Friday, August 24, 2007

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. Group 1 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, www.chennailive.in. 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.

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