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Madras Musings wishes all its readers a very Happy New Year!                      (ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 17, December 16-31, 2012
Our Readers Write
By V. Ramnarayan

Two pages for the Season of Lightness and Good Cheer!

(Or the art of writing Letters to the Editor)

"The report of my death was highly exaggerated," said a probably apocryphal letter to the editor by Mark Twain. Unfortunately, access to such correspondence from such eminent sources is not easy even in today's world of Google. Among the great men of the 20th Century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was one political leader who did not hesitate to write to newspapers when he was not writing for them or publishing them himself.

A telling example of his audacious prose based on the high moral ground was his letter dated October 25, 1894 to the Times of Natal, which had carried a contemptuously worded editorial titled 'Rammysammy'.

Gandhi wrote: "You would not allow the Indian or the native the precious privilege (of voting) under any circumstances, because they have a dark skin. You would look at the exterior only. So long as the skin is white it would not matter to you whether it conceals beneath it poison or nectar. To you the lip-prayer of the Pharisee, because he is one, is more acceptable than the sincere repentance of the publican, and this, I presume, you would call Christianity."

'Hardy perennials' would be a perfect description of those sterling men – and occasional women – who have made it their life's mission to write letters beginning, "Dear Sir, Apropos the article on the Anna Hazare movement in your Op- Ed page by XYZ."

The magazines are the place to go if you want interesting even controversial fare. Outlook and Tehelka are Indian magazines that seem to attract the most entertaining debates in the Letters column, and that may be because their editors do not mind publishing letters critical of them and their magazines.

Madras Musings, the heritage fortnightly, seems to fare rather better than its national counterparts in that it has a loyal base of correspondents with strong, often sound, views on everything from the hygiene hazards of the city to the heritage value of all manner of relics of a bygone era.

Here are some examples:

Fidelity to Madras

I refer to the reminder to Union Finance Minister about his promise to save the Bharat Insurance Building (MM, August 16th). It should be child's play for the FM to get the LIC Chairman to preserve the building because he is the LIC Chairman's boss. There are, however, other priorities.

The FM has to first tackle the economy which has become as moribund as the building. Besides, he has other promises to keep and files to go (shall we say scams to investigate?) before he sleeps. Plus, he has to step gingerly because Subramanian Swamy is snapping at his heels. He certainly has a lot on his plate.

A lurking danger is LIC quietly borrowing a couple of bulldozers from Metrorail and reducing the building to rubble overnight.

C.G. Prasad
(A Madras Musings veteran
of well over a decade)

* * *

An old issue of the same magazine reveals a rather sentimental streak in its readers: their concern for the vanishing sparrow. Here are some edited samples from the correspondence the subject evoked.

The vanishing sparrows

When I was young there were innumerable instances of sparrows building nests in the beams and in the fan covers of our house. I remember rehabilitating some young ones whenever they fell and making nests in shoeboxes for them.

Nowadays, I must admit, they are not to be seen. But when I went to Kothavalchavadi recently, I was surprised to see many of them competing with humans and bovines alike.

Padmini Badri

* * *

Anna Institute of Management, a State Government sponsored management training institute, functions in Kanchi, a heritage building in Greenways Road. In this building we have lots of sparrows and the chirping of the sparrows eases the stresses of a working day and creates a wonderful environment for effective human interaction so necessary in a training programme.

Dr. T.A. Sivasubramaniam

* * *

Does the younger generation know what a sparrow is? Does the older generation remember? Driven by urban blight, this diminutive creature has made its exit – well, almost. But I disagree with the claim by Madras Naturalists' Society that these birds can be seen in Mylapore.

However, I saw sparrows in two other areas. At Beach Station, opposite TIAM House, about four or five years ago and at Ellis' Road/Mount Road near Anna Statue about two years ago.

B. Gautham

* * *

Birds have always been a formidable attraction to letters-to-the- editor writers. The Times, London, even came up with a book of letters to the Editor collected over a hundred years. The sighting of the first cuckoo and the first nightingale of spring was a joy that English men and women loved to share with their fellow readers of The Times or The Telegraph, though the urge to get there first could not be ruled out.

Septuagenarian Duncan Rayner is one fierce competitor. He told a newspaper reporter that he was at his computer by 8.30 am most of the days, scanning the paper for topics to write about. "You have to be quick to get your oar in," he says. "You know that there are other people making very similar points."

One famous letters-to-theeditor writer, Keith Flett, belongs to the Beard Liberation Front, "a campaigning organisation, a vehicle for exposing the smooth-faced absurdities of the New Labour world." Flett reckons on an average success rate of just five per cent; and he has had some 1,000 letters published.

Roland Tyrrell, Deputy Letters Editor at The Independent, who rations Keith to just four outings a year, said, "The really annoying thing about Keith Flett is that he writes such a good letter."

Robert Warner, a semi-retired management consultant, has been a constant pain in the nect with his obsessive ways of letter writing, but his wife, Anne, took her revenge, when she wrote to The Telegraph: "Please stop publishing letters from my husband: after three in less than a fortnight he is insufferable and has taken to reading the letters page online at 2 am. Enough is enough – there are lawns to mow, leaves to sweep and logs to split."

The Telegraph of England recently brought out the third edition of a book of unpublished letters to the editor. This is what the editor of the newspaper, Iain Hollingshead, said at the time the first edition was published: "Am I Alone in Thinking...? proved to be a surprise Christmas hit, selling over 70,000 copies and topping the Independent Bookshops' chart."

The third and latest version was brought out very recently. Here are some gems from the three versions so far:

In praise of progress

SIR – My first thought on seeing your headline, "Pupils to be taught about sex at seven," was, "What, in the morning?"

When I was a child, the school day began with prayer. But you can't stop progress.

Peter Homer

* * *

Waking up terror experts

SIR "It's a wake-up call". That's what politicians say after every terrorist outrage. So who are these security experts who need to be woken up on a regular basis? Are they all teenagers who can't bear to get our of bed before three in the afternoon?

Jim Dawes

* * *

Tanned Tony

SIR – I don't believe you should judge a man by the colour of his skin, but in the case of Tony Blair I'll make an exception.

Ralph Berry

* * *

Sporting figures

SIR – Whose idea was it to stage the World Cup during the cricket season?

Mary E Rudd

* * *

According to the editor of The Telegraph, the only certainty in this business is that the correspondence will keep pouring in. "Letters to the Editor" column offers a coherent, carefully edited space – a kind of daily competition, if you will – that exhibits the best of what our readers are thinking. They are seldom shy of sharing these thoughts, writing from their offices, from holiday – even, in one instance, from the bath. One correspondent suggested that 'we run a separate letters page for emails sent after pub closing time.'

Great magazines like The New Yorker and The Economist invariably publish letters to the editor of high quality, but they are often on very serious issues and rightly so. It is the newspapers that can provide space for the whimsical, the angry, the downright playful varieties of letters on subjects as varied as international politics and rainwater harvesting. Will our dailies consider giving the reader a chance to flex his creative muscles, to coin an oxymoron?

(Courtesy: Matrix, journal of the Sanmar Group)

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In this Issue

Confusion reigns over heritage
Chennai lags behind as a liveable city
The State to blame for power shortage
Greater focus on natural and rural heritage needed: INTACH
Safeguarding intangible heritage
The State's Legislative Assembly – 60 years and more
Animal Farm – Version 2
Driving – the Indian way...
From promoter of consumerism to consumer activist – Part II
The Mother of all Music Seasons

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write – Season Special!
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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