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?