Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The yuletide spirit, a shade subdued

Christmas brings festivity and joy. No matter which religion you belong to, there is always a special joy attached to Christmas - the plum cakes, home-made wine, church bells pealing, charity, the midnight mass, the dances and the ball and, of course, the season itself, the best part of the year leading to the New Year.

This year, Christmas celebrations are expected to be subdued, what with the Mumbai terror attacks and the global economy in deep trouble. While returning home after work close to midnight, I did not see anything on the roads that told me it was Christmas eve. Except when I passed the Vadapalani area and there I did see men, women and children dressed in new clothes on their way to church.

After a late dinner, I set of with my camera to see if there was something I could spot. And yes, there was. A few homes had the Christmas star brighten up the exterior. One belonged to a Hindu home. And that I thought was what makes India so unique - where your neighbour's festival is as much as yours even if your religion is different from his.

Well, I have already received a couple of plum cakes from my Christian neighbours, and am looking forward to more friends dropping by tomorrow. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When politicians light up your life

Less than 200 metres from the Ayyappan Temple (refer previous post), shops were shut not because it was a Sunday but because there was a public meeting going on. And, you are right, addressed by members of a political outfit. The loud whirring of a generator could be heard yards away, but was one generator enough to light up all those lights and bulbs, I wondered! For, not only were strobe lights used to light up the stage and roundabouts, but on the roads adjoining, tube lights at intervals of 20 feet ran for more than a kilometer. With the state government and the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board trying to spread the message about energy conservation, what was being practiced was quite something else. The roads were fairly well lit, so were scores of tube lights needed to show the VIPs the way?

Pictures show views of the main road near the meeting spot, with tube lights strung on both sides, political visitors squeezed together on stage and others jockeying for space, and the general buzz around the scene of the meeting.

An evening in a temple

The Margazhi Season or what is also known as the December Season in Chennai is all about music and the arts, as much as it is about devotees going on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. I was at the Ayyappan Temple in KK Nagar this evening. The temple was crowded, much more than on a working day. There were several devotees and their families as well as others who had come to pray. One of the attractions during the Season here, as in several other temples across Chennai and Tamil Nadu, is the evening kutcheri performance. So, even as you pray, there’s live Carnatic music to provide that special feeling. Many people who visit the temple just sit on the sands to listen, after praying. The singers and accompanists are given special prasadam, perhaps a meal as well. They do not really sing for money, a voluntary worker in the temple told me.

Pictures show the singers and accompanists on a dimly lit stage, and people on the sands listening.

Monday, December 15, 2008

One more faces the axe

How many trees in Chennai are going to remain as unplanned and unhindered construction goes on in the name of development is anybody’s guess? How many trees were mercilessly chopped to make way for the GN Chetty flyover in T Nagar? It’s anybody’s guess again. It was once a lovely stretch of road, of shade. When I happened to pass by recently, I could not even recognise the road. It lay battered and bruised after the rain and floods. Now, of course, the battered and bruised roads will be tarred and paved and what else… For the flyover is to be inaugurated shortly.

How much are we losing in the name of development? Madras has changed so much that even a person like me who was a newcomer to the city in 1983 cannot recognise many parts of it now. Anyway, guess there is no point in dwelling on the past when it serves no purpose.

Today, I saw a lovely tree being cut down to its roots, on Lakshmanaswamy Salai (or is it Munuswamy Salai, there are so many Salais, you forget which one is which) in KK Nagar, close to the Adyar Bakery. It had overgrown no doubt, but pruning would have done. Nobody seemed to care, certainly not the residents of the apartment block before which the tree was being cut.

And yes, there’s money to be made here – but how wonderful it would have been if the tree was allowed to live and provide shade to passers-by as it has done for years!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Will we only complain and not do anything?

The rains seem to be finally over, although one can’t really tell. People in Chennai and its suburbs will remember Cyclone Nisha for a long, long time to come. For all the assurances given by the state administration that storm-water drains had been laid and flooding would be minimal, Chennai lay battered and bruised at the end of it all. Several roads, streets and by-lanes now have potholes and it’s a nightmare travelling on them. Floodwaters entered many, many homes and residents – poor middle class and rich – had a trying time baling out water and cleaning their homes. People living in ground-floor flats are now looking at moving to first floors. So bad was their experience.

The weather has changed so much over the past few years. There is hardly anymore the winter season here when you get to see clear blue skies and an eagle or two flying high above. Well, those were the days.

While people in the city have quickly got over the flood trauma, many in the suburbs, in Tambaram and elsewhere, are still awaiting flood relief. It is the same story every year. An elderly gentleman told me that he has been seeing this happen for decades, only the scale of loss and damage changes every year.

So, what answers does the government have? The state administration is trying its best, of course, or so it seems. But surely, there must be something drastically wrong with our planning and implementation. Roads, for example. Why do they have to be repeatedly dug and coated with tar? Why can’t we have concrete roads, like in most parts of Mumbai or Delhi? It’s because construction has become a moneymaking racket – there are hundreds and thousands all over the country eager for the spoils.

And who is to show the light at the end of the tunnel? The common man. But where is he in the midst of all this? Doesn’t he have the time? Does he care as much for his country, state or city as he professes? If he or she does, why don’t they come out and try and do something? Each in his or her own way. A writer writing about the trauma of floodwaters entering homes, a painter highlighting the lack of a proper meal on canvas, or a singer singing aloud the agony of a people. Where is that spirit of the 1930s and 1940s? Where is that unity? Can we still show the world that we can achieve (we did achieve Independence, didn’t we?)? That we have what it takes to make India a developed country in the next decade?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bird watching is easy

You do not necessarily have to visit the wilderness to watch birds. You can do this in your home garden, school premises or at your workplace. So, what are some of the birds you can try to spot from your home? Well, according to The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, you can observe at least 15-20 birds, such as:

1. Red-vented Bulbul (konda kurulla)
2. Babblers (demalichcha)
3. Oriental Magpie-robin (polkichcha)
4. Rose-ringed Parakeet (Rena girawa)
5. Tailor Bird (battichcha)
6. Common Myna (myna)
7. Asian Koel (koha)
8. Sunbirsd (Peni Kurulla)
9. White-breasted Kingfisher(pilihuduwa)
10. Spotted Dove (alu Kobeiya)
11. Red-backed Woodpecker(kerala)
12. White-bellied Drongo (kawda)
13. Barbets (kottoruwa)
14. Small Flowerpecker (pilalichcha)
15. Black-hooded Oriole (kaha kurulla)

And, yes, you can sometimes see migrants in your home garden too, if you have one. These include beautiful birds like Indian Pitta, and Forest Wagtail (kele halapenda), Asian Paradise Flycatcher (sudu redi hora), Blue-tailed Bee-eater (nil peda binguharaya), Brown Flycatcher (dumburu masimara), and Barn Swallow (atu wehilihiniya).

Any ideal time of the day to observe birds..? Yes, birds are most active in the morning, between 07.30 and

December is Bird Month

I receive several emails from time to time pertaining to various events in Sri Lanka. Some of them are interesting, such as the one I received today about the need to appreciate the birds around us. It is something that can apply to any one of us, irrespective of which country we belong to, and I thought it worthwhile to reproduce some of it. Here goes:
Birds are a common sight in Sri Lanka but many of us fail to appreciate them. To increase the awareness of the public about our feathered friends, the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL) has launched its annual nationwide program to assess and study the distribution and presence of birds in Sri Lanka.
December has been declared Bird Counting Month as migrant birds that arrive from other countries too peak in this month. Participation is simple and one need not be an expert birder to get involved. Those who would like to participate has only to watch birds in as many places as possible - own home gardens, school premises, workplace, lakesides, paddy fields –any place that is frequented by birds. They can make a list of birds that they can identify in a given location and either email it to or post it in to FOGSL, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, Colombo 3. The list should include the date, location, weather at the time, the habitat that the bird was observed in, and the name and contact details of the observer. Participants can also enter data directly to which is part of the international network of databases used to analyze status of birds.
The numbers of birds in various areas are also dwindling due to causes such as deforestation, wetland reclamation and changes in habitat. Even the birds that are common today can be diminished without our knowledge. An example is the House Sparrow decline. A decade ago, most of the houses had nest boxes inviting this cute bird. But they are not to be seen in many areas, where they were previously common. So no species can be labeled as safe no matter what its number is today. It is only when the public become aware of the value of these beautiful creatures, can more be achieved towards protecting them. Creating this awareness is another aim of Bird Month.
The Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka is the national affiliate of Birdlife International ( Since its establishment in 1976, FOGSL has worked towards two goals-firstly, to study birds in the wild and determine which ones need protection and in what manner, secondly to increase the understanding of the public so that the threat towards birds would lessen. FOGSL based at University of Colombo and conducts a monthly lecture on birds on last Saturday of every month. Log on to get more information.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Truths about cancer

Following is a cancer update from John Hopkins, which I happened to read recently:

1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion. When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.

2. Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person's lifetime.

3. When the person's immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.

4. When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors.

5. To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system.

6. Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.

7. Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.

8. Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.

9 When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications.

10. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.

11. An effective way to battle cancer is to starve the cancer cells by not feeding it with the foods it needs to multiply.

Cancer cells feed on:

a. Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal,Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful. A better natural substitute would be Manuka honey or molasses but only in very small amounts. Table salt has a chemical added to make it white in color. Better alternative is Bragg's aminos or sea salt.

b. Milk causes the body to produce mucus, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucus. Cutting off milk and substituting with unsweetened soya starve milk cancer cells.

c. Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork. Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.

d. A diet made of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains, seeds, nuts and a little fruits help put the body into an alkaline environment. About 20% can be from cooked food including beans. Fresh vegetable juices provide live enzymes that are easily absorbed and reach down to cellular levels within 15 minutes to nourish and enhance growth of healthy cells. To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice (most vegetables including bean sprouts)and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzy mes are destroyed at temperatures of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

e. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate, which have high caffeine. Green tea is a better alternative and has cancer-fighting properties. Water-best to drink purified water, or filtered, to avoid known toxins and heavy metals in tap water. Distilled water is acidic; avoid it.

12. Meat protein is difficult to digest and requires a lot of digestive enzymes. Undigested meat remaining in the intestines become putrified and leads to more toxic buildup.

13. Cancer cell walls have a tough protein covering. By refraining from or eating less meat it frees more enzymes to attack the protein walls of cancer cells and allows the body's killer cells to destroy the cancer cells.

14. Some supplements build up the immune system to enable the body's own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E are known to cause apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the body's normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells.

15. Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor. Anger, unforgiveness and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.

16. Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily and deep breathing help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level. Oxygen therapy is another means employed to destroy cancer cells.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ever thought about the rural consumer?

A couple of weeks ago, I crisscrossed parts of rural South India. While passing by on the roadside various shops – big and small, old and new, ordinary and quaint – I realised that the huge demographic variations of rural India are a challenge for any marketer. Experts in rural marketing and marketing heads of companies, who have succeeded in wooing the rural consumer, I’m sure will agree. At a rural marketing summit held in Kolkata a few months ago, Peeyush Gupta, chief-marketing & sales (flat products), Tata Steel Limited, said that we need to realise that the rural consumer is not na├»ve or illiterate but knows exactly what he wants and that copy-paste marketing will never work given the huge demographic variations of rural India. The rural consumer is not price sensitive, but budget sensitive, he added. Well, how many of us pause a moment to think of people in our villages and the lives they lead? How many of us know of self-help groups, mostly made up of women, that have been able to gain access to micro-finance as well as chlorine tablets and water purifiers? Dipayan Dey, social worker, speaking at the summit, said that the sentimental quotient of rural India has to be given importance and strategies need to be different as well. It needs to be a model based on partnership, reciprocity, equity and sustainability. Presently, rural India is a Rs 200,000-crore market. By 2017, rural demand is estimated to be three times bigger. And consumer goods are going to initiate the change.

So, why aren’t youngsters looking at rural India for jobs and career opportunities? Why do youngsters in India’s villages leave a special romance behind to move to towns and cities for jobs? R. Parthasarathy, who runs Kripa Outdoor Publicity from Valsarawakkam, a rural marketing enterprise with probably the best reach across the four southern states and Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal, tells me that
rural marketing growth is phenomenal and the time is apt for youngsters to be a part of it. Opportunities are plenty, he says, and points out that the past few years have witnessed remarkable corporate participation and investment in terms of training and development. There are many management institutes offering elective courses in rural marketing. The Rural Marketing Association of India, for instance, a three-year-old association, is creating a lot of opportunities for youngsters through its industry-focused seminars, offering courses in rural marketing, conducting contests for summer project in rural marketing for students of top management institutes, rural market case studies etc.

Kripa Outdoor provides skill-based training rural youth and employs most of its field staff from rural areas only. And Parthasarathy has found such youngsters capable of taking up challenges. He started his career in advertising, with F D Stewart, one of the leading ad agencies in India in those days. When the company folded up, he decided to establish his own enterprise. He foresaw the huge potential in the rural market while being associated with rural van operations. Narrating some memorable moments about his experiences in India’s rural market, he talked about the days before television ventured into India’s villages, when he and his team used to carry 16mm projectors with a big portable screen in the van and show popular feature films in regional languages, especially old films of MGR, Shivaji and NTR, interspersed with commercial advertisements, usually between 7 pm and 10pm. Rural customers are different from their urban counterparts. It is very important to communicate the right message in a language that the rural customer understands, he says.

Ugly sights - shouldn't we do something about it?

There was a time when Calcutta was equated with garbage, as the dirtiest city etc. During my several visits to the city in the 1990s and 2000 onwards, I have never seen garbage pile up on Calcutta streets like they now do on Chennai's. Surat learned a lesson after the plague. Wonder when Chennai will! With the name change, the city seems to have lost its sense of cleanliness.

I was looking at some pictures sent to me by a friend who has been continuously following up with Neel Metal Fanalca, the agency that is supposed to keep parts of Chennai clean. Not only are these pictures ugly, you can see garbage in front of Padma Seshadri, KK Nagar, on pavements, an over-turned garbage bin, well...

So, is there a remedy? Those who want to do something about it, can call the Neel Metal call centre no. 18004255533 or the Corporation no. 1913. These pictures are of streets in K.K.Nagar, so if you wish to follow up and help my friend out, please call 9940636312.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When will Chennai's traffic improve?

N.S. Venkataraman, trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, as usual hits the nail on the head. I reproduce below the email he has sent to me

After visiting my 92-year-old uncle in Mylapore who is now confined to his home happily thinking about his younger days when he used to walk around in Mylapore without tension, I took a city bus 29C from Mylapore tank to Adyar depot. I boarded the bus at 6.20 p.m. on a Saturday and reached Adyar bus depot at 7.15 p.m. The bus took 55 minutes to cover the distance of less than six kilometres.

On that day, an actor-turned-politician was holding a big rally in the city with many of his supporters coming to the city in buses and vans from different parts of the state. While this partly contributed to the traffic hurdle, the bus conductor told me that the conditions were no different on other days during peak hours.

Standing in the bus for nearly an hour and having nothing to do but to watch the conditions on the road as the bus was moving at a snail’s pace , I realised that the traffic system has virtually collapsed. There was no space on the road for pedestrians or cyclists, and two-wheelers, three-wheelers and four-wheelers moved on whatever space that they found, to inch forward. In such conditions, any vehicle can hit another or a pedestrian and it was miraculous that I did not see any accident. My immediate feeling was: why do politicians hold rallies in the city and get their followers to come in huge numbers? Obviously, they have no concern for causing hardship to people.

I felt disgusted about the quality of traffic administration and those who are responsible for it. Ministers and senior bureaucrats, who lay down traffic rules move in escorted official cars and have no opportunity to understand the plight of those who have to travel by bus or of pedestrians. It appears that they have no action plan to solve these problems and they seem to have run out of ideas.

It should be known even to a school student that the number of cars and two wheelers allowed to ply in the city should be drastically reduced , since there is no relation to the number of cars plying and the size of the roads. Why is the government allowing more and more car factories?

There is certainly no feasibility of widening the road; constructing flyovers can solve the problem only to a certain extent. The mass transportation system is good in theory but it would take a pretty long time to implement the schemes and in any case the government is too slow on such strategies as well.

It is necessary to increase the number of buses in the city and discourage the use of cars and two-wheelers on the road to the extent possible. It is said that the Singapore Government has restricted the number of cars on the road as a part of traffic management policy.

Where's the proactive citizen?

The growth of Ashok Nagar-KK Nagar-Vadapalani-Valsarawakkam as a residential and commercial belt has been explosive in the past decade. Unfortunately, like in most Indian metro cities that are growing beyond their means, civic planning in Chennai too has not been able to match such growth. So, in a situation like this, what can the citizen do? Lots, if you ask me. Being proactive and setting out to do something positive ranks on the top of my list. Getting together to bemoan lack of facilities and help is easy, but the difficult part is to try and do something that will make a difference.

I bumped into such a ‘proactive citizen’ last week. Premila Rajan must be proud of what she is doing. She hasn’t achieved the success that she is aiming for, but she has made a good beginning. The problem is, of course, garbage that you find strewn all over the city nowadays. In this case, Rajan found to her utter disgust garbage piling and rotting outside the Padma Seshadri School main gate in KK Nagar, as well as on Ramaswamy Salai, by the side of the school wall. Nobody seemed to care and for days the garbage just remained, growing larger and rotting further. Rajan decided to do something and began calling Neel Metal Fenalca (NMF), the agency that is supposed to clear garbage in the area. Repeated calls to the agency’s KK Nagar supervisor resulted in the garbage being partly cleared. Yet things did not fall into place. For example, the supervisor promised to place an extra bin but that has not happened. Every time garbage accumulates, Rajan has been calling NMF. Not once, but several times. And finally there is a clearance operation. A sad state of affairs, you’d say.

This is only one part of Rajan’s initiative. She now plans to write a letter to the PSBB Parents Teachers Association, urging the body to do something. After all, what is the point in talking about a clean and green environment inside the school campus when the outside is littered with garbage and nobody seems to care a damn! Indeed, it will make a difference if the school authorities complain, she says. So, are they listening? An email Rajan sent to the school, based on the email id provided on the school’s Web site, has evoked no response. A telephone call to the school ended with an administrative staff member saying casually that she will do the needful. Rajan has also been trying to rope in support from other parents who wait for their children outside the school gates. She has given them the NMF telephone number and asked them to complain too. She hopes she will get the support she is looking for.

I am convinced that residents and PSBB students can do a lot to get rid of an eyesore like garbage in the area. I do not know whether Exnora has school wings in the city, but if there aren’t, it is something Mr Nirmal and his team should seriously look at forming. Imagine the impact students can create on the concerned authorities with their campaigns and action for clean environment! This would be much more meaningful than planting saplings. M.S. Soundararajan and G. Govindaraj, Exnora stalwarts and residents of KK Nagar, have contributed to making the lives of people living in this part of Chennai better. I now urge them to provide the lead in KK Nagar by campaigning, with residents and students, for a garbage-free environment. And, of course, we need more Premila Rajans to come forward.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Leave nature alone

N.S.Venkataraman, trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, makes an impassioned plea to the concerned authorities not the ‘beautify’ Elliots beach when there are so many other pressing things to be done. Many of us agree with his views, don’t we? Here is what he says:

As a long time resident of Besant Nagar, Chennai, it is really heart-breaking for me to see the Chennai Corporation proceeding with the so called beautification of the Elliots beach. It is actually a de-beautification scheme, being implemented with absolutely no consideration for the ecological issues involved or understanding of the concept of beauty itself.

As a concerned citizen, I feel depressed and helpless, not knowing how can I discharge my duty to protect the glory of Elliots beach for the benefit of future generation, if not the present one. How can the authorities do this, ignoring the views of the citizens many of whom obviously know better than those implementing this painful scheme , said to be costing Rs. 25 crores?

When the city is so dirty with sewage water overflowing in several places and those particularly in the lower income group are forced to live in extremely unhealthy conditions, why are the authorities in such great hurry to invest such large amount of money in such a scheme , that would bring no benefit to anyone, except perhaps the contractors ? With a Governor's bungalow coming up at one end and concrete jungle coming up at another end in the name of beautification, Eliots beach is now facing the threat of becoming one more ugly part of Chennai.

What are the options left for the concerned citizens when the authorities would implement their decisions as if the views of the people do not matter to them at all? It is not as if the politicians sitting in the government and in Chennai Corporation alone are responsible for such move that would kill the glory of Elliots beach. What about the so many IAS officers working in the government and corporation, who are said to be better trained in administration and should know better? There is no evidence that they have advised the Chief Minister or the Mayor to desist from this counter productive scheme in Elliots beach. Do they also not care?

Should the concerned citizens who are aware of the adverse consequences of implementing such schemes resign themselves to the fate and keep silent? If any one would feel that I have used strong words, they should go to the Elliots beach and see the ongoing work there for themselves and in all probablity they would join the band of protestors.

How can anyone beautify nature? All that is required is that Elliots beach should get less attention from Mayor and Commissioner of Chennai Corporation for putting up buildings on the sands and greater attention from those who desire cleanliness on the sands and surroundings.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Classes on Vedic heritage

Purnavidya, a ‘complete systematic education programme’ on Vedic heritage and culture is being launched for the residents of Mylapore and nearby areas on Thursday, October 9 (Vijaya Dasami) at No.80 (Old No. 196A) Sriram Apartments, St. Mary’s Road, Abhiramapuram, between 4.45pm and 6.00pm.

Weekly classes will be conducted free for children aged 6 to 16. They will also be taught how to chant shlokhas and how to perform simple daily pujas. The medium of teaching
will be English.

Those interested can contact Sridhar at 98412 93322 or 98840 97597. Admission to the launch programme is open to all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The 'coin man' we'll always remember

This column is a tribute to a friend of mine, one of Chennai’s most passionate lovers of heritage and one of the most active heritage enthusiasts the city has seen. S. B. Raja Seetharaman died a few weeks ago on the railway tracks in Mambalam. He was only 40. Apparently, he and his friend were about to cross the tracks when a train came whizzing by. Its speed caught Raja off balance and he fell on gravel. The impact of head on gravel must have been great or probably it was the tender part of his head that bore the brunt. Whatever it was, death was instant. A sad end to a life that promised so much.

Some years ago, Seetharaman called me to find out whether I could help edit a document he had written on heritage. It was my first interaction with him. Over the years, I would meet him at several functions and every time he endeared himself to me more with his simplicity, straightforwardness and soft-spoken manner. His visiting card reads ‘numismatist, notaphilist and philatelist’ – his hobby was collecting coins, currencies and stamps. The card has a picture of his home on Iyya Mudali Street in Chintadripet. It was a heritage building and he spent most of his savings restoring and preserving it, after a legal battle for ownership that consumed 20 years. Emblazoned at the bottom of the card is the legend: Let us be proud owners of our heritage. Indeed, there were few to match his passion, dedication and commitment to the cause of heritage.

Seetharaman began collecting coins as a schoolboy, after he once brought home a coin and quizzed his father (Dr A. Srinivasan retired as Addl Director of Public Health & Preventive Medicine) about it. However, he learnt the art of collecting coins, the thematic way, from M. T. Karunakaran, senior research scholar and coin collector who lived in Tambaram. It was through Karunakaran that Seetharaman met D. Hemachandra Rao and forged a close bond with the then president of the Madras Coin Society. Soon, collection of old coins became a family responsibility and whenever someone in the family came across an old coin, it would be deposited in a bowl kept in the drawing room. Gradually, Seethraman’s collection of coins and stamps included those of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Diana.

It was in 1995-96 that Seethraman became a member of the Madras Coin Society. He was eager and enthusiastic and Rao encouraged him to focus on Indian coins and Indian Bank notes. Seetharaman then met V. Kalyanam (secretary to Mahatma Gandhi) and motivated him to exhibit his collection of Gandhi memorabilia. In 2005, Seetharaman took great interest in bringing out the Madras Coin Society Journal. INTACH member Prema Kasturi remembers how he approached her for editing its contents. “He was an excellent researcher and wrote good articles himself,” she says, recalling how Seetharaman had written a beautiful article, approached archaeologists and brought out a wonderful book for HRD Times. “He was genial, loveable and had an enthusiasm for life. He had excellent contact with coin collectors as well,” she adds.

Rao recollects how at the Mylapore Festival one year, Seetharaman handled the coin exhibition at the Lady Sivaswami School, Mylapore. During Madras Day celebrations (2004-06), Seetharaman and Rao organised coin, currency and stamp exhibitions at the Rajaji Hall and Clive Hall. In 2007, he almost single-handedly organised the coin exhibition at the Centenary Hall at the Government Museum. This year, he was elated when authorities at the Rajaji Hall gave their go-ahead for the exhibition during Madras Week.

Seetharaman studied at the Children’s Garden HS School, Mylapore, up to Class 5, moving to Dr Guruswamy Mudaliar TTV HS School in Kondithope for Classes 6-12. He graduated in economics from Vivekananda College in 1988 and went on to obtain diplomas in marketing, PR and computer application from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. His elder sister Lakshmi Srinivasan tells me that Seetharman as a boy was extremely shy and hardly spoke to strangers. He never picked fights with anyone and the only quarrels were with his two sisters. For a decade and more, Seetharaman worked with Take Wing Communications before turning financial consultant. In recent years, he would visit the homes of prospective clients to answer any queries they had about LIC policies, housing loans, general insurance, shares and mutual funds, and Post Office small savings schemes. And he either walked or travelled by bus. Not for him a scooter or two-wheeler.

“The exhibitions need meticulous planning. We used to assist him and he introduced us to a whole new world. We learnt that society is a web of relationships,” Lakshmi says, adding, “His energy was simply amazing. He showed us that if you pursue what you like doing, even if it is a hobby, you can make a mark.”

‘Let’s make things better’ was Seetharaman’s motto. What he treasured most was his meeting with the former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Kalam, a few months before he became the President, dropped by one late night to see the coin exhibition Seetharaman had organised at Kalyanam’s premises. “So, you are the coin man!” Kalam exclaimed on seeing the youngster. It was a greeting Seetharamn kept recounting with glee to his friends.

Perhaps Seetharaman’s work will inspire others. Let his soul rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vignettes from an international conference

There were some excellent speeches and exchanges at the IFRA India 2008 Conference. Following are some interesting highlights:

The Times of India publishes a newspaper for students – about 500,000 copies are sold. Ravi Dhariwal, CEO-Publishing, The Times of India Group, said that students like to read the paper. The newspaper (in general) has to be customised to suit the present generation, he feels. “The alternatives available to the post-1990 generation are much more (than of his generation). Editors realise that they need to draw the younger crowd. The ageing population is a cushion. The newspaper will still remain relevant. We do not, however, need to change the circulation-growth strategy,” he said.

Shahrukh Hasan, group managing director, the Jang Group of Newspapers, Pakistan, attending an IFRA conference for the first time, told me that the media scene in Pakistan is very robust and competitive. The market, both Web and print, is growing. Internet is growing exponentially in urban areas, he added. Indeed, India and Pakistan are among the few countries where circulation of newspapers is growing (23 per cent for India and seven per cent for Pakistan). According to Hasan, 70 per cent of the population in Pakistan is under 21 years of age. “We need young readership. The traditional newspapers cater to the more mature readers,” he stressed.

Mohit Jain, director-Business & Commercial, The Times of India Group, felt that the biggest challenge for the news publishing industry in India is the worrisome newsprint situation. “Newsprint cost has risen to 50 per cent of our cost structure and has a huge impact on our bottom line. We like to know how others are handling the situation, whether they are increasing advertising or circulation rates or changing web-width or re-designing the paper. IFRA conferences are all about specifics – about issues most relevant to the newspaper publishing media. So, attending them will help us understand whether we have to expand or migrate from print to digital.”

While explaining Stampen AB’s (Sweden) approach to the news publishing business, Tomas Brunegard, chief executive officer, said that globalisation with new technology is affecting all newspaper publishers and that the newspaper industry must change, building on its strengths. “The future media is not about publisher or individual power, it is about the power of cooperation. Modern people want to take part, and we have to adapt,” he pointed out.

Cyril Pereira, vice president-Manufacturing, ABP Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata, urged CEOs and publishers to find commercial opportunities and make win-win deals. “Newspapers are losing opportunities because of lack of cooperation. Newspapers should ally with Google and Yahoo,” he said and added that linking up with large advertisers have made newspapers powerhouses. “Newspapers are trying to retain profit margins and forgetting investigative journalism. The newspaper’s mission is long gone. Also, newspapers must know the reason for its existence, create a brand image, engage community to solve problems, and be useful and interactive. Newspapers mean something to the community if they are useful. But newspapers are moribund in their thinking. We should be able to tell the advertiser whom they are reaching. Today, I don’t have the ear of the advertiser. We are sitting on a gold mine but we don’t spend a dollar understanding our customer.”

The IFRA India 2008 Conference commenced with the official launch of the IFRA India Newsletter by Thomas Jacob, deputy CEO, IFRA. Dean Du Toit, senior production manager, Gulf News, Dubai, set the ball rolling with his take on the business concept of printing the daily newspaper in heatset and on high-quality paper.

Presenting a case study of The Printers (Mysore) Ltd., Bangalore, S. Krishnan, senior manager-production, covered a wide range in heatset drying, including high ink cost, frequent blanket cleaning and UV incompatibility with conventional coldset ink. He referred to a VAPON (Value Added Printing of Newspapers) study and stated that heatset is only 14 per cent more expensive than coldset on the same paper. The same study also revealed that readers are concerned about the quality of front and back covers in newspapers, and about the use of four-colour as well.

Printing, using lower grammage newsprint, issues associated with it, and how to manage production formed Yusuke Naito’s presentation, which turned out to be one of the most interesting for the delegates. The senior chief engineer, Printing Engineering Department, Nikkei, Japan, explained that Nikkei’s development of the 40g newspaper was dependent on maintenance of print quality and that he and his team had worked closely with ink manufacturers to reduce strike through.

The concluding session on Day 1 of the IFRA India 2008 Conference saw C. K. Gan, managing director, SEA Graphic Communications Group, Kodak, Malaysia, outlining the possibilities of digital printing for newspapers and the technology that can be adopted. His presentation covered consumer behaviour, technology and application. “Print is the core component of today’s media mix and will remain so in the future. Technology has given consumers more power to select content that interests them – they are looking for less information, but information that is more relevant. Today’s challenge is to communicate with the more sophisticated and in-control consumer,” he says, going on to list the advantages of high-speed inkjet technology.

Focussing on how to handle different paper grades in commercial printing of newspapers, Erik Ohls, director-Technical Marketing, UPM Kymmene, Finland, the world’s leading producer of magazine paper, says that paper is the single most important element that defines quality. “When we talk about hybrid printing, we need to identify opportunities for additional revenue,” he adds. According to Ohls, it is most challenging for the printer to combine coldset and a true HSWO web. “It would be good if the printer has an HSWO background. Coldset webs are easier to handle. Also, press start-up sequences need to be developed – heatset webs require a different sequence from coldset.”

Ian Lewis, director, Arcon Digital Ltd., New Zealand, commenced the final session at the Conference with his take on CtP plate technology. Thermal chemistry-free technology is used extensively in North American markets, he said, and added that while violet-free technology is aimed at smaller newspapers, it is now suitable for larger sites. “The development focus is now on violet technology which has matured,” he pointed out. According to him, chemistry-free technology is viable, cost-effective and environmentally sound. Process-less technology has plate handling restrictions and is not viable yet. However, its commercial experience reveals it has a short storage life.

Sandeep Gupta, executive president, Dainik Jagran, the largest circulated and read newspaper in India, drew the attention of the audience to technical issues of short-length run and smaller presses, growing demand by readers for colour pages, and press configuration. “We follow the lean manufacturing method, which means that the focus is on reduction of waste throughout all departments,” he said. Stating that 80 per cent of problems are usually people-related, Gupta was of the view that a systematic approach, measurable practices, recognition of work and training will help solve problems.

The IFRA India 2008 Conference concluded with Sanat Hazra’s (director-Technical, The Times of India Group) presentation on ‘green publishing’. He suggested various initiatives on the newsprint front – use of thinner but stronger and opaque paper, use of alternate fibres, reduction of newsprint waste. He also spoke about new developments in consumables – soya-based ink for offset printing; water base for flexographic and gravure printing; high strength ink; chemistry-free CtP plates; waterless printing; and soft proofing.

Highlighting the aspect of waste management, Hazra said: “Every economic activity produces waste. Proper collection and handling of hazardous waste is crucial. Unless you have proper documentation of a project definition, it will not happen.” He stressed that a time frame must be fixed to get results. The Times of India, he said, is saving energy by reducing the use of diesel generators, for instance, and also saving water and newsprint.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Something magical about newspapers

There were several interesting talks and presentations at the IFRA India 2008 Conference. For example, Steve Yelvington, senior strategist, Morris Digitalworks, U.S.A., spoke about the Bluffton Today experiment of using a new publishing model combining print and the Internet and how it had resulted in Bluffton, “the oldest village in the United States”, coming together as a community. Bluffton Today launched a new, free, home-delivered newspaper with a Web site built entirely around blogging and photo-sharing. “You cannot blame the Internet for the slide in newspapers. Most newspapers missed the opportunity the Internet provided. A Web site should not be just an online newspaper. We used print and Web for their respective strengths. The whole structure of the Internet is conversational. It is a network, which has led to the rise of participative media,” he says.

Speaking about its model of attracting new audiences and how it is preparing for change, Tomasz Jozefacki, head of Internet Division, Agora, Poland, says that half of Agora’s revenues continue to come from newspapers in a very competitive market. Agora’s strategy, he points out, is content creation and distribution, expansion in the fastest growing segments,and taking advantage of the digital opportunity. “The Internet has been the primary tool (for Agora) in reaching new audiences. We are learning how to use it and to leverage it as a distribution platform. The growth is from community and social network platforms,” Jozefacki says.

There was an outstanding panel discussion chaired by Tariq Ansari, managing director, Mid Day Multimedia Ltd. at the concluding session on Day 1 of the two-day CEO-Publishers Conclave. The panelists included K. U. Rao, CEO, Diligent Media Corporation; Ravi Dhariwal, CEO-Publishing, The Times of India Group; and Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media Ltd. To a comment from Bhaskar Das, executive president, The Times of India Group, that the post-1990 generation is not interested in newspapers and that more newspapers will ruin the environment at a time when people are environment-conscious, Dhariwal responds by saying that there is still something magical about newspapers, it comes in a package that is attractive. “Although the readership will decline, it will not die down,” he stresses.

Referring to a special edition The Times of India is producing for students – about 500,000 copies – Ravi Dhariwal, CEO-Publishing, The Times of India Group, says that students like to read the paper. The newspaper has to be customised to suit the present generation, he feels. “The alternatives available to the post-1990 generation is much more (than of his generation). Editors realise that they need to draw the younger crowd. The ageing population is a cushion. The newspaper will still remain relevant. We do not, however, need to change the circulation-growth strategy,” he says.

Reader engagement vital

Earlier this week, I was at the IFRA India 2008 Sixteenth Annual Conference at the Marriott Resort Hotel in Goa that formally opened with the CEO-Publishers Conclave, a first for an IFRA India conference. Visitors to the conference were greeted by rain and a steady wind; it is the fag end of the south west monsoon in these parts.

At the foyer leading to Ballroom Saloon 3 where the CEO-Publishers Conclave was held, was a rack exhibiting India’s leading daily newspapers. The numbers of newspapers in India is just growing, very different from the developed world where the sheer survival of the newspaper is in question.

Although digital platforms are gaining importance, there will be no migration from paper to digital, no ‘either-or’, says Reiner Mittelbach in his opening address, adding that although Internet is eating into traditional models, newspapers will survive and that the present is more about “multimedia, multichannel and multiplatform.” That surely would have provided heart to some.

The picture in the newspaper publishing business is not as rosy as it was a few years ago with competition between newspapers hotting up in different markets, says Thomas Jacob, deputy CEO, IFRA. Only newspapers with the right leadership and the best quality management will emerge winners, he is convinced.

The highlight at the inaugural was the speech by Prof Dipak Jain, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Delivering the keynote address at the CEO-Publishers Conclave, Prof Jain lists the four main global challenges in the coming decade for the newspaper publishing industry as changing customer demographics, search for talent, ‘hyper’ competition, and ‘nano-second’ culture.

“The world is becoming bipolar. For example, while in India, we have 550 million people who are 24 years or younger, the fastest growing segment, in the developed world the majority is 60 years and older. We need to ask what kind of people we need for the industry. Retention is a serious problem that will not disappear. A formal training in journalism and media management is necessary,” he says. Referring to ‘hyper’ competition and to the success of Google, he says that the customer who provides media revenue is important. Value creation is as important as value capture, he adds.

Explaining how the ‘nano-second culture’ has made newspapers irrelevant in terms of breaking news, Prof Jain says: “In the future, the newspaper should become a communication medium. Readers should contribute and be made co-creators of the reading experience. The more we engage readers, the more successful we will be.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Scenes from Gariahat, Calutta!

It is always a pleasure to visit good old Calcutta… I guess people who have been born and brought up in Calcutta and now stay elsewhere share my sentiment.

I was in Kolkata last week… and, in the midst of catching up with family, managed to find time to take a walk in Gariahat, Calcutta's premier shopping hub. I window-shopped and generally soaked in the scene.

These pictures, taken in Gariahat, will tell their own stories – of men, women and children, shopkeepers, customers, students, walkers… each one contributing to its special ethos.

Citizen-j, hyperlocal news, blogs

The world’s most dramatic events in recent times were broken to the world by citizen journalists. When an amateur videographer filmed the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers and millions around the world watched, it was probably a first. The initial, startling images of the tsunami in Indonesia (December 2004) and the London bombings (July 2005) came from amateur photographers. At the Virginia Tech shootout in April 2007, citizen journalists supplied invaluable material to news organisations like the CNN – pictures and video footage of the shootings taken on mobile phones.

Citizen Journalism or ‘user generated content’ till recently was one of the hottest buzzwords in the news business. Questions were raised about whether Citizen Journalism was a threat or an opportunity to professional journalists. Many felt that it would make journalism better because if the professional journalist did something wrong, he or she could be hauled up immediately. However, the issue of credibility associated with user-generated content remains.

Even today, several questions are asked: Is Citizen Journalism influencing the way journalists work? Does it encourage new thinking in the newsroom? Are journalists losing their monopoly as opinion leaders? Will readers take a more active role in the future? Is the rise of Citizen Journalism affecting the editorial process? When people are willing to go to any extent to gain publicity, how do editors check the authenticity of content and pictures? What can a newspaper do when a citizen journalist impersonates a professional journalist? Who is responsible when a citizen journalist injures himself or dies while taking pictures of accidents or terror? Indeed, the traditional view of news is changing rapidly.

Readers here might not be aware that in the developed world people are more focused on local news and the accent nowadays in newspaper and media publishing there is on what is called ‘hyperlocal’ news, an area that constitutes the core of Citizen Journalism. Residents are often keen to report on community events that mainstream newspapers tend to ignore. The Internet, far more pervasive and accessible than the telegraph in the good old days, has enabled citizens without any journalistic background to contribute to newspapers and media.

The Weblog or blog is one of the newest forms of participatory journalism to gain popularity. They have in some ways become agenda setters for traditional media. According to an MSN report, 87 percent of bloggers in India (14 percent of net users) spend up to five hours a week reading or updating their blogs. Blogs help small groups communicate, are easy to set up, operate and maintain. The technology is relatively inexpensive, sometimes even free. This allows just about anyone to become a publisher, creator and distributor of content. Blogs attract readers through word-of Unlike traditional journalists, who have to pass their work through various filters, bloggers don’t have to worry too much about being accurate or fair. They are just interested in getting their opinions across and are not likely to adopt an objective approach.

Interestingly, many journalists are bloggers too. However, blogging has given ordinary people a powerful and inexpensive publishing tool to reach out to the world with their stories and thoughts. People write for their own satisfaction. Even so, bloggers and citizen journalists need a motivator sometimes, like an editor, who can train and inspire them to churn out material week after week. Today’s audience is keen to take on the roles of publisher, broadcaster, editor, content creator and advertiser.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

How they surfaced from the jaws of death

This was a drama in real life… remember Reader’s Digest? V.S. Ramana, a friend, who heads the PR and corporate communication function at L&T-ECC, has sent me an email describing how he and the PR team from Chennai (or was it India) recently escaped with their lives during a visit to Mauritius. I am reproducing here what he has written and except for editing for size, I have let it remain as it is. This came as a shocker when I read it. Here goes:

Nearly 50 PR professionals from India, from various leading public and private sector organisations of India, top media as well as from the advertising sector, arrived by Air Mauritius MK 745 on the 24th August. The event was to mark the celebrations of '50 Years of Public Relations Society of India (PRSI)' - the apex PR body that decided to extend its Golden Jubilee celebrations in the 'Out of the World' Island called Mauritius.

The event had a true auspicious beginning with a kick off by Hon'ble President of Mauritius, and event participation by Minister for Industry, Director Board of Investments, High Commissioner of Mauritius in India, Director, Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority,the acting Director, Govt Info Service, the CEO Air Mauritius - to name few of the stars; and many noted international PR experts. The three-day sessions of the 2nd International PR Festival ended with active participation of the delegates and speakers. It was time then time for members to enjoy the island's unique experience for the rest of the days before their scheduled departure on at day break on 31 August.

Fatema F Kaderbhay of Heldive Ltd [not Hell Dive!] came to offer an exciting 'underwater walk' – “it is so safe even for 7-year-old kids and those who do not even know swimming!” she said. It was also an unbeatable offer, said to be very special for us. A confident lot of 16 agreed to participate. At the defined moment, only 11 people set out for the venture - that could have turned into a 'disastrous adventure'.

A cab took the team, and Raj, the driver, spoke Hindi and actively engaged all the people on the finer aspects of the island. We soon reached Pereybere at the Grand Bay. The lagoon was quiet, serene and emerald blue.... truly inviting!! As we got to capture few shots on our video and still cameras, a ferry came ashore to take us to a 'platform' in the sea where we were supposed to get into the suits and begin the adventure.

Eleven of us boarded the ferry, and with the fat boat-man, Ricardo Jean Mitchel, we were a complete dozen! We did not know the prescribed maximum, but later gathered that it ought to have been just 8 – including the skipper. The surprise was that Fatema did not come along but said that she'd be available for anything if need be.

The boatman had initial trouble, with the motor not starting off in the first go. "Not a good omen?" sounded off one of the members.... and as if to ward off that 'negative effect', I shouted a prayer for all to say - "Jai Bajrang Bali!”. And we certainly needed the blessings of the Lord in the next 15 minutes... "We are now about 3 to 4 metres deep," said the boatman, not very communicative or even excited, just like many other men we had come across the boats in La Plantation where we all stayed.

Soon as we went about two-third the distance, the danger ahead was visible to all of us. “There is water coming in,” alerted Meena. Water started entering from the rear end of the boat, just above the place of the motor. The motor perhaps did not have the adequate power to push us all and it seemed to gasp with the 'over weight?' Meena held that she had pointed out to Ricardo of water coming in some ten minutes before, to which he is said to have retorted, “No problem!” Right now it was indeed A BIG PROBLEM! The boat man shut the engine off - asked us to stay calm and not panic, and whistled and waved to draw attention of near-by boats.

"Guys, do not panic, please stay calm," I yelled and Bharat too was trying to make others stay as calm as possible. Any panic and undue movements would surely topple the boat, even before the water filled up. We did hold ourselves together but not for too long. Water gushed in from the rear of the boat, faster than we had anticipated. The boat turtled to its left and threw us all into the lagoon. We all hit the water. Jayashree, Srinivas, Dr Anil and his wife Anita were swimmers of some sort and the rest who did not know swimming were truly in great dismay and distress.

As I held my breath to prevent seawater entering my mouth and nose, I kicked my hands and limbs to stay afloat above water. The capsized boat was right above me and I held on to it. The boat’s belly was very slippery and my hand was giving away but finally I managed to hold on to the rim of the boat, he right hand holding from the outer side, and the left hand from the inner. I started stretching my legs and kept flapping to stay afloat and took stock of the situation.

Jayashree emerged from the boat's front-end, having been right under the boat and weaved her way soon out. Bharat and Dr Anil emerged on my left. I saw Srinivas who pulled Bhargavi up even as she was being towed away by the waves. Subha and Rajagopalan too were visible but were on the other side of the boat. Meena took help from Srinivas and stayed afloat. The boatman too emerged and showed signs of utter dismay. Apart from his aiding Srinivas to help Bhargavi climb up and lie on to the top of the boat he did nothing to rescue or lend a helping hand.

We all missed Suganthy! "Suganthy...where is she?" I yelled and we all started drawing the attention of the missing member - we had to act fast! 'Something is holding my leg underneath" Dr Anil said. Karl, an Australian came to our rescue - he was God sent. Off to fishing with his nine-year son, he threw a life jacket. Bhargavi and Rajagopal were quickly taken into the Coast Guard boat that came very close to our sunken ferry and threatened to tilt it further, making us lose grip. Suganthy was still not visible!

Karl rescued Subha. "Take on the man in his dark glasses - he does not know swimming!" yelled Jayashree, referring to me. Karl swam towards me, and guided me till the ladder. As I got on, I insisted: "Please find Suganthi!" In seconds, Karl went under the boat and fetched Suganthy, who was floating flat on her belly. The others too held her and soon got her aboard Karl’s boat. "She is breathing" assured Karl. Suganthy was laid flat on the surface while her head hung below the body-level. She frothed from her mouth and nose. A good sign, I sort reassured myself first [I could have been right or wrong]. “Call for the emergency and ambulance”.... yelled someone.

Karl's boat soon headed to the shore... which by then had many anxious onlookers. A bedspread was soon laid... as Karl helped by others put Suganthy on to the floor. She was still breathing loud from her mouth. Karl gave her some quick first aid - one of the first aid emergency acts that he had learnt from a course completed just 10 days before.

She was rolled on to her left, with her left leg stretched and the right folded up. Suganthy threw up vomiting some of the undigested food. She was constantly assured by us that she was fine and that the rest of us too were. We held her hand firmly, giving her all the sensation, the heat, and sought to get her senses alive and ticking. “Open your eyes Suganthy”, and she would respond, “open wide”, she'd do that... “now roll your eyes”... and she quickly reacted to it.

In minutes she was under good care of the emergency ambulance and the medical team that came in. Dr Foundun and the team rushed her to the SSRN Hospital - North - in Pamplemouss. There was water in her lungs and the required medical interventions were given even while on the move. “She will have to be in the ICU tonight and she should be fine,”...assured the doctor. With timely help and best of medical intervention, Suganthy was out of the hospital the third day. But she was advised to undertake travel only after three days for ample precaution. Jayashree stayed back and with approval from my office, I stayed back as well for support.

While Karl and his family were invited to a thanksgiving meet by all the PR men, there is one ‘take home’ message at the end of the event. Life alone is the only valuable thing we all hold when it comes to a challenging situation. Be it in any place on this planet earth! Would be so true even in Mauritius, the 'Out of this World’ country! There is no value really to the belongings or money we lose - video and digital cameras or any such thing that we often state as 'valuables'.

The following day, the Minister Tourism met with us and Karl’s family and assured action would be taken on people who messed with lives and flouted safety norms. It was a good gesture on his part.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The most detailed history of Madras yet… first volume launched

Will this man ever stop writing books on Madras that is Chennai? Certainly not as long as he can. Today, at the Museum Theatre (venue well chosen), to cap Madras Week celebrations for the year, the first volume of Madras (Chennai): A 400 Year Record of the First City of Modern India, edited by S. Muthiah, was released by the Tamil Nadu Governor, Surjit Singh Barnala.

The second volume is likely to be launched in April, and the third during Madras Week next year. The three volumes will be the result of a collaboration between the British Council and the Association of British Scholars Chennai (ABS).

The thought for the three-volume Madras Gazetteer as it was originally planned to be called arose during a meeting Muthiah had with Venu Prasad who was then president of the ABS. No serious work had been done on the history of Madras until then, and Prasad’s enthusiasm led Muthiah to start work on the gazetteer.

The result was that about 50 writers contributed, about 60 per cent of them experts from the ABS, and the remainder experts from outside. So, when the third volume is released next year, we will see the most detailed history for any city in India being published.

The first volume released today is about ‘The Land, The People, & Their Governance’; the second will be on ‘Services, Education & The Economy’; and the third on ‘Information, Culture and Entertainment’.

Muthiah’s premise, as a historian, has always been that Madras, till the 1770s, was the capital of British settlements in the East. Whether it was primary or technical education, basics of medical treatment, or municipal governance, Madras showed other Indian cities the way, registering a first in each case.

The three books will be factual and based on documented facts. It will be a good starting point for any serious researcher of Chennai’s history.

Present at the launch were Sir Richard Stagg, British High Commissioner in India; Mike Connor, Deputy High Commissioner; and Chris Gibson, Director British Council, South India, and P. M. Belliappa, president of ABS.

Gibson described the first book as a saga of the persistent efforts by the ABS. Connor said that Muthiah’s books on Chennai were compulsory reading for all British Dy High Commissioners. He called Muthiah a chronicler, balladeer, storyteller, editor, author and a one-man-army. Quoting Oscar Wilde, he added: Anybody can make history; only a great man can write it.

Stagg said that education would define India’s success in the coming 50 or 100 years. Indo-British ties had great potential in this area. The new generation was unaware of history and more concerned about the future, he added.

Outside, refreshments included hot piping dosas, vadas, jilebis and coffee.

Picture shows a view of the Museum Theatre today an hour before the programme, with tight security in place. Cameras were not allowed inside.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Well, it’s not quite over yet. There are more ceremonies now… back at the hotel. As the newly wedded couple arrives, women holding wick lamps and flowers welcome them. But before that the husband has his feet washed and wiped by the bride’s nephew.

The husband offers his wife roses. He takes charge of her soon after and once the ceremonies are all over, they have time to sit and contemplate. Only just...

It has been quite a day, already!

A new dawn arises

Malayalee weddings are quick affairs. You wait and wait for D-Day and when it finally dawns and the events unfold you hardly have time to savour them. So, here the bride and groom become husband and wife almost in an instant. He ties the thali or gold necklace around her neck, they exchange garlands, and pray to the Almighty to bless them (here, from outside the sanctum sanctorum). It is a new dawn… new hopes… new aspirations.

It's all happening

Well, it’s the day of the Wedding. Look at her hands – those beautiful designs will remain for a long, long time, you can be sure. Last few comforting words (does today’s bride need those?) from her sister and the bride moves on… towards the kalyana mandapam outside the main shrine.

Outside the mandapam where the wedding ceremony will take place, the groom and his sisters wait.

Bride comes calling

Now, on to the wedding. We’ve all heard of arranged marriages, and the role played by jadagams or horoscopes, and astrologers in making a marriage possible. Across India, this still holds true, though it must be said that youngsters have begun to choose their own partners. In the age of the Internet, Indian parents have shown that they have it in them to move with the times. So, this is the age of arranging marriages based on the curriculum vitae furnished on various matrimonial Web sites by the parents of prospective brides and grooms, or by the youngsters themselves.

Many, many marriages are taking place this way. But perhaps most among families who have their children of marriageable age working outside India. Some call them NRI or non-resident Indian marriages. So, if you are an Indian working in Dallas, you can tie the wedding knot with another Indian working in Houston – someone you never knew existed until you or your parents found his or her name and particulars on a matrimonial Web site. Hmmm…

The wedding we attended was the typical New Generation (is it Generation Y?) wedding – bride and groom work abroad, parents work or are retired in India.

A few hours before the wedding, the would-bride flaunts a new sari. She looks resplendent and no wonder photographers (of the home-made variety) are busy clicking away close to midnight!

Midnight dosas

Before Krishna Inn, the Elite Hotel was for years the place to be seen in, in Guruvayur. Perhaps it still is, I’m not quite sure. We landed up there for dinner and the food was all right, although there was little choice on offer. Past 10 pm, it is difficult in these parts to gauge how popular a restaurant is because that is the time most restaurants close shop for the day. In the first picture, the man behind the cash counter chats with a waiter as they wait for us to finish our meal.

Outside, hot piping dosas were being made on a steaming tawa. Awesome aroma and all that… but we had already eaten. Clearly there would be customers late into the night and this make-shift eatery on the road between Krishna Inn and Elite is an example of how successful you can get if you are enterprising enough.

The kind of dosas this man makes is not available down this stretch of road. He knows that they are special and that people will come by. He was not quite willing to pose for a picture though…

Krishna Inn

We stayed at the Krishna Inn, which is not much visible from the main road. It plays host to the Who’s Who of Kerala and South India, whenever these people visit the temple. Left to myself, I would have preferred an ordinary place, closer to the temple. But we were guests and sometimes when the host offers regal fare on a platter you just can’t refuse, can you?

Service is excellent here, unobtrusive and polite. There are a couple of restaurants, and the food quite good. Only vegetarian food is served, like in most of the hotels and restaurants in Guruvayur, a temple town, remember…

I took pictures of the reception are and the foyer late night. The attendant at the doorway was always all smiles and I couldn’t resist the temptation one morning. The last shot is of a view of the East Nada Street running towards the main entrance to the temple from the road outside the hotel.