Saturday, September 02, 2006

The finale; in many parts!

This may be a tad late. But a log on the blog is a must.

Murali works for the BSNL and he became a well wisher some weeks ago. We were planning ways in which we could get BSNL to be part of the Madras Day celebrations. Perhaps a special wish or a ringtone on August 22 to excite everybody who picked up the phone in this city.

We ran out of time but Murali soaked in some of the events and his Congrats! SMS rings on my cellphone way past midnight.
Wishes like these indicate one thing - that the people of this city have enjoyed the concept of Madras Day.

The last two days weren't easy as the energy levels slowly began to drop. It isn't easy for two of us to take almost 100 hundred people on a walk inside Fort St. George. This was an event for August 25, 8am.

The fort is often regarded as a high security area that we must all keep off from. Sad. Because this is such an interesting place. While colleague Dr. Suresh, a Adyar-based archaeologist, briefs the walkers (wow! we had about 46 staff members of L&T, one of the key supporters of this celebration, on this walk and all of them bought the 'Namma Chennai' T-shirt and were proud to wear it this morning) I need to sweet talk our police friends at the fort's security gate.

But they surprise me - yes, they have heard of the 'Madras Day' and the exhibition at Clive House, so allowing the group in isn't a problem but can we please keep off the Secretariat because the Chief Minister is due to drive in any moment!

Suresh and I enjoy doing the Fort walk, more so on a Sunday when we have the entire towne to ourselves. And so, the walk that Sunday (Aug.27) is a picnic!
It is a shame that this fort and its heritage buildings are left to decay and go to seed and collapse. The hinter areas of the fort stink and a slum is enlarging here.
This seems to be nobody's land . . . all those who come on the walks now get an idea of the uniqueness of this fort and the state it is in . .

The early morning breakfast at Murugan Idli Shop in Besant Nagar was a good idea - ahead of a long Sunday of events.
The 'Namma Mylapore' group, a NGO, which works on some, issues related to this heritage zone, take 32 children on a walk around the temple zone. This walk does wonders to the volunteers who haven't done this act before and for the children who enjoy pongal and iced rose milk at the end of it.

We are getting calls from people who seem to have enjoyed the Saturday evening talk by writer and historian Randor Guy at the P. S. Hr. Sec. School auditorium. The big hit here were the film clips that Surveswaran of 'Vintage Heritage' (which screens all the old films every month at a theatre of the Nadigar Sangam in T. Nagar) has carefully put together for this show. Imagine a series of clips, which show us many different areas of Madras as they were in the 1950s. Including one of P. S. School in Mylapore!

The Madras Quiz attracts about 200 people - wish we had double that number! Seniors at the prelims say the questions are tough - that's the work of quizzer Avinash Mudaliar who won the quiz last year and now works in Bangalore.
But what moves us is the fact that the participants jump up to volunteer to correct the answer sheets! Honestly!

Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti donated the rolling trophy for the English Quiz last year. This time, we went back to him and sought more support! He gladly funded another rolling trophy for the Tamil Quiz for school students and individual trophies for the team members.
The schoolboys from Raja Muthiah School in R. A. Puram won. And we realise that the same team won the quiz last year!

Carnatica's special kutcheri at this venue winds up the weeklong celebrations. I will have to skip Kanimozhi's (yes, chief minister M. Karunanidhi's daughter) talk on 'Poetry in Chennai' on Sunday evening at the Taj Coromandel hotel.

Carnatic vocalists Sowmya, Sashikiran and Ganesh are friends and we can't abandon them in Mylapore! With commentary by Dr. V V Srivatsa, the kutcheri of compositions on deities and temples in Madras, isn't exhaustive but is in line with the spirit of the Madras Day events.

I have one more event to wind up - screening the best three short films on city themes. We had invited all amateur filmmakers to work on city-based themes.
We hope we can slowly build a collection of visual content on the city. And making short films is one way of achieving just that.
In the Indo Cine Appreciation Forum (ICAF), an active film society in Chennai, we have a partner. Thangaraj, its Secretary, allows us to screen the films before he runs Russian feature films.
We haven't received the best docus. But the start is key.

As we sit back on Monday, we realise that Madras Day may well have left an imprint on the people of this wonderful city.

Cricket in Madras, after 1792

It’s good to know that the Madras Day celebrations have caught on and that this year there’s been an even greater enthusiasm from residents in Chennai. I was at the Taj Coromandel on Madras Day to listen to a presentation on the history of cricket in the city by V Ramnarayan courtesy Madras Musings.

I was there much ahead of the scheduled time and chose to wait and watch in the lobby. Even the Taj has not been able to ward off the ubiquitous mosquito. Anyway, who should come and greet me but a journalist friend. She wanted historical information about Parrys and the Marina. We were chatting for a while when I spotted the city’s storyteller S Muthiah. She had questions to ask him and he kept her entertained with stories, old and new, of Parrys and the Marina.

There was Tim Murari with a friend, and I thought I spotted Minnie Menon as well. What was heartening was that there were several new faces in the audience, which clearly meant that people had followed reports about Madras Day, and were keen to know a thing or two about Chennai’s cricketing past.

Ram, although he hasn’t played cricket for Tamil Nadu, knows enough about the game in these parts to keep you enthralled for hours. He had some vintage slides to back his presentation. There were some lovely pictures – of Gavaskar flicking to fine leg, Gundappa Vishwanath essaying a straight drive (his 97 not out against the West Indies at Chepauk was one of the best innings ever seen), Garfield Sobers executing an off-drive… these were on top of my list.

Tamil Nadu has won the Ranji Trophy only twice in the past 50 years – in 1954-55 and 1987-88. The state has played host to many players from other Indian states. Corporate support to the game has been fairly good. Indeed, most of the better playing grounds are maintained by corporates. And the game is well administered here too. Ram spoke about the knowledgeable and sporting crowd and bemoaned the lack of crowds nowadays for local cricket matches. “Lesser level cricketers are not considered entertaining anymore,” he said.

Following were some of the things I learnt:

- The earliest cricket match in Madras was in 1792
- The Madras Cricket Club was formed in 1846 by Alexander Arbuthnot
- MCC shifted to Chepauk in 1865
- The Pennycuick Trophy League began in 1898
- The Madras Cricket Association was formed in 1930
- The first Ranji Trophy match was played in 1934, the year Jardine’s Englishmen played

Ram took the audience through the Vinoo Mankad-Pankaj Roy record first-wicket stand of 413, the visit of the West Indies team in 1959 followed by the Pakistanis led by Fazal Mehmood in 1960, the tied Test between India and Australia in 1986, the establishment of the MRF Pace Foundation 20 years ago, and the coming of Dennis Lillee.

There was, of course, more than a mention of AG Ram Singh, the best cricketer never to play for India, according to Ram, WV Raman whom he rated as the best ever TN batsman, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Talking about Srikkanth, Ram mentioned how once when the opener was in his elements against the Pakistani pace attack at the Chepauk in the 1980s, Imran Khan felt sheer frustration not being able to give him a piece of his mind as Srikkanth had a tendency of walking towards square leg after executing each blow.

Then there was TE Srinivasan, a colourful character as Ram called him, whose jokes kept the team in splits. Once he had caused such a commotion in the dressing room that it upset the concentration of even the original Little Master, Gavaskar, who was batting at the crease then. According to Ram, Srinivasan during his visit with the Indian cricket team to Australia had commented to the press: “Tell Dennis that TE has arrived.” Well, after that remark little was heard of TE.

MA Chidambaram, S Sriraman and AC Muthiah’s names were not missed out – all administrators of the game in Tamil Nadu. And N Shankar’s name too. The chairman of the Sanmar Group was seated in the front row listening to Ram.