Thursday, October 28, 2010

The games in the sky

At some point, I became fascinated by a the sight of a fluttering kite against Chennai's cloudless blue skies. All the kite flying around our apartment was done by the boys in the slum nearby. It was very entertaining to watch them at it and I must have watched them a lot - I do have so many memories.

They didn't require much to make a kite - a couple of long twigs from a broomstick, a light polythene cover and some string. While the first two ingredients were available in plenty to them, the last one needed much more care. That was the first time I heard the word 'Maanja'.

A bunch of boys would be huddled around an old paint can containing an evil mixture. This strange concoction was said to contain everything from glue to ground glass pieces. At least three people were needed for the work - at least five more stood around watching and providing advice. One boy would deal out plain string from a spool, the second would help it pass through and get coated with the mixture in the paint can, the third would wrap the coated string back on to another spool. Once dried, the string would be a deadly weapon attached to the kites. It wasn't a matter of flying the kites - it was a matter of pulling down others' kites while not losing your own and the string greatly helped there.

Making the kite itself was a much quicker process - A square piece of light polythene bag would be cut out, a couple of coconut leaf twigs would be make the frame around which the polythene was held taut and the much-fussed-over string would be attached. It was all done in a jiffy and such a joy to watch!

The kite fliers chose their location with care and the games started in the sky. One person would come out to fly his kite and his lone kite would be joined by three or four others pretty soon. The ones who wanted to save their kites quickly left and the rest fought to cut the others' string - the power of each 'Maanja' coated string would become apparent here. Most of the trees and the TV antennas in the area had broken kites tangled up in them. Some people managed to rescue their kites and sometimes a random stranger would be lucky to have a kite drop out of the sky into his hands.

Since I never had such luck, I decided to make my own kite. Perhaps, I hadn't studied the process much then and I had no idea how to make one. So, what does a girl do when she wants to make a kite - she goes running to Dad, of course. Soon enough, Dad and I sat on the floor with newspapers, twigs, string and gum strewn all over the place. We didn't just make a kite - we engineered it. :D The shape was perfect, the frame was solid and we were pretty pleased with ourselves by the time we were done. The kite was left to dry overnight and the next day we set out triumphantly to the terrace to fly our masterpiece.

I held the kite and stood some distance away from dad, who held the string. There was a strong gust of wind and I let go of the kite, pushing it up as much as I could. Strangely, it refused to stay up in the breeze and fell back. We tried again. And again. And again. It was quite puzzling. Finally we gave up and went home, defeated. The kite stayed on my table for a few months, gathering dust till Mum probably threw it away. Much later, I realized that we had made 'too solid' a kite and used too much gum, string and paper in our enthusiastic efforts. It was just too heavy to fly!

Outside, the boys continued to fly their polythene bag kites. 'Manja' ruled the skies, I watched them with interest but I never tried making a kite again. Read More......

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Walking down Marina beach...

Chennai. The word invokes an image of a tamil speaking population who won't bother to learn the national language. The 'Autokaran' from hell. Weather that will melt you. Temples and traditions. On the positive side, we are also a hard working and professional bunch. A city with manageable traffic. Nothing beats shopping in T-Nagar.  Our film industry is second only to Bollywood's magic.  And I suspect we contribute to a large percent of the engineers joining the workforce in our country. 

Chennai is still growing and changing all over - the tell tale signs are the number of new buildings under construction everywhere. However, as much we change, we also hold on to certain things. Despite the number of new malls that come up, we still love the good old Spencers on mount road. The beaches - the Marina and Besant Nagar beaches are nothing great to look at. They are dirty, but the sands are open and the water is cool. It is the sandy stretch that does it - a rocky beach would just not be the same.

Today morning, Dad and I took a walk down Marina beach, armed with a camera. We got off the bus at the DGP office on Radha Krishnan Salai and walked across the road to the Gandhi statue. It never fails to amaze me how that particular office always looks so pristine while most other government offices look run down and patched up. This particular junction of RK Salai and Kamarajar Salai  is crowded with markers - across the road is the famous Gandhi statue, in the middle of the road is a golden statue of the actor 'Sivaji Ganesan' - an icon of Tamil Cinema, a clock tower and a statue of the official indian emblem depicting the four lions from the Sarnath pillar. Look down the beach, towards Santhome and you can see the red and white lighthouse.

A lot of effort has gone into beautification of the Marina beach. I notice that the stretch next to the road now has a nice lawn - a bit under maintained- but hey, its a start. There is a fountain, skating rink and some weird roofless structures whose purpose I can't understand. Today, apart from the usual quota of crows, there are hundreds of dragon flies zooming all over the place - they come close, but never hit me. Little kids run around trying to catch a dragonfly that settles down on the grass for a rest.

Right across the road from the Gandhi statue stands the Queen Mary's college. I seem to remember a controversy a few years back when the new Secretariat was planned at that spot. A lot of protests later, the location was shifted to a spot on Mount Road and the college remained. A new structure seems to have been added in the college though - 'Kalaignar Arangam'. There are other educational institutes on this road - the University of Madras campus, Presidency College, Govt. Model Hr Sec School, Lady Wellington College of education and the Bharat Scouts and Guides.

As we walked further down the road, we come across a statue of Avvaiyaar - I am no history expert and Wikipedia tells me that the name Avvaiyar refers to different tamil poetesses who lived in different ages - Sangam period and Chola Period. Next up was the status of the Freedom poet Bharathidasan whose mentor, Subramaniya Bharathi's statue is further down the line. G U Pope, a christian missionary who contributed to translation of Tamil works also has a place amongst the illustrious who stand guard on Chennai's shores.  Of course, who can forget the Kannagi statue and the controversy that surrounded the lady who burnt down Madurai in revenge for a wrongful death penalty imposed on her husband?  The statue which mysteriously disappeared overnight was reinstated later when the political rule changed in the state.  Tiruvalluvar - the  poet who gave us the Thirukural - has a statue here that is much less impresive than the 133 ft giant likeness that stands on a rock at Kanyakumari.  Oddly enough, amongst all the statues, one of Subhash Chandra Bose felt oddly out of place - considering there were none for Nehru, Patel and other leaders.  Oh well...maybe they had to pick.

A number of government offices and some buildings of historic significance also line the road. The Vivekananda house - beautiful pink building that has been maintained meticulously - is easily the best amongst the lot.  Other buildings like the Public Works Department are in a dilapidated condition.  The central institute of classical tamil (its name also written in an unfamiliar script - see pic), the slum clearance board and the water supply and drainage board also have offices along the beach. 

Our walk ended at the Napier Bridge - a landmark (along with the Central Railway Station) made famous by its use in countless Tamil movies when the hero\heroine come to 'big city' from their villages with dreams in their minds and empty pockets.  Just before the bridge are the monuments of two former chief ministers  'Arignar Anna' and Dr MG Ramachandran. These are popular tourist destinations, and a few bus loads of tourists stood there clicking pictures and listening to tour guides before they could rush for a dip in the sea that lies a few hundred feet away.

The walk ended at my favorite statue, depicting labourers moving a rock - Somehow, 'Triumph of Labour' seems to represent Chennai in a way no other piece of art does.

Read More......

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The days of our lives

Sometimes, I wish I lived in different times. In the past or in the future - any time but today. There are things about the past that I love so much - there is so much more beauty in black and white than there is in colour. I sense more meaning in the songs of yesterday. There was more left to chance and to nature back then. There have been many interesting people with beautiful thoughts that they stayed true to. I don't want to meet these master craftsmen - I just want to share the same air that they breathed. This is not nostalgia for the past days of my life - I was not even born in the times I am talking about.

Today's world is comfortable but it feels like a thoughtless existence. There is so much noise that it drowns every thought and distracts easily. Beautiful things are made so rarely or perhaps, they are getting lost in the deluge. I am tired of catching up with the creativity of the past centuries and not finding anything to match that today. That is when I am filled with curiosity about the future. I don't want to see the world a few years down - not any time that I will anyway reach as time passes by. I'm more impatient and wishful than that. I want to see the world a few hundred years from now. I want to see what is remembered of yesterdays and today. How much more rare true creativity becomes. How far has past imagination shaped the future world and how much science has caught up with art.

The world takes time to recognize its heroes. To meet the greatest minds recognized today, I need to go to the past. To see who the great minds of today are - I need to go to the future. What use is today anyway? Read More......