Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mylapore or Triplicane?

N. Ramaswamy is a regular participant in the Chennai Photowalks put together by a group of photo enthusiasts. They also love their city, Chennai.
Ram preserves his visual documents of the city on his blog.
"The Photo walk is a simple concept, carry a camera, walk along a designated route and click pictures along the way," says Srivatsan of Chennai Photowalks in his mail confirming their walk schedule for the Madras Week.
Most of the time it is kids who love to aim and shoot when there is a camera around and I think that they too deserve an exclusive photowalk. But a guided one.
Friend Ramaswamy came to my mind for implementing the idea since his 11 year old son accompanies him whenever he can on the photowalks.
When I bounced this idea to Ram, he gladly volunteered.
We exchanged mails suggesting routes on Google maps and narrowed down to one walk in the south Madras and one more in the other part of the city.
What could be the route in south Madras? The Mylapore area or the Triplcane roads?
Both of us agreed that Triplicane has more to explore as Mylapore has been the favourite destination for photo enthusiasts always and a fairly large documentation is available to us.
On the other side Poonamallee High Road has a lot to kindle the curiosity of children on its entire stretch.
But kids need to walk with cameras. So we decided to do a shorter length.
The walks are scheduled for Aug. 1 and 8.
Many children have registered for the PH Road walk and Triplicane walk register is slowly filling up.
We say the parents can accompany the children but the kids will do the click!
If you want to host an exhibition of good pictures that will be shot at this walk, contact us by mail.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Exploring St. Thomas Mount

Richard O' Connor works for the Customs at the Airport.
He is also an active catalyst in the Anglo-Indian community.

I met Richard when the Anglo musicians were jamming at Vincent's studio in Kodambakkam, to prepare for the 'Blazing Guitars' show at Museum Theatre, Egmore in early July which went on to be another packed hit for 'Anglos in The Wind' and its promoter, Harry Maclure.

I was busy working on our docufilm on Anglo musicians in this city, hoping we could make it in time for the Madras Day docu screeninngs. Richard emceed the show but I had some thing else for him.

I coaxed him to be an informal guide for a possible heritage walk of St. Thomas Mount. He got quizzical and interested and this past Sunday, we spent an hour charting out a route and earning the stares and looks of local residents and a few nuns who were hurrying for Holy Mass at St. Patricks that evening.

Richard, his family and his folks live on the Hill. And he and his dad know a bit about the local history. this being the 2nd oldest Cantonnment in India.

We have decided to stick to a short tour of the area but it will include a walk up to the top of the hill and a walk down via the stairs that Petrus Uscan, the giant Armenian merchant donated to our city, amongst other civic works.

Richard has stories to tell. He met a young Burmese who came to the area looking for her roots! Didn't the church rehabilitate some Catholic refugees at the foothills?

This may well be a tiring walk but it will have its rewards. I am happy I have got new faces to do their thing for Madras Week!

As I blog, Srivats of the Chennai Photo Walks mails to say that the group has planned a walking tour of this area that Sunday morn. Should we change our start point, asks Srivats.

No, just enjoy yourselves.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A great grandfather rediscovered

One of the very special things you feel while doing your bit for Madras Day and Madras Week is the warmth you receive from people and their willingness to cooperate to make the celebrations a success. Most people are keen to offer space, be it a gallery or home or terrace, to contribute and do something. There is no commercial aspect here, no talk of money really. Even those who conduct programmes for children willingly spend their own money for travel and purchase of necessary material. Of course, in case it is a craft or painting workshop, I always tell the person conducting it that he or she can ask the children to bring the basic stuff, so that one person need not spend all the money.

Nobody has asked me all these years: What is the benefit we get? That is the question we normally expect when people are called to do something. So, in a sense, Madras Day and Madras Week are different. It is the love for a city that brings people together. There are so many interesting people you meet, and so many interesting things you learn about the city during the week, which is fast extending into a fortnight.

What is also heartening is the fact that many people I have met or spoken to this year are already looking forward to attending Madras Week events; evidently, the August celebrations have registered in many minds. The other day, I bumped into a person who lives a few blocks away. He came running up to me wanting to know what were the events lined up at Hotel Green Park this year.

Well, I get a hunch that one of the talking points this year is certainly going to be an exhibition planned at Studio Palazzo in Alwarpet. Chitra, president of the Zonta Club in Chennai, who runs the gallery, recently made some discoveries about her great grandfather, a man who quietly assisted in the furnishing and completion of Senate House, between 1869 and 1873.

M Guruswamy Mudaliar worked as supervisor in the Public Works Department, and Chitra now tells me that he was the “right-hand man” of none other than famed architect Robert Chisholm who pioneered the Indo-Saracenic style. What’s more, Chitra’s great grandfather was presented a silver watch by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. And it is some of the letters exchanged during the period between Chisholm and her great grandfather and others, as well as pictures, that Chitra will display at her gallery.

So, this is a must-visit venue. Although the exhibits may not number many, it will certainly, I’m sure, open up yet another interesting facet of the city from the past.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Was it a woman who attracted agents of the East India Company?

Among a few of us, the catalysts, the Madras Week or Madras Day fever sets in early June. This year was no different with a meeting at Mr Muthiah’s home to discuss a broad outline of possible programmes. The small core group of catalysts hasn’t grown too much over the years we’ve been celebrating the founding of the city – Madras that is Chennai. So, within manageable confines, we together try our best to organise various programmes in the city, progarmmes that have to do with creating an awareness about the city’s heritage.

As usual, first off the blocks in my list was Suma Padmanabhan, principal of Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School. When I called her mid-June, she had already had a first meeting with the school heads to decide what to do this year. And it is Madras as a Coromandel trading post they chose as the subject. There will also be an exhibition on traditional occupations of Madras and its trade.

The subject was probably easy to choose, but to work out the theme in detail and decide how to go about, Suma sought my help and I in turn suggested she or her team meet Mr Muthiah. So, over a cup of milky tea at the historian’s home, three Asan Memorial School teachers and I listened to stories of old being recounted even as two students tried their best to keep pace with what was being said.

I may not be a storyteller but as much as I love reading stories of old, I love to hear them being told. It was therefore an afternoon well spent, listening to how Madras was in many ways instrumental in building today’s India, the “first city of modern India” as Mr Muthiah calls it always.

The English came initially to trade, and colonizing the country was the last thing on their minds then. It was only after trade and consolidation that around 1857 or so, after the Sepoy Mutiny, that the concept of Empire dawned. So, the British ruled India only for about a century, not from 1639 when the city was born after Francis Day and Andrew Cogan of the East India Company sank roots on “no man’s sand” thanks to Beri Thimmappa (Thimmanna), the Dubash who acted as an honest broker. The British rulers overseas were not too happy with the choice of land for a trading post, but they let go and that was how Madras came about.

Some of us still float in that spicy rumour of old – that Day had a mistress in these parts and it was the young lady who must have prompted him to choose the Madras sands. So, probably it was a woman after all who was instrumental in founding the city. One will never know for sure. But there’s no harm fantasising on a romance of old – some romance it must have been!

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Special Postal Cover

There will be another special postal cover for Madras Day 2010.
The theme - Commerce.
Philatelist and numismatist D. Hemachander Rao is hard at work on the design and promises a top class product - a collector's item.

We intend to post the images of the previous covers on the Madras Day web site soon. A few are still on sale.
If you collect such stuff, buy them now.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Children explore Fort Time Gun and Trisulam Hill

Does Brodie's Castle make a good subject?
Has the Parsi Fire Temple already been taken?
Can we do a presentation on the Fort Time Gun?

These are questions from kids and their teachers.
They are for the multimedia presentation contest for school children on the Heritage of Chennai.

The contest encourages the students to explore the history and heritage behind the lesser known landmarks and organisations in Chennai city.
This presentation contest is in its fourth year. And every year twenty teams come up with twenty different topics. We restrict the registration to twenty on first come first serve basis. because the contest is held for a full day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More the entries longer the day!

Till today 18 teams have registered and now we are left with just two slots for just two teams.
The enthusiastic teams from Sri Sankara Senior sec. School, Adyar were disappointed when we said only one team from each school can participate. They rephrased their query, "Can there be more than three members in a team? We have a lot to present!"

The details of the contest are on the website.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Chennai Tee!

The new T-shirt of Chennai is getting ready.
We will be using the prize winning design of Ms Sonali that she sent in for the 2009 contest.
It is simple but evocative and we are trying it out on a black Tee and a white Tee.

I guess the black will be more appealing.
We should have the new Yees on sale by end July.

If you are creaqtive do enter the 2010 Tee Contest. Info at the web site -

Calls from Royapuram and Nanganallur

A womens group from the CSI Rainy Hospital region is excited - it decided to treat its Aug 15 events as Madras Day celebrations and has this as the theme.
Dances, pageants, quiz, painting and food . . .
They wanted suggestions - so I suggested that they hold an exhibition of all the less known landmarks in that area.

A residents' association from Nanganallur made contact - it is an umbrella for about 700 families.
Could they start a local history archives project?
We can try, they said.
This could be part of the common events they plan to host.

Madras Day should be the start of some thing substantial too.
Local archives is one project to give serious though to.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Shooting Anglo Indian musicians for a Docu

Madras' omnipresent videographer Mohan Das Vadakara never says 'no' when you want to film something.
So when Harry Maclure of 'Anglos in the Wind', a magazine for the Anglos around the world mailed me an invite for a music show on Saturday (July 12) our minds raced.

Could we use this opportunity to do a docu-film on Anglos in Music in Madras?

Mohan was out with his Panasonic even before we gave it a second thought. He already has footage of jazz artiste Frank Dubier at a show and at a jam session and here was another chance to get some footage of the young and the senior Anlgo Indan musicians rehearse for the Country and Western show at Museum Theatre, Egmore this weekend.

It will be a sellout, I learn.

Our two spells of shoot have worked well and if we can do another good spell at the show and do the interviews quickly we should have this film ready to screen for the Madras Docu Fest in August.

If you are itching to do a film too, check out the offer we have for you on the web site.
But don't ask for Vadakara!
Can you shoot with a Nokia? Sure!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Press Conf: Preview Show

We had a press conference on July 7 to annouce the Madras Week dates and to send out an invitation to the city.

As always, our host was Prism, the PR agency that Satyan and Parul run in Egmore, opposite the famed Rajarathinam Stadium, once a haunt for athletes of all kinds and a venue where I won a certificate in the discuss throw! ( the stadium is now in a shambles)

In the chair was historian S. Muthiah and we also had S R Madhu, now an active Rotarian and R. Revathi who runs the website - - for children of this city.

We are trying to get the English and Thamizh media to report Madras Week closely and they are warming up nicely. At least 4 newspapers put out reports on this alert.

Today, a production associate at Aaha FM called me for a 'byte' that will go on Suchi's Breakfast Show on Friday. Yes, all the local radio stations have also warmed up to this event and that is encouraging.

If you blog, write, freelance or work for media do write on this special event. It is becoming the biggest of its kind at least in India!