Sunday, August 30, 2009

Puppy love

Finally, back to the adorable puppies.

A father and daughter are delighted by their acquisition, or did they bring the pup from home?

Her dad is teaching her how to hold the pup, and as the next picture shows, she does remarkably well, posing for the camera. There’s already a bond between her and the pup.

If only I could take this lovely creature home, this young woman seems to be saying.

And, finally, a sight to behold… such tender care… hmm, you can expect it from children.

They show you what unconditional love is all about

Continuing with the Blue Cross Well Dog show, several of the dogs were restless. Obviously, they were not comfortable in a crowd. There were yelps, barks, gnarls and snaps… but the dogs eventually settled down and the show went on…

Look at the first picture. The dogs are on a tight leash, and restive. In the second, Gopi and daughter Sharanya show off Max, their 10-month-old handsome male. He was found on the streets and the family adopted him. A pug seems lost in the third, but catches the attention of a teenager. And the last picture has the moving story of Basha.

Heard of the Indian Pariah Dog?

Who or what is the Indian Dog or the Indian Pariah or the Indian Native Dog? Well, ever since I chanced upon the Indian Pariah Dog Club blog ( I’ve been hooked. The site is the painstaking effort of Rajashree Khalap, who works with the wildlife conservation NGO Satpuda Foundation in the tiger reserves of central India. She has worked with the street dogs of Mumbai for 14 years. It’s a storehouse of information and a must read for all dog lovers.

“The Indian public is not particularly dog-savvy and the common Third World mindset affects perceptions about dogs. As in many of the poorer countries of Asia and Africa, pets are still selected according to an outdated colonial-era ranking order which perceives anything foreign as superior to anything native. The growing middle class also seeks to display its spending power by purchasing expensive Eurobreeds,” Rajashree writes in her blog. Well, if wish to know more about the INDogs of Orissa or the Santal Hound, you must go to this website.

At the Blue Cross Well Dog show at the C.P. Arts Centre, I was not quite sure whether some of the dogs were Indian Native or Pariah, but many of them seemed to belong to the mongrel category.

Pictures show owners comparing notes; participants lining up for the show (notice the pup, second from right); judges included former city police commissioner Latika Saran, writer Shivshankari and Varalakshmi (Sharath Kumar’s daughter); and dog lovers watching the proceedings.

When children spent an afternoon choosing a puppy

The Indian Dog show was slated to commence at 3pm, but the C.P Arts Centre was packed with men, women and children and dogs of all shapes and sizes much before that. Remember, it was a Sunday afternoon. Yes, the show was for the Indian Dog or the Indian Pariah Dog or mongrels, but there were Labradors, German Shepherds and even a pug soaking in the ambiance. Nobody minded; in fact, it was like: more dogs, the merrier.

Children and adults crowded around an enclosure where puppies were displayed for adoption. There were many an excited squeal (of children) and admiring eyes as one puppy after another got adopted in fairly quick time. Obviously, choosing one wasn't too difficult; may be a few minutes, but that was all. The enclosure was full of puppies when I first had a look; toward the end of the show, very few were left. They were all so cuddly and lovable that a friend exclaimed in greeting that she'd already lost her heart to one of them!

The Blue Cross has been encouraging the adoption of puppies, the Indian puppies or mongrels. Shows such as as this help children understand that an Indian dog is as good, if not better, than any other breed. The mongrels are hardy and intelligent, and easy to look after as well.

Once, when I had been to Dr Chinny's office in the Guindy Industrial Estate, this is what I saw displayed inside the factory premises: ‘If you can’t decide between an Alsatian, a Doberman or a Poodle, get them all. Adopt a mongrel from the Blue Cross shelter and get everything you are looking for – all in one dog. The intelligence of a Poodle and loyalty of a Lassie, the bark of a Shepherd and the heart of a St. Bernard, the spots of a Dalmatian and size of a Schnauzer and the speed of a Greyhound. A genuine all-Indian has it all. Get the best of everybody. Adopt a mongrel’.

Here was how the puppies looked: all asleep initially; aroused with some nervous fondling; and then the adoption . Away from all this was quite another view, of people restive, waiting for the actual show to start.

An Indian Dog show, courtesy the Blue Cross

Well, Sunday afternoons for me are usually meant to be siesta time. This Sunday afternoon, I fought sleep and decided to attend an Indian Dog show hosted by the Blue Cross of India at the C.P. Arts Centre. It turned out to be an afternoon well spent, as the pictures in the coming posts will show. But let’s for a while, look at how the Blue Cross came about and what it is doing in the field of animal (dog, mostly) care.

It was 50 years ago, in 1959, that a group of concerned people started a small advocacy group which was registered in 1964 as the Blue Cross of India. According to the 45th annual report of the Blue Cross, at the time of its founding, there were only two kinds of animal welfare organisations in India – the majority were goshalas for cattle and the rest were SPCAs started by the British. Most of the latter only prosecuted cases of overloading of animal-drawn vehicles or for using sick and unfit animals to draw these carts. The Blue Cross of India was the first of a new genre that considered that all animals under all circumstances had the right to be protected from cruelty at the hands of man.

Captain V. Sundaram founded the Blue Cross. His son, Dr. S. Chinny Krishna, has been its chairman and editor of its newsletter for years now. Members include Usha Sundaram, Seetha Muthiah, Suresh Sundaram, N. Sugal Chand Jain, Nanditha Krishna, L. Nemichand Singhvi, Shantilal Pandya, Marion Courtine, R. Shanker, Malliga Ravindar, Viji Sundaram and a representative of the Animal Welfare Board of India. S. Haksan and Vittaldev Ravishankar are the honorary treasurers.

During the last half century, the Blue Cross India has been primarily volunteer-driven and dedicated individuals who donate their time and expertise do much of the work on a purely honorary basis. According to Dr Chinny Krishna (picture above), Blue Cross activities have grown to such an extent that it is obvious that full-time committed professionals are needed to run the organisation on a day-to-day basis for best results.

The Blue Cross runs shelters in Velachery Road, Guindy; Kunnam Village, Sunkuvarchatram in Kanchipuram; and Toducadu Village, Sriperumbudur-Tiruvellore Road, in Tiruvellore. It runs an animal birth control (ABC) programme at Lloyds Colony, Lloyds Road, and at Mount Poonamallee Road, St. Thomas Mount.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Madras Week: Madras Rediscovered in Tamil

Bringing up the finale as it were on the last day of what was a hectic Madras Week was the Madras Book Club, with the launch at the Taj Connemara of the Tamil translation of S Muthiah’s Madras Rediscovered. There were some sterling speeches by Prof. V.C. Kulandaiswamy, chairman, Tamil Virtual University, who launched the book, and Dr V. Irai Anbu, secretary (tourism and culture), Govt of Tamil Nadu.

But the honours must go to Badri Seshadri, publisher, New Horizon Media, for bringing out the 600-page book at an economical price, C.V. Karthik Narayanan for translating the book and, of course, Muthiah himself for having taken the initiative, I’m sure, of making it all happen. With this offering, prospects of the city’s history being read by many more people are bright indeed.

Reminiscing about his entry into the world of writing, printing and publishing as an eight-year-old, Muthiah said it all had to do with his joining a new preparatory school, St Thomas’s, in Ceylon (where he grew up and which is still his first love) where a teacher named W.T. Keble proved to be the greatest influence on his life. Keble got the children to read, and told them the histories of Ceylon and England as interesting stories of countries, unlike what is done in most school classrooms today. Later, when Muthiah wrote Ceylon Beaten Track, he found Keble’s influence on almost every page.

Muthiah arrived in Madras in 1968, to take over T.T. Maps and Publications, a TTK Group company then, and it was while bringing out a booklet with a large map of Madras that he discovered a city and its history, and from then on there was no looking back…

Pictures show the release of the book, with (l-r) Badri Seshadri, Karthik Narayanan, Prof. Kulandaiswamy, Dr Irai Anbu and Muthiah; a view of the audience; and brisk sales at the counter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Madras Week: With films and food, you can't go wrong

The finale to Madras Week celebrations at Hotel Green Park was a wonderful presentation on Tamil films through the 1930s to the 1970s by Mohan Raman, a familiar face on television. Though the programme continued past 9.30pm, many stayed till the end.

Mohan has acted in more than 100 films and 5,000 episodes, he says. He collects stamps that are related to films; he is also a corporate trainer who uses cinematic tools to communicate.

A word also about the food festival that Hotel Green Park hosted through the week. Most nights saw the tables packed, with more than 100 people visiting to taste cuisines of the Madras Presidency. Rohit Jha, food and beverage manager, and Chef Amsa deserve kudos for planning and executing the festival in style. Krishna Kumar, general manager, who has been taking the initiative each year in getting Madras Week celebrations organised at Green Park, has plans for more authentic food fare next year.

Pictures show Mohan Raman with film directors and technicians; pictures of old Madras displayed at Once Upon a Time, the restaurant where the food festival was held; a chef readies an aapam; a view at the dinner buffet; and kili jolsyam (parrot predicts) provides the local flavour outside Once Upon a Time.

Madras Week: A poignant moment as Oxygen sings the Chennai anthem

It was a special moment that evening during Madras Day, when music band Oxygen sang the Chennai anthem. Members of the group were friends of young Vikram who had composed the song’s music. There was a hushed silence as the opening lines of the song, Vandanam, vandanam, Chennaikku vandanam, vandarai vazhavaikkum, panbukku vandanam, rent the air. And rousing applause as Vikram’s picture was projected at the end of the song.

A road accident had claimed Vikram’s life, but his contribution will be always remembered and we hope that his dreams of a better and greener Chennai will be realised some day soon. Vikram had composed the original music for the song. He was passionate about the city and its people and was keen on pursuing the technical line in films and music.

The song (lyrics by C. R. Anandan, in Tamil) talks about the Fort St. George, the city slum dwellers, the Marina Beach, the Covelong Beach, and the Cooum and Adyar Rivers. The song urges Chennaites to preserve nature’s gifts. Listen to it and see the wonderful Chennai sights at

Earlier, Oxygen began with Nagumomu, a Carnatic track of saint Thyagaraja. The band gave it a special flavour by creating a subtle Western mood to the song. The krithi was played in the traditional format by the violin, with the melodion adding a unique flavour to the melody.

Owing to a sound system problem, the band missed playing Vandemataram, which talks about youth empowerment. It is one of the songs in the album ‘Ooh la la la’ that was released by A. R. Rahman recently.

Picture shows Anandan providing the background to the event; Oxygen - Harish (melodion), Karthick Iyer (violin), Vijaykrishnan (keyboard) Ethiraj (mridangam) and Subu (vocal) - playing Nagumomu; Harish and Vijaykrishnan; and the group with another member, Vijay Narain, coming together to sing the Chennai anthem.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Madras Week: Directors, technicians, actors get nostalgic, recall the romance of filmaking

Talking at Hotel Green Park about another age in the Kodambakkam studios, and about their experiences, were ten people closely associated with the film industry – Balraj, costume designer, Premkumar, cinematographer, Rajendran, make-up artiste, Jana, art director, Jananathan, film director, G. B. Vijay, film director and ad filmmaker, J. K., art director, Karthik Raghunath, film director, Ragavendra Rao, actor and lyricist, and Vasantha Anand, actor.

Ragavendra Rao started his career at the age of five and had worked with directors like Puttanna; he later turned lyricist. J. K. attended a screen test; people said he resembled kutti Sivaji, but he was turned down. He was the first in his family to enter films.

An emotional Karthik said he was born in cinema. He had told his mother soon after graduation that he wished to join the industry. Backed by her, the idea was put forward to his father, who said: “Understand cinema, and every aspect of it before you enter.” That was how he began assisting his father (T. R. Raghunath). Of course, he received offers from established companies, but he chose to remain in filmdom where his heart lay. Karthick also spoke of how great stars such as M.G.R and Sivaji would come home and how he grew up knowing nothing except cinema.

Balraj recalled how he was made to climb up a tree in Ooty’s cold, to portray an adivasi in a scene. That was when he decided to give up acting and moved to being a costume designer.

Vijay pointed out that where Hotel Green Park stood, was the canteen of Vauhini studios that served two idlis for five paise. He spoke of the thoughtfulness of the filmmakers of those days to provide excellent food at a subsidised rate.

Rajendran spoke of his struggles as a make-up man. He had to do odd jobs before eventually settling down. Jana mentioned how he was given no salary but Rs 2 daily with which he used to buy tea for 75 paise and a snack, enough to get back home.

Jananathan spoke of how actors, technicians and directors in those days allowed their protégés to grow. Vasanth narrated his theatre experiences in Singapore, as a young boy in a co-ed school. When once somebody called him the Sivaji Ganesan of Singapore, he replied that he hadn’t even risen to the actor's ankles.

J. K. also spoke of an instance when the assistant director was asked to stand on guard at the entrance and not to allow anyone inside. The art director's assistance themselves were denied entrance. Such was the devotion of assistants then, he said.

Picture shows ace storyteller Jeeva Raghunath introducing the panel (l-r): Balraj, costume designer, Premkumar, cinematographer, Rajendran, make-up artiste, Jana, art director, Jananathan, film director, G. B. Vijay, film director and ad film maker, J. K., art director, Karthik Raghunath, film director, Ragavendra Rao, actor and lyricist, and Vasantha Anand, actor; J.K. regales the audience; Karthick delves into the past; Mohan Raman points to the real heroes of cinema; and a view of the packed house.

Madras Week: How the studios came to Kodambakkam

The studios of Kodambakkam have a fascinating history. According to Randor Guy, film historian, during World War II, the Madras Electric Supply Corporation (MESC) had built a power house in the area, but there were no takers for the energy. The film studios were then encouraged to set shop there. And that was how the studios of Kodambakkam came about.

However, in 1935, A Ramaiah from Thanjavur had already established the first studio, Star Combines, near the Vadapalani bus terminus, which then marked the end of city limits. Gradually several studios came up – Rohini, Film Centre (set up by Majid), Bharani Studios (Bhanumathy Ramakrishna), Vikram Studios (B. S. Ranga, ace cameraman, producer-director), Paramount which later became Majestic Studios (Muthukumarappa Reddiar) Golden Studios, Vasu Studios (Vasu Menon) and Karpagam Studios (K. S. Gopalakrishnan). But they were all dwarfed by two giants - Vauhini Studios (B. Nagi Reddy), the biggest in Asia then with 13 studio floors, and AVM Studios (A.V. Meiyappan), the second largest in the city, with six studio floors.

“Most studios then were self-contained and had the latest equipment although importing stuff was difficult. You could go with a script and a team, shoot on the floor, use the editing room and the laboratory,” says Karthick Raghunath, film director, who has experienced life in the Kodambakkam film studios ever since he was five. There was really no shooting at actual locales then. It was only in the 1970s that filmmakers ventured out of the studios of Kodambakkam. But there was always a great demand for studio floor space.

Recalling the years he spent on various sets watching his father, TR Raghunath, well-known erstwhile film director who made his first film in 1937, Karthick says that a director then had to know all the nuances of film-making – editing, photography, script writing and laboratory practice. “In the black-and-white film era, when the speed of running film was slow and heavy lighting was needed, it called for vivid imagination and extraordinary judgment, and technicians had both in abundance. There was immense respect for directors,” he says.

Madras Week: Capturing the spirit of Ghoda Bagh, films of 1960s-70s shot in Kodambakkam studios

The subject chosen by Spring into Reading for this year’s Madras Week was Kodambakkam and the life in the film studios there. According to P Venkataraman, who was a Kodambakkam resident for 52 years, the place was originally a part of Shrotrium Village in Puliyur Kottam, one of the 24 subdivisions of Thondainadu. There are several versions of how the name Kodambakkam came about – a corrupted form of Ghoda Bagh, the place where horses were reared during the time of the Nawab of Arcot; the sthalapuranam of one of the two Siva temples in the area (it is said that Lord Shiva turned the Meru Mountain into a bow; in Tamil, mountain is kodu, bow is ambu); after Karkodiyan, a descendant of Adisesha who is worshipped as Lord Narayana at the temple in Sivan Koil Street.

A few decades ago, there was no Kodambakkam Bridge; there was the ‘Periye gate’ near the track that people used, to cross. There were plenty of gypsies at the spot and always a crowd at the railway gate watching film stars waiting to cross once the trains passed, says Karthick Raghunath, film director and son of erstwhile ace director TR Raghunath, who has spent more than four decades in the Kodambakkam studios. There were no proper roads, no drainage or water supply. The area was full of palm and coconut trees. The rainy season saw waist-deep water everywhere. The area where the potters trade today was marshy land, almost a lake. Even in 1947, buses would stop at the Vadapalani Temple. Passing garland sellers and jatkas (horse carriages), people walked to the Vauhini Studios.

Chef Amsa at Hotel Green Park recalls how he and his friends used to walk from Royapettah to watch movies at the Pankajam touring talkies near Arunachalam Road. They paid 25 paise for a thara (sitting on the sand) ticket or one rupee if they wanted to sit on a chair.

Recapturing the spirit of Ghoda Bagh and the songs and scenes shot in the studios were students from the Dr M. G. R. Janaki School for the Hearing and Speech Impaired, Ramavaram, and the Dr. M. G. R. Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, Adyar.

Pictures show children from the Dr. M. G. R. Janaki Higher Secondary School, Virugambakkam at the Tamizh thai vazhthu; the Poi kaal kuthirai dance by students of the Dr M. G. R. Janaki School for the Hearing and Speech Impaired, Ramavaram, and dances from Tamil films of the 1960s-70s by the Dr M. G. R. Janaki College of Arts and Science, Adyar.

Madras Week: When puppets brought the show alive

One of the efforts of Madras Week coordinators has been to get children involved in as many activities as possible. In the Vadapalani area, playing that role the past few years has been Spring into Reading, an activity centre for children. Every year, Hotel Green Park plays host, thanks to Krishna Kumar, the general manager, and his wonderful team, including Ravi, chef Amsa and others. And every year, at programmes conducted by Binita and Shrimati of Spring into Reading, puppetry workshops and storytelling, there is packed attendance; there are more people for these shows than there are for the finale, which is usually a talk or presentation by a well-known speaker. This year, too, the story proceeded according to script, but even Krishna Kumar and his team might not have anticipated the kind of response that the events for children generated last Saturday afternoon.

Like last year, Bhanumathi’s puppetry workshop kick-started events. The theme this year was ‘flora and fauna’, more of fauna actually. Children – there were more than 30 of them – arrived with charts, colour pencils, scissors, glue… the works. Soon, part of the stage and the floor area next to it came alive with children drawing and colouring shapes of animals, turning them into puppets and lining up to show their creations to Bhanumathi.

And, perhaps for the first time this year during Madras Week, there were cries of ‘Happy birthday, Chennai’. The children chorused in unison to wish the city on its 370th anniversary.

Pictures show Bhanumathi lending a helping hand; children and a parent engrossed; children show off their puppets; they crowd around the NDTV-Hindu reporter; and a view of the audience.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Madras Week: Special fare at La Boulangerie

A visit to Vanilla Children Place is often not quite complete without a snack or a cup of Cappuccino at the fairly popular French café there. For Madras Week, La Boulangerie came up with an offering of old-time bakery specials, Madras specials and Raj fare. Adding to the nostalgia were some fine sketches of Madras buildings, by the gifted artist Amalore.

Picture shows ketches of Amalore displayed at La Boulangerie.

Madras Week: From Avadi to the Marina, a bicycle rally

VSSS Alumni, a forum for the past pupils of the Vijayantha Senior Secondary School School on the Heavy Vehicles Factory campus in Avadi organised a bicycle rally on Madras Day (August 22). The rally began at the Avadi Rountana and proceeded to the lighthouse on the Marina. The objective: to create an awareness about global warming and the measures to be protect the earth by using, for instance, bicycles for travel up to 5 km and public transport for longer distances, and also exploring possibilities of car/two-wheeler pooling.

The exercises showed how the local community can come together and contribute to Madras Week celebrations. M. Kathiravan, editor, Town News, and V. Nandakumar, dy. Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, flagged off the rally. Present at the Vijayantha School before the bicycles started on their journey were P. Omana, headmistress; James, headmaster; K. Vasantha, headmistress; S. Kalaivani, founder, Lokamathra Charitable Trust; S.K. Sivakumar, manager, NICT; Hari Babu, manager, Aptech; and D. Gopinath, manager, S.S.S. Computer Education.

Enthused by the response, P. Jayakumar, president, VSSS Alumni, and G. Aejaz Sheriff, treasurer, plan to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the school by getting the old students to attend.

Picture shows the bicycle rally all set to being flagged off.

Madras Week: Packed house at Garodia School to see pictures of old Madras

It was a packed hall at the Jaigopal Garodia Vivekananda Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Anna Nagar. There were students, teachers and visitors waiting for D. Krishnan, picture editor of The Hindu, to make his presentation on ‘Pictures of the Madras Presidency’. Ashok Kedia, trustee, and G. Vijayakumar, principal of the school, are always excellent hosts and this year, too, they had done a fine job ensuring that everything was in place.

Krishnan’s pictures showed the Madras of the old and the new. The comparison was stark – there are fewer trees today, less walking space on roads, there is more congestion everywhere, and laidback life of the 1960s-70s have disappeared.

Some interesting pictures included the Bank of Madras (headquartered then in Calcutta) on First Line Beach (1896), the Arbuthnot Bank building (1904), which Indian Bank later took over, the Madras Harbour of 1895, Esplanade Road (1910) where none of the old buildings, except the Anderson Church, has survived, the Officers’ Mess (now the Fort Museum) in 1912, the Napier Bridge (1895), Senate House (1890) and the Chepauk Palace, the Southern Railway headquarters (1925), the Buckingham Canal on which 1,200 boats ferried people and goods everyday once, from Madras to Kakinada, the Victoria Hall (1887), a bodyguard at the entrance to Rajaji Hall, and the Roundtana on Mount Road.

Pictures show Krishnan making his presentation, sections of the audience (Kedia can be seen in the second, seated in the second row, second from left), and visitors having a look at some pictures of old Madras that were displayed.