March 25, 2012

Save Mount Road heritage

Eight-hour-long power cuts. Rising summer temperatures that cross 37 degrees. And views that power from atomic plants can help make life easy for you.

Factors to win your argument if you are against the anti-nuke plant community in the coastal town of Kudankulam in south Tamil Nadu.

And the arguments are convincing if you are a businessman or factory owner.

But the pros and cons are not lost on young people as we interact with them on the side of a conference at the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, outside Tirunelveli town. And this is heartening.

So what role have youth played in the anti-Kudankulam agitation in the villages that fringe the Russian-built 2000 watt atomic power plant which has got into working gear now?

Idinthakarai, the focal point of the agitation is a 90-minute taxi ride from Tirunelveli, done faster on a Sunday. Youths are streaming into the thatched space adjoining the Lady of Lourdes church. This is the 216th day of the campaign and the youths of the district's Catholic Church have decided to revisit their role and contribution to this process.

"We sowed the seed but the women took over and now the elders want us to be active," says Pravin. He and his colleagues wear black Tees with Tamil legends that oppose the atomic plant.

Here, many youths with better skills get jobs in the Persian Gulf; others take to the traditional fishing which is also doing good. The young men tell me that when they have time they get involved in the anti-nuke campaign.

That Sunday, as the sun rises small groups of youths from Chennai, Kanyakumari and elsewhere stream in to show solidarity.

A deacon of this church, in his 20s chats with me after Sunday Catechism class. "I have no problems being part of this struggle but we are restrained."

The church is an integral part of the lives of over 75 coastal fishing villages and the interplay is strong and a given.

Back in Madras, the first set of buildings on Mount Road to be demolished to make way for Metro Rail project face the bulldozers. These were once an integral part of my life; of many other lives when Madras had one showpiece road and one highway.

Store owners are also disturbed with displacement and traffic regulation.

Mount Road is heritage. And I wonder how seniors with memories and youths with cameras, videos and voices can campaign to make the powers respect this heritage.

March 17, 2012

Using rail stations for art

Probe the sexual assault now!
Beware of the looters of the Univ!!

Welcome to Freshers! Strengthen the students movement.

Grafftti. Posters. Banners. Are an integral part of a university campus. They are in-your face, strident and cliched. And they have stories to share.

But when my host John Varghese, a professor of English at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad drove me into his campus close to midnight recently, a stark 100-watt bulb illuminated a creatively designed space announcing the EFL Cricket League matches and points!

The graffiti was all there to see and read that next morning when I took a walk around.

On the walls, on the signboards and on doors and windows.

Bolder were the slogans supporting the Telegana movement.

The agitation has had a stong base in the neighboring Osmania University and students have been at the forefront, crossing the lines, inviting violence and sacrificing their studies.

The EFL University is a small cousin, spread over 35 acres but its closeness to the Telegana tinderbox has generated smoke and fires now and then which makes people like John very concerned.

I understood his concern.

This is a varsity which has lots of foreign students - from Iran and Kazhakstan, from Kerala and from UP. And when ideologies and agitations, debates and graffiti dominate, sparks and fires light the corridors.

Graffiti is free expression, art and subversive too.

But it has its space.

At the north end of Elliots Beach, Besant Nagar on the wall of Spaces (now a space for arts, once guru Chandralekha's dance space), the graffiti has messages to share and adds colour.

But local police have been worried when walkers raise objections to images they see as violent and subversive.

Over time though, the wall has become the space to raise issues.

The walls of our metro and suburban stations have remained grey and grimy, as if to envelope commuters in a blanket of hopelessness and nowhereness.

So the effort by Art Chennai promoters and Max Mueller Bhavan to put art on the walls of the MRTS station in Thiruvanmiyur is commendable.

The Southern Railway has lent a hand.

This summer, we could get the kids from summer camps to exhibit their works and even art the walls.

The Art Chennai event must be followed. Use public space.

Leave it to commuters and my guess is our walls will be over run with love messages.

What do you think? Paan stains?

March 10, 2012

Tribute: P. Krishnaswamy, Indian Express

Journalists have lots of stories to tell. And they are fascinating and important.

After all, journalism is history written in a hurry.

P. Krishnaswamy's book, when published it is bound to have stories of a time and life that many of us are familiar with.

The Sri Lankan story in our state.

But when that book is released, 'PK' as all his friends called him will not be around to read passages from it and savour the pleasure of a book released.

For PK passed away on Thursday in Madurai, crumbling to a cardiac problem.

He passed away with his boots on. Boots he wore though he was in his 80s. Boots he wore at work at the 'Indian Express' in the south Indian temple city.

I met PK on the sand dunes of Rameswaram. In the late 90s. I was at 'The Week' magazine ( of the Malayala Manorama group of Kerala) and having learnt the basics of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem as an understudy to my predecessor, Bhagawan R Singh, was touring south Tamil Nadu furiously to report on the issue.

PK, in his 50s had walked in the heat and sailed off the coast many, many times. A Sri Lankan from the upcountry, he was the best person at the 'Express' to report on this burning issue and that evening I learnt how he would take the horrible state-run buses every other week to tour Ramnad and Rameswaram island to report first hand.

From then on he was a friend and a contact and every Madurai visit would often include a breakfast at his house where his wife made great hoppers ( appams ) in an earthen 'chatti'.

PK could never retire. It wasn't in his DNA. Neither could the 'Express' forget him. So he got contracted again and again and between editorial work, he penned his memoirs.

Memoirs of a man who had a great innings in Colombo's newspapers till one morning, he and his family had to flee and take refuge in Tamil Nadu as the sparks of race riots flew.

We were discussing ways to promote the book the last time I made a pit stop in Madurai.

He bid farewell before that could take place.

I will be glad to help get his book published.

Many of us have stories to be told. Put them down - for posterity.

March 04, 2012

Audit your local councillor's work

How do you handle a situation like this?
The room is in darkness though it is just past 5.30 p.m. The place is new to me. Someone from inside beckons.
An emergency lamp spreads some light around us.
I carefully find a place to sit. And I restrain myself from joking about the power cuts.
I am meeting a prominent leader of the AIADMK in his backyard in Kodambakkam. And since this is our first time, perhaps it is not the wisest thing to spoof on power cuts.
(Wonder if there are spoofs on this subject online; consider the dozens that came alive after Angelina Jolie's leg show at the Oscars).
Back to the Kodambakkam house.
I am here to interview this AIADMK man, to seek information on civic projects in his zone and to explore ways in which our newspaper/web site can report local developments.
The interaction is friendly and lasts 20 minutes.
As other partymen assemble and as the room darkens, it is time to leave. But my host holds me back, beckons his woman secretary who already has a cover in her hands and requests me to accept a gift.
It is easy to say 'no thanks' and slip away. The man isn't embarrassed since this exchange takes place in the corridor.
I am.
'Gift cover journalism' like paid news, has flourished for a long time. In the 80s, my seniors on the political beat used to be given manila covers that had fifty - rupee notes inside and a passport size picture of the thalaivar.
I am surprised the practise of small covers for 'gifted' journalists still exists.
Our quest at our neighbourhood newspapers has been to report closely the record of elected local reps and local civic projects. We have been at it since the time the city Corporation Council was resurrected.
It has not been easy. We have been thrown out, sidelined and grudgingly accepted.
The zone in Adyar today informs us of its council meetings; it may not allow us to sit on the sidelines but shares information meant for people.
But we want to expand this coverage and process. And you may be able to help. You can help audit the local works and file reports. Highlight major local issues.
We want tech-savvy and civic-sensitive people to join in and be involved.
We will acknowledge your contribution. But you will not be given manila covers