Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Namma Arcot Road coordinators need to get their act together
When the Namma Arcot Road initiative got going formally in the first week of October (on Gandhi Jayanti) with Mrs Y.G. Parthasarathy, dean and director, Padma Seshadri Group of Schools, inaugurating, veteran journalist and Chennai Historian S. Muthiah sharing his words of wisdom, and Madras Day/Week catalysts such as Prema Kasturi, V. Sriram and yours truly in attendance, there was a sort of expectation that the group would indeed do something to make Arcot Road, comprising areas from Ashok Nagar to Porur, a happening place at least once a month with heritage talks and walks and getting the Who’s Who of the city to a part of town that’s usually considered the periphery.
Not that the expectation has been proved wrong, but I would like to tell the coordinators or catalysts of the Namma Arcot Road initiative that while the going has been fairly good on the monthly event front, the progress made on the social documenting front, which was stressed as important by Muthiah and which really should be one of the most important planks of the group, has been disappointing. It’s four months past the inaugural effort and to learn that no old-timer has been interviewed yet to record for posterity what the area was once all about, is almost as good as no progress having been made.
I understand that after a meeting with Mrs YGP an effort was made to rope in students of Padma Seshadri, KK Nagar, to help in the social documentation, but since nothing has come of it (strange, since the dean had herself assured the group and given the go-ahead), it is high time the coordinators seek another school or schools in the area to not only bolster their confidence but also strengthen the initiative. I hear that the principal of Amrita Vidyalaya is keen to get her students to do something but getting this off the ground quickly is what the NAR coordinators must now seriously look at.
The question oft asked me is ‘why social documentation’ or how will it help. As a student of history and one interested in conserving heritage, I can only say that successful completion of the exercise could lead to a possible book or books about Arcot Road. And a book like that is worth more than its weight in gold.
The other thing I’d like to tell the coordinators is that more effort must be made to get events listed in newspapers, especially in the neighbourhood papers that reach many homes in the area. People must know when an event is happening and what it is about. A visit to newspaper offices, mainline and neighbourhood, is essential. Taking the easy route of emailing a press release may not always be the right thing to do. Also, the press needs to see a face or two, not different faces at different times. So, somebody in the group who has a flair for this kind of PR activity and who also has patience must take up what is not an enviable job.
Another thing is the aspect of introducing NAR and the people behind it at every event. This is a very important role and no matter how old NAR will be one day, introducing the initiative briefly and also the people (coordinators) behind it helps. There are new people in the audience every time. Even if there are regulars, there is no harm in launching a five-minute spiel to get the message across. And this has to be done by somebody who can speak fairly well, doesn’t take too long to say what has to be said, and who can hold the attention of the audience. I have seen this go asunder the last couple of times, and this is not the way to go.
The coordinators may think I’m a little harsh, but the fact is that these things need to be plainly told. And as a sort of adviser I guess I have that liberty. The Madras Book Club is an example of how a well-conducted programme, month after month, can earn the respect of people, and how it has made in a mark in the ten years and more of its existence. The Club started informally, with space offered by a leading hotel and little else other than tea and biscuits. Membership was free. Today, it costs Rs 600 to be a member, the events are usually packed to capacity because the Club is able to get leading writers and publishers on one platform.
So, Binita and Gargi, and all the rest of the coordinators, I think you will do well to have a sort of postmortem and get the train back on track. Not that it has veered off, but it is running a bit directionless now. This happens with most voluntary efforts, so there's nothing to feel bad about at all. The initiative becomes healthier when you learn and keep correcting mistakes all the time.
Well, Chitra Madhavan, despite the audio system not performing as it should have, held the audience’s attention last Saturday with a talk about temples in the Arcot Road area. The attendance could have been far better, and that is where events being listed in newspapers help.
Chitra, who is a good friend, is as modest as they come. She is a fount of knowledge. After completing her M.A. and M. Phil from the Department of Indian History, University of Madras, and her PhD from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore, Chitra was awarded a junior fellowship in archaeology for 2001-01 for post-doctoral research. She has authored two volumes each of the History and Culture of Tamil Nadu and Vishnu Temples of South India. She has also co-edited South India Heritage – An Introduction. She is now working on another post-doctoral dissertation with a fellowship from the Indian Council of Historical research, New Delhi.
Pictures show Chitra making her presentation, a view of the audience, and yours truly introducing the guest and adding his two-bit on social documentation.