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 (www.themadrasday.in) we are putting together a compilation of ' 51 THINGS TO DO IN CHENNAI'.
Now. there are three listings on a blog - at www.51thingstodoinchennai.blogspot.in.
Do send us your 'must do things'. Mail to - themadrasday@gmail.com. Or post at the Madras Day space on FaceBook (facebook.com/madrasday).

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 - www.themadrasday.in.

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?