A tribute to this great artiste.
Archive for March, 2009
General Elections have been announced and the model code of conduct for political parties has come into effect. With campaigning yet to begin, what with the list of candidates yet to be released by the political parties, what is in full swing is the defacement of walls of public and private buildings though is in gross violation of the code of conduct.
“No Political Party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use
of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his
permission , for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices,
writing slogans etc.” says clause 6 of the Model Code of Conduct for Political Parties and their Candidates, released by the Election Commission of India. The entire document is available on the web site – http://www.and.nic.in/election/mcc-amendment. pdf
How effective is this provision? In reality it is more or less toothless, with political parties taking advantage of several loopholes in the wording. Firstly, obtaining permission is easiest as it only involves intimidating those in occupation of the building. Most property owners have no say in the matter and their approval is taken for granted. If a property owner approaches the police or the election commission itself for redress, response is slow and often not forthcoming. The most common excuse given is the lack of manpower to remove such slogans and graffiti.
Secondly, while election campaigning by way of graffiti or posters on walls is prohibited, those felicitating leaders on their birthdays or congratulating them on some award or the other apparently are not. And with birthdays of prominent leaders of Tamil Nadu happening to be in February and March, most parties have made the most of the time before the actual code came into effect and have liberally plastered the walls with slogans, posters and graffiti.
Curiously, the Chennai Corporation which has Singara Chennai as its policy does not prevent defacement of public and private properties by political parties. There is also the Tamil Nadu Open Places (Prevention of disfigurement) Act, 1959, as per which graffiti on private walls too are not permissible at any point of time, elections or not. But this is another law that has failed in implementation. Today defacement of walls is taken for granted that when an electoral code of conduct is not in place. Of course the chief violators are not only political parties.
However, the absence of any effective on such graffiti and slogans when an election process is not in effect has allowed political parties to get away with such defacement. When confronted with such violations parties argue that the poster or graffiti in question was done before the election code of conduct. Under such circumstances, it is left to the Chennai Corporation to spend money on removal of graffiti.
The civic body is planning to spend Rs 2 to Rs 5 per square foot to remove the graffiti from public and private properties. Needless to add, the taxpayer is the one who bears the cost of this wholly avoidable expenditure. How soon this will be done is open to question with the Mayor having stated that the process could extend well beyond the elections owing to shortage of manpower. With elections getting over, the code of conduct will cease to be in place and the graffiti will be allowed to remain. Irrespective of who wins the elections, the battle on graffiti and posters will always be won by the political parties.
Can we have the Prison Museum in the heart of the city?
The Director General of Police (Prisons) has said that a museum for prisons will come up in Puzhal. This will have equipment presently housed in the erstwhile Central Prison premises which are slated for demolition to make way for several new developments. It is a most welcome development. However, the question uppermost on every conservationist’s mind is as to why the museum cannot be retained in part of the Central Prison premises itself in at least one block which can be preserved as part of the city’s heritage.
In 2003 the Government decided to close the Central Jail complex near the Central Station and shift the facility to Puzhal where there already existed a jail premises with extensive land registered in its name. Following this, it was also decided that the land occupied by the jail in the heart of the city would be handed over to the General Hospital and the Chennai Metro Rail Limited for their use. The latter have decided to locate one of the stations catering to the planned Metro service on this spot in addition to a commercial complex.
With the jail premises lying vacant since the shifting in 2006, the Government decided to throw it open to the public for viewing and visiting since early this year. Ever since, thousands of people have been flocking to the place each day, sometimes resulting in severe traffic blocks on the overbridge that connects the Central Station. It is however indicative of the interest that the public has in the Central Jail and its history. Available for viewing are various equipments of torture and punishment, the gallows for hanging and the cells in which several important personalities had been interned.
Overwhelmed by the response to this throwing open, the Government then decided that it would construct a permanent museum on the prison which would be located near the new jail complex in Puzhal. While the idea is good, the choice of location is not. It is necessary that museums be located in the heart of the city where they can be easily accessed. Puzhal does not fall within a tourist’s or even a city resident’s itinerary on any day and having it such a remote place will only mean that the museum will suffer from lack of patronage and will ultimately be given up.
On the other hand, if the museum were to be located in one of the restored blocks of the old Central Prison, even as the other blocks are demolished and the area developed, the museum could have splendid response. Located as it would be next to the Central Station, a (hopefully) restored Victoria Public Hall and within a stone’s throw of the Chennai Metro station, it would be ideally situated. In fact, the museum could be integrated as part of the Chennai Metro Station complex itself so that commuters and others who use the facility can also be tempted to step in and visit the place.
It is to be hoped that the Prison authorities will take a leaf out of the Calcutta Police’s notebook. In that city, a museum for the police has come up and it is situated not only right in the middle of the metropolis but also in a splendidly restored heritage building, the erstwhile residence of Raja Rammohun Roy. Here, in Chennai, with a ready made prison block at their disposal, the Police could think of no better spot.
Short and Snappy dated 15th March 2009
The Man from Madras Musings is not too sure, but he thinks it is the Bible which states that the left hand ought to never know what the right hand does. The good book mentions this in the context of good deeds and if road building is not a good deed then MMM would like to know as to what is. And sure enough, when it comes to roads and tending to them in sickness and in health, more the former than the latter (MMM apologises that the last bit sounds like a typical marriage invitation of Madras origin), the authorities follow the good book to the word. And the best instance of this is what is happening to TTK Road.
A great dig is in progress from the foot of the flyover along the left hand side of the road as you face the Music Academy. This is for the laying of cables which as anyone in our city knows is the favourite pastime of those in charge of roads and ranks a level higher than the laying of drains. Whenever time hangs heavy on the hands of the authorities, they fill it in by digging roads to lay cables. At this rate, the undersides of our roads will have more cables than a space bound vehicle.
So MMM, as he drives along this stretch, is forced increasingly to the right limited in this effort only by the median which divides the up stretch of the road from the down. This moving to the right on what MMM would like to think of as the Zig axis continues till you cross the Narada Gana Sabha where the great dig ceases. But here the challenge is from the right where median laying is in progress. Huge granite blocks (Dick Whittington, had he come to Chennai would have realised that the streets of this city are paved in granite) litter the middle of the road and so those who have all along been driving to the right, now have to sharply alter course and move over to the Zag axis, which means closer to the extreme left of the road. Surely whoever is in charge of such road works would have had the sense to prevent two major repair activities from progressing at the same time and that too on opposite sides of the same stretch? And even if the cable laying was priority surely the median was not. But then that is Governance for you. Lack of coordination is the catch phrase and motto. What will happen when the zigging dig and the zagging median eventually meet? Perhaps that may never occur for each one appears to be competing with the other on being slower. And even if they do, what of it? Our traffic will move on.
They have finally come to Chennai! The Man from Madras Musings alludes to the cameras that are being installed at important signals to detect traffic violations. And the effect is already palpable. People are more careful when it comes to signals and slow down while the lights change. This of course does not include Government vehicles which are above the law. Here, MMM will show off his Latin wherein there is the expression “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which as you know is taken from Juvenal and means “Who guards the guards”?
Be that as it may, our guards, meaning our policemen are also relaxed with the arrival of the camera. They don’t need to watch out for signal jumpers and road hogs all of whom are noted by the Great Eye above which like that of Mars, threatens and commands. They are saved of the labour of vainly running after the errant vehicle, failing in the chase, noting the number with difficulty, memorizing it, feeling around near the ample paunch for the grubby notebook all wet with honest sweat and finally writing down the number. In fact there is one constable, often on duty (if you can call it that) at the Mandaveli signal who is always on the cell-phone. But the pity of it all is that the signal lights themselves don’t work. Or they are switched off during peak traffic hours. And so to what purpose the cameras? They sure look good.
Thwarted by T Nagar
We continue with this series. The Man from Madras Musings is sure that the regulars remember that MMM was puzzled at Padi, confused by Kathipara and vexed with Vadapalani. And now he vents his ire on T Nagar.
The other day MMM had to go for a meeting at a hotel on Tirumalai Pillai Road. Having consulted his faithful map of Chennai, MMM decided to go along Kodambakkam High Road and turn left at the Valluvar Kottam signal and enter Tirumalai Pillai Road. It all worked like magic. The roads were clear and within a short while MMM was on the desired road. “We’ve made it in good time” said MMM to his dear lady not realising that fate or to be precise, Chennai Police, was even then chuckling to itself anticipating the fun ahead. Sure enough, within a short distance, MMM found a no entry sign which indicated that Tirumalai Pillai Road became a one way from then on and in case MMM wished to avoid action by law, he had better turn right. From this junction, even as MMM turned right, he could see the hotel which was his destination. Its lights gleamed and twinkled, inspiring MMM to drive quickly down the side street on the right, turn left, turn left once again and come back to Tirumalai Road. MMM was reminded of saints of yore who burst into song on seeing the distant spire of the temple to which they had all along aspired to come. It was usually at this juncture in their lives that saints met with some great obstacle.
St. MMM fared no better. On reaching Tirumalai Pillai road once again, he found he had taken a turn earlier than the one he ought to have taken to reach the hotel. Even as he vacillated MMM was hooted at and sworn at by those behind, all of them in a hurry to reach their destination. MMM does not know about his readers, but under such circumstances his brain ceases to function. It appeared to him that there wer no entry signs on all sides. Notwithstanding the ire of his good lady, MMM parked the car on a side street and having extended his arm to her, he and she faded into the sunset. It was a fairly good walk. The spires of the hotel gave encouragement but MMM chose not to sing. His lips moved, but they were giving expression to hymns of hate against those who plan our traffic movement and conveniently forget to put up signboards and directions.
To cut a long story short, MMM and lady reached the event, but those present remarked that MMM was not himself. Who would be, with the fear of a clamp being placed on the car wheel looming large all the while? But all ended well. On return, MMM found the care was free and untouched by the arm of the law. But if you care to come to MMM’s house, you will see him occupied in making some alterations to the map he consulted.
Moolah by mail
Chief! We are rich! Or we are going to be! Every day, ever since you put him on the email, the Man from Madras Musings is receiving mails from sons or daughters or widows of erstwhile dictators of African countries offering to share their millions with MMM once he gives them his account number. What do you think chief? The latest is from the mother of some late lamented warlord who thinks MMM is the man she can trust. Makes you feel sort of wanted eh? Pun fully intended.
Short and Snappy dated 1st March 2009
Losing out on rings
The Man from Madras Musings is upset. He has just seen the latest budget announcements of the Madras Corporation and finds that he stands to lose out on a gold ring. True, the announcement states that gold rings will be given only to babies with Tamil names. But in this era of populism MMM is sure that it will be extended to all residents of the city with such names and guess who will not be among those receiving such rings – MMM no less. Now if only he had been Madras Managarin Manidan, he would have been eligible. MMM is seriously considering appealing to the Chief, but something tells him that the Chief will not agree. Here again, the Chief does not have to worry, for his name fits the bill. So in case you are asked to take a ring Chief, can you wangle one more?
Unveiling the obvious
The Man from Madras Musings is not certain if any of his faithful have been down Cathedral Road recently and seen the neatly executed sculpture of two men interlocked in a Kalari combat. But those among the flock who have been there will be aware that the statues made their appearance rather suddenly, just as deities appear below trees in our city, a week or so before Pongal and have been there ever since. But that was not enough for the powers that be which decided that they cannot take cognizance of the work of art unless it had been formally unveiled in a ceremony replete with speeches and photographs. So last week the sculpture was duly covered up, a full month after it had been displayed to the public. MMM driving down Mount Road and turning into Cathedral Road found a huge pandal all draped in bright yellow (it was fortunate that MMM was not in a coach and six for horses would have shied at the bright colour and what would the outcome have been – one M in the Botanical Gardens, one M in St George’s and the final M in the American Consulate?) covered with posters and grinning mug shots. Traffic slowed down quite a bit in the area as a consequence. No doubt the wholly unnecessary inauguration went off completely to the satisfaction of the organizers. MMM remembers seeing a cartoon done many years ago by the inimitable RK Laxman. It showed a completed bridge left unused while people struggle to cross using a rickety structure beside it. A politician explains to the Common Man that the new bridge cannot be used as it has not been officially inaugurated by the local leader who is too busy to come down for the event. MMM can see shades of the same farce in what happened with the sculpture. Now in case you had not seen or noticed the statues before the inauguration, you would be politically correct.
Not surprisingly while all this beautification is going on, the average citizen of Chennai appears to care very little about it as evinced by the accompanying photograph which displays the kind of art which Chennai is famous for – spittle spray. It’s a pity that we have only one colour – red. And the work shown here is what embellishes the foot of the Gemini Flyover, a stone’s throw from where this sculpture stands.
A horde of hoardings
Was it not just some time ago that all outdoor advertising by way of hoardings was banned in this our city and these were removed with much hullabaloo both by way of the actual dismantling and also by way of accolades, praise and applause from those concerned with the city’s beauty such as it is? Well, they are back. No, not in their original avatar but by way of large format vinyl hoardings displaying political leaders in various garbs, headgear, outfits and doing various things such as using a cell phone (most common), writing (less so), waving, grinning and looking pleased as punch (ubiquitous) and bringing solace to the less privileged (a collector’s item this kind of hoarding for it is quite rare). The earlier lot used to be many feet away from the ground and you could at least walk or drive along without their obstructing your path. They, to borrow a contemporary phrase, only competed for eyeballs. But the new variety occupies road space, has supporting wooden poles jutting out at all angles and there is a circular monstrosity that not only juts, obstructs and jars, but also shuts off all space to the extent of its diameter. With this being an election year, the Man from Madras Musings only fears an increase in their number. And February and March being birthday months, these hoardings have broken out like a rash at all conceivable spots. God help us all.
And it is not just the politician who puts up hoardings. Everyone does it these days. Hospitals announce medical camps and executive health schemes, schools put up admission notices, temples announce festivals – it is just the kind of people whom you would expect to have better awareness that do it. MMM recalls an old saying that as the king does, so do the people. Here it should read “The politicals do it. So why not the locals?”
Beautifying the Beach at a snails pace
There is no denying it. And the Man from Madras Musings is willing to stick to his point of view no matter who tries to convince him that we are changing as a people. When it comes to public works of any sort MMM feels, our government thinks that more hands have to be employed on just about anything, as compared to what is strictly necessary. The beautification of the Marina (however much unnecessary it may be) is a case in point. Driving down the beach road the other day, MMM noticed a crane of some sort lifting one of those concrete ornamental pillars which are to dot the footpath at regular intervals. These are around three feet in height and require some effort in being moved as they are quite heavy. MMM has seen similar operations in other countries where these would be done by just one man or perhaps two, one to operate the crane and the other a helper of some sort who would position the pillar. Needless to add, such work would be done at night. But this being Chennai, matters are handled differently. It was peak rush hour and the traffic had halted. The crane operator was doing the work in the main (or was it the crane which was doing it?), but there were two people who were holding on to the pillar no doubt to prevent it from falling off the crane. There was a third man whose only job was to whistle and there are was a fourth who gave a roar each time the pillar swung past the groove into which it had to be placed. Needless to add, there was a group of hangers on, all PWD men no doubt and sponsored on tax-payer’s money who were giving expert advice. At the end of three minutes or so, when the traffic resumed movement, the pillar was yet to be positioned. MMM had to drive by again a couple of hours later. The crane was still there, having moved perhaps by ten feet or so, positioned near the spot where the next pillar was to sit. Of the five men and the hangers-on, there was nary a sign. No doubt they had gone off for some tea. The pillar alone remained, hanging from the crane, which no doubt due to the weight of the pillar, was listing to one side. Somehow it all appeared highly symbolic, or perhaps MMM takes a lopsided view of things.
CMDA all for a denser city – new FSI rules give open spaces the go by
With the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority deciding to go ahead with the sanction for premium floor space index (FSI) within the city, Chennai is all set for more constructions and greater congestion in the metropolitan area. Strangely this sanction has been given despite a committee of experts categorically rejecting such a proposal. It is significant that the state government has all along been in favour of a premium FSI within the city and finally that is exactly what the CMDA decided to go ahead with.
The FSI is the ratio of the built up area to the total area of the plot on which the building stands. Presently the figure stands at 1.5 for ordinary buildings and 2.5 for multi-storey buildings in the metropolitan area. The second master plan of the city proposed a premium FSI within the city which will allow for an additional 0.5 FSI for special buildings and 1.0 FSI for multi-storey buildings. This additional sanction would be obtained on payment of a fee, the details of which are yet to be finalised.
With the city already facing severe congestion and stress in terms of general infrastructure, road space and water supply, this was considered an undesirable development by those concerned with quality of life within the city. The CMDA constituted an experts committee which met in January and rejected such a proposal. The main argument behind the rejection was that the city is dense even now and the impact of premium FSI for a particular plot is felt by all adjacent plots and the street on which the property stands. The present infrastructure in the city, felt the committee, was wholly inadequate to cater to premium FSI. On the other hand, such a policy the committee felt, could be encouraged in the suburbs.
The Government however chose not to accept the recommendation of the committee. The government is of the view that greater space is needed within the city for development and not in the suburbs. The government was perhaps not aware that such a view is outmoded and completely against present day city development plans internationally, where decongestion is the buzzword. The recommendation of the committee was consequently ‘returned’ for reconsideration.
That apparently is governmentspeak for a complete volte face. Within a week of its receipt, the CMDA gave the go ahead for premium FSI within the city. The 23 member authority toed the government line and gave sanction for this in the area of 1,189 sq km falling under one corporation, 16 municipalities, 20 town panchayats and 214 villages in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts. That it chose to overrule a committee of experts nominated by itself speaks volumes for how the CMDA functions.
This is yet another instance of ground reality not being taken into consideration and the prevailing of pure commercial interests. A higher FSI will mean more vertical development, cutting off sunlight and ventilation leading to power hungry buildings that will be energy inefficient. There will be considerably increased stress on public transport and civic amenities. But all this appears to have no impact on the way the government thinks and acts.
The city is decked out in colours, mostly of the red and black kind with a few minor variations. With general elections around the corner every political party is out to make its presence felt. Every wall in the city features political messages. These do not convey anything about achievements. There are lines and lines of encomiums heaped on leaders and then several lines of names of local functionaries who have sponsored the wall painting. It is the considered opinion of the Man from Madras Musings that the name of the poor soul who owns the compound wall ought to be added and a word of thanks to him/her should also be included. For after all, has he/she not gone to the expense of building a compound wall solely for the enjoyment of the parties and their local functionaries? And when the property owner has the honour of bearing the leader’s name on his or her compound wall, should that not be reward enough? But no! How terribly unreasonable are these property owners that they should want to complain and even quote the law according to which permission ought to be taken from them before painting their walls with political messages? And do the parties not send four or five very respectful men of menacing aspect to ascertain if the owner has any objection? He/she had better not is the general message that is conveyed. Most house owners prefer discretion to valour and suffer in silence.
Not MMM. He is of the kind that protests, and protest he did when he found that his compound wall had been daubed in colours, all announcing the soon to be observed birthday of a leader. He caught the party workers and the sign painters in the act and questioned their right to disfigure his compound wall. The spokesman of the group was most apologetic and requested that MMM allow the graffiti to remain for a month by which time the birthday would be over and he, the spokesman would return and repaint the wall (not with another political message) at his (the spokesman’s own) expense. MMM would not listen and matters remained deadlocked till a police car drove up and an officer very smartly stepped out ascertained the problem in a flash. Having obtained the spokesman’s name, address and phone number, he told him that he wanted the graffiti blanked out by next morning or else… MMM thanked the officer and then the crowd dispersed.
The next morning, a group of thugs arrived at MMM’s house. They were led by a ‘student’ leader whose sole education appeared to be in foul language, most of which MMM and other members of his household could not fortunately understand. But the rest of the message was clear. If MMM insisted on their blanking out the graffiti said the leader, the party would be glad to do so, but MMM and his family members had better watch out. Secondly, while MMM could claim absolute rights of ownership over the compound wall, he could not do anything about what they did just outside of it. And they proposed to put up huge vinyl signs blocking off the frontage of the house and also position a few high decibel loudspeakers all facing the residence. What could MMM do they asked? The battle was over with that. Elders in the family advised MMM to remain silent and there the matter ended. The smart police officer whose beat MMM’s road falls on must have noticed the graffiti remaining as it was and must have turned a blind eye to it. And as for MMM, his nerves and ganglions still vibrate each time he thinks of what happened. Whenever he steps out of his house he is literally hit in the eye by the graffiti. But there is very little that can be done about it. Ironically, all this happened on Republic Day! But as far as MMM was concerned, he as a citizen had lost his right to be protected.
And, a few days later came the second cruel twist in the story. The party supremo announced that there would be no birthday celebrations! So to what purpose was all this?
Parks that provide relief
The state government has done an excellent job in restoring the city’s major parks. As a writer on environment put it this is one of the success stories of the administration. But after spending large amounts on beautification, it is rather short-sighted of the powers that be that nobody thought of providing toilets inside parks. As a consequence, you find that the bushes that don’t screen amorous couples invariably conceal men relieving themselves. While the organic brigade may nod its head sagely and state that all this is to the good, the Man from Madras Musings would much prefer the parks to be clear of human refuse.
The Float Festival
The Kapaliswarar Temple tank, which has remained full of water in the past few years, witnessed the float festival a couple of weeks ago. To the Man from Madras Musings, the float festival always brings back happy memories of the time when he as a kid clutched his grandmother’s hand and stood in the queue and then boarded the float which would go around the tank and then come back to the steps when those on board got off and let others get on to the float. The joy of the festival lay in public participation when crowds travelled with the deity on the float. But times have changed and citing reasons of safety, the float was declared off limits to the public this time. People were allowed to stand on the steps and admire the float but were not allowed on it. To MMM it somehow robbed the festival of its usual gaiety. MMM hopes that wiser counsel would prevail next year and he and others will be allowed to tread the water with the Gods.
There was a time when certain services were meant to be only in the night. No, the Man from Madras Musings is not talking about those kinds of services (lets keep MM clean) but of matters like garbage disposal and road laying and repair. But these have all become daytime activities now.
For the past few weeks MMM notices that arterial roads are blocked at peak traffic time by huge garbage disposal vehicles which move at a leisurely pace. They stop at all odd spots and then two men get down, rake the garbage that lies close the bins (we in Chennai never throw our garbage into bins. Rather like a game of darts we aim for the bin, but any where close to the bin is also acceptable), place it in the bin and then heave the bin on to a mechanical device which with much noise hoists the bin into a cavernous jaw like structure into which the garbage falls. The jaw then champs away with evident relish, taking care not to mangle the bin as well (O the joys of modern technology). Having had its fill, it returns the bin, which the men then heave off and place on the road side before waving the vehicle ahead. All this while the traffic behind waits, not so patiently. This is the time to give the rich Madras bhashai an airing and expletives are exchanged much to everyone’s delight.
And as for road laying the less said the better. But MMM who suffers from foot in mouth disease made bold to ask a supervisor who was loitering aimlessly even as a few men relaxed in a shallow pit as to why these jobs could not be taken up at night. “Because sleeping at night is not the privilege of you upper classes alone” came the answer. Obviously the supervisor has not heard of call centres.
S Rajam completed his 90 years on Feb 10th. A meeting was organised by the South India Heritage Series at the Tag Centre on Saturday 28th and I was asked to make a powerpoint presentation on S Rajam and the audio recording is enclosed. The talk keeps referring to the powerpoint whose photos are copyright with Sruti and so is not put up here but the talk can still be followed.
There are a couple of errors – Rajam lives on Nadu Street and not North Mada Street as I said in the opening. Also he acted in a fourth movie – Sivakavi which I have forgotten to mention.