July 13, 2013

Documenting Anna Nagar's Social History

How many of you have walked up to the topmost point of the commonly called Anna Nagar Tower and felt like the maharajah of all you can survey?

Many would sigh because they have been denied a permit to go to the top. 
The blanket ban came into force after people who were on the edge in life ran up the tower and took their lives.

Surely, we did not want Visvesvaraya Tower to be nicknamed Suicide Tower.

How many of you have enjoyed a summer’s boat ride in the pond in this very area? And had a picnic snack under the clump of trees after a jolly session in the shallow waters?

People who were the early settlers in this neighbourhood in the western part of the city will certainly treasure loads of memories of the early days of what went on to become one of the planned neighbourhoods of Madras.

The World Trade Fair held in no mans land brought attention to these parts and once the jamboree was over it was time for planners to sit down and visualise another neighbourhood.

The face of that Anna Nagar has changed completely from the times when wild animal calls greeted you at dusk and the best way to get to your plot on the western side was by hitching a ride on the bricks lorry that was going that way to deliver to a house that was being built in the vicinity.

Anna Nagar is still a new neighbourhood but the men and women who were its early settlers are slowly fading away from amidst us. And with them, memories, pictures, cards and records.

This then is the time for an initiative to document the social history of this place. Or for that matter any other neighbourhood.

This is a suggestion I had made to a bunch of activists in Anna Nagar a couple of years ago. At a meeting in one of the early houses which were built in the famed Shanthi Colony, we worked out the details, passed the juice bottles around and promised to meet again.

But little came out of it.

Recently, when a young architect who lives in Shenoy Nagar started to discuss what she and her colleagues could do for Madras Week 2013, I drew back the Anna Nagar social history idea.

So Thirupura Sundari has just got this project off the ground by creating a page on FaceBook and to get people interested.

In the weeks to follow, she promises to gather a few like-minded people and search out long-residing families in the area and try and copy pictures and documents which will help tell the story of Anna Nagar. Perhaps on a blog.

Even the first set of posters produced by the early stores off the Round Tana and the early weddings solemnised at Saint Luke’s Church will be valuable documents for this project.

Yes, many people may not part with what they consider personal but they will do the youngsters a favour if they share copies of the pictorial records.

Thirupura Sundari and group’s first aim is to collect two dozen pictures/documents and hold an exhibition. They hope this will enthuse others to share their documents.

Want to start a similar project in your area?

July 06, 2013

Ode to a PT master

In the span of a week, I had to travel to the north-western part of the city for two diverse developments - a funeral and a wedding.

We had to go beyond Perambur on both occasions.
Thiru Vi Ka Nagar is new to me though the badlands of Pulianthope which we had to cross that afternoon are not.

We were in this nagar to pay our respect to a man who left a great impression on the lives of a whole generation of students at a school in Egmore.

Paneerselvam was a P T Master who was sportsman, coach, mentor, guide, comic and friend - all rolled in one.
Hailing from the deep south and with a degree at the YMCA College in this city, he joined our school when we were in our teens.

To him sports was serious business and since we also had Miss Neaves, another legendary sports administrator in our community, PT Master had his hands full. He had to not only coach a bunch of serious young athletes but mould the entire school.

So he set about creating drill teams like never before. In doing this he not only excited legions of kids who wanted to be in the drill teams though they had to endure his yells and sweat it out on the playground but he also created avenues for the school team to perform at city-level sports meets.

PT Master’s brand of drills became so known that our school team was invited to perform at bigger sports meets.

And if the drill team’s record was not enough, Pannerselvam ensured he stood out in a crowd with his trademark look - white cap, straight hair, colourful T-shirt, spotless white trousers and white sports shoes.

The man who earned much respect and love, inspired loads of jokes and survived a few serious health problems was taken out on his final journey, dressed in his trademark clothes, cap and shoes.

He wanted to go that way.

If Pannerselvam remains a loving memory in many hearts, Rajaratnam Stadium in Egmore is a fading memory for legions of athletes. This sports space that belongs to the Madras City Police was second home to generations of sportspeople and for the youth who lived in Egmore.

The compact, centrally located stadium was convenient for city schools to hold their Sports Meets and for talented athletes to train and toil for a place on the podium.

With the closure of this stadium some years ago, an important social space was wiped out. Thankfully, a new stadium is to be opened now but it does not have the simple, open feel that the old one offered all athletes.
Some places are part of people’s lives. If we cannot preserve them completely, we can save parts of them for the future.

Listen to the audio post here.