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.