February 23, 2013

Even Mylapore's Mangollai is part of our Social History . . .

How important is a place like Mangollai in the social history of Mylapore?
Very important, those in the know would say.
Now what is Mangollai, many others would ask of a place that is now the fringe of a slum.
It is a question that popped up in my mind as I was reading a little book that Fr. A. Vijay Kiran has published on the late Archbishop of Madras Mylapore diocese, Rev. R Arulappa.
A book brought out to celebrate the birth centenary of the first Indian bishop of this historical diocese, of a man who hailed from a village off Tambaram, lost his parents early in life, heeded the call of God and went on to be a missionary Bishop of this area.
It is the collection of photographs in this book that makes it a hugely valuable record not just for the local Roman Catholic Church but for Mylapore-San Thome.
Fr. Kiran is a collector, archivist and research scholar. He is also one among the four young men who were ordained as priests by Rev. Arulappa for the last time in the latter's ministry.
So his photo collection used in the recent book has stories to share beyond the captions that lie under each of them.
For me, the pictures taken at St. Bede's Anglo Indian School here are important.
Since the campus is a mere sandy extension of the grounds where the Cathedral stands, all major events of the Church are held here.
And since I had attended the installation of the new Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, Most Rev. George Antonysamy in late January, I looked closely at the pictures of the installation of Rev. Arulappa at the same venue way back in March 1966.
I now realize how important the campus of St. Bede's is in the social history of this neighborhood. And this, not just because new bishops of the local diocese are installed here.
Mangollai then has a place in the socio-political histories of our city. It was the key venue for a variety of political meetings and demonstrations in pre and post Independent India. Meetings held at the junction of East Mada and North Mada Streets.
If you look around the old city, the corner of the mada veedhis junction of all our big temples have been political zones - in Mylapore, Triplicane, Saidapet or Tiruvottriyur. Understandably. These were the places where people congregated every day.
I would like to hear from you on the landmark meetings held at Mangollai. Your notes will help add to such social histories.

February 16, 2013

In Chennai, where are the spaces for Couples?

In a city, where would couples meet and spend time together away from home?

Today, the well-to-do have their favourite hangouts. Perhaps on the East Coast Road. Or at Dublin. Or at one of the restaurants on and off the high fashion space of Khader Nawaz Khan Road in Nungambakkam.

Couples with reasonably thick wallets may end up at CCD - Café Coffee Day - or Barista.

What about the rest who live and love in this city?

The Marina Beach is everybody's favourite though you will need to think hard about venturing it after dark.

And with some nice, large parks developed by our City Fathers, these green nooks are also a destination.

When we were in college, a date would happen at the PTC bus stand. It was sufficiently busy to guarantee some form of security and generally faceless to let us say and do what we intended to do even if meant exchanging notes or just chatting.

Even the PTC uses were nice places to catch the other's attention. Rarely did we come across rowdy Bus Days that are the norm today.

For the collegians of Triplicane, Mount Road and Royapettah who studied at Loyola or Pachaiyappas, the bus stops on Mount Road provided the space to meet up. The bus on route 27E would transport the girls of QEM Arts, Ethiraj and WCC so you can imagine the flurry of activity that took place at the stops.

I was pleasantly surprised this past week when the City Police Commissioner asked his men in khaki not to poke their lathis into the waists of young men courting a partner either on the Marina or in city parks. " Leave them alone as long as they keep to limits," he said.

He must have taken a cue from his counter part in Mumbai who also told his men that they should not disturb couples who had some time for themselves on Marine Drive or Chowpathy Beach.

Not all citizens may approve the Top Cops's advice to his men in this city.

Off and on, seniors who go for walks at the hugely popular Nageswara Rao Park in Luz tell me that they feel unsettled when they notice couples cuddling and smooching on the benches behind overgrown shrubs.

In the past, young people who hang out at Bessie Beach ( Elliots Beach) have also told me how some cops tend to treat them like cheapos.

Chennai continues to live with its two faces. Is this a trait we would like to take into the future?

February 09, 2013

Adyar river carries our stories too

Does the Adyar river mean anything beyond a streak of murky water that you cross every now and then on your way to work or to visit friends?

To many people the Adyar has been a part of their lives and memories though it means hardly anything to all of us today.

The river is a part of my working life and a little beyond it too.

So when the extension of the Thiru Vi Ka Bridge was formally inaugurated recently, my thoughts went back to times when there wasn't a bridge over this river.

Off and on, I have met up with a small band of men who continue to fish in this river, pursuing their traditional calling. These men live in a colony off Greenways Road, have a base behind MGR Janaki Women's College and sail out in the cattamarans left to dry behind the bushes here.

The catch is always small and in the days to come we may not see the men or their nets by the Adyar.

This is a river that is closely entwined with the social histories of this city.

Like the life and times of the Theosophical Society, whose international headquarters was chosen to be located on its south bank.

Like the life of what is now called the Broken Bridge, a bridge near the seashore that once linked two kuppams, Urur and Srinivasapuram facilitating quick transportation for the fisherfolk.

Film makers of that time chose to shoot their forest and river scenes on the Adyar's banks. Dancer and guru Padma Subrahmanyam has anecdotes to share of her father's shooting schedules by the Adyar. And historian Randor Guy has more - including one that in the old days of film shooting on location, one person was employed to shoo away crows or birds from the shooting spot so that their caws did not disturb on location audio recording.

Seniors of the city will tell you of their experiences in crossing the river by boat.

Today, the first bridge, Elphinstone Bridge stands strong but neglected, now a support for a sewage pipeline.

Could we not have turned this spot into a bird watching park when the Thiru Vi Bridge was opened?

Senior journalist G V Krishnan tells me about The High Line, a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line, which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan; a line on which trains carried meat and farm produce and was later abandoned and has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. An idea that was mooted and carried forward by citizens.

Can we be still be motivated by the NY project?

February 02, 2013

Pantheon CC; cricket in the community

On most weekends, the city of Chennai plays hosts to over 100 cricket matches of all kinds - league, private tourneys and friendlies - in which over 5,000 people are involved.

It is a passionate community that stops at little to play the game.

And each club, team or colony group has a life of its own.

This weekend, if all goes well Pantheon Cricket Club will have a celebration but it will begin only after 22 men have had a go at the cherry or tossed it down the wicket.

The Pantheon CC group is meeting for old times sake. It does not have a milestone in mind, its fortunes died many years ago and some of the boys who were core to it have gone far, far away.

And yet, the Pantheon CC spirit floats in the air every now and then. So when  it gripped some of its members in December last, they decided it was time to party for old times sake.

Pantheon was a child of the 1970s and was formed by a bunch of school and college friends who used to hang out at Munawar Sharief's sprawling bungalow on the road where the city Police Commissioner's Office is located in Egmore.

The space in front of the bungalow was good enough for the boys to bowl and bat though they could not afford a new pair of pads or gloves and helmets and thigh guards were still not in the cricket player's armoury.

Patheon Road. The Pantheon. Patheon Café. So why not Pantheon Cricket Club? And the club had easily got its name.

As the passions blazed, the boys pooled some monies and laid a pitch on the ground behind the bungalow and got down to serious weekend practice. Soon they were playing friendlies and private tournaments, making tours to Bangalore and Mysore and winning new bats and balls as prizes!.

Once a year they ran a raffle and raised a decent pile. But the club did not have a godfather, a man who could show them the way. And those were times when even the TNCA managed a quiet league.

In the 80s, the Pantheon boys went their ways and the CC remained a topic that popped up when some of them sat for a drink.

Cricket, they say is now a circus.

For many though, it is part of life.