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 www.mylaporetimes.com ).

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!