Friday, August 31, 2007

A happy ending

Being part of Madras Week this year was fun. Although several plans were made during our (you can call us the ‘catalysts’) luncheon meeting at the Accord Metropolitan in May and some of them did not take off, we were all happy at the end of the week. For one, newspapers and media reserved quite a bit of space for covering events during the week, and, for another, many more people came forward this time voluntarily to support our effort.

One of the points we debated on was whether to have two or three speakers speaking on the same day at the same time at different venues. This year’s experience has shown that if you offer something worthwhile, there are people to come and listen or watch. For example, we had not bargained for many visitors at the Gallery Sri Parvati. And that is how it really turned out. But, although there were about 15-20 people in the hall, most of them were there because they were interested. Yes, one of the things that we need to do the next time around is to get more action in Tamil – more Tamil speakers, for instance.

Of course, quite a few did mention that they just couldn’t decide which venue to go to. That obviously cannot be helped, can it? One of the objectives is also to have smaller programmes in different neighbourhoods so that residents in these areas can participate in the celebrations of the founding of the city.

If you ask me, the heroes this year during Madras Week were the students, teachers and professors who not only managed to put together a variety of programmes at short notice, but also displayed a lot of enthusiasm showcasing what they had prepared.

Those who wish to possess something special can call the Mylapore Times office (24982244) and see whether the Madras Day T-shirts are still available. If you are lucky, you can grab last year and this year’s T-shirts for as little as Rs 180. So, go for it!

To all those who supported Madras Day and Madras Week, many, many thanks. Till next year, then!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Two names, two different cities

It was a cozy start to the evening at Gallery Sri Parvati, with about ten of us seated around Shreekumar Varma, listening to him talk about Madras and Chennai.

Incidentally, for those who might not know him too well, Shreekumar Varma is an Indian author, newspaper columnist and poet, known for the novels Lament of Mohini (Penguin, 2000), Devil's Garden: Tales Of Pappudom (Puffin, 2006) and the historical book for children, The Royal Rebel (Macmillan, 1997). He is the great grandson of the artist Raja Ravi Varma and grandson of Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, the last ruling Maharani of Travancore. He was born at the Satelmond Palace, Poojapura, Thiruvananthapuram. His parents left Kerala and settled down in Madras when he was four. He studied in the Good Shepherd Convent, the Madras Christian College, from where he completed his M.A. and M. Phil in English Literature. Later, he taught briefly at the college. He also did a course in Journalism from the Bhavan's College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The British Council and The Madras Players staged Shreekumar’s two award-winning plays, The Dark Lord and Bow Of Rama, and also Platform. He has written columns for The New Indian Express, The Economic Times Madras Plus, Ritz, Fiji Times and Deccan Herald. He was awarded the Charles Wallace Fellowship for the year 2004, and was Writer-in-Residence at Stirling University, Scotland. Shreekumar’s new novel Maria's Room is on the Long List for the Man Asia Literary Prize. He is a full-time writer and a visiting lecturer at the Chennai Mathematical Institute.

Shreekumar began by describing how Nungambakkam High Road was in the 1960s and 70s – full of trees and open spaces, large garden houses, and eeriness at night. It was so silent at night that his dog’s bark could be heard near the Gemini flyover! It was Shreekumar’s father who established Hotel Ganpat, and that probably changed Nungambakkam forever. The Taj Coromandel came and things were never the same again. Shreekumar read out portions of his writings and others’ as well, including Colin Todhunter’s. All so varied and rich in prose that together they weaved a tapestry of the city that was. For Shreekumar, Madras is nostalgia, while Chennai is a happening city; both names, he says, conjures different images. They are to him not one and the same city.

Ten more people trooped in mid-way through his talk. There was a lot of interaction, and it was almost like a storyteller sitting by the fireside and engaging children with stories of yore. Lakshmy Venkataraman, who owns Gallery Sri Parvati (it was her childhood home), chipped in with a lot of interesting tidbits. On the whole, a worthwhile evening.

Rediscovering heritage along the Marina

Prema Kasturi, former head of the history department, WCC, deserves kudos for relentlessly following up with colleges and goading the professors she knows to get their students to contribute in some way towards remembering the city during Madras Week. One of the colleges that took the initiative, thanks to her persuasion, was Presidency College. And the credit here must go to Professor S. Amarnath, who has, along with his brother and sister, contributed a great deal in bringing Tamil culture alive, especially among children.

Prema has now forwarded me a report about how students of the college participated in the Madras Day celebrations. This is what it says: ‘As a part of the Madras Day Celebrations, a group of 20 post-graduate students from the Department of History, Presidency College, Chennai, undertook a train journey which started from Thiru Mayilai to Beach Station by MRTS on 22nd August, 2007. They were led by their professor, Dr. S. Amarnath, who explained the historical significance of this great city and enabled the students rediscover the heritage buildings along the Marina Beach. The students are currently doing a paper on Madras. The Students were not only thrilled to have an aerial view of these buildings but were also amazed to learn the facts. The stretch included Kapali Temple, Santhome Church, IG Office, QMC, Ice House, Presidency College, Chepauk, Madras University Buildings, Napier Bridge, Island Grounds, Rippon Building, General Hospital, Reserve Bank of Indian, Fort St. Gorge, The High Court, and the Harbour. It was a real eye opener for these young people who were exposed to the rich past of this city for the first time, since most of them are from various districts of Tamil Nadu. The journey concluded with the students being asked to carry forward the message, “Madras Nalla Madras.” They were enthused to sing “Happy Birthday to Madras”; they then distributed Parry chocolates (Thomas Parry remembered) and disbursed with sweet memories. Prof. B. Ramanathan, Head of the Department of History, Presidency College, exteneded his fullest support to make the event possible.’

Well done, Dr Amarnath! May the good work continue in the coming years as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Media creates the buzz

Newspapers, magazines, TV and radio zeroed in on the Madras Day events when the buzz got around.
'The Hindu' featured a column on the day's special events right through the week. Muthiah did his bit to talk to N. Ram about it and the focus improved the response of the public to the events.
The New Indian Express has been doing lots of small features.

I haven't had the time to look at the other newspapers and magazines.

The radio stations got into the act too.
Young Salim who is a media student at Anna University and works for the BBC for its collaboration with Radio One, the FM radio channel, was among the producers who kept the buzz going in the city.

It's time to act now

The girls of MOP Vaishnav College in Nungambakkam had organised during Madras Week a painting competition, an elocution contest, and research-based presentations on the city. Prema Kasturi, former head of the history department of WCC, and Gita, an artist, accompanied me to the college on Friday afternoon to meet the girls and to judge the winners of the painting competitions and research projects. More than 40 students participated in the various programmes held in the college during Madras Week.

I tried to motivate the students by explaining about the city’s rich heritage and the need to preserve it. They listened attentively, although a few remained restless. In today’s world, it is not easy to hold the attention of students, especially college students. But I tried and thought I was successful to a large extent.

I sat through a couple of presentations on Chennai. Some of the data presented was incorrect. Many students relied heavily on the Internet, especially Wikipedia. Was it the right way thing to do? You can’t really blame them. In the midst of their various activities, they are occasionally saddled with projects such as this. Where do they have the time to visit places, talk to people, and analyse for themselves and then make a presentation? Where is the time to refer to the right books and conduct a thorough research?

The result is that such presentations are usually bookish, theoretical, and, yes, sadly, quite boring. This is not to discredit the students’ efforts. However, I would have been much happier if there were shorter presentations based on original research. I am sure Prema agrees with me. This is the message I’d like to convey to the students. It’s not the quantity that matters, but the quality. My thanks to Rosy Fernando, head of the commerce department and in charge of student training, and Uthira, her colleague, for enthusing students to put together programmes for three days during the week.

The winners of the painting competition were Neha Garg, Bhargavi and Brinda, all from second year B.Com. Group1 comprising of Rajalakshmi, Sindhu and Nithya; Group 2 made up of Harini Ravi, Priya Kumar and Sowmiya; and Group 3 that included Shalini, Supriya and Vaishnavi bagged the first three spots in the research paper presentation. Shilpa, Madhumita, Roshini, Pramoditha, Amrita and Shradha Mohan were the winners in the elocution competition. Cash awards were given to the winners. Congratulations, all!

In the evening, I headed to the Accord Metropolitan to listen to Sundar, director, Roja Muthiah Research Library, and Sivaramakrishnan, president, Consumer Business, SIFY Ltd. address members of the Public Relations Society of India. Sundar’s was the same PowerPoint presentation he had made at the Gallery Sri Parvati a few days ago – on the early publications of Madras. Sivaramakrishnan spoke about SIFY’s new portal, I wonder whether Sivaramakrishnan and his team can lead the charge on the Internet during Madras Week celebrations next year. It’s good to have at least one solid base on the Internet. We’ve not had one so far.

I also wonder whether the Chennai Chapter of the PRSI can go beyond corporate PR, join hands with organisations like Chennai Heritage, INTACH-Tamil Nadu, Consumer Action Group and others to lobby for a Heritage Act for Chennai. That will need determination as well as dedicated work. Are there members in the PRSI in Chennai who can take the lead? I think we need more action than talks and presentations. If we have a Heritage Act, we can save so many old buildings that are in danger of being pulled down. As a later challenge, the PRSI can even look at joining forces with the same organisations to make a case for Fort St. George to be declared a World Heritage Site. After all, that was where the foundations of the city were laid 368 years ago. Success on these fronts will make Madras Week celebrations so much more joyful.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where are all our creative people?

We received few entries for the 'Design a T shirt' for Chennai contest.
More so when there are at least 10 colleges which offer Visual Communication courses and another 10 which offer design courses of some form or the other.
An academy which hosted a photography contest also reported lukewarm response.
A little bird tells us that most media students are caught up with the video-cams and all the promised glitz of TV and cinema.
Let us see how the judge looks at the T shirt design entries this weekend. . . .

Recalling a ‘gentleman’s game’

It was almost a full house at the Gallery Sri Parvati. Visitors had come to listen to Badri Seshadri speak about street cricket played in Chennai. Badri came in early, complete with laptop and cricket bat. The lightweight WoodWing bat (most likely made in Meerut from wood imported from the U.K., and then sent overseas) was his treasured possession. He had brought it along to show the audience.

Present earlier, even before Badri arrived, were three students from the Asian College of Journalism – they had heard so much about Madras Day and Madras Week, and would I speak a few words on camera, they asked. I didn’t disappoint them.

Badri’s PowerPoint presentation was interlaced with clippings from the film ‘Chennai 600028’. He recalled his days as a child when he and his group of friends would play cricket, the days when Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Vishwanath and Vengsarkar ruled the roost. It was more of an interactive session really, with members of the audience chipping in with their impressions. A refreshingly different evening when people exchanged their views on what was once called the ‘gentleman’s game’. I too learnt a thing or two. For instance, I never knew that between 60 and 80 percent of the runs scored by batsmen came from shots to the off side, the reason why there were usually six fielders placed in that area.

Badri was co-founder of Cricinfo, the Web site bought by Wisden and now owned by ESPN. He was head of its U.K. operations first, then the Indian head. He is now the managing director of New Horizon Media, a book-publishing house that has made a mark with its Tamil imprint, Kizhakku Pathippagam. The English imprint, Indian Writing, has launched eight titles.

Clearly, Badri continues to be as passionate about cricket as he is about publishing. It showed in his presentation.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Children impress; the way to go!

I was very impressed with the contest we had for school students ( co-ordinated by our team mate, Revathi R.).
On August 22, 20 schools assembled at Srinivasa Sastri Hall, Luz ( which has been now air-conditioned) for the event.
Each team had chosen a theme to work on. And some were interesting.
One was on a quaint heritage street called Mathala Narayan Street.
Another was on the San Thome Post Office, a hole in the wall with equipment which was used in the 50s!
Another was on St. Columban's school of the Presentation nuns in north Madras.

Dr. S. Suresh and V. R. Devika were the judges and Deborah Thiagarajan who promotes Dakshinachitra was the guest and she gave away the prizes. The team from P. S. Senior, Mylapore, which presented 'Armenian Church' walked away with the top prize.
Hindu Colony Chellammal Vidyalaya from Nanganallur and Children's Garden, Mylapore, were chosen second and third best.

We should have more schools in this event next year.
And also have a similar contest for city colleges.

T-shirt arrives from Tiruppur!

The bundle was delayed. But when it arrived, two people carried off 40 T-shirts even before we had counted them all!
Shreyas, who won the invitation to design the Tee, will be happy.
We have a limited number on sale.
So you need to grab one before the stock runs out.

But we would love to get bulk orders ( 20s, 30s, 50s) from corporates, clubs, associations, campuses. . . so that we can place the second order easily and have them delivered.
So e-mail us.
It is time we wore a Chennai T shirt. Proudly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When children took centrestage

Madras Week celebrations finally took off in the KK Nagar-Vadapalani area. It was a first for Madras Week ever since the celebrations began in 2004. On August 20, Spring Into Reading, an English-activity centre in KK Nagar organised a scintillating performance of thudumbu attam (a folk drumming instrument) and a captivating storytelling session by Nandini Sridhar and mime artists Anbu and Shankar. The drummers set the stage for possible one of the best storytelling session held in this part of the city. The drummers and artists belong to an organisation called Unarvugal Dramatics based in Saligramam.

The stories, narrated in folk style, while touching upon the history of the Chennai and Tamil Nadu, held morals for children, such as the need to show magnanimity. Fifty children parading on stage in traditional dresses brought up the finale. It was almost like a beauty pageant for kids, with each one of them keen to show off what they had worn and ready to impress the audience with their performance.

The Vijaya Hall at Hotel Green Park was packed to capacity with parents and residents of the area. Many did not find seats during the performance by the children but enjoyed every bit of the show. Kudos to Binita, who runs Spring Into Reading, and her colleague Shrimathi, for pulling off something so grand in so short a time!

Present to motivate the artists and children were M.B. Nirmal, founder, Exnora International, R. Shankariah, former chief regional librarian, British Council, Dr Balambal, an expert in traditional games, and several senior residents in the area. Journalists from leading newspapers and the media were present. And their coverage of the event and other Madras Week programmes events have raised the celebrations to a much higher level than last year.

The staff at Hotel Green Park did a wonderful job of handling all the loose edges. Krishna Kumar Menon, general manager of the hotel, Ravi Kumar, Stephen and others in the team, well done! We look forward to your support in the coming years as well.

Earlier in the day, I visited the Ethiraj College with Meera Raghavendra Rao, once my professor at the Bhavan’s. About 40 students there put up a medley of folk and contemporary dance, and street theatre. Through their performances, they raised pertinent messages, including pointed references to public apathy regarding segregation and proper disposal of garbage. There was a detailed power-point presentation about Chennai and its neighbourhood. The auditorium was house full, and most of the students had taken time off from their study schedules and exams to participate in Madras Week celebrations. So heartening it was!

All they needed were words of appreciation and I was happy I had gone. Professors Shanthi and Sumathy, and secretary of the students’ council, Gargi Chatterji, deserve a round of applause for a job well done.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lots to Talk. . . on our city!

There were 25 talks in connection with Madras Day.
And that is a good score.
One set were hosted by Chennai Heritage, the promoter of 'Madras Musings' fortnightly which is edited by S. Muthiah.
The other was hosted by Gallery Sri Parvati on Eldams Road, Alwarpet.
The rest were at clubs and campuses.
Some were brilliant, some good, some ran their course.
Perhaps, this makes us think . . .
We need to encourage more people to research on Madras-related themes for the 2008 series.
The Portuguese in San Thome - is one theme.
Bleeding Madras fabric - is another.
Chettis of George Towne - is yet another.
Anglo-Indians of the City - is one more.
We would like to hear from scholars, researchers, writers and others who wish to line up for 2008.
E-mail us.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Trip to Gudiyam

Fifteen people make the early morning tour to Gudiyam. It rained heavily that morning so the drive was pleasant.
It took us less than 90mins. to reach Poondi ( drive down the Poonamallee Road, then take the Tirutani Road, had to Thiruvallur and turn off to Poondi reservoir).

The town is crowded with devotees who have been celebrating at a nearby temple now that Aavani has dawned.
After a light breakfast, we drive down to the village (Gudiyam) and start walking. We really set a fast pace. We reached the main cave in about 70 minutes. The terrain is tricky.
But we are not alone on this trek.
The devotees are also heading that way.
A modern shrine has come up at the cave. And the promoter is making the best of it.
A shivering goat is led to the shrine. It bleats plaintively. It will be sacrificed. Soon.
Since some of us on the tour want to avoid the gruesome act, we turn back.
More devotees are heading to the cave. Some carry fowl - also for sacrifice.
But Suresh, our guide, has other stories to share with us.
Of the many archaeological tours he leads through the year.
The sun if up and burns us all.
We do the return trek in about 75mins, which is a feat.
And then head to the small state-run Pre-Historic Museum.

Storyteller recalls first city of modern India

Sundays are usually reserved for getting up late, with breakfast not served earlier than 10 am in many houses, and then, of course, catching up with newspapers and lazing around. This Sunday was different, though. Lined up were a couple of heritage walks, a trip to a Stone Age cave away from the city, and Chennai historian S. Muthiah’s talk at the TAG Centre.

R.T. Chari’s breakfast meetings at the TAG Centre, held on the last Sunday of every month, are quite popular and well attended. Mr Chari follows a strict regimen – if the invitee does not respond to the invitation a second time, by phone or email, there will be no more invitations coming his or her way. Perhaps Mr Chari wishes to introduce the R.S.V.P. culture among Chennaiites. I was thus knocked out from his mailing list months ago and was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation for Mr Muthiah’s talk.

It’s hard work arranging speakers for any function, and to get one speak on an interesting aspect of Indian culture, month after month, even more difficult. S.R. Madhu manages this function very well. He painstakingly prepares a resume of the speaker and formally introduces the speaker at such meetings. I understand that Mr Madhu does a great job of this at the Rotary meetings as well (Rotary Club of Madras South). This time, he went one step further to get views about Mr Muthiah from a few who knew him reasonably well, me included. That was one way to present a different take on the grand old man; after all, who among Chennai’s Who’s Who does not really know about the storyteller who’s written more than half a dozen books on the city?

Well, the morning certainly belonged to S. Muthiah. It was, as Mr Madhu mentioned, one of his finest presentations. He divided his presentation into two parts: one on the history as such, and the other pictorial, with some startling images of a Madras many in the audience never knew existed. From “no man’s sand”, Fort St. George, grandiosely named so in 1639, grew into what Mr Muthiah always calls “the first city of modern India.” To understand that better, you will do well to read some of his books on Madras, starting with Madras Rediscovered.

Mr Muthiah’s presentation helped us all understand how badly heritage buildings, even natural heritage, are looked after and cared for. Chennai does not have a Heritage Act, like Mumbai does. So, as he points out, there is no way really to contest the pulling down of a heritage structure. A lot of ‘restoration’ that does take place, however, is not classical or appropriate restoration. While the Moore Market was knocked down, buildings like the Bharat Insurance Building stand in a state of utter neglect and disrepair. And will our generation ever see the Buckingham Canal as it was years ago – with water flowing and masula boats ferrying people and goods from Andhra Pradesh to Kerala? I wonder!

Can we, citizens of Madras that is Chennai, at least try and get Fort St. George on the World Heritage Site list? Doesn’t the place truly deserve it? Wasn’t it from where the British took roots as traders first, and where the foundations of modern Madras, nay India, were laid? Let’s strive for that recognition then, shall we?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stone Age Man in Mysore turban!

Dr. S. Suresh, archaeologist, can make his talks and tours colourful and interesting.
We launch the series of talks at Gallery Sri Parvati ( on Eldams Rd.), near C P Art Centre, run by Lakshmi Venkatraman, on August 18 to pack it with the tour to the Stone Age Cave at Gudiyam, near Poondi, the next day.

Suresh is dressed nattily for the talk, with a rich kurta and a richer turban.
He touches on the excavations carried out in the Madras region which threw up evidences of man in the pre-historic times.
He has an audience of about 25 people.
Wish we had more considering the fact that speakers do put in a lot of effort.
Perhaps we should also record and document these talks for the future.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A forum for 51

It was another first as far as Madras Week was concerned. Forty-five emerging and established artists, four photographers and two cartoonists, all living and practising their craft in Chennai, had samples of their work showcased under one roof – the Forum Art Gallery in Padmanabha Nagar, Adyar. It must have been a special day for the couple, Shalini and Biswajit, one an artist, the other a cartoonist. For, they were the hosts (Shalini runs Forum). But I have a feeling that Mr Muthiah had a hand in engineering the show, encouraging the duo to chip in with their bit for Madras Week.

N. Sankar, Sanmar chief, who was instrumental in keeping Madras Musings afloat when it almost seemed ready to fold up some years ago and who has been one of the pillars of Chennai Heritage, inaugurated the show. He said he did not wish to pretend to be a connoisseur of the arts, but, yes, he did indeed like what he saw on display. That perhaps summed up the general impression of the people who had gathered – more than a hundred.

The displays were on three floors. I for one thought that it would have been better if there was some sort of classification – photographs on the ground floor, paintings and sculptures on the first, and cartoons on the third. Two pictures particularly caught my eye – one of the tsunami waves ebbing off the Marina, and another of the backs of six children walking in tow, orphans after the natural disaster. Photographer Raghunathan had shot both pictures. Great stuff!

Then there was coffee, vada and pastry, but hardly any room to savour all that. The best you could do was to get your cup of coffee and walk upstairs. Most of the crowd preferred to remain on the ground floor, though, where there was little elbow room to move about.

Traffic on Padmanabha Road! Well! With part of the road dug up, and vehicles moving both ways, the question as you approached Forum was: where do you park? Vehicles of the guests took up most of the lane space; some didn’t really care and parked their vehicles on the side of the road. That threw traffic totally out of gear. I was fortunate to find some space for my vehicle in one of the lanes.

I must say I like Biswajit’s cartoons on coffee cups. And were the captions on them by Ranjitha Ashok? I think these will sell well if sold through some of the better-known outlets in Chennai. Biswajit should give some serious thought to it.

The Forum show goes on till September 18. So, catch up, if you want to.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Teachers, students show the way

One of the significant features of this year’s Madras Week celebrations is the voluntary participation of schools and colleges, and, yes, even activity centres for small children. Suma Padmanabhan, principal of Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School, was the first to confirm participation. Thanks to her initiative, the School will have three days of activity – an exhibition tracing the topography, clothes, food habits and lifestyles, and a walk down Anderson Road. The exhibition will be open to schoolchildren from neighbouring schools.

Spring Into Reading is an English activity centre in KK Nagar that has just completed a year. Run by Binita, a former teacher of Padma Seshadri School, KK Nagar, who is assisted by Shrimathy, earlier a teacher in the same school, the centre’s activities picked up after popular storytellers Jeeva Raghunath and Nandini Sridhar joined in to conduct regular storytelling sessions. Now, the four have got together to plan and do something different for children during Madras Week, at Hotel Green Park.

Pooja Gupta and two others who run Alps Academy in Mylapore are also keen to be part of the celebrations. They have organised a variety of events for children – wearing of traditional Madras costumes, makeover and tattoo sessions, pottery painting, treasure hunt, lucky dip, and snap shots of children before heritage buildings in the city.

And doing her bit is Chandni Khanna who runs Hippocampus in Abhiramapuram. It is the best library for small children I have seen in Chennai. Chandni has volunteered to take children out on a tour of heritage spots in the Mylapore area.

The entry of colleges this year into the weeklong celebrations I consider a significant first. Dr S.N. Nageswara Rao, reader in Historical Studies, Sir Thyagaraya College, Washermanpet, called me one Sunday to find out how his college could be part of Madras Week celebrations.

Thanks to the enterprise shown by Sumathy, a professor at Ethiraj College, the girls there are now putting together a show for August 20.

Latha Rajendran, correspondent, Dr MGR Janaki College, took the initiative and got Rajashree Vasudevan of her college to organise a heritage quiz programme. Thanks are due to Garima Agarwal who liaised with Rosey to get things moving at MoP Vaishnav College for Women. The students there will have three days of celebrations.

Thanks are also due to Gargi Chatterjee of Ethiraj College and Uttara of MoP Vaishnav, both students, for saying “yes” to Madras Day in spite of all the work I’m sure they must be shouldering.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Covering ground, after that morning at Chamiers

It was a meeting we had been planning for long. Anuradha Reddy, who has been resuscitating Ellements, the all-women's group in Chennai, Meera Rao, feature writer and once my professor at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and I, were all set for a rendezvous in the morning at Anokhi Chamiers to discuss what we could do for Madras Day. It was a strange morning really. When I landed up at Meera's, I found her recovering from a bad fall at home. Her toe was swollen but the doctor assured her that there was no fracture. She hobbled along into my car. On our way to Chamiers, we received a call from Anuradha (at Chamiers), saying she was rushing to Apollo - a relative had suddenly turned unwell. So, the morning ended with me trying to guide a Meera walking ever so gingerly to a secluded spot at the eatery. The following day, I received a rather weak sms from Anuradha - she was down with jaundice! No more of Chamiers, said both. It was the sort of start I never quite expected for Madras Day 2007.

Disappointment soon gave way to hope. There came glad tidings from several fronts. Lakshmy Venkataraman, who runs Gallery Sri Parvati on Eldams Road, said she would be glad to let out gallery space during Madras Week (Aug 19-26). Gita, a self-taught artist in Adyar, and Rod Hudson, a British-born numismatist, were keen to exhibit their paintings and pictures of Madras at Lakshmy's gallery. So, I had something going. The challenge now was to get speakers for each of the evenings, starting Aug 18th. Vincent had meanwhile done some spadework. Dr Suresh, archaeologist, and Sundar, director, Roja Muthiah Library Trust, were slotted for the first two days. I soon managed to rope in the other speakers: Kalpana, member INTACH; Prema Kasturi, who still wields considerable clout at WCC; Badri Seshadri, publisher and the founder-director of Crickinfo; Shreekumar Varma, whose writings are always a delight; and Dr Bhanumathi, better known for her skills in puppetry in recent years, but who prefers to be called 'environmental educationist'. They were all eager to contribute. So was R. Vaidyanathan, assistant sports editor, The Hindu; Gita suggested his name.

Things brightened on other fronts too. Meeting Nanditha Krishna of The C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation is always such a delight. Nanditha was hardly audible this time - she had lost her voice to a bad cold. Yet, she immediately came up with ideas for Madras Week and took the trouble of showing me around the newly refurbished interiors at her Centre. She would set up an exhibition, she assured me, of photos and prints of parts of old Madras. Her Foundation would also re-publish during Madras Week the Early History of the Madras Region by Dr. K.V. Raman.

Another person I had on my list was V.R. Devika. She just needed a little encouragement, and there she was ready almost in an instant, deciding what she wanted to do for Madras Day. She would, through the Aseema Trust she runs, highlight Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy's life and times with the help of a quiz programme.

I seemed to have made considerable progress in a week or so. And all it needed was just a few phone calls, some emails and a couple of meetings. That morning at Chamiers now lay in the shadows. My hunch about Meera's fall had proved right - her toe had suffered a fracture. But she is determined to cross the road to Gallery Sri Parvati and listen to some of the speakers. That's the spirit, Meera!

Thank you, friend!

It's great sometimes to interact with people, especially when you feel the interaction has been meaningful. A year ago, I had met Garima Agarwal while doing a story about Peek-A-Boo Patterns, an enterprise she runs. We had hardly been in touch since. This year, I bumped into her somewhere and we got talking. Our conversation centred around Madras Day and Madras Week - I had steered it in that direction, busy as I was trying to network and get things moving.

Garima's interest in Madras and its heritage, and her desire to make the city a better place to live in, pleasantly surprised me. Here she was, willing to get ready T-shirts for Madras Day, go on heritage walks and, what was most heartening, she was keen to contribute long-term for the city's betterment. Garima provided me quite a few leads and, thanks to her initiative, I was motivated to try and rope in some of the colleges for this year's week-long celebrations.

Another aspect that struck me about Garima was her straightforwardness and commitment. And her willingness to find time to help in spite of having to balance home and work. If only more people had these qualities, things would be so different!

At this point, three colleges have confirmed that they would be hosting events during Madras Week. I expect a few more will join in. Thank you, Garima!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Networking for the City

Colleague Sashi Nair needs a pat on the back.
So does Hotel Green Park in Vadapalani.
Nair chats with the hotel's GM, Krishna Kumar Menon and Menon is willing to host a Madras Day event. Wow!
Now that is how we'd like the celebrations to go . . . Networking for a cause.

So, the Green Park will be the venue for an evening of events for children followed by a talk by historian Randor Guy. With clips from 15 Tamil films, Guy will talk about Madras in the Movies. The clips will show us some parts of the city where the sequences were shot.
Surveswaran of 'Vintage Heritage' ( which promotes vintage films and music) will provide us the clips.
This is a show film buffs shouldn't miss. August 20 evening.

PS; Many other city hotels are hosting public talks. A great gesture. We welcome others to join the event!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Recee to a Pre-Historic Site

Dr. S. Suresh, archaeologist, has been planning this for a year now. For Madras Day.
A tour of a pre-historic habitation which has links with our city.
So we embark on a recee on a wet Monday.
It takes us 45 minutes to get out of the city - Kathipara Junction is in chaos.

We hit the Poonamallee High Road, and turn off to Thirutani. Our destination is Poondi.
From here, we head to Gudiyam. And have to stop.
For we have to trek it to the cave pre-historic man inhabited many thousand years ago.

Suresh and I share biscuits and fruit; this is going to be a tough trek.
And it has been wet the past days. In minutes we leave the village far behind.
But we have the village dog for company. He leads us. And he seems to know our destination. (How? We learn much later that a small shrine has come up in the cave and often many people trek to the shrine of their dreams - a shrine where childless couples pray!).

The trek is tough. We must negotiate rocky terrain and thick vegetation. But we don't encounter spooky creatures. Not even a giant spider! And on a cloudy day, we don't tire. It takes us 75 minutes to get to the cave. A large one . . .

I should stop here. All those who plan to be on this tour should enjoy the surprises.
If you do sign up, you will also get the opportunity to visit the small Pre Historic Museum in a leaky, old house.
But Dr. Suresh promises a highly educational tour.
Trust him.
(For details on the tour, await info on the EVENTS section on