravi, who heads the HR Dept. at Nathella Sampathu Jewellers. was on the line, wondering how her company, which has a long history associated with the city's lifestyle could be part of Madras Week.

It took us a few minutes and two calls to figure out what could be done quickly to raise a show and make it bigger next year.

At Nathella's Anna Nagar showroom, a small exhibition takes visitors through the history of this business.

Founded in 1928 by Nathella Sampath Chetty garu, he soon earned the name of Silver King because of the best quality of silver that he supplied to all leading temples in south India.

China Bazaar in those days used to be the shopping destination of the city and this shop which was on NSC Bose Road was abuzz with clients. Among them were many VIPs including Sivaji Ganesan, M S Subbulakshmi and Sowcar Janaki.

When Tamil films ran for 100 days or notched silver jubilees the producers would turn to Nathella to make the silver trophies. The trophies for the big hits, Paava Mannippu and Nadodi Mannan were made here.

A very senior staff member here K V Narasimhan talks about business in the days when he joined Nathella in 1968. "One gram of gold cost Rs.16. Today it is Rs.3000!".

And at celebration time, Narasimhan and his colleagues would enjoy the masala dosas and gulab jamun at Modern Café and Arya Bhavan in that area.

Besides putting out some pictures of the Nathella records for the Madras Week show, they have also displayed jewellery made across the seven decades at the Anna Nagar store.

Perhaps, in time the stories, pictures and documents will go into a book.

Stories of the city, its people and its places are being unfolded in Adyar and in Sowcarpet, in T. Nagar and in Alwarpet and inside Fort St. George this week.

More will follow.

August 18, 2012

The Chennai Food Guide community did not let me down. Its members have created an event for the 2012 edition of Madras Day which has just begun to unfold.
Cookery expert, foodie and writer Pratibha Jain was quick to pick up a thread. Could we design a simple Food Trail through Mint area in north Madras?
Four posts on Facebook, two e-mails and three phone calls later, the Food Trail through Sowcarpet was ready and launched.
On August 25 evening, Pratibha and her associate will lead all those who register for this Trail to at least five nooks which are best known for their north Indian snacks and refreshments.
And as the group enjoys the goodies, surviving the rush and noise of this neighbourhood, it will also get the opportunity to take in the stores, houses and people who make this area so unique to Madras.
Remember, it is all about collaboration.
As the Mint Food Trail buzz got around came another query - why isn't there a Mylapore Food Trail?
And I replied - please make it happen!
If it does, I would suggest to the volunteers that Bombay Halwa House in Luz must be a stop point on this Trail.
(If you wish to contribute to this list you can email your suggestions to -
Collaborations have helped create over 100 events for Madras Week 2012.
But if we look closely at that Events Calendar there are hardly any events in North Madras. Why?
Is it because communities there continue to live their own lives and are content to do so? Or is it because cultural spaces and activities are at a minimum? Or is a sense of alienation sustaining a divide?
In the past, the catalysts of the Madras Day have made some attempts at collaboration but these have not taken firm root.
Perhaps, we need to do some work with local schools  and community groups.
I don't see why the managers of Madras Port cannot invite select groups of students from schools that lie on its fringe to get a feel of this campus, however highly-secured a place it is.
How can St. Kevin's School and St. Peter's Church in Royapuram work together to celebrate this neighbourhood?
And surely, Southern Railway can organise a train run from the historical Royapuram Railway Station . . .

August 11, 2012

Madras Day Collaboration

Journalist G C Shekhar and civic activist Shekar Raghavan needed one week to make their contribution to the annual Madras Day celebrations (

They had a tea meeting, exchanged notes, called up friends and senior citizens and had the basic blueprint for what they call the Gandhi Nagar Walk.

This Sunday, the duo will do a recce of the nagar that lies on the banks of the Adyar, tie up the loose ends and be prepared to take people who wish to join them on the Walk on August 26, Sunday morning.

Raghavan, the man who also promotes rainwater harvesting has even managed to pull out a yellowing sheet of paper which carries the layout of an area that was simply called Adyar first and then renamed Gandhi Nagar.

Collaboration and networking by people of this city is what makes most events of Madras Day unique.

Three weeks ago, Dr. Sumanth Raman called to say he would love to present the annual Madras Quiz. Raman has been running a hugely popular Sports Quiz on Doordarshan for many years despite his busy worktime at TCS.

We looked around for a venue and called up a reliable friend in the hotel industry, Krishna Kumar who now manages the Aloft Hotel on OMR. KK, as friends call him worked the phone lines and coaxed Hotel Ambassador Pallava to be the venue and hospitality partner for the Madras Quiz which is on August 26 afternoon.

Sumanth promises not to overload this Quiz with questions on 19th century Madras but have something teasy for young and old. So make time to be there at the hotel on Montieth Road.

A spread of eight Talks are being presented by Madras Musings, the fortnightly on Madras and all these talks are being hosted by hotels of the city who have freely opened their halls to the public.

The talks cover food and lawyers, entrepreneurs and Sivaji Ganesan.

The collaboration works.

There are many more events which neighbourhoods are hosting in similar fashion.

A group in the Arcot Road area has got people at the famed L. V. Prasad Studios in Saligramam to take guests on a tour of the film studio and allied facilities and share the histories of the place and of the people who made it.

Even as I write this comes a mail from a passionate cyclist. Ram volunteers to lead a cycling tour of Mylapore / Triplicane on a weekend morning.

I hope the foodies at the Chennai Food Guide will surprise us with a Street Food Trail.

Madras Day/ Week is all about collaboration, freely.

August 05, 2012

Chennai Police issues security alert to women

A two-and-a-half inch steely safety pin is falling into the hands of many women in Valasarawakkam, a densely populated neighbourhood on either side of Arcot Road.
It is packaged well - hooked to a little, folded, printed handout.
This free gift comes from the local police and has been sponsored by the local Nadar Sangam.
'Fix the hook of your gold chain or necklace with your blouse by using safety pins to avoid chain snatching' - says point No.1.
Point No. 2 says - Ladies should avoid talking over the cellphone while walking down the street, especially if they are alone.
Point No.3 says - if you notice that you are being followed alert a neighbour or your family at once.
On the other side of the handout are 6 tips on 'What you should do if you are a victim of chain snatching'.
The safety pin circulation idea was floated after a string of chain snatching cases were reported from the area.
Though the central streets here are busy shopping and business zones, poor lighting in the inner streets makes this a cool place for men on bikes who rip chains off the necks of women.
I tried to find out whose idea it was to circulate thick safety pins. In all probability it came from the local police. Community activists here could not tell me if women have begun to use the pin. But what we do know is that chain- snatching and petty crimes are rarely reported these past weeks.
In the past city police have suggested some cool ideas and the one I recall was to get women to carry a nasty spray or a bottle of chilli powder to immobilize thieves or eve-teasers.
But nothing can beat the police beat patrol system that has been in vogue for over a century in neighbourhoods. A system which requires the policeman/woman to do the rounds of colonies to a systematic plan.
While the police can be encouraged to keep at the their beat what can certainly help in making our colonies crime- free is a positive attitude of people.
Observing movement of strangers, alerting the station to a group hanging around at a street corner and keeping on at night some of the lights in the common areas are kept on at night.
In one city zone, the local police team has divided the area into parts, put a few policemen incharge of each area, printed the cellphone number of each team leader and circulated it among residents. So, if there is a problem, you call the cop on his beat on his cellphone.
If this idea works, it can be replicated elsewhere.
Drop-gates in well-planned colonies has been implemented in some places.
Most ideas will work if the police and the people of a neighbourhood work together.

July 28, 2012

Note to our Mayor

Dear Mayor,

The daily newspapers keep telling us that the installation of those tall, blue metal sheets at street corners to enclose garbage bins is your pet project.

At first look I thought a smart set of scheming hustlers had brazenly taken over street spaces.

Later, when people began to tell me that lazy autorickshaw drivers who must have a tipple at day's end found these sheds a convenient space than those smelly TASMAC bars, I wondered how Dr. Ramadoss, the PMK leader who is hell bent on closing all wine shops would react to this development.

Imagine garbage dumps becoming drinking places!

This bunching of garbage bins may be a great idea to try out but frankly, is it not yet another idea which takes away pavement space from our citizens.

Power junction boxes, garbage bins, traffic signal boxes, private cable line boxes, Social Welfare Board snacks stalls . . all of them are set up on our pavements. Where is the space for our people?

It is another thing that Chennai Corporation takes pride in winning the Guinness Record for creating the smallest pavements in the world. In some places, they are less than 10 inches in width.

This past week, I read about another grand project on the anvil. Beautification of Marina Beach.

You and your team must have been itching to launch some grand projects. That is but natural for city Mayors. Others like to lay foundation stones.

I am not sure what drives people to keep beautifying our city. More so the Marina.

If you chat with people who love the outdoors, they will probably tell you that all that a space like our Marina needs is clean sands and clean waters. That's all.

But there are others who want to install statues. Some want to have granits pedestals for the statues. Some want a lawn around the statues. Some want granite to replace the lawns. And some who wish there were miniature dancing lights and fountains around the granite space on the Marina.

And there are those who want granite pathways that reach the water front, exclusive spaces for children to play, shopping plazas and dining nooks. All on the Marina.

Beautification is an engaging idea.

But I am not so sure that this is what people who love the Marina and the Elliots Beach want.

Meanwhile, our councillors seem to have taken a hint from your pet projects. They propose cemented walkways, jogging tracks and landscaped lawns on the beachside in their Wards.

All in the name of beautification.

July 22, 2012

Cosmopolitan Chennai!

An interesting production is on the cards at AMM Matric School in Kotturpuram.
Well known dancer Nirupama Nithyanandan who grew up and learnt classical dance in our city, then moved to France to learn and perform and is now an international artiste is leading this project at the school.
V. R. Devika of Aseema Trust broached the idea after she watched Nirupama lead a project while working with senior school students in France.
The duo are trying to get the teenagers at AMM express themselves on the theme of 'Cosmopolitan Chennai'.
Where are you from and what brought you to this city? What are the influences that the city has had on you and what have you assimilated and what have you bypassed ? Who are your friends and neighbours and how do you relate to them?
The process and the final presentation in mid-August is bound to be interesting and educative.
Since we have also set the ball rolling for the 2012 edition of 'Madras Week' celebrations which celebrate the founding of the city and all that it stands for, we are hoping that Nirupama's work at AMM can be staged at a few venues later in August.
At one level, Madras Day / Week ( is about events. At another level it may also set the tone for something more substantial.
Nirupama's effort is in that direction.
There are others too.
Writings on the city have begun to get published. The city has been the stage for a few books of fiction and non-fiction. A book titled 'Chennaivasi' is just being launched. Bishwanath Ghosh's 'Tamarind City' got published some months ago.
A few music bands have over the years composed songs with threads based on the city, its life and its idiosyncracies. A compilation of these songs and some fresh ones on a CD sponsored by a city-based business would make a nice gift or a memento.
Elsewhere, a script is being readied for a short film on an Anglo-Indian family of Madras.
There is also an increasing volume of photographs on this city. They remain on Flickr or in Seagate hard drives. Perhaps, it is time to collate them for coffee table books or direct them to online data banks.
Perhaps this is the time for you and your group to do your bit for the city.

July 14, 2012

Jayalalithaa pulls up councillors: works?

You can expect chief minister J. Jayalalithaa to surprise, shock and shake you up.

So when she invited the city councillors of the AIADMK party to a public hall recently, they were surprised and a tad unsettled. But they certainly did not expect what took place much later.

The wait for her arrival at the hall only heightened their curiosity and uneasiness. And when Jayalalithaa took the lead at the mike, she had some very harsh things to say.

She did not shy from saying she had learnt that some councillors were keener to make moolah than work in their Wards, that some were brazen with the people they represented and that some just did not perform the role they were elected to do.

Finally, she told them that she would not stop from dissolving the Council of Chennai Corporation if things really went too far.

For a party leader and a chief minister to have taken time off to do some plain talking with the men and women of her party who are elected at the grassroots, this was timely and appropriate.

Evidently, the lady did not like what she was hearing from different quarters of the city.

So has Jayalalithaa's plain speaking shaken up city councillors who hail from the AIADMK?

A bit, going from my experience.

All of them do respond to phone or personal calls made by residents of the Ward they represent. It is another matter that the calls are answered by the husbands of women councillors and invariably, they are the ones who will meet you at your street.

All of them are willing to lend a ear to people.

Almost all of them are making an effort to network with officials of state agencies and take up worrying local issues.

So can we expect better governance in our neighbourhoods?

I am not optimistic.

You cannot expect much from reps who do not know much about grassroot and metro-driven issues.

You can expect a better performance if our councillors are provided training and refresher courses from time to time but little has been done on this front.

You cannot expect much from reps who are guided by fellow politicians and do not look at the bigger picture.

Also, many of the projects floated by the Corporation are not 'local specific'.

Finally, save for some Wards, citizens rarely engage with their reps.

July 07, 2012

Are these drains?

If there is one scam that stares in my face today it is to do with what must be Chennai Corporation's grand project of providing us all with brand new SWDs, or simply put, Storm Water Drains.
It is a scam that is a big rip-off, a waste of our monies paid as tax of all kinds, a downright shoddy job and a joke on the people of this city.
Since early last year, I have been witness to this scam in many streets of Abhiramapuram, a neighbourhood close to the office of the Mylapore Times.
It is well over a year since the work on constructing drains was launched in this neighbourhood. And it remains unfinished in many streets and is in a shoddy state in many others.
We have received dozens of letters from the residents on this issue. Some wail, some crib and some sound helpless.
And despite the letters published, the complaints made online to the city's civic body and series of calls to elected councillors, there has been little progress.
Work on the drains started in my neighbourhood, in Sastri Nagar, Adyar in the latter part of 2011. And in a few days, it was evident to us that this was going to be a half-baked job.
The contractors' men started digging up the sides of the streets on the eve of the monsoon season. This was badly timed. The trenches received the floodwater and the choked streets were water-logged.
In time, the streets began to stink and people who walked down the streets at night faced the danger of slipping into these unmarked drains.
Only a death of a teen elsewhere in the city, a teen who had slipped into a open, half-done drain got the contractors to tie red tapes along the areas where work was on. That was a pretence indeed.
So what do we have today?
New, uneven drains alongside our streets with garbage, debris and waste packed inside them. Gaping holes in these drains at street corners. Rusty iron rods jutting out of the cement slabs. Uncleared mud now shoved atop the drains.
And the digging for new drains continues on many roads and streets.
The short spells of recent rains created a mess all over again and we dread the mess that awaits us at monsoon time later this year.
The SWD project, said to be funded hugely under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is one of the worst we have witnessed in this city.

June 30, 2012

51 things to do in Chennai

The weekend drive out or a picnic lunch on a Sunday seems to be catching on rather furiously with us here.
There are many interesting destinations people of the city are still to explore though some of us take these for granted.
On my list is a trip to the hill which we all know as Saint Thomas Mount. The hill which greeted you not so long ago as you approached Kathipara roundabout in Guindy and the space you swing past on your way to the airports.
Choose to do this on a Sunday morning when the world is happy to laze at home. If you are driving down, enter the area from the Garrison Church side and not from the Butt Road end, the road that leads you to Porur, Poonamallee and to Bangalore ( I know of bikers who do the up-and-down trip to Bangalore on weekends).
If you take my suggestion, then crawl at the foothills, or pause to take a closer look. The church, the English-time bungalows . . .some in good shape, some crumbling. . .this was the area where the British set up a Cantonment outside the Fort when the latter got a tad crowded.
Swing past the gate of the OTA ( Officers Training Academy) to approach the hill from its western side. The road can take your car or bike but a walk is recommended. You may huff and puff doing this but the sights of the city at various levels are special. And, your kids will love to catch the aeroplanes landing or taking off.
Besides the heritage church atop  the hill, where Christians believe saint Thomas was killed by his enemies, step into the crannies to explore other landmarks here.
Open your picnic packs, refresh and take the steps down, on the eastern side of the hill.
You too may have your ‘must do’ things in this city that you share with guests or friends.
At our end, for Madras Week ( we are putting together a compilation of ' 51 THINGS TO DO IN CHENNAI'.
Now. there are three listings on a blog - at
Do send us your 'must do things'. Mail to - Or post at the Madras Day space on FaceBook (

June 23, 2012

Madras Week 2012. Aug. 19 to 26

Bazaar Road is a 'must-do' on my walking tour of Mylapore.

After all, it was the road that linked two bustling villages of pre-Madras times.

Triplicane and Mylapore.

Royapettah High Road and San Thome High Road came much later.

A marketplace kind of road, Bazaar Road still retains the character of yore.

The oil-making mill, the embroidery nooks, the vegetable retailers and the pawnbrokers are some of the long-standing features of this area.

A pit-stop for walkers in this zone was a magnificent house that was owned by a Marwari family.

A single-storey house whose wall at the rear ended at the other street ( Arundale Street ) it had more than 20 rooms, space enough to accommodate five families. There were four entry points, allowing for privacy and independent access, the design was a mix of Tamil and north Indian, the tiles for the floor and the wall were imported ones and Belgian mirrors were fitted in the inner rooms of each section.

For visitors, exploring this house was an experience.

And once that was done, we would adjourn to the open space at the rear and be treated to a light breakfast of pongal-vada and coffee. This space was once the venue for meetings by local Congressmen and for social functions of this family.

The building was brought down some years ago after the family members decided to go their own way.

Thankfully, two other similarly designed houses continue to stand on this road.

 For the 2012 edition of Madras Week, we have decided that the theme of one project meant for city school students will be on houses of yore in our city.

For some years now, Madras Day has been celebrated on August 22. A day to celebrate the city - its founding, its early days, its heritage, its legacy and its status today.

This has been a voluntary event driven by the people of the city.

Over time, the events have enlarged and hence we now have Madras Week!

This year, Madras Week is to be celebrated from August 19 to 26.

And since the event is driven by the people, this is the time for anybody who heads a group or club, runs a great activity or has been indulging in this city to plan an event for late August.

Walking tours, exhibitions, quizzes and talks, picnic tours, jam sessions, online contests, food fests, green campaigns . . . anything that focuses on our city is good enough for Madras Week.

You don't have to seek outside help. You don't need to get a nod from anybody. Your club space or your school campus is good enough to be a venue.

The buzz is now shared at the Madras Day space on Facebook and soon, at the web site -

As for our young friends in city schools, the info on the 'Explore a Madras House' contest will be made public soon.

June 16, 2012

Tour the forts around Madras

Every summer hol, I am coaxed to take a group of holiday makers on a tour.  A summer of 40 degrees plus is certainly not the best time of the year to go on picnic tours.

But then the outdoors always beckon you when it is holiday time for young people.

This May my offer was a tour of the neighbourhood forts. And though history is not everybody’s favourite subject, my theme seemed to delight the group.

There are a string of forts one can explore from a  base in our city if you set aside a weekend for this tour.

Start in the north, with a tour of Pulicat or Palaverkkadu to explore the remnants of Dutch history, with traces of Portuguese presence here.

A cemetery, churches, old houses and a huge waterbody by the sea are must-see places in Pulicat.

Fort St. George in north Madras is Stop No. 2. To me this is a fascinating place waiting to be explored many times over and is best done on a Sunday. This was the seat of the East India Co. and the fort of the British.

San Thome is Stop No. 3. In the 16th century, it was the hub of the trading Portuguese and the foreigners built their own little fort looking out on to the sea. Nothing remains since the British flattened the place to end all headaches of challengers. But if you sneak on the sea side of the Leith Castle area you may be lucky to see fragile remnants of what must have been the walls of a fort.

The campus of Taj Vivanta Fisherman’s Cove in Covelong, off the ECR preserves a slice of a wall of what was once a little fort.

Further south, Stop No.4 has to be Sadras, a fort-hold of the Dutch and another trading post. Located on the seaside, it lies in the village at the end of a road that branches off from the ECR in the Kalpakkam Atomic Power Plant region. Chambers, tombstones, tablets and the ramparts must be explored here.

And if you still have the energy, then your final stop can be Fort Alambarai, some 40 minutes from the Kalpakkam point on the ECR. Muck, tourist waste and massive fortified walls greet you. The fort, built in the 17th century and in the Mughal era was gifted to the French for services rendered by it to the local Nawab but was demolished by the British after they defeated the French.

It offers spectacular views of the sea that washes into a lagoon and the local kuppam.

There are lots of places to explore in our city and on its fringe. Basic info and how-to-do guides and rough-guide tips on the Web is required for the wanna-be city traveller.

Tamil Nadu Tourism has a fun job to undertake!

June 09, 2012

Let's record local histories

Narasingapuram is a small colony off Mount Road, now called Anna Salai.

Its more famous landmark is Ritchie Street. Once the biggest radio market, it is now a buzzing hub of the electronics, computers and peripherals trade.

Prof. Paul Montgomery from the UK is keen to know lots more about Narasingapuram because he has an Anglo-Indian ancestry and this will be part of his book on his family.

One thread in his genealogical spread leads to this little colony which has been over-run by the computers market.

Prof. Montgomery assumes that the lady who married a Scots soldier, the male progenitor must have been born in 'Nursingpooram' and that her dad got pensions from the FINS (Friend in Need Society), located on the busy Poonamallee High Road.

FINS is yet another vintage institution of our city. Started in 1822 by the merchants and community leaders of the city for the less abled, it has provided shelter to mostly Anglo Indians.

FINS and the Anglo Indians who once resided in Narasingapuram may provide leads for the professor's research.

And since I had written about Narasingapuram in an earlier column, the World Wide Web made the connection and I have been relooking at a colony that was once my backyard.

Revisiting the past in small neighbourhoods can be a fascinating exercise.

To help the UK professor, I will also make a trip to Christ Church and try to delve into the wedding registration records here.

This church, which has for its neighbours the Devi Cinemas complex (it celebrated its 42nd anniversary in May) and Cosmopolitan Club also has a unique history.

It was built in the 1850s on land which housed the stables of Englishman Waller when the Eurasians (later called Anglo Indians) sought a church for the growing community of Protestants in the Mount Road area.

Christ Church also shared space for an Anglo Indian School which survives today. For youngsters who lived in this area the 'must do' thing at this school in the 60s and 70s was to attend the annual Shakespeare play put up by its senior students.

Will any of these past students provide a link that the UK professor will be glad to have?

For me though, revisiting these places and jotting down fascinating threads of people is engaging.

Would it not be a worthwhile effort if a small group in each locality record local histories?

June 02, 2012

Local journalism also has its dangers

Can Facebook or Twitter help us do better stories and widen our sources and inputs?
I guess so.
We are game to move into the space that has been inhabited by millions. And will do, soon.
But minus the new tech tools, we have been trying to explore ways in which we can get people of the neighbourhood, readers and longtime associates to contribute to news stories and features.
So when we decided to plan a light feature on how people who have fruit trees in their backyard harvest the fruits in a day and time when the traditional men who knocked off the coconuts in minutes with a skill that is ancient, we managed to make a few new contacts.
In Adyar, against increasing complaints of encroachments of public spaces like streets, pavements and playgrounds, our newspaper has not only reported on this issue but invited readers to be on-the-spot content providers.
A few people quickly dashed off short notes on such violations.
But we would like more. For, a weekly short list of long standing violations may push the violators to draw back or nudge our civic officers to get a tad severe against them.
Citizen-based journalism is not easy when it comes to reporting serious, sensitive issues.
A few months ago a civic activist from Besant Nagar had this story to share.
On her morning walks, she made mental notes of civic issues that dotted her neighbourhood. Topping them was the encroachments made by a big-time trader of construction materials - sand, bricks, blue metal and cement.
His men had taken over three spaces around his store. So when she asked the local police to take action, a police-woman officer landed at the complainant's door the next day, Behind her was the trader.
The woman went numb for a minute. She had not expected the police to share the complainant's address with the man who was accused of violating public space.
That night, the obvious happened. A couple of stones were flung at the windshield of the woman's car and the damage done.
A warning had been issued by the violator. This happened last year.
The trader continues to violate key spaces in Besant Nagar. And Chennai Corporation and Sastri Nagar police officials look the other way. Or they may have fined him a few hundreds every other new moon.
How can simple technologies address such issues?

May 27, 2012

Spaces for the arts

Anushkha Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar , two young creative souls have been on an Indian odyssey which is incomplete because they ran short of money.

Some months ago, the two Chennai-based people decided they would embark on a unplanned journey to parts of India they read and hear about but not seen. They decided to borrow a camera from a friend in Delhi, tap into their FB and theatre circles for donations and set off.

They ran across Rajasthan and Himachal and the North East and wherever they went the sound of local music enchanted them so they let the camera whir on local artistes and performers, even on people who created a music of their own when they farmed or of people who practised communal farming and sat around every evening for songs and dinner.

Last weekend, the duo screened lots of bits of their film footage at Spaces, the space for the arts left behind by the iconic dancer and guru Chandralekha at her home off Elliots Beach, Besant Nagar.

The bits and pieces film clips will be used to create a film  - U-ra-mi-li much later. For now though the duo are hoping they get enough money to fund the second part of their travels.

The audience at Spaces was large and if most of them are encouraging, the duo should have lots on their hands.

Commentator and art critic Sadanand Menon who manages Spaces has opened the gates here to all kinds of performances - music, talk, theatre, docus, lec-dems and campaigns. Menon gives his nod as long as these events are not-for-profit and the effort is genuine.

In another part of the city, in Virugambakkam theatre artiste Sree Devi is glad that a local school provides her the open, green space or its hall to stage Thamizh plays.

Devi who has been groomed at the well-known Koothu-p-pattarai manages her own theatre group. So when she has a play ready to be staged, the offer of a space is hugely welcome. More so when it is offered gratis.

Each neighbourhood has open spaces which fall under the city's civic body. Some are run down, some offer  a simple stage, some even have a performance space and seating built around it.

If Chennai Corporation fits these spaces with core facilities for performances and maintains the places, surely local residents can exploit the facility. To stage short plays, performances, screen films and the like.

Such spaces can be lively only if local communities and the civic body work hand in hand. They fail when they are treated as civic projects outlined in budgets!

May 19, 2012

Mayor, get people of Chennai involved

Mayor Saidai Duraiswamy is nowadays seen distributing laptops to school students or switching on high-mast street lighting.

But it would also be good for the Head of the City Fathers to join the neighbourhood kids at a football match or sit on Elliots Beach and share buttermilk with young volunteers who have just cleaned the beachfront.

He could keep aside the pressed dhoti and come by in Bermudas this summer.

The line to open with the city's community and its neighourhoods is also through fellowship and informal meetings in the coolest of places.

For, a Mayor like Duraiswamy carries the aspirations and desires of a growing, modern metro.

He can hint to the city's young community of his willingness to work alongside it because it can achieve two things - creates spaces for the young to also contribute ideas and plans and strengthen bonds between the city's civic body and its people.

Here is one opportunity.

The Chennai Corporation proposes to re-paint or erect new street name boards.

Can the Mayor and his Commissioner open up this idea to invite ideas on a key civic feature and will it accept one great idea?

Today, we have those gaudy yellow cement and iron name boards that turn and angle the way that street corner behaves. Planting them at corners is no good. Yes?

They compete with garbage bins, cattle and abandoned cars. They become supports for the sun shades of our elaneer or keerai hawkers. They droop and drop off in a  year or get knocked down by tipsy bikers.

Can the Mayor ask young designers to submit new designs here?

In Bangalore, metal street name boards are in green and even carry the names of the local Ward councillors and their contact numbers. They are hung from posts placed at every street corner at heights of eight feet.

In Mumbai, the metal-ceramic name boards hang from posts that are tall and enable us to read the names from afar.

Abroad, many civic bodies use walls of streetend houses or stores to display the street names. They can even choose from a selection of designs.

Chennai's Mayor can and must get into communities. Tap their talents. Get the young involved. For street signs, public art, green campaigns, heritage projects.

How about launching with Skrat and Anil Srinivasan concerts on the lawns of Ripon Buildings ( hopefully the Metro has not swallowed all that land!).

May 05, 2012

Help! Help! In Chennai

'Chennai Corporation . . .'
'No sir'

'Chennai Corporation Complaints 1913?'

'Yes sir'

'Can you please take my complaint. . .the streetlights in Avvai Nagar have not been burning for a week now and there are street dogs all over and we cannot sight them . .

' Sir, please don't rush. . .we have a problem here . .'

' But aren't you supposed to take note of our complaints?'

'Yes sir, but we don't have the staff sir'

'But you are talking to me now . .'

'Yes sir, but did you not know the staff are suspended?"

'OK, OK but the streetlights not burning is a big problem for seniors . '

' Sir, our Mayor suspended the staff so how can we work?'

'Maybe the Mayor took the right action?'

'What right action? Hundreds of people like you keep calling about lights and dogs and roads and potholes and how do you expect 4 people to take down all these complaints?'

'But that's why you are given the jobs na?'

'What jobs sir, do you think the Mayor knows the headaches we have?'

'He says you people had not taken down our plaints and so he threw you out'

'Sir, why do you keep calling us? Why don't you file your problem online?

'I did but . . '

'Then why are you bothering us sir?'

' I filed complaints three times about the drains . . '

' You would have got quick reply no'

'Yes, they sent one SMS - your complaint has been noted. Then a second SMS - your complaint has been upgraded to division engineer. Then they sent third SMS - your complaint will be looked at by the engineer . . '

'Then why do you want to call 1913 sir?

'The engineer calls and says we will do our best but nothing happens . . '

'So will the Mayor throw out all those engineers? He does not understand sir and we poor people get caught'

'So will you take down my complaint or not?

'Sir, may I make a suggestion? Why don't you call 9999?'

'Is it the Mayor's hotline?'

'No no sir . .'

' I read the police are getting a common helpline to cover traffic and ambulance and  . .'

'Good idea, good idea . .'

' But what is that 9999/'

'It is the Mother of all Helpline numbers sir. Just call now'

April 28, 2012

Ramasseri idlis and Marina sundal

The idli has taken many avatars.

I got to know one such this past week.

The Ramasseri Idli.

To enjoy a couple or a plateful of these iddlis you will have to travel all the way to Palakkad in Kerala, then branch off some 8 kilometres away to get to this place and if luck is on your side, chance to feast on the idlis at one stall that is said to carry on a legacy that colours India's food heritage.

The idlis are fluffy, round but flat and look more like little bloated dosas or tossed up idi-appams.

They are best had with idli podi soaked in oil though foodies who must have chicken curry for breakfast opt for the curry.

I am told that this food is a legacy which the Muthaliyar community once of Kanchipuram carried to Palakkad and it now remains in the hands of a few families who have chosen to run food stalls in this little place.

I got to know much of this while sitting and evaluating projects of the Mass Communications students at Pondicherry University, most of which were either PSAs, documentaries or short films.

As a student's docu on the Ramasseri idlis rolled on I wondered if I may have had the occasion to chance on something similar during a visit to Kalpathy, a well preserved Tamil Brahmin settlement in the same district, during its famed temple car festival.

Nooks, heritage spots and local traditions make for fascinating indulgences when we chance to explore a place.

With a bit of adventure and licence, you will discover these experiences even in your backyard.

If you turn off one or two less frequented beachside spots on the East Coast Road (ECR) outside our city you will chance on  shacks where local women of the fisher community offer you a simple but tantalizing plate of fresh fried fish or spicy fish curry.

The tangy curry is unique to this east coast region and is best enjoyed with steamed rice.

Friends who frequent Bessie Beach (Elliots Beach, Besant Nagar) often end their weekend evenings with a visit to the fish hawker for plates of fried fish and crab masala.

The salty sundal and green mango slices dipped in chilli powder is part of Marina beach lore. So is softball cricket.

They tried to remove the cattamarans; they banned the cricket . . .but the two have survived.

Living heritage, either on the decline or being wiped out is also about idlis and sundal.

April 21, 2012

Challenges in running Thamizh medium school in Chennai

What takes priority at a middle school which serves poor families in a metro?

Classroom environment.

Note and textbooks.

Food and nutrition.

Extra-curricular activities.

Clean washrooms and toilets.

On a sweaty April afternoon, we sit with teachers and nuns to list the priorities as the academic year comes to an end and this is the time to plan ahead.

We support a middle school in Mandavelipakkam managed by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns.  This is a congregation which was installed in Mylapore in 1894, having taken root in Pondicherry much earlier with the effort of a Jesuit missionary priest.

The steady stream of donations from Mylaporeans over the past many years has enabled us at the Trust to slowly expand the nature of our support.

Last year, the Headmistress, a nun made two requests. One, to help repair the washrooms and two, bear the expenses of transporting about 100 children from the suburbs of the city.

The second issue got me going further. And I realised the changing dynamics of primary school education in a city like ours.

Bon Secours runs four major schools in the Mylapore region - specially because its base, the Provincialate is in Alwarpet.

The Middle School we support is a Thamizh medium school which has catered to the poor in this area and to the children of fisherfolks on the coast. Some years ago, the strength began to fall. Parents were opting for local English medium schools.

The strength had to be sustained and on many evenings, nuns and teachers would set off to the kuppams to coax errant parents to let their kids attend school.

The school received a big blow when the state 'evicted' many coast-based families in the name of tsunami rehabilitation and dumped them in places like Semmenchery and Kannagi Nagar, now considered to be the hellholes of the displaced of our city.

While many kids dropped out of school, some determined ones clung on to MTC buses and came all the way to Mandavelipakkam to attend school.

Many would collapse after the first session of class.

Many gave up the trials of travelling long distances.

The nuns and the teachers could not sit back, for their salaries and jobs depended on the school strength. Today, they share the huge bill of transporting the Semmenchery kids in two vans.

And they realize that there will not be much scope for a Thamizh medium school.

The nuns cannot decide in a jiffy. Their High School for girls, just across the road offers English medium and is packed.

Investing in a school bus now that will do the San Thome-Semmencherry trip is not the best option. Instead, we propose to repair the washrooms.

April 15, 2012

Writing this summer

Can summer be a theme? Or is heritage more exciting?

It is that time of the year when we invite young people who wish to get a feel of print journalism to a Camp at our newspapers.

It is a Camp we have been holding for many years and it has taken on different avatars over time.

Tossing a few ideas even as we call for applications, I mused on a theme-driven Camp that might interest senior school students who have discovered a calling for the written word.

Summer is a given theme.

Could we get closer to our parents or grandparents and discover the foodstuffs they choose to make at this time of year?

Pickles and snacks, juices and dry food.

And we could we then relate to all the eco food products that get to the shelves at this time of the year. And then raid our refrigerators to find out what food we stock there.

I recall a news report that  P. V. Durga from Theayagaraya Nagar who was at our Camp last year did. She located a woman in Nadanam who made excellent, spicy Andhra pickles at home and sold them by word of mouth.

Her USP - the pickles did not have preservatives.

Heritage is a theme I can easily explore.

And it will have to start at home. We would like to ask our Campers to take a look at their mother's treasured saris and relate them to the displays at  the local store. We could take a look at the calligraphy of the local Urdu publication and relate it to how others have used the vernacular for web publishing.

In between, we will go on a Heritage Walk, have a picnic and get back to write on Madras terrace or 'tinnais'  that survive in our backyard.

Last year, we went on a walk down C. P. Ramaswamy Road, to the Alwarpet Circle. The exercise was to 'observe'. The flowers blooming on avenue trees. The promo handbills on EB boxes, the stuff in showcases and Tibetan medicine inside the Grove.

Samples of the reports are still at

If you are passionate about writing, sign up now.