Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Madras Day 2009; feedback

I think Madras Day 2009 seems to have left a firm impression in the minds of many people.

Over the last fortnight, people have been telling me how widespread, varied and different the Madras Day concept has gone on to be. Others say that it will now occupy a permanent place in the city calendar.

Many others have understood the concept and hope to become part of it next year.

Some people felt that there were too many events and so, they couldn't make the best of most of them. Some felt the organisers of these events may be working at cross purposes by organising dozens of events in a week.

There are others who point out that communities in areas like Adyar and Anna Nagar, Perambur and Royapuram, Triplicane and Mint are yet to be seen in the Madras Day scheme of events.

There were people who sought help / aid / direction / guidance on how they could become part of the Madras Day event.

All I can say is that Madras Day will be a unique process.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Madras Rediscovered in Tamil

Bringing up the finale as it were on the last day of what was a hectic Madras Week was the Madras Book Club, with the launch at the Taj Connemara of the Tamil translation of S Muthiah’s Madras Rediscovered. There were some sterling speeches by Prof. V.C. Kulandaiswamy, chairman, Tamil Virtual University, who launched the book, and Dr V. Irai Anbu, secretary (tourism and culture), Govt of Tamil Nadu.

But the honours must go to Badri Seshadri, publisher, New Horizon Media, for bringing out the 600-page book at an economical price, C.V. Karthik Narayanan for translating the book and, of course, Muthiah himself for having taken the initiative, I’m sure, of making it all happen. With this offering, prospects of the city’s history being read by many more people are bright indeed.

Reminiscing about his entry into the world of writing, printing and publishing as an eight-year-old, Muthiah said it all had to do with his joining a new preparatory school, St Thomas’s, in Ceylon (where he grew up and which is still his first love) where a teacher named W.T. Keble proved to be the greatest influence on his life. Keble got the children to read, and told them the histories of Ceylon and England as interesting stories of countries, unlike what is done in most school classrooms today. Later, when Muthiah wrote Ceylon Beaten Track, he found Keble’s influence on almost every page.

Muthiah arrived in Madras in 1968, to take over T.T. Maps and Publications, a TTK Group company then, and it was while bringing out a booklet with a large map of Madras that he discovered a city and its history, and from then on there was no looking back…

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

City Documentaries; lets make more

When you have 40 people at a screening of docu-films on Madras, you are blessed!
And it also warms the hearts of the few who take the trouble to produce these films.

On August 23 afternoon, we screened five films including a short one made by a team of city school students.

The other films were on a woman who stands for election to the City Council, on the fate of people displaced from the seashore and canal banks in the city, on well known abstract artist Achuthan Kudallur, a short, warm one on the traditions at Heber Hall of Madras Christian College and one on the first Rainbow Parade organised by the LGBT community in the city and held on the Marina beach.

Alliance Francaise, Chennai was the gracious host and collaborator.

Very few people are passionate about working on docu-films. But this effort is a start. . .we need to make many films on Madras that is Chennai. If you are keen, e-mail us at madrasday@yahoo.com. Our intention is to screen one or two city-based docus once in 2/3 months and build a community.

Fascinating Exhibition in Mylapore

D. H. Rao and his band of heritage lovers did a fine job in holding yet another exhibition at P. S. School campus in Mylapore.

Rao sends out a call to his friends in the philately and numismatics world to lend a hand. Some do. And they present an exhibition.

On the face of it, this may appear to be a standard show. Not quite.
There are some fascinating exhibits.

One was a booklet issued by the Slum Clearance Board, perhaps in the 70s. The pictures of city slums - in Palakkuma Nagar and Nochi Nagar - record the pathetic conditions in which people lived in. Another was a set of photo copies of trams in our city. Another was a set of print ads issued by Amrutanjan.

Rao has the Special Cover that was released on the occasion of Madras Day 2009. Call him at 98408 70172 if you want to buy a cover. The theme is Old Bridges of Madras.

Schools present City Landmarks

This is now a Madras Day regular.
The contest for city schools to present less known heritage/landmarks of the city.

We began this contest many years ago as an event at which schools presented models of landmarks. We then moved on to ask school teams to go out and research on their themes, create Power Point presentations and present them at a day-long event.

20 schools signed up for this year's contest which was held at Srinivasa Sastri Hall. Luz. The judges were Dr. Balambal and Vincent D' Souza.

The top winner was the team from Kavi Bharathi Vidhyalaya from Thiruvottriyur. Its students presented the history of the Old Jail in our city, now the campus of Bharathi Womens College in north Madras.

The team from Sri Sankara Vidhyashram, Thiruvanmiyur bagged the second prize and that of Sri Sankara Senior in Adyar the third prize.

With films and food you can't go wrong

The finale to Madras Week celebrations at Hotel Green Park was a wonderful presentation by Mohan Raman, a familiar face on television. He has acted in more than 100 films and 5,000 episodes, he says. Mohan collects stamps that are related to films; he is also a corporate trainer who uses cinematic tools to communicate.

A word also about the food festival that Hotel Green Park hosted through the week. Most nights saw the tables packed, with more than 100 people visiting to taste the cuisines of the Madras Presidency. Rohit Jha, food and beverage manager, and Chef Amsa deserve kudos for planning and executing the festival in style. Krishna Kumar, general manager, who has been taking the initiative each year in getting Madras Week celebrations organised at Green Park, has plans for more authentic food fare next year.

A poignant moment as Oxygen sings the Chennai anthem

It was a special moment that evening during Madras Day, when music band Oxygen sang the Chennai anthem. Members of the group were friends of young Vikram who had composed the song’s music. There was a hushed silence as the opening lines of the song, Vandanam, vandanam, Chennaikku vandanam, vandarai vazhavaikkum, panbukku vandanam, rent the air. And rousing applause as Vikram’s picture was projected at the end of the song.

A road accident had claimed Vikram’s life, but his contribution will be always remembered and we hope that his dreams of a better and greener Chennai will be realised some day soon. Vikram had composed the original music for the song. He was passionate about the city and its people and was keen on pursuing the technical line in films and music.

The song (lyrics by C. R. Anandan, in Tamil) talks about the Fort St. George, the city slum dwellers, the Marina Beach, the Covelong Beach, and the Cooum and Adyar Rivers. The song urges Chennaites to preserve nature’s gifts.

Earlier, Oxygen began with Nagumomu, a Carnatic track of saint Thyagaraja. The band gave it a special flavour by creating a subtle Western mood to the song. The krithi was played in the traditional format by the violin, with the melodion adding a unique flavour to the melody.

Owing to a sound system problem, the band missed playing Vandemataram, which talks about youth empowerment. It is one of the songs in the album ‘Ooh la la la’ that was released by A. R. Rahman recently.

Members of the Oxygen band who performed included Harish (melodion), Karthick Iyer (violin), Vijaykrishnan (keyboard) Ethiraj (mridangam) and Subu and Vijay Narain (vocal).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Directors, technicians, actors get nostalgic, recall the romance of filmmaking

Talking at Hotel Green Park about another age in the Kodambakkam studios, and about their experiences, were ten people closely associated with the film industry – Balraj, costume designer, Premkumar, cinematographer, Rajendran, make-up artiste, Jana, art director, Jananathan, film director, G. B. Vijay, film director and ad filmmaker, J. K., art director, Karthik Raghunath, film director, Ragavendra Rao, actor and lyricist, and Vasantha Anand, actor.

Ragavendra Rao started his career at the age of five and had worked with directors like Puttanna; he later turned lyricist. J. K. attended a screen test; people said he resembled kutti Sivaji, but he was turned down. He was the first in his family to enter films.

An emotional Karthik said he was born in cinema. He had told his mother soon after graduation that he wished to join the industry. Backed by her, the idea was put forward to his father, who said: “Understand cinema, and every aspect of it before you enter.” That was how he began assisting his father (T. R. Raghunath). Of course, he received offers from established companies, but he chose to remain in filmdom where his heart lay. Karthick also spoke of how great stars such as M.G.R and Sivaji would come home and how he grew up knowing nothing except cinema.

Balraj recalled how he was made to climb up a tree in Ooty’s cold, to portray an adivasi in a scene. That was when he decided to give up acting and moved to being a costume designer.

Vijay pointed out that where Hotel Green Park stood, was the canteen of Vauhini studios that served two idlis for five paise. He spoke of the thoughtfulness of the filmmakers of those days to provide excellent food at a subsidised rate.

Rajendran spoke of his struggles as a make-up man. He had to do odd jobs before eventually settling down. Jana mentioned how he was given no salary but Rs 2 daily with which he used to buy tea for 75 paise and a snack, enough to get back home.

Jananathan spoke of how actors, technicians and directors in those days allowed their protégés to grow. Vasanth narrated his theatre experiences in Singapore, as a young boy in a co-ed school. When once somebody called him the Sivaji Ganesan of Singapore, he replied that he hadn’t even risen to the actor's ankles.

J. K. also spoke of an instance when the assistant director was asked to stand on guard at the entrance and not to allow anyone inside. The art director's assistance themselves were denied entrance. Such was the devotion of assistants then, he said.

How the studios came to Kodambakkam

The studios of Kodambakkam have a fascinating history. According to Randor Guy, film historian, during World War II, the Madras Electric Supply Corporation (MESC) had built a power house in the area, but there were no takers for the energy. The film studios were then encouraged to set shop there. And that was how the studios of Kodambakkam came about.

However, in 1935, A Ramaiah from Thanjavur had already established the first studio, Star Combines, near the Vadapalani bus terminus, which then marked the end of city limits. Gradually several studios came up – Rohini, Film Centre (set up by Majid), Bharani Studios (Bhanumathy Ramakrishna), Vikram Studios (B. S. Ranga, ace cameraman, producer-director), Paramount which later became Majestic Studios (Muthukumarappa Reddiar) Golden Studios, Vasu Studios (Vasu Menon) and Karpagam Studios (K. S. Gopalakrishnan). But they were all dwarfed by two giants - Vauhini Studios (B. Nagi Reddy), the biggest in Asia then with 13 studio floors, and AVM Studios (A.V. Meiyappan), the second largest in the city, with six studio floors.

“Most studios then were self-contained and had the latest equipment although importing stuff was difficult. You could go with a script and a team, shoot on the floor, use the editing room and the laboratory,” says Karthick Raghunath, film director, who has experienced life in the Kodambakkam film studios ever since he was five. There was really no shooting at actual locales then. It was only in the 1970s that filmmakers ventured out of the studios of Kodambakkam. But there was always a great demand for studio floor space.

Recalling the years he spent on various sets watching his father, TR Raghunath, well-known erstwhile film director who made his first film in 1937, Karthick says that a director then had to know all the nuances of film-making – editing, photography, script writing and laboratory practice. “In the black-and-white film era, when the speed of running film was slow and heavy lighting was needed, it called for vivid imagination and extraordinary judgment, and technicians had both in abundance. There was immense respect for directors,” he says.

Capturing the spirit of Ghoda Bagh, films of 1960s-70s shot in Kodambakkam studios

The subject chosen by Spring into Reading for this year’s Madras Week was Kodambakkam and the life in the film studios there. According to P Venkataraman, who was a Kodambakkam resident for 52 years, the place was originally a part of Shrotrium Village in Puliyur Kottam, one of the 24 subdivisions of Thondainadu. There are several versions of how the name Kodambakkam came about – a corrupted form of Ghoda Bagh, the place where horses were reared during the time of the Nawab of Arcot; the sthalapuranam of one of the two Siva temples in the area (it is said that Lord Shiva turned the Meru Mountain into a bow; in Tamil, mountain is kodu, bow is ambu); after Karkodiyan, a descendant of Adisesha who is worshipped as Lord Narayana at the temple in Sivan Koil Street.

A few decades ago, there was no Kodambakkam Bridge; there was the ‘Periye gate’ near the track that people used, to cross. There were plenty of gypsies at the spot and always a crowd at the railway gate watching film stars waiting to cross once the trains passed, says Karthick Raghunath, film director and son of erstwhile ace director TR Raghunath, who has spent more than four decades in the Kodambakkam studios. There were no proper roads, no drainage or water supply. The area was full of palm and coconut trees. The rainy season saw waist-deep water everywhere. The area where the potters trade today was marshy land, almost a lake. Even in 1947, buses would stop at the Vadapalani Temple. Passing garland sellers and jatkas (horse carriages), people walked to the Vauhini Studios.

Chef Amsa at Hotel Green Park recalls how he and his friends used to walk from Royapettah to watch movies at the Pankajam touring talkies near Arunachalam Road. They paid 25 paise for a thara (sitting on the sand) ticket or one rupee if they wanted to sit on a chair.

Recapturing the spirit of Ghoda Bagh and the songs and scenes shot in the studios were students from the Dr M. G. R. Janaki School for the Hearing and Speech Impaired, Ramavaram, and the Dr. M. G. R. Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, Adyar.

When puppets brought the show alive

One of the efforts of Madras Week coordinators has been to get children involved in as many activities as possible. In the Vadapalani area, playing that role the past few years has been Spring into Reading, an activity centre for children. Every year, Hotel Green Park plays host, thanks to Krishna Kumar, the general manager, and his wonderful team, including Ravi, chef Amsa and others. And every year, at programmes conducted by Binita and Shrimati of Spring into Reading, puppetry workshops and storytelling, there is packed attendance; there are more people for these shows than there are for the finale, which is usually a talk or presentation by a well-known speaker. This year, too, the story proceeded according to script, but even Krishna Kumar and his team might not have anticipated the kind of response that the events for children generated last Saturday afternoon.

Like last year, Bhanumathi’s puppetry workshop kick-started events. The theme this year was ‘flora and fauna’, more of fauna actually. Children – there were more than 30 of them – arrived with charts, colour pencils, scissors, glue… the works. Soon, part of the stage and the floor area next to it came alive with children drawing and colouring shapes of animals, turning them into puppets and lining up to show their creations to Bhanumathi.

And, perhaps for the first time this year during Madras Week, there were cries of ‘Happy birthday, Chennai’. The children chorused in unison to wish the city on its 370th anniversary.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Special fare at La Boulangerie

A visit to Vanilla Children Place is often not quite complete without a snack or a cup of Cappuccino at the fairly popular French café there. For Madras Week, La Boulangerie came up with an offering of old-time bakery specials, Madras specials and Raj fare. Adding to the nostalgia were some fine sketches of Madras buildings, by the gifted artist Amalore.

From Avadi to the Marina, a bicycle rally

VSSS Alumni, a forum for the past pupils of the Vijayantha Senior Secondary School School on the Heavy Vehicles Factory campus in Avadi organised a bicycle rally on Madras Day (August 22). The rally began at the Avadi Rountana and proceeded to the lighthouse on the Marina. The objective: to create an awareness about global warming and the measures to be protect the earth by using, for instance, bicycles for travel up to 5 km and public transport for longer distances, and also exploring possibilities of car/two-wheeler pooling.

The exercises showed how the local community can come together and contribute to Madras Week celebrations. M. Kathiravan, editor, Town News, and V. Nandakumar, dy. Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, flagged off the rally. Present at the Vijayantha School before the bicycles started on their journey were P. Omana, headmistress; James, headmaster; K. Vasantha, headmistress; S. Kalaivani, founder, Lokamathra Charitable Trust; S.K. Sivakumar, manager, NICT; Hari Babu, manager, Aptech; and D. Gopinath, manager, S.S.S. Computer Education.

Enthused by the response, P. Jayakumar, president, VSSS Alumni, and G. Aejaz Sheriff, treasurer, plan to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the school by getting the old students to attend.

Packed house at Garodia School to see pictures of old Madras

It was a packed hall at the Jaigopal Garodia Vivekananda Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Anna Nagar. There were students, teachers and visitors waiting for D. Krishnan, picture editor of The Hindu, to make his presentation on ‘Pictures of the Madras Presidency’. Ashok Kedia, trustee, and G. Vijayakumar, principal of the school, are always excellent hosts and this year, too, they had done a fine job ensuring that everything was in place.

Krishnan’s pictures showed the Madras of the old and the new. The comparison was stark – there are fewer trees today, less walking space on roads, there is more congestion everywhere, and laidback life of the 1960s-70s have disappeared.

Some interesting pictures included the Bank of Madras (headquartered then in Calcutta) on First Line Beach (1896), the Arbuthnot Bank building (1904), which Indian Bank later took over, the Madras Harbour of 1895, Esplanade Road (1910) where none of the old buildings, except the Anderson Church, has survived, the Officers’ Mess (now the Fort Museum) in 1912, the Napier Bridge (1895), Senate House (1890) and the Chepauk Palace, the Southern Railway headquarters (1925), the Buckingham Canal on which 1,200 boats ferried people and goods everyday once, from Madras to Kakinada, the Victoria Hall (1887), a bodyguard at the entrance to Rajaji Hall, and the Roundtana on Mount Road.

INTACH competition in schools a success, despite virus scare

One of the big successes of Madras Week this year has been the participation by schools and colleges in essay writing and drawing competitions, debates and exhibitions. More than 100 schools and colleges would have taken part by the time the exercise, being conducted by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), gets over by the first week of September. Sankara Vidyashram in Thiruvanmiyur had sought postponement for a while, the reason for the exercise not getting over during Madras Week.

It is a remarkable achievement, considering that the city, like many others in India, was in the midst of the H1N1 virus scare, with several students reporting sick and being asked to go home. There were reports of low attendance in some schools. Also, many schools had their calendars chock-a-bloc with the usual annual events. However, all of them were keen to be a part of Madras Week. So, from Velliyan Chettiar School in Thiruvottriyur to Sankara Vidyashram in Thiruvanmiyur, and from Vel’s Vidyashram in Pallavara to MCtM Senior Secondary School in Purasawalkam, scores of children wrote, drew, debated and exhibited.

Broadly, the theme centred on coins, in memory of Raja Seetharaman, a well known coin collector and active member of INTACH. ‘Coins of the Madras Presidency’ was the theme for the exhibition, ‘An autobiography in the life of a coin in Chennai city’ was the topic given for the essay competition, ‘Will plastic money replace coins’ was the subject for debate.

A word also about two committed people from INTACH who made all this possible – S. Suresh, convener for the Chennai Chapter, and Prema Kasturi, co-convener. Not only did they put together the entire programme for the schools and colleges (college celebrations of celebrate Madras Week will take off later this week), both of them visited the various institutions before and during the week. Travelling to places such as Pallavaram and Thiruvottriyur isn’t easy, but they accomplished what they set out to do. There were small problems, of course – not even being provided water or a cup of tea in one or two schools, or being asked by the school to catch an auto from the suburbs to the city. But Suresh and Prema did not mind at all and bore all that in fine spirit.

I visited the Padma Seshadri School in KK Nagar on August 20 to have a look at the exhibition of coins. The Jubilee Hall was not packed to capacity as it normally is. That was because of the H1N1 virus scare. But the participants were keen. The school was the hub or nodal school for the area. K. Anjana and K. Arjun from Jawahar Vidylaya bagged the first two spots in the essay-writing contest; Sai Vinai of Pon Vidyashram and Vasudha Misra of PSBB, KK Nagar shared the third prize. R. Sudarsan and M. A. Vaidyanathan of Jawahar Vidyalaya won the first two prizes, respectively, in the coin exhibition; the third prize went to Varsha Hari of PSBB, KK Nagar. The students were all from Classes 7 and 8.

It was good to see Y. G. Rajendraa, management representative, PSBB Group of Schools, dropping by to motivate the children. It was also heartening to see the school attendant, Venkatesh, present with his display of old coins. He was an avid coin collector even as a youngster, he said.

Later, addressing students, Hemachandra Rao, former president of the Madras Coin Society, gave them a challenging task. He asked the students to try and collect all one rupee coins produced each year in India since 1947.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A kolam workshop gets children engrossed

Vanilla Children Place is one of the few centres in the city that has organised a weeklong programme for Madras Week. Yifat, who runs the place, has always been very enthusiastic in putting up something during the celebrations. Even though she was not in town when plans were on to enlist support, Deepa came forward to take up the responsibility of organising events. And she managed to put together quite a list – from talks on wildlife and education in the city to drawing and kolam sessions, to traditional games and storytelling.

I dropped by to have a look at the kolam workshop conducted by Sindhu Suresh. A few words about Sindhu… when I first called her, she was holidaying in Thiruvananthapuram. It was probably a wrong time to call and talk about Madras Day and Madras Week. But, sporting as ever, she readily agreed to take time off (she works in the IT industry and, as I found out later, doesn’t really fancy being called during work hours) and said she’d get in once she returned. And the first message I received from her after she got back was, “When are we meeting today?” And wasn’t I pleasantly surprised! We met at Vanilla that afternoon – despite her first day in office after a long break – and that was how the kolam workshop took shape.

Born in Thiruvananthapuram, Sindhu grew up in Pollachi before completing her studies in Coimbatore and eventually coming to Madras in the 1980s. It was in Pollachi that she picked up the art of making kolams, from her neighbours. She had a notebook, she says, and on that she would jot down an interesting kolam pattern or two she had seen somewhere. Well, Sindhu paints as well, on canvas and on glass, decorative and Madhubani paintings mainly.

The kolam workshop saw the children all excited and almost impatient to lay their hands on the powder. They were completely engrossed in shaping patterns on hard boards, vying with one another to see who did better. The competitive spirit always works well and the result: marvellously drawn, coloured kolam patterns that the children in the end took back home. There were excited mothers, too, and some of them were seen handling the powder and glue themselves. Yifat was keen to know about how such intricate patterns are drawn so easily by women and children in Tamil Nadu. She was shown a chart displaying a certain formula to the patterns. Overall, an interesting two hours for young and old alike.

Madras and the Paleolithic connection

In 1999, the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation published ‘Madras to Chennai’ for a project on ‘Clean Chennai – Green Chennai’, supported by the environmental orientation to school education scheme of the ministry of human resource development. About 350 schools were covered and the book was distributed free to them.

According to Nanditha Krishna, director of the Foundation, in 2008, when Dr K.V. Raman’s book ‘The early history of the Madras region’ was re-published (during Madras Week), she realised that the city’s history went back to ancient times – the Paleolithic era – and that it played a major role during the Pallava period. She says that the first Paleolithic relic in India was found in Pallavaram, and Nandivarman III, the Pallava king, was even known as ‘Mylai Kaavalam’ or ‘Protector of Mylapore’.

“We realised that the children were unaware of their history and the environment and there was no simple material that could be used to teach them. That was when I felt that it was imperative to write a simple book which would be readable by the young and the old, and that is how the book (‘Madras-Chennai, its history and environment’) came into being,” Nanditha says. The royalties earned from the sale of the book will go to fund the Foundation’s education charities. The Foundation runs two schools in Chennai, but Nanditha is looking at getting the book introduced in many other schools as well.

‘Madras-Chennai, its history and environment’, written by Nanditha herself, was formally released on August 19 by Dr M.S. Swaminathan, chairman of the C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC). Dr Raman, who was present, talked about Roman writers referring to Madras, about Thiruvalluvar residing in the city, inscriptions of Dantivarman in the Triplicane temple, several temple inscriptions classified as belonging to the Pallava and Chola period being found in temples in Velachery and Adambakkam, and the existence of committees to control agricultural operations 1,000 years ago.

Some wonderful images of the Madras Presidency

Nanditha Krishna and the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation that she runs has always been a part of Madras Week celebrations. Nanditha herself has marked Madras Day on her calendar and makes it a point to do something each year. This year, on August 19, we saw the inauguration of an exhibition titled, Madras – from the city to the Presidency: etchings, engravings and aquatints’, from the collection of V. Narayan Swami.

Last year, during Madras Week, there was a Narayan Swami exhibition, but that was concerned exclusively with prints and drawings relating to Madras city. This year, there were a number of engravings relating to the old Madras Presidency, comprising the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The display includes a panoramic view from the lighthouse in 1829, a few visuals of Georgian buildings inside 18th century Fort St George, a hunt map of Madras, the city’s architecture as well as its people. There are about 100 engravings and maps included in this year’s display (there were only 40 last year), and more than 80 relate to the Madras Presidency.

Nanditha says she wishes to convey two points – that although the coming of the British in the Madras region and in the Carnatic was responsible for the rise of the Madras Presidency, the Presidency itself (comprising of various states) contributed to a unique geographical entity; also, that the Presidency grew gradually, through hard-fought campaigns, negotiations, double-dealing and intrigue, and was not an overnight entity. And it was not until the early 1800s that the outlines of the erstwhile Presidency were drawn.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Docu on Gandhi in TN

Posting a mail from RMRL ----

You are invited for a documentary show on Gandhi to be screened on 22nd August 2009 at 5 p.m. at Roja Muthiah Research Library. This is being organized as part of the ongoing exhibition at the Library on "Gandhi in Tamilnadu".
Venue: Roja Muthiah Research Library, 3rd Cross Road, Central Polytechnic Campus, Taramani, Chennai 600 113. Telephone: 2254 2551 / 2254 2552

North Madras stories that didn't flow . . .

It was my first visit to the Madras Terrace House for the Madras Week.
The House has already become a destination for the young - talks, small acts, exhibitions, concerts. . . . lots happens here.
Kaveri Lalchand, the promoter has strained a lot to also make this a lively place for Madras Day events - a packed week on its calendar.

But Pritham's show on Thursday night was not what this actor is capable of. Wonder if the letdown had to do with a toothache and painkillers.

'Dustily Yours; Stories of North Madras' was Pritham's theme and I expected much from this veteran solo performer. But it didn't come off.

Pritham went in circles on the lives of the bura sahib and the memsahibs and their retinue of maids and men. Yes, she kept coming back to how water has always been an issue since the times the Fort was built. . . but the stories we were looking for just did not flow. . .

And North Madras is a huge bank of stories of all kinds.
Of smart merchants and smarter dubashes, of Capuchin padres and Anglo-Indians, of ruthless killers and hardened fishermen, of colourful entrepreneurs and spirited nuns.

Of landmark cinema halls and Veena Dhanammal and her famed kutcheris, of Burma Bazaar rogues and Telegraph Office damsels.

Or did Pritham have something else on her mind for this show?

Whatever, Stories of North Madras is a fascinating theme.

Of Nellore cows, Hindu girls, Palanquin bearers, Boom Madu - the city during 1862-76

The Government College of Arts & Crafts just across the St. Andrew’s Kirk on Poonamallee High Road has a wonderful campus. Strange as it may seem, not many today really seem to know of its existence. Quite a few people asked me where exactly it was located. Sad, however, is the fact that such a wonderful campus has not been maintained well. I was there on Wednesday afternoon to listen to Pradeep Chakravarthy talk about the Madras of 1862-1876, based on photographs taken by students of the college in those days. Dr. Alexander Hunter founded the college in 1850 as a private institution, the Madras School of Arts. The well-known architect Robert Chisholm headed it in the late 1860s.

The other sad thing was that there were not enough students in the room where the presentation was made. Many were seen sitting outside, lazing and chatting; only a few bothered to attend. Pradeep’s presentation in lucid Tamil was excellent. There were several landmarks that were photographed then and Pradeep quizzed the students about some of these places.

I had never seen the Madras Central station without a clock tower, but he showed us a picture of one. There were pictures of the Government Telegraph Office built in Georgian style, in Erabalu Chetty Street; St Thomas Mount, a holiday destination in those days for the Britishers, Armenians and Portuguese; the Wooder School in Saidapet, a Western style school (1715); the statue of Thomas Munroe on a horse (installed in 1839), with no saddle or stirrup; the statue of James Neal near where the Connemara Hotel stands today; a village temple or the Achhan Koil on Spur Tank Road; a view of the Medical College, Government General hospital and the Cooum River from the Wallajah or Island Bridge (1715). Pradeep had something to say about each and that kept the audience engrossed..

Other fascinating pictures included ‘Missionaries in a cart’, ‘Commisserate bullocks’ (what commiserate means is not clear), ‘Saidapet farm’, ‘Nellore cows’, ‘Hindu girls’ on balloon-back chairs, ‘Indian bride’, ‘Vegetable woman’, ‘Palanquin bearers’, ‘Native merchants’, jewelers of Madras; silk weavers of Mylapore, ‘Boom Madu’ (decorated bull); and ‘Native servants’.

It is a presentation Pradeep must make more often at other fora.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Madras's history: through coins, stamps

At the Russian Centre of Science and Culture, there was also an inauguration of an exhibition on Russian stamps and coins of the Madras Presidency. Doing the honours was Hemachandra Rao, former president of the Madras Coin Society.

It was R Vaidyanadhan's collection on display that I was drawn to. Vaidyanadhan has just taken over as president of the Madras Coin Society; he is assistant editor in the sports section of The Hindu. He also edits Indian Coin News, an eight-page monthly produced by the Madras Coin Society. In its August issue, there is interesting material on the Madras-Vijayanagara connection, and most of the pictures of the coins displayed related to the Vijayanagara period.

Briefly, the history of Madras’s coinage is more than 2,500 years old. Other than the ancient coins of the Pallava, Pandya, Chera and Chola empires, the Vijayanagara influence was prominent on south Indian coins. In 1361, Kumara Kampana II, son of Vijayanagara emperor Bukka Raya I, established the Vijayanagara rule in Tondaimandalam. The Vijayanagara rulers installed viceroys to rule various parts of the empire. In 1535, for instance, Achyuta Deva Raya, the brother and successor of Krishna Deva Raya, granted Devappa Nayak, the governor of Thanjavur, permission to establish a feudatory kingdom. King Viswanatha Nayak, the viceroy to Madurai, was the founder of the Nayak dynasty there.

Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, an influential chieftain under the Vijayanagara king, Peda Venkata Rayalu, based in Chandragiri, was in charge of the area where Madras took root. He granted a piece of land lying between the river Cooum, almost at the point it enters the sea, and another river known as the Egmore river, to the English in 1639. The grant empowered the English to administer justice and to acquire additional land and produce coinage. It was in honour of Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu, father of Venkatadri, that the settlement around Fort St George was named Chennapattanam.

Most of the Vijayanagara coins issued for circulation in south India were made of gold or copper. The coins show Shiva and Parvati, Lakshmi and Naryana, Venkateswara, Sita and rama, Balakrishna and Narasimha.

Will the gates of Madras Port open?

Hopefully they will!

I had mentioned in my weekly column (www.vincentsjottings.blogspot.com) the rather discouraging response of some government departments when it came to sharing info, pictures and access to celebrate the city.

We were keen to organise a walk inside Madras Port, a city landmark and have been at it for almost a year. . .

Now, a well wisher has got back to say that he will even talk to Union Minister of Shipping, G K Vasan, who is also a Chennai resident, to help us organise a walking tour.

The Indian Navy conducts a walking tour of the Mumbai Port once a month. Madras should follow that example.

One more heritage walk - in Mylapore

'Namma Mylapore' is hosting a Heritage Walk in connection with 'Madras Day'.

The walk will be conducted on Sunday Aug 23, from 7.00 am to 8.30 am starting from Nageswara Rao Park to Kapaleeswarar Koil and will cover the important heritage spots on the way.

Interested persons may contact Suriyanarayan at 98415 97750 or Geetha Iyengar at 9382315999 to register.

The walk is free.

Pictures bring two cities together

It was quite an interesting photo exhibition put up by the Russian Centre of Science and Culture, the Indo-Russian Women’s Association (IRWA) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) at the Russian Cultural Centre on Kasturi Ranga Road. This year (2009) is the Year of India in Russia and the exhibition had the theme, Madras-Volvograd: Twin Cities’.

There were some wonderful pictures of the Madras of old on display and immediately after the exhibition was inaugurated visitors and photographers trooped in and crowded around the display to have a closer look. There were pictures of Volvograd, too, all in colour, but they somehow did not seem to attract as much attention. The black-and-white pictures of Madras were what everybody was keen to see.

Later, S.V. Soloviev, deputy consul-general, Consulate General of the Russian Federation in South India, spoke broadly about the friendly nature of Indo-Russian ties over the years. But it was Janaki Krishnan, president, IRWA, who put things in perspective as she went back in time to trace the city’s history. According to her, Madras’s history goes back to its temples, with the Thiruvottiyur Temple being the oldest. There were even animal sacrifices conducted there once upon a time, she said, adding that the British had stopped the practice. She mentioned the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore, the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane and the Marundeeswarar Temple in Thiruvanmiyur; Luke’s paintings of Christ at St Thomas Mount; the Armenian Church and the Marmalong Bridge; and recollected memories of the time she had spent at the bandstand near the Clive Battery and the presence of the British army there. Krishnan also provided an image of what Edward Elliot’s Road once looked like (in the 1930s), mentioning that jackals would be heard howling at night and that there were hardly any buildings in sight, with trees all around and the beach visible from afar. On Mount Road, there would be hardly four or five cars passing in an hour, and she would sometimes do the counting.

It was thanks to the British that Madras was born, Krishnan said, and compared its beginnings to Petersburg in Russia, which was founded by Peter the Great 1. She also mentioned Russian scholars who came to south India to learn Tamil, work and research.

Good work, Sankara Vidyalaya

Just outside the exhibition hall at the Alliance Francaise, I spotted a display of drawings and paintings, as well as writings, of students from Sanakara Vidyalaya, Thiruvanmiyur. There was quite a bit about Madras's history packed into all those pictures and words and it was evident that the children who did all that had put their hearts and souls into it. Keep up the good work, children!

Some fascinating pictures, at Alliance Francaise

I visited the Alliance Francaise today to have a look at the exhibition of pictures titled ‘Images of Chennai’. Two young photographers, Karthick Ramalingam and Siva Chithirai, had taken the pictures displayed. These are pictures that you immediately relate to – temples, churches, market places, trains moving, sunrise… All of them relate to contemporary Chennai and immediately strike a chord.

There have been visitors to the exhibition at regular intervals, Rudran, the person at the office, tells me. There are booklets on the history of the city as well.

Some of the pictures displayed include the Egmore railway station, a racer,sellers at a bazaar, a portrait of a Therakoothu artiste, runners at the Chennai marathon, the interiors of an MRTS station, a view of the Central Jail, the gopuram of Kapaleeswarar Koil in Mylapore, the Luz Church, and an ancient temple in Madampakkam.

But the pictures I loved were images of mornings in Sembakkam and near the Beach Station.

Please visit and take a look. The exhibition is open till Thursday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A tribute to Chennai's spirit, by Oxygen

On Saturday, August 22, at the Hotel Green Park, Vadapalani, there will be several programmes running through the afternoon. But one programme, likely to be the shortest, will be the most special.

Oxygen, the well-known music group inn the city, will play the Chennai Anthem, a composition evoking the passion of Chennaites and also focusing on some areas of the city and the achievements of its people.

The programme is special because a youngster who was passionate about the city and its people composed the original music for the song. V. Vikram is no more, a road accident claimed his life. But his contribution will be remembered and we hope that his dreams of a better and greener Chennai will be realised some day soon.

The lyrics of the song (by Anandan, in Tamil) mentions the Fort St. George, thus far the headquarters of the government of Tami Nadu, the slum dwellers who provide much of the city’s labour force, the Marina Beach, one of the longest beaches in the world, the quieter Covelong Beach, and the Cooum and Adayar Rivers. The song urges Chennaites to keep keep nature’s gifts as pristine pure as they were meant to be. There is also mention of the city being the ‘Detroit of South Asia’, about software development parks and business process outsourcing (BPO) units. The anthem concludes with praises of the cosmopolitan character of the city.

Playing to Vikram’s music will be Girinandh (keyboard), Karthick Iyer (violin), Harish, Prithvi (drums), Ramana (mridangam and percussion) and Anirudh (kanjeera). The singers are Vijay Narain, Subu, Harish and Shakti Sri.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going live on NDTV-Hindu

I was listening to Randor Guy recount his version of some scandals that hit Madras in the 40s and 50s at Sunday's talk hosted by Chennai Heritage when the call came.
NDTV-Hindu, the metro TV channel wanted me over at its studio in Perungudi.

The thought of moving from Mount Road to the southern fringe on a Sunday made me go ' should i say yes?'
I did. After all, as catalysts of the Madras Day events, it is our job to enthuse everyone.

And since I hadn't seen Jennifer Arul, COO of the channel for some time and had never been to the new NDTV facility, here was an opportunity.

Jenny's mom had also dropped by - she too hadn't seen the new studios but before she did that she travelled back in time, to the late 1940s when she and her friends walked to the edge of the Port after dinner at their Royapuram home, sat on the low boundary wall and took in the air.

She would have had a hundred stories to share but Jenny and her co anchor Saptarishi wanted me before the cameras on Sunday night show . . .

Jenny says she has asked her team to produce at least one story on Madras Week through this week. A nice idea.

And it is wonderful to find that many other TV and print channels are covering the Week closely.
If you blog on any or all of the events you have been checking out, send me the links please . . .

Keeping our date at the Fort

Dr. Suresh and I have tried hard to keep to this date.
Start Madras Week with a walk of Fort St George.

This time it was tough on Suresh - he has just got back from a testing archaeological study of the Guruvayur temple and on Sunday, he had to perform the rituals in memory of his mom who I recall set the most innovative kolus for Navaratri.

There were over 80 people for the walk on Sunday. And 75% of them were under 45.
Evidence of the I-Day celebration here was still around - pandals, chairs, barricades and stuff. We ignored all that and got into the assignment.

Suresh always carries four vintage coins that were used in this region, to amuse and fascinate the walkers. He didn't fail this time. Nor did the organist at St. Mary's as he warmed up for another Sunday service. The ASI staff were kind - they opened the doors to the exhibition on 'Early Madras' and when we finally got to the last point - Fort Museum, it was 10 a.m.

We enjoy doing the Fort. And all those who come along seem to enjoy it too.

When we do it for 2010, the Secretariat and Assembly may have moved to the new address in Givernment Estates

P. S. - We will be posting pictures of any events soon. . .

Kilpauk Walk

A new walk is added to the Madras Day calendar this year.
When Deepa Sekar got excited about the idea of having a walk around Kilpauk, her friends from the neighbourhood seconded the idea and joined her.
She contacted many residents of the area, the schools which have a grand history behind them, the institutions that are existing for more than a century and drew up the schedule.
Close to 30 people assembled at the start point- Votive Shrine on Halls Road, on the day of the walk - Aug. 16. Some were from Kilpuak and some had associations with the area when they studies at Pachiapppas and their work with Kilpauk Water Works.
A few schools kids were among the walkers as the group visited their schools too on the way. Writer, novelist Timeri N. Murari was also part of the walkers.
Though a long, they group touched a variety of places like church, temple, the schools which were studios earlier, Kalki Garden's - once the residence of M. S. Subbulakshmi and Sadasivam ...
On the way, the group exchanged stories of their connections with Kilpauk.
At the end of the walk, the group realised that every area has a fantastic history, culture and heritage that need to be revisited through such walks.
The group has a blog now putting up the details they gathered while organising for the walk. They continue to get feedback and reminiscence about the area and plan to keep the blog growing.
Photos on the Madras day website.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Irrepressible Guy, but not quite vintage Randor

When plans were being made two months ago to connect speakers and events for Madras Week, one of us suddenly remembered a name that was not on the speakers’ list. A star speaker whom everybody gathered there seemed to have forgotten. And how on earth would Madras Week be complete without one of Chennai’s best ever storytellers, who could talk endlessly about people, places and events and keep you engrossed for hours on end, who could effortlessly weave humour and keep giving you clues about the person he was talking about, whose name he was loathe to divulge? “No Randor, no Madras Week,” we chorused and almost immediately Sriram was on the phone with Randor, almost directing him to talk on ‘scandals of Madras’. With Prathima Vasan, manager-communications, Park Sheraton, present, it did not take us long for us to decide that we could have Randor Guy speak at Dublin, the hotel’s discotheque. It is to Prathima’s credit that the Sheraton agreed to host the talk and, as it turned out today, Randor is still a star.

The talk was scheduled to start at 4pm, but the seats at the Dublin were full by 3.45pm. And then there was hardly any space to add sufficient number of chairs. A few of us sat on the stairs, others rested on side railings and yet others remained standing throughout the one-hour show. Sushila Ravindranath, former resident editor of the New Indian Express, whispered into my ears, “It was you who wanted Randor, and now see what you have done.” Randor hadn’t even arrived by then; someone else whispered that his pick-up car was delayed and the man was fretting and fuming. Eventually, Randor sauntered in, with his wife Dolores in tow. He seemed to be calm and headed straight to the area below where coffee was being served.

I will not go into the details of the scandals he spoke about. He got off to a great start all right but it wasn’t vintage Randor though this afternoon. There was humour but not enough of it. His razor-sharp wit was missing. The crowd did roar with laughter but not as frequently as you would expect with Randor around. But overall, an afternoon well spent by all those present. Sushila, who sat next to me on the stairway (even she couldn’t find a proper chair), finally acknowledged that the effort was worth it after all. Yes, it could have been better, but perhaps the next time. The second day of Madras Week continued to report packed houses.

'Besh Besh Besh' gets rolling

New entrant to Madras Week celebrations this year, Prakrit Arts Gallery, set the ball rolling with S. Muthiah, Chennai historian inaugurating 'Besh, Besh Besh', an excellent mix of pictures and paintings by the city's artists such as Rama Suresh, Manisha Raju, Raju Durshettiwar, Nelson, Tyagarajan, Usha Devi, N. Ramachandran and Vinay. The exhibition is the initiative of Meena Dadha who runs Prakrit Arts.

Talking to the artists and to those who had gathered, Muthiah said that the reason for conducitng Madras Week was not only for celebrating a city's birthday but also to create an awareness about Madras's heritage, that as the first city of modern India it had contributed immensely in varied fields.

Trees, and the evolution of man

There couldn’t have been a better start to Madras Week. Sri Parvati Gallery on Eldams Road was packed and more chairs had to be brought in to accommodate visitors. A few had to stand. On display were some fantastic pictures of trees of Madras that is Chennai, pictures taken by Rod Hudson with help from his friend K Srinivasan, one of the founding members of the Madras Naturalist’s Society.

A Londoner who has worked as a teacher and journalist, Rod took up photography 30 years ago. He has been concentrating full-time on his passion for creating images in south India, where has now been living for the past seven years. Rod has had several exhibitions of photographs in Madras. The past year, he has been creating images for his forthcoming book, provisionally titled ‘Trees of Madras’ and it is some of those images that are displayed at the gallery (open to the public till April 23).

However, the morning belonged to well-known botanist Professor Dayanandan, whose brilliant presentation provided a broad sweep, from Darwin and Lincoln to Charles Lyell, Alfred Wallace and Joseph Dalton Hooker, all scientists of repute whose research on flora and fauna have made an everlasting impact on humanity. Profesor Dayanandan dwelt how Darwin drew the first evolutionary tree in scientific history, about the latter’s Beagle journey and the existence of trading ports 2,000 years ago. He said that plant life was so vast, there were so many species that even those like himself who had spent a lifetime researching on flora on the western ghats, and in the south of India and the northeast, had traversed only a small part of that universe. According to him, 600 million species of animal life have been lost over thousands of years.

Pointing to the difference in cultures between countries, Professor Dayanandan provided the Darwin example. Darwin’s book, ‘The Origin of Species’ sold out in London the day it was released, he said. That sort thing might never happen in India, he added, because “our cultural ethos has not developed to that extent”.

500 human genes are shared with all living beings, Professor Dayanandan pointed out, adding that the onus is on us to consider trees as our relative and care for them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A former student of Vijayanta School in Avadi shows the way

More than 20 years ago, when I was in the insurance industry, I had, as part of my work, taught students for a couple of years at the Vijayanta Senior Secondary School, which is part of the Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi. Many of them work in private and public insurance companies today and are doing well. After my stint there, I had no touch with the students really although I remembered most of them.

I was, therefore, delighted to receive an email the other week from a student who I hadn’t taught since he was part of the fourth batch of the vocational course. But after I mentioned about my stint in Vijayanta he gave me the names of several I had taught and was keen to get the school alumni to participate in Madras Week celebrations.

P Jayakumar, president of the Vijayanta Senior Secondary School alumni and about a 100 other students have organised a cycle rally, from Avadi to the Marina beach on August 22. En route, they will be spreading the message of creating a green Chennai and raising awareness about global warming.

This is the kind of initiative that the coordinators or catalysts of Madras Week look forward to. Many of us can be a Jayakumar and show others the way.

Those in Avadi or others wanting to know the time and route can contact Jayakumar at 93802 41029.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Malayalee Club joins in... and how!

The Malayalee Club in Chennai is 110 years old. It has a great history and we will go into that some other time, but for the present I must mention the leadership qualities and enthusiasm displayed by its president M Nanda Govind in participating in Madras Week celebrations. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I had broached the subject of the Malayalee Club being a part of the heritage celebrations in the city. Nandu, as he is better known, wished to know more about it and once I explained he was keen to get started.

Today afternoon, I received a letter from him, addressed to the Club’s members. And may be I should quote some sentences in it to bring out the flavour:

“…Very few modern cities can boast of this type of antiquity (of being 370 years old)… many have contributed to making Chennai what it is – a cosmopolitan, tranquil cradle of tradition and culture, blending seamlessly with an unobtrusive modernity. From the days when it was the capital of the composite state of Madras, including large parts of present-day Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, to its current position as the gateway to south India, the growth of Chennai has been influenced and nurtured by people of various linguistic denominations. And not the least among these have been the Malayalees…”

So, what has Nandu managed to organise in such a short span? Well, he and his team have decided to honour some of the Malayalees who have enriched the heritage of Chennai with their invaluable contributions – stalwarts from varied fields such as politics, literature, cinema, music, education, medicine, business, civil service, social service and theatre.

On Madras Day, Saturday, August 22, at 6pm at the Malayalee Club auditorium in Chetpet, the Club will honour the following:

MG Ramachandran, represented by his nephew MGC Prabhakaran
Kozhippurath Madhava Menon, represented by his daughter Meenakshi Menon

Civil service
PC Mathew
TV Antony
Hari Bhaskar

AK Gopalan
TP Imbichammed

P Govinda Menon, represented by his son
M Sankaranarayanan
MK Nambiar

Medical science
Sarada Menon

M Ramachanra Varier

Chelanat Achuta Menon, represented by his grandson KP Sunil
Prabhakara Warrier

V Dakshinamoorthy
MS Viswanathan
KJ Yesudas

MO Joseph
KS Sethumadhavan
Navodaya Appachan
TR Omana

Social service
TG Menon
V Ravunni Menon

KM Mammen Mappila, represented by his son Vinu Mammen

KCS Panicker, represented by his son Nandagopal


VP Sidhan

There are bound to be trips down memory lane and it is a programme not to be missed by Malayalees in Chennai.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chennai Food Trail anybody?


Nobody has thought of hosting a Chennai Food Walk.
Street Food Walk would be easy to handle.

T. Nagar to Marina to Zam Bazaar to Sowcarpet and Mint. This is one route I'd suggest.

You could also think of 5 vintage food joints of the city to explore. Buharis on Mount Road, Ratna Cafe in Triplicane and a Gujarati Mess in Broadway is on top of my list. Would you like to add on and coax a foodie and diehard citizen to lead the tour?

Roll on, it is still not late foodies.

Network! If you still have not planned an Event. . .

If you still have not planned an event for Madras Day 2009 . . . if you are in the middle of a plan . . well, I'd suggest you network with people and groups which already have and get going!

The Exnora umbrella is Anna Nagar is strong and active organisation. It is keen to host its own programme. . I have suggested to that community that it could perhaps take part in the Kilpauk Heritage Walk that is firmed up now.

Writer-journo Charukesi speed-read the book ' Chennaikku Vandein' , published by Kalachuvadu last year ( essays written by famed writers and literrateurs) and coaxed the Kalanilayam Troupe ( theatre) to present a dramatised reading of at least four essays.

We requested Hamsadhwani sabha in Adyar to host the event and thats fixed. Thanks Charukesi. Some one in Mylapore also wants to invite the troupe. Networking works . .

You may go through the Calendar of Events - choose events you may want to have in your region and make the contact!
If you still need help, email - madrasday@yahoo.com

Monday, August 10, 2009

An anthem for Chennai

Every year, it is during the days leading to Madras Week and during the week itself that you bump into people you have never known before but with whom you instantly strike a chord.

One such person is Malini Visweswaran. I haven’t met her as yet but we have been talking on the phone the past couple of weeks and she strikes me as somebody who can play a useful part in the days ahead in efforts to preserve the city’s heritage.

Malini first called to speak about her son who had composed music, at least most of it, for a song about the city; it was a song he had composed as a sort of Chennai anthem during an earlier programme. She found Madras Week the ideal platform to highlight the efforts of her son and to complete what he had left unfinished.

Malini has spoken to members of the music band, Oxygen, who were known to her son. The group will now complete the composition and present it at Hotel Green Park on Madras Day (August 22) at 6.45pm. And as Oxygen plays, pictures of parts of Chennai mentioned in the lyrics will unfold on a screen in the hall. The performance may not last more than 15 minutes, but it will bring to public view for the first time a certain facet of the city from the eyes of a youngster and also bring to fruition a small part of his dream.

Malini has also volunteered to help out during Madras Week. Thank you, Malini, for your wonderful gesture.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Special Postal Cover! Grab it . . .

D H Rao has done it again. For Madras.

This passionate philatelist will be bringing out yet another special Postal Cover dedicated to Madras that is Chennai in connection with Madras Day 2009.
The theme - Old Bridges of Our City.

Rao spent close to a year going around to photograph these bridges -"they look stunning when you look at them from the other side", he says. The best will be on the postal cover.

The cover will be released on Aug 22, 10 a m at P S School auditorium in Mylapore
They will be on sale Aug 22 to 24, 10.30 am to 7 p m at the campus where a show will take place.

This is a cover you must have. Buy it.

P. S. : If you are a retired person living in the Mylapore region and can spare 2/3 hrs to be at Rao's show, please volunteer. Rao's cell no is - 98408 70172.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

T shirt contest gets good response

The T-shirt design contest closed on the weekend. And we have had a good response.
52 entries - some creative, some average, some provocative, at first glance.
The entries are on their way to the judge - a young clothes designer - and we should announce the result next weekend.
The winner will in keeping with our tradition, get the opportunity to work on a series of designs that could be considered for the 2010 Tee!
So what does the 2009 Tee look like? Ah! We should know in a few days time!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Besh, besh, Meena...

I have known Meena Dadha for a while now. She is the founder of Mukti, an NGO which provides artificial limbs to amputees and polio victims, as well as hope to thousands of the less fortunate. The M. S. Dadha Foundation runs Mukti. Meena loves the arts and she also runs the Prakrit Arts Gallery in Kotturpuram. The gallery is seven years old. Mukti also promotes some excellent work by the physically challenged.

I met Meena a few weeks ago, eager to get her to participate in the Madras Week celebrations. Meena as usual wanted to play the good host and show me around, but a sudden power failure cut short all her plans. She was happy to be a part of Madras Week though and immediately noted all the details. The only condition she had was that Mr Muthiah (city historian) inaugurate the exhibition.

So, what we now have is a weeklong celebration at Prakrit Arts, starting August 15. Titled ‘Besh, Besh, Besh’ (the Bengali equivalent of ‘excellent’), the exhibits will provide a candid view of life in Chennai. The artists are all city-based – Asma Menon, Manohar Raja, Nelson, Rama Suresh, Elanchezian, Jkalaiselvan, Thyagarajan, ma Devi and Vinay.

Prakrit Arts is situated in a quiet avenue in Kotturpuram and you might like the ambience. So, do make a note of the dates in your diary.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Poochi Venkat and his rail trail

Poochi Venkat is a man of many parts.

One part of him chases Indian trains.

He is part of a nationwide group of railway enthusiasts. You can get to know more about their work at http://www.irfca.org/

Venkat is planning a railway stations heritage tour for Madras Day 2009. Egmore, Central and Royapuram. We did this tour late last year and people have been keen to get their friends on it.

So if you love the trains and our stations, look out for info on this tour at the Madras Day web site - Venkat is the sort who wants to have a formal letter in his hand before he explores stations lest some pesky officer haul him and his guests to the cold room!

Groups in North Madras, please contact!

We are looking for hosts in places like Perambur and Royapuram and Kodungaiyur.

We want them because there are a few artistes and speakers who are ready to present an act or deliver a talk on Madras.

All you need to do is to perhaps pick up and drop the artistes / speakers and provide a nice space where the event can be held.

If you feel motivated, call 98410 49155. Now!

Reminisces of a Queen Marian

There's a huge swell of participation forming for Madras Week this year. The buzz is already on. Prema Kasturi, one of the coordinators, called me the other day to say how she was being flooded with calls from schools and colleges wanting to participate. I had put her on to Jailaxmi Ramamoorthy, principal, Vaels Vidyashram in Pallavaram, who was keen to have her school roped in. And now I understand that the school will also be conducting a city history project in September-October.

Prema tells me that two of the colleges participating this year include Queen Mary's and the Madras Christian College. Her mention of Queen Mary's led me to find Anna Varki's reminisces of the institution. This is also a tribute to people like Anna who are all for heritage conservation and value things of the past. Over to Anna:

A couple of weeks ago, there was an account of what was going to happen to dear old Capper House where Queen Mary’s College was born – the first women’s college in the erstwhile Madras Presidency (closely followed by Women’s Christian College). QMC produced the first women graduates. QMC is my Alma mater. I am narrating the sight I saw when I took my son, my daughter in law and grandchildren to show them the prestigious institution I had studied in once upon a time…

We entered the portals and I was appalled at the condition of the buildings. Capper House was not a surprise as you (Mr S Muthiah, city historian, possibly) had warned me it was going to be demolished. The rest of the blocks – Pentland, Jeypore Stone, plus the central block housing the principal’s domain, was unkempt and wild - no broom has moved over it for some time. It was an appalling sight – the condition of the building was such that it hadn’t seen paint for years and it was covered with patches of moss. The front garden was covered with shrubs and very unkempt. To my grandchildren and to all of us, it looked like a haunted building. My architect son’s comment was: “This is what they do when they want to demolish a building …ruin it so that the verdict is that it has to be pulled down.”

I didn’t explore the rest of the premises… and as for the swimming pool (imagine a college in very early 1900s with a swimming pool!) I had been warned it was a garbage dump. Sadly, we left to look at Presidency College, where I studied, my husband studied, and which produced stalwarts like Sir C. V. Raman and Chandrasekher, many outstanding doctors, parliamentarians and politicians. We drove in, before being stopped at the gate to look around. The dear old Fyson clock had patches of moss. The red-brick outer structure was dull. Each window and door was painted in different colours - some white, some blue, some green. These were really grotesque: window shades - most of them dilapidated.

My children were taking photographs - the window shades were broken. Two watchmen came running - they were out drinking tea. “Sir..Sir, are you from the media - please don’t report us!” I told him I had once upon a time studied here. His reply was, “Andha kalam elam poche (All those days are gone).” I asked him why the place was not painted.
Apparently tenders are called, but the money perhaps goes into somebody’s pocket.

We had a ditty: “Queen Marians never die, never die, they only fade away…”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

When beer cost 16 annas and Egmore railway station had sponge cake, lemonade

She’s 87 years old but, would you believe it, she is keen to proofread! Anna Varki belongs to another age, so too her reminisces. Her memories of the Egmore Railway Station (its centenary was celebrated recently) in the 1930s-40s when life was more easy paced and Chennai quite another city, are vivid. With the city’s birthday less than a month away, Anna’s descriptions of Madras with its old world charm make for delightful reading. So, here’s Anna, in her own words:

Apart from the Marina Beach and good old Moore Market, our one and only mall where you could get everything you wanted, there was the Egmore railway refreshment room. A place I have vivid memories of, where we could have a treat. It used to be a favourite haunt of my father and his journalist buddies, days when journalists had to rush to get news to papers by phone and telegrams They enjoyed their anecdotes and we could hear their raucous laughter. People like Raja of Pithapuram and the Raja of Kollengode all spent time in the Egmore Railway Station refreshment room waiting for their trains.

Those days, trains came and went. Those who spent time in railway refreshment rooms were not travellers but just those who wanted a place to eat or a place to meet. In Chennai those days, eating out was not encouraged, in fact not allowed A bottle of beer cost 8 annas (before the decimal system, we dealt with rupees, annas and paise; 16 annas made a rupee). One rupee was a precious amount, especially for journalists who were so poorly paid. My dad used to take us for a treat to the Egmore refreshment room. We looked forward to sponge cake and lemonade fare and spent time moving around watching cars drive into the platform, people alighting and entering – something so much in the past. We watched the trains coming to the platform, the guard blowing a whistle waving a green flag, and the train steaming out.

No idli dosai. English breakfast consisted of two fried eggs, bacon and coffee. Really Expensive. You could have a four-course English lunch soup, a fish dish, meat dish and a dessert. You couldn’t just eat with a fork. The strict British manners were followed with cutlery meant for specific purposes A great favourite, which now may be termed as Anglo Indian, was rice and curry, and the famous Mullagutawny soup, which is really a kind off pepper rasam with some other ingredients put. Even some chicken pieces could be added which you the termed Chicken Mullagtawny soup.

Train travel those days had four classes - first class, in which only the rich and the British travelled The first class was a four-berth compartment; it had an attached bathroom then. The second-class and inter-class depending on the degree of thickness of the cushions; the inter-class where the cushions were very thin. Last but not least, the third class with wooden seats, in which the majority of people travelled by. A third-class compartment would have forty to fifty seats, long wooden benches; it was the cheapest. Any travel meant a holdall, suitcase and a trunk Travelling light was years away. Not far from Egmore station, round the corner, was the Egmore ice factory, which has a history of its own. One rupee was all my mother sent for the day’s marketing, which included meat, fish, vegetables and everything a family needed, except for the rice masala etc.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spl City Tour for Schools

Here is a lead that heads of schools can pick up.
The state transport corpn. runs a Chennai city tour.
It has a special fee offer for Madras Week.

Want to grab it?
Call Ramesh Babu at 98417 22026.

The Corpn can also plan a tour to suit your timings and need.

Help! Learn about Royapettah's link with cinema

A lady who resides in Royapettah and is related to poet-lyricist Kannadasan is keen to highlight the fact that close to 2 dozen film personalities of yesteryear - Sivaji, Karunanidhi, RMV, etc etc lived in this area.

She wants to plan a walk. And she has stories to tell.
She needs Royapettah / Gopalapuram residents who can lend her a hand. Youth welcome!
Plan the route and the walk, organise it and end with a breakfast perhaps.

If you want to help, leave your contact in the Comments section please

WANTED: Stories of North Madras!

Pritham K Charavarthy is an independent storyteller/performer based in Chennai.

For the Chennai Week, she would like to do a series of North Chennai stories for about 45 minutes duration, which she hopes to keep adding on to in the future.

She is familiar with that area - she has been the research associate for both Prof John C. Harriss and Dr. Sarah Hodges and has also independently worked on a documentary with her husband, Venkatesh Chakravarthy called 'Chennai/ The Split City'.

If this production takes shape, she hopes to travel it in North Chennai itself, in Tamil. for she performs both in Tamil and English.

Pritham wants to hear from people in North Madras who can share stories / legends / experiences. You can contact her at - chakravarthy.prithamk@gmail.com.

Or contact Vincent anyday after 9 pm at 98410 49155 and pass on leads.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Asan Memorial School shows the way, Prakrit Arts in

A couple of months before Madras Day and Madras Week, a group of catalysts or coordinators get together to plan activities for the week. The past two or three years, Madras Day has grown to Madras Week and more, with events spilling over into a whole fortnight.

This year, we thought of having two press conferences – the first a month ahead to announce the celebrations and to invite people who are interested to participate, and the second announcing the complete list of programmes. The first press conference is over and the response to what appeared in the newspapers the following day and after has been quite encouraging. Many called though to explore the possibility of tie-ups with the commercial aspect in mind and they were all sweetly discouraged.

For all that, most people are still not aware of what Madras Day and Madras Week are all about. Those who have participated earlier tend not to mark the week in their calendar. Very few take the initiative to do things on their own. One such is Suma Padmanabhan, principal, Asan Memorial School. This time, even before the group of catalysts had met, she had called for a meeting with her staff and students to discuss the celebrations. The other thing is that unlike most school principals I know, Suma is available on a direct telephone line. You call the number and she picks up; if she is not in her seat, nobody picks up. And that’s the way it should be.

I have not received the Asan schedule for Madras Week yet, but Suma has said that the focus this year will be on Madras as a pioneer in education in India. Mr Muthiah, city historian, would simply love that. He keeps saying that at every forum – that Madras is the first city of modern India.

I was also able to convince my good friend Meena Dadha of the Mukti Foundation to be a part of the week’s celebrations. She readily agreed, and her Prakrit Arts in Kotturpuram will have eight Chennai-based artists present ‘Besh, Besh, Besh’, a candid view of life in the city, the simplicity of its people and its tree-lined streets. These are not really the well-known artists, but those whose works are waiting to be seen and appreciated - Rama Suresh, Manisha Raju, Raju Durshettiwar, Nelson, Taygrajan, Usha Devi, N. Ramchandran and Vinay. I managed a coup of sorts by getting Mr Muthiah to agree to inaugurate the exhibition on August 15. Meena’s show will be on for a week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chennai Marathon is on . . .


The annual Chennai Marathon will be held during Madras Week.

Organised by GiveLife, it is good to have yet another major city event under the umbrella.

Chennai's Radio Stations must go ga-ga

It was All India Radio who called early.
Yes, its FM station would be keen to plan programmes for Madras.
And we all thought these folks were dowdy people.

Chennai Live came alive too - talked of a tie-up.
Well, there are no deals w r t Madras Day.
Anybody is welcome to run their show - all we ask you - focus it on our city. Celebrate it.

So, all ye RJs of Mirchi and Suryan, Aha and Radio City, its time to go to the Ideas Room.

Lead - check out our web site every now and then - the events list will inspire you.

Wiki, Twitter and Madatter!

It doesn't matter - Wiki, Twitter, Youtube and Mad-atter are all welcome to be part of Madras Day celebrations.

A Wiki project is the pipeline. For more on it, check out the Events on the web . .

Should we tweet now or from August 1? Tell us what we should/can/must do to create the buzz.

Yes, we would welcome a bunch of Media/ Vis Comm students who can shoot 3 min videos of key Madras Day events and post them on the Tube. Voluntary work this will be.

If you can tweak the tech to run an event for Madras Day 2009, please do. And keep us mailed.

Kilpauk gets active.

Deepa Sekar was quick to act on a suggestion to take a walk around Kilpauk.
Now along with her friend Venkatesh, another long-time resident of Kilpauk, she has taken the idea to lead a heritage walk in Kilpauk.
And plans end it with talk by Randor Guy, who is an interesting storyteller of Madras and cinema.
The rough route plan is ready.
Newtone studio is now Bhvana's, SIGA is Citael, Bain's School, Ewarts, Wesley church, St. Geroge's Home and Orphanage, Kushaldas Gardens, ending Nowroji Road - Rajaji's home.
They are also in the process of talking to people at these places to put up a small gallery of pictures and information about the place so that the walkers can get to know more about the places.
Deepa and her friends have been hosting an event Pongala, in the open spaces of Damodaramurthy Road in Kilpauk for the past two years. This event involves the local residents, kids and parents in putting together contests and cultural shows around the Pongal time.

But this Kilpauk walk is new for them. Deepa is buzzing her contacts in Facebook and Twitter to get more information and for more participation in the event.

After Mylapore, Adyar,Mount Road, Fort St. George and north Madras walks, a new addon to Madras Week celebration is Kilpauk walk from this year.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Wanted: Docu Films on the City

We are looking for docu films on the city.
Of any kind, on any theme. But they should be linked to Chennai/Madras.

Never mind if they were made a year or two ago.
We would like to screen them on Aug 23 during the Madras Week celebrations.

If you'd like to present even a part of a bigger docu project you are welcome to make contact.
But the theme must be on Chennai.

A videographer has shot the first Gay Pride parade off the Marina. And he may submit a rough cut for the Fest. So spread the word. Or, work on a subject close to your heart and mind, take out your small cam and shoot. Now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Docus on Chennai; Alliance Francaise is a partner

This is one project we are working hard at - to get creative people to produce docu films on our city.

On June 27, five people join professional docu film maker Soudhamini to discuss their ideas and start shooting. One on the old Central Jail, another on the old world Bungalows of Gandhi Nagar, another on an old cemetery and cinema, one on a Urdu newspaper and one on the the Fort came to be. . . .

If you are keen to join the group make sure you have a great theme, a visually strong one of anything about this city, and email us - madrasday@yahoo.com

Alliance Francaise Chennai led by its director Ms Marie has extended support - it will screen the docus on Aug 23, 3 p.m. onwards.

In course of time, we hope to meet frequently and screen new docufilm on Chennai.
That actor KamalHassan is planning to produce 30 short films based on Chennai in 2010 is welcome.

Madras Quiz 2009, new hosts

The popular Madras Quiz will have a new host this year.
The Indian Quizzing League (http://iquiz.wordpress.com)

Four young quiz enthusiasts who run the IQL were keen and it was nice to let a city based group handle the event.

So mark the date - August 23 afternoon at the P. S. School Dakshinamurthy Auditorium ( no a/c but should be cool and breezy in August!).

Do remember that the prizes are not worth lakhs of rupees - after all this is a community event. But we hope to get some nice ones.

P. S. : We also conduct a Madras Quiz in Thamizh for city Thamizh medium schools. If you know of such schools who should take part, do share the info. We'd like to invite them.

Madras Day 2009 rolls

The core group which catalyses the Madras Day celebrations had a meeting recently.
To run through the core plans and think of newer avenues.

'Madras Musings' will host a series of talks across the city. The topics look very interesting.

There is also an attempt to have talks on the city in Thamizh. Now if you know of any speakers who could talk well on interesting subjects, please get across to us. Now!

A series of heritage walks will be held. There will also be a host of contests. And a few exhibitions too.

Now if you have an idea that is easy to translate into action, however small it is, start working on it.

We would like more events to be held across the city. Calling people from Anna Nagar and Kilpauk, Perambur and Royapettah and Egmore to root for out city.