Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No takers for journalism?

Years ago, Madras’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan ran a successful journalism course. I do not know exactly when the Bhavan started offering the course – it might have been in the 1950s or early 1960s. From old-timers, I understand that the course was well received and classes were generally packed with about 40-50 students, thanks mainly to the excellent faculty. When I was a student at the Bhavan’s in the early 1990s, I was probably the oldest in the class of 25-odd, which had a fair sprinkling of girls; many were in their early 20s but I don’t think there was anyone who had touched 30. A few years later, I returned to the Bhavan as lecturer and handled classes in reporting and editing. During all those years, the Bhavan continued to exude its own charm and I felt happy giving back something to the institution. And, of course, being in the midst of a young crowd. Otherwise, you wouldn’t travel once every week all the way to Mylapore, braving the rush around the Kapaleeswarar Temple, for all of Rs 150, would you?

During the late 1990s, attendance for the journalism course at the Bhavan dipped and oftentimes I would enter the classroom to see only five or six students present. And that was how I gradually lost the enthusiasm to teach there. Later, one year, I heard that the journalism class was called off, and I haven’t heard of classes resuming there since.

I was reminded of the Bhavan recently when I was given the responsibility of coordinating a postgraduate diploma course in journalism for the SRM School of Journalism & Mass Communication’s evening programme in West Mambalam, at the SRM Nightingale School. Once the advertisements appeared, I received about 20 calls, mostly from students who were pursuing their graduation degrees. There were calls from others who were working, and one middle-aged man who said he was hell-bent on studying journalism and that he was a loyal reader of several newspapers for years. Almost all those who called seemed intent on joining the course, especially when I mentioned that the faculty would be an eminent one.

However, when I enquired from the SRM corporate office about the number of admissions, I was very surprised to learn that not one person had formally applied or paid the fee! That was two weeks after the advertisements appeared. So, what was keeping them away? Was it the fee? Is Rs 12,750 too much for a nine-month course? I wonder!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A doomed city?

A few days ago, I was leafing through an old issue of Aside, The Magazine of Madras as it was called, an excellent publication that focused on the city’s heritage, environment, civic issues, business and art, years before Madras Musings appeared on the scene. Sadly, Aside, which had Abraham Eraly as its chief editor, stopped publication many years ago.

I noticed in the copy an advertisement by Side Effects, a cozy little nook in El Dorado on Nungambakkam High Road. As an insurance officer undergoing training then on Nungambakkam’s Fourth Lane (now better known for MOP Vaishnav College and the Ispahani Centre), I would visit Side Effects regularly. There was a smart young fellow who would chat up customers and generally keep the place alive. You found almost everything you wanted there – books, magazines, audiotapes, cards, stationery and gifts.

I must quote here excerpts from an article from S. Krishnan, that wonderful writer who kept readers of The Hindu hooked to his weekly column Between You & Me. Please remember that this article by Krishnan, titled, Dirge for a Doomed City, appeared in the Aside issue dated 30 April 1990, an issue that celebrated Madras’s 350th birthday.

Excerpts:

This is a dirge for a doomed city which grew graciously for three hundred years, only to transmogrify itself in the next fifty years into a huge urban slum with an almost obsessive desire to strangle itself out of existence… I do not see a single ray of hope that can be salvaged from the morass it has mindlessly sunk into. Of course other metropolitan cities have similar problems, but at least there is some semblance of administration in them – as for us, we have had no city fathers for probably twenty five years. Cities like Delhi and Bangalore make a conscious effort to restrict ugliness in the design of new buildings and to beautify themselves, but we rejoice in letting apartment buildings, which look like crazy quilts, come up. Calcutta is usually held up as a horrible example of urban decay, but vivacity, good spirits and artistic feeling pervade among its people. Whereas Madras is singularly distinguished by the lack of manners of its people and the garish vulgarity of its ‘artistic manifestations’…

…A whole generation of people born in the fifties probably believe that it was always so – the clogged streets, the filth, the insane traffic, which looks as if it is directed by Laurel and Hardy, and the total indifference of people towards one another. No, it was not always so. While never laying claim to being one of the truly beautiful cities in the world, Madras was a charming city of tree-filled avenues and tranquil atmosphere. It was quite extraordinarily clean, a fact that every new visitor always commented upon. The Cooum and the Buckingham Canal were nowhere near as noisome as they are today. If there were slums they did not occupy either side of the road as they do now…

… There was an old-world courtesy among the people. Young persons were deferential towards elders. Neither students nor labour went on strike at the drop of a hat and took out processions. There was hardly any vandalism and the city was not plastered with obscene posters. Some parts of the city were indeed crowded, but one did not feel choked and strangled as one does today…

… It is a truism that once discipline is allowed to become slack, a major contribution of our present rulers, it is very difficult indeed to tighten things up again. But the only option we have is to keep trying…

...This is Madras in its 350th year. One can only cry besides the waters of the Cooum.

Post script: Seventeen years on, the city has only changed… for better or worse, I don’t have to tell you, do I? The waters of the Cooum, wherever they exist, have only got filthier. And, pray, where are the tree-filled avenues?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sixty years post-Independence, yet...

With the northeast monsoon setting in quite early this year, Chennai residents can expect rain in the days ahead. There was one 24 hour-long spell of heavy rain, thanks to a depression along the coast. And Chennai roads, as it happens each year, got flooded with water. Authorities stress that de-silting operations have been conducted and that this year you will not get to see floods on several roads. For that, however, we will have to wait and see. The first downpour proved the contrary.

With the construction of flyovers or over bridges in progress at various key spots in the city, travelling has become quite a nightmare. Many roads have turned one-way; this arrangement seems to be working well in one or two places. Many wonder when work on the Kathipara over-bridge, probably the largest of the bridges under construction or what might turn out to be the largest ever in Chennai once it is built, will finally end! Situated at a major junction en route the airport, work on the bridge has resulted in airport-bound travellers having to leave homes hours before flights.

While the Kathipara over-bridge, once ready for use, might ease the flow of traffic to some extent, you wonder whether the other flyovers (in T. Nagar especially) would serve a similar purpose! By the time construction is complete, the number of vehicles on the roads would be increased manifold and things might not really be all that different at all. I, like many optimists, hope that the bridges will indeed make a difference and make driving in those areas relatively easier.

Another problem that residents in some areas in the city are facing nowadays is fluctuating voltage. This has led to television sets blanking out, tubelight chokes choking up, and computers crashing. With electricity wires and cables running above ground in places, it is another nightmare for people during the monsoon when you never really know where you are putting your foot while navigating flooded roads.

Sometimes, I think whether I would in my lifetime ever get to see in Chennai good roads, clean surroundings, uninterrupted power supply, clean potable water, and, most important, the sense of discipline that has enabled other cities in the world to offer its citizens a much better quality of life.