Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
'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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
P Govinda Menon, represented by his son
M Ramachanra Varier
Chelanat Achuta Menon, represented by his grandson KP Sunil
V Ravunni Menon
KM Mammen Mappila, represented by his son Vinu Mammen
KCS Panicker, represented by his son Nandagopal
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
Monday, August 10, 2009
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
Thursday, August 06, 2009
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
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
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
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
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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
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.