January 26, 2013

Pulicat Day! Wow!

If you have guests who enjoy travel and have a weakness for history, here is a tour you must recommend.

A tour that should start at Pulicat, or Pazhaverkkadu and end at Tranquebar, or Tarangambadi.

If you know your geography well, then you will be traveling along the Tamil Nadu coast.

And if you know your history better, then you will get to enjoy the remnants of European heritage and history and its influence on us.

Dutch, English, French, Portuguese and Danish histories - they hover on this coast and there is lots to re-discover.

Pulicat was once a stronghold of the Dutch. Today, it is still a beautiful seaside community and a wonderful picnic zone offering a lot of potential of hat one might call eco-tourism.

And not far from here are the expanses of marshlands which are the habitat of birds in the winter season, points off Sulurpet and Sriharikota.

A walk around the old town of Pulicat, a quiet boat ride, some fun in the sea and a piping hot picnic lunch is just the sort of outing that a family can enjoy here.

I recall a young man from the fishing community here, who inspired by a foreign tourist got a web site created and offered bookings for boat rides, tenting and even a seafood meal with some chill beer served alongside.

Off and on, efforts have been made to restore the Dutch and Indian heritage of this place.

Churches and mosques, graveyard and community houses and the like.

Over recent years, a NGO called AARDE Foundation seems to have taken this project seriously.

And when we heard of their efforts to market the famed craftwork of Pazhaverkaddu, the cane baskets, we invited them to showcase it at the annual Mylapore Festival.

This Saturday, the NGO is hosting Pulicat Day and besides walks, fun and catamaran races there is also a kolam contest for the women - inspired by the kolam contests hosted in Mylapore.

Pulicat Day is a great idea. And  one hopes that this historic place remains proud of its roots and its character and retains it for long. And that you, me and the state sustain the effort here.

January 23, 2013

Mylapore can up its unique heritage

The idea was not new. Nor was it a simple one to execute.
Elai sapad served to guests at traditional houses.
It was an idea that we, at the Mylapore Festival adopted in 2012.
We were conversing with IAS officer Sheela Rani Chunkath about the possibility of hosting master craftspeople at the Fest when Chunkanth suggested the elai sapad idea.
She had visited the Fest some years ago and just couldn't get her way into the crowded Food Street. Why not offer guests the pleasure of having a local meal served on banana leaves at Mylapore's houses?
We grabbed the idea but it took time to move it forward. There weren't too many families wiling to play host and entertain guests. Would it be safe? How many guests could be served? How much to charge?
We started with one host; this year we had three.
And 32 people were booked, the maximum the hosts could accommodate.
Scheduled on the eve of Pongal when the local markets are better stocked with a variety of vegetables, preparing the meal was a tad easy. And at one hundred rupees per meal it was a steal, with guests
from Vadapalani and Gopalapuram signing up.
This was indeed a great positive of the Fest - to get Mylaporeans involved in different ways.
Pushing ideas needs some persistence and creativity.
So we took the idea of hosting Talks at a bungalow to some people. Dr Vatsala Narayanaswamy who is involved with the National Boys and Girls Society invited us to her drawing room of the 1950s.
The ideas and the little events seem to be impacting on people who can do more.
Vijaykumar Reddy who now heads the Trustees managing the affairs of Sri Kapali Temple, Mylapore has two ideas on his table - to get the Tourism Department of Tamil Nadu to promote the famed Arbathumoovar festival across the country and to ensure the inner streets of the temple zone are spice and span.
These small positives from the Fest make us, as curators feel good.

January 05, 2013

City view from mount

What does a city look like at night from a hill top?
The last evening of the year that has just gone by provided me the opportunity to get that look.
On a whim, Vasanth and I decided to take a path less taken on 31.
We had an invitation to check out an all-night programme organised by a bunch of Thamizh writers and local artists in the Sri Karaneeswarar Koil zone in Saidapet.
This is a New Year-eve event which has been held for some years now - sale of books, on-the-spot painting, book releases, folk art and poetry readings.
What caught my attention were the traditionally designed houses that pockmarked the inner streets here.
We crawled out of west Saidapet and hit Butt Road - our destination, the hill of saint Thomas.
As we drove, very slowly around the base of the hill, little, lighted stars which hung from the inner courtyards or drawing rooms of houses on the fringe showed up. As we climbed up, the stars got a better life in the 11 p.m. darkness. From one house, the strains of Christmas carols escaped on to the kutcha road.
I was tempted to ring up Customs officer Richard - he and his folks have lived on the mount for many, many years and sharing a glass of homemade wine would have been most appropriate.
I didn't call - perhaps the family would be preparing to go for Holy Mass at St. Patrick's.
More lighted stars, dangling from the gates and corridors of the many Christian institutions on this mount greeted us - this was indeed Christmasland. The best such sight I had enjoyed before was the legendary Moore Market, now no more.
Then came the first eyesore - dozens of gaudy, green tubelights, dozens of stars of all sizes and a few stuffed Santa images, all part of what was called the Christmas park.
At the top of the mount, we expected quiet, stillness and darkness. But the second eyesore greeted us - a shocking excavation close to the historic little church, granite paved floors on the mount and a garish open-air stage.
We fled to the serene side of the mount - Vasanth wanted to greet the nuns of the Home for Abandoned Children. It was peaceful here - the kids had all gone to bed. From the edge we gazed at a city bathed in orange, cars, buses and bikes crawling about madly and a faint roar from the distant airport.
The mount, that night had a life of its own.