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.