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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 8, august 1-15, 2009
Lets celebrate the City
By Vincent D'Souza

Plans for Madras Day 2009 are gathering pace. So, how can you  and your community or club or association become an integral part of it?

Start in your backyard. You don’t have to raise a thousand rupees. You don’t have to run from pillar to post. You don’t have to print posters and banners. Do it in your area. All you need is some nice ideas, some enthusiasm and some smiles and warm words.

Think of a local heritage walk. Now. Which is what a ­bubbling lady in Kilpauk is about to do. She started on it last year but gave up because she wasn’t sure if Kilpauk was all that exciting. It is. And she has realised it. Well, it doesn’t boast of Jack the Ripper kind of nooks and Hollywood Boulevard kind of avenue, but it has character and history and stories.

The Water Works is unique. The Votive Shrine church is unique. The cemetery for Christians should be checked out. Add to that list public statues and private bungalows and small colonies and you have a fairly interesting trail for an August weekend.

Our friend in Kilpauk is calling up the Dignity Foundation to meet senior residents of the area who can come on the walk or be at the milestones on the trail and share their memories.

I think this is a small and wonderful exercise to celebrate the city.
Shanthi Krishnan did just that in Adyar and she had 40 people trailing her – they surrendered to the heat at the fag end and headed for a sumptuous breakfast but the event worked. Shanthi hopes to repeat the Adyar Walk this Madras Week.

These initiatives should inspire many of us to take the lead and think of a Walk project for Madras Week (August 16th to 23rd). Thiruvanmiyur, San Thomé, Gopalapuram, Luz, Nandanam, Vadapalani… there is a Walk in every area.

Walks can be one way of celebrating the city. Exhibitions can be another. Photo-walks can be another. Talks on a city theme or subject. Contests too. Just keep an eye on

The new, edgier Chennai hasn’t lost its past
By Shoba Narayan
With Madras Day three weeks away, here’s a ­feature – in a non-Madras  paper by someone who lives in Bangalore – that should warm the cockles of ­every Madrasi’s – or Chennaiite’s – heart.

What can I tell you about my beloved Chennai? People from other metros will argue that Chennai has little to recommend it. They complain about the heat and the orthodoxy. They complain about the nightlife or lack thereof. They complain about wily, rude autorickshaw drivers who fleece unsuspecting tourists. Yes, I know.

But what can I tell you in defence? Abnormal as it seems, I am happiest in Chennai. This irrational love that most of us have for one place has mostly to do with childhood. I know several people – my husband included – who have no ties to any one city, having grown up in several.

My friend, Arun, for instance, who now lives in Berlin, can objectively take Indian cities apart, sifting them into pros and cons that say everything but mean nothing. Mumbai for enterprise, Delhi for power, Kolkata for Bongs who aspire only to get to Kolkata, Bangalore for the weather and entrepreneurship, and Chennai for its culture.

All true, but it does little to capture the essence of this coastal city that welcomed St Thomas and does the jalsa (illicit gratification, for example, liquor) and jilpa (gratuitous holding forth on topics that one knows nothing about), as blogger Krish Ashok says.

Chennai is waking up at 4 a.m. to have lunch at 7. It is going to tiny Murphy Electronics in Adyar and having the proprietor dig out from the dark recesses every gadget and gizmo that you never thought to have. It is drinking ‘Kumbakonam degree coffee’ at, well, Kumba­konam Degree Coffee in Anna Nagar. It is eating chop suey and hakka noodles at Waldorf with the IIT guy you have a crush on.

It is watching grizzled old men cover themselves in monkey caps when the temperature drops from unbelievable to bearable. It is watching pretty maidens with turmeric yellow faces and dripping wet hair walk to the temples in the month that is called Margazhi in Tamil. It is describing yourself as a ‘thayir saadam’ (curd rice) or a ‘Mylapore girl’ and knowing instantly what it means, about every nuance of that person. It is knowing that music connoisseurs go to Mylapore Fine Arts or the Triplicane Academy during the December season, while the people who want to see and be seen go to the
Music Academy.

Chennai is Grand Sweets, Ambika Appalam and Saravana Bhavan. It is the pleasure of speaking in Tamil using a shorthand that only other Chen­naiites will understand and ­relish: swear words such as savu gracki, or the disdainful veetila sollittu vandirukaya? which is what an auto driver will yell when you cut him off, causing him to nearly bang into you. Your fault, lady. Have you told people at home (that you are going to die)? That’s what it means but, like most translations, this does little to capture the pithy essence of the insult.

Change comes slowly to Chennai. Go there today, and you will still see the vendors on the beach selling thenga, manga, pattani, sundal or coconut, mango, and a variety of fried lentils. Couples still sit in the moonlight at Elliot’s Beach, looking around furtively for known faces. Maamis (matrons) still duck into Nalli’s or G.R. Thanga Maligai (GRT) for silk sarees and gold, respectively, and haggle hard for the ‘compliment’ or a Rs. 5 purse that is given free after they spend a few lakhs. The free purse seems to give them more pleasure than their purchases.

Chennai is going to Pondy Bazaar and finding everything except your mother and father. It is parties where people still quote the ‘Manjal Araithayaa’ speech from the Tamil movie Veera Pandiya Kattabomman after sufficient quantities of liquor have been quaffed. It is eating spongy idlis at Murugan Idli Shop and wondering if ordering every type of dosa on the menu is gluttony or good taste. It is the scent of jasmine at sunset.

Chennai is steeped in Tamil culture. “No ifs, ands and buts about it”, as a Madrasi would say, and, no, please don’t use that word to describe anyone south of the Vindhyas. M.S. Subbulakshmi epitomised what, for many women, is Tamil ­culture. She was deferential to her husband who managed all her affairs; almost childlike in her simplicity; had regular oil baths and then scented her hair with sambrani (a type of incense for sweet-smelling hair); circled the tulsi plant for the well-being of her family; and inspired thoughts of the divine.

Today’s Chennai is edgier, sexier, grittier. Radio announcers (many of them female) regale listeners with a snappy Tamil that is equal parts slang and slander. Girls in Chennai no longer wear salwar kameez like I used to. They ride motorbikes in tight jeans and halter tops. Few oil their hair but many still wear the bindi. They prefer lattes to filter coffee and pizzas to pongal. And you know what? That’s fine. Because Chennai hasn’t lost its essence.

The same babe who speaks in Tanglish (Tamil-English) will go home and address her grandmother as ‘Paatti’. The same boy who sports spiky hair and sunglasses will submit to a Ganga snanam with loads of hot sesame oil come Deepavali day.

Chennai – my Chennai, the city that I love – still exists. You just need to know where to find it. Come with me. I’ll show you.

When in Chennai, Shoba Narayan dines at Karpagambal Mess in Mylapore and Beyond Indus at the Taj Mount Road.

Write to her at – (Courtesy: The Mint)

They’re planning for
Madras Week

Showing the way

A couple of months before Madras Day and Madras Week, a group of catalysts or coordinators get together to discuss how to enthuse participants. Over the past two or three years, Madras Day has grown into Madras Week and more, with events spilling over into a whole fortnight.

This year, they thought of having a second press conference – one a month ahead to announce the celebrations and to invite people who were interested to participate. The response to what appeared in the newspapers the following day has been encouraging. Many called up to explore the possibility of tie-ups, with a commercial aspect in mind, but were gently 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 who does 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. 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.

Suma says that Asan’s focus this year will be on Madras as a pioneer in education in India. And that’s sure to reveal how Madras led where others followed.

Wanted support

A woman living in Royapettah and is related to poet-lyricist Kannadasan is keen to highlight the fact that close to two dozen film personalities of yesteryear – Sivaji, Karunani­dhi, RMV, etc. etc. – lived in the area.

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

If you want to help, please contact Sashi Nair (94441 08182).

Stories of North Madras

Pritham K. Charavarthy is an independent storyteller/performer based in Chennai.
For Madras Week, she would like to do a series of North Chennai stories for a program­me of about 45 ­minutes’ duration, which she hopes to keep adding to in the future.

She is familiar with North Madras – she has been the research associate for both Prof. John C. Harris 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 take it to North Chennai and perform it both in Tamil and English.

Pritham wants to hear from people in North Madras who can share stories/legends/­experiences. You can contact her at chakravarthy.prithamk
Or contact Vincent D’Souza any day after 9 pm at 98410 49155 and pass on leads.

Heritage of Chennai

The contest encourages city school students to explore Chennai’s history and heritage and present the topic of their choice in multi-media form.

Buildings and monuments, religious places and tiled houses colonies, forested areas and lakes, institutions – be they cinema houses, schools, business houses – any of these can be the subject of your presentation.

The contest is open to schoolchildren studying in classes 8 to 12.

A school can send only one team. Each team MUST have 3 members. And they need identify a lesser known landmark for the project and seek the approval of the organisers. (Please do not choose well-known places like Central Station/Sri Parthasarathy Temple/Fort St. George etc.) Call the organiser Ms. Revathi at 98405 44629 and get the project approved and registered (before you set out to work on it).

Once the project is ­approved, put the project ­together with pictures, notes and interviews in a Power Point presentation (Do not dump all info into the PP ­capsule.)

At the contest, each team of 3 students will take turns at the mike to present the project using the PP. The presentation on the approved theme will have to be done by all
three participants in English or in Tamil. (Please note to download the Tamil fonts on your CD along with the presentation.)

The duration of the complete presentation – Power Point and Oral – should not exceed 10 minutes. Participants should be prepared to answer on-the-spot questions from the judges.

Use of the standard design templates in MS Office 2000 / XP is only permitted. DO NOT download templates from the Internet.

The Power Point presentation should be submitted to the organisers on or before August 7, 5.30 pm, in a Compact Disc (CD). Address for submission - Mylapore Times, 77, C. P. Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet, Chennai. (Please courier the pack. We do not entertain hand delivered entries!)

The contest will take place on August 18 from 9 am to 3 pm at Shastri Hall, Mylapore.

Eight docu film makers

Vincent D’ Souza of the Mylapore Times  (98410 49155) has been encouraging documentary film-makers to produce films on Madras that is Chennai. About its people and places, its landmarks and its institutions, its lifetrends and its communities.

The best of the films produced till July 2009 will be screened at a festival during the Madras Week.

The eight who qualified to submit a film plan got a stipend of Rs. 2000 each. After the shooting, Soudhamini who teaches at the Film Institute, Pune, will guide them on how best to use the ‘rushes’. And then the films were ready for screening and will be seen at the Alliance Francaise.


Getting schools &
colleges involved

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Chennai chapter, is organising a host of programmes for schools and colleges during Madras Week. Dr. Suresh, Convenor, INTACH - Chen­nai, and Dr. Prema Kasturi, programme ­coordinators, state that dates have to be finalised but the following programmes have been planned.

School programmes

Theme ‘Coinage of Madras Presidency’ in memory of Sri Raja Seetharaman, coin collector, former secretary, the Madras Coin Society and a Madras Day enthusiast. Special lectures, coin exhibitions, debates, essay competitions, quizzes, oratorical competition.
Competitions are being organised by these schools, who will connect with about a dozen schools around them:
Sankara Vidyashram, Tiruvanmiyur; Sir Sivsaswami Kalalaya Senior Secondary School, Mylapore; Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, K.K. Nagar; Sir MCT. M. Boys’ School, Purasawalkam; Asan ­Memorial, Nungambakkam; Calibre Educational  Foundation, Luz; Vellayan Chettiar HSC, Tiruvottriyur; Vel’s Vidyashram; Bhakta­vat­salam Vidyashram, Korattur; Lady Sivaswami Girls’ High School, Mylapore; Chennai Nagaratchi Melnilai Palli, Thandayarpettai; Ramakrishna Mission HSC (Boys), T.Nagar.

Colleges with plans

Queen Mary’s College: Guest lecture, oratorical contest; MOP Vaishnav College for Women: Guest lecture,  essay competition; Loyola College: Seminar; Madras Christian College: Quiz, exhibition, a march; Stella Maris: Symposium; MGR Janaki Ammal ­College of Arts and Sciences: Guest lecture. It will also host INTACH’S special programme ‘Historic Pageant of Women of Madras Presidency’.


On the Bookshelves

By Savitha Gautam

Vasant Desai – Composer par Excellence

-Vishwas Nerurkar and Bishwanath Chatterjee (Swaryog and Gayatri Publications, Rs. 800)

Who can forget those magical melodies ‘Bole re papihara’ or ‘Nain tho nain’ or the prayerful ‘Ae Maalik Tere Bande Hum’ and ‘Humko Man ki Shakti Denaa’? The magician behind those songs was Vasant Desai. One of the most respected music composers of the 1960s and 1970s, Desai was a dapper man whose simplicity and down-to-earth persona remain etched in the memory of those who knew him. His constant experiments with the grammar and idiom of music led to some brilliant songs being composed.

A composer par excellence

This book, with rare black and white and a few colour photographs, has been compiled and edited by two die-hard Desai fans. The book serves to document Desai’s work in Hindi and Marathi films, documentaries for which he scored the background, and the non-filmi songs he composed, including bhajans in Hindi, Kannada, Gujarati and Marathi. His special regard for M.S. Subbulakshmi is expressed in both words and a rare photograph.

A biographical sketch by Nerurkar reveals Desai’s love for sport, especially cricket and wrestling. Personal tributes by Vyjayanthimala Bali (Desai composed the music for her dance ballet Sant Sakhu), Vani Jairam (who sang her first Hindi film song under Desai’s baton), friends and colleagues Raju Bharatan, theatre director Bhalchandra Pendharkar, and Sulochana Chauhan, paint the picture of a man who was talented, pious and passionate about music.

However, if you are expecting juicy nuggets or stories of ego clashes, this is not for you. Sadly, there are no memories contributed by Lata Mangeshkar or his contemporaries. But if you want to know what it took to make Desai what he was, this one is for you.

The Rapids of A Great River

The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry (Penguin,
Rs. 499)

Tamil poetry–  yesterday & today

This compilation offers po-etry lovers chronologically arranged translations of the Tamil poetic tradition. The first part traverses the ancient Sangam and Bhakti literature and includes such poets as Kapilar, Paranar, Avvaiyar, Sattanar, Ilango Adigal, Tiruvalluvar, and the Saivite saints, Andal and Nammazhwar. The second section has more modern poets and new voices Dalits, Sri Lankans and women – including the fiery Subramania Bharati, Na. Pichamurthi, Nakulan, Vaideeshwaran, Gnanakoothan, Vatsala, Solaikilli, Cheliyan and R. Cheran, to name a few. The editors are Lakshmi Holmstrom, Subashree Krishnaswamy and K. Srilata. If you are a lover of verse, go pick this book up!

Toss of a Lemon

– Padma Viswanathan (Westland Ltd. Rs. 395)

Here’s a book that recreates a culture that’s thousands of years old – that of the Brahmins. For Canadian-born Padma, who takes a bow with this novel that was ten years in the making, the basis for her work was her own grandmother and her family. The plight of women in orthodox Brahmin households unfolds through the life of Sivakami, the protagonist. Married at 10 and widowed at 18, Sivakami breaks social norms to bring up her two children. She leaves the security of her brothers’ homes when she realises her son Vairum’s future is at risk.

Women – and a
changing society

Sivakami returns to her marital home to raise her family. With the freedom to make decisions for her son’s future, Sivakami defies tradition and gives him education. But in the process, Sivakami moves on a collision course with him. Vairum, fatherless in childhood, childless as an adult, rejects the caste identity that is his mother’s mainstay, twisting their fates in fascinating and unbearable ways.

A gripping novel, Toss of a Lemon on one level addresses the plight of women, on another, it discusses a changing society. Here’s a novel that is, as many would say, unput­downable! No wonder it has garnered great reviews. 

In this issue

A host of events...
MRTS stations...
The Ashe murder...
The white peacock...
Historic residences...
Other stories in this issue...

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