The story of Anna Nagar

AnnaNagarmemories

The background is more important as far as this story goes. Anna Nagar in the 1980s.

Several years ago, when I was a student of the diploma course in Journalism and Mass Communications, a professor posed questions that provoked and confused in equal measure : “If you witness an accident, what would your first instinct be? Who would you call? The ambulance or your chief reporter?”

Today, I am going to tell you the story of Anna Nagar. I am not going to tell you the story like a journalist, but like a friend. This is not the typical report I would file if I am at a newsroom. I am journalist, yes, but I am on a sabbatical now. Also, I am just like most of you.

I have lived in Anna Nagar all my life. It is a great locality in Chennai, and to me, it will always be home. It has been my home for 38 years now, and as I type this, seated in my study, under just one LED light powered by our solar rooftop plant, I cannot but think how things must have been very similar the year I was born.

My mother has a favourite story that she tells me every birthday of mine. I was born in November, 1976. That year, the city witnessed epic floods. I even checked this recently with one of the weather bloggers Pradeep, who is quite popular these days, especially over the past two weeks with his fairly accurate predictions.

But getting back to the story, you see it is not a myth. The third and fourth weeks of November, 1976 saw some very heavy rains in Chennai. My grandmother found a way to glorify the rains, and would narrate stories about the birth of Krishna which coincided with floods too. The point of this kind of pre-deriliction with mythology is that we sometimes miss the most important point. None of us wondered if Mathura was a poorly constructed city but then the lack of proper drainage system probably helped Lord Krishna. Divine will, eh?

Coming back to Anna Nagar, I grew up here and have fond memories of my childhood through the 1980s. This locality used to have the best planned streets and fantastic avenue trees. There were very few cars up until the mid-1990s. I remember playing cricket on the streets with my friends.

We also used to play a local game that went by the name ‘Seven Stones’ – in very simple terms, it is a game in which one team tries to construct a vertical column of stones, and the other team tries to deconstruct it. A full house – all seven stones in a column – or a complete null – with all seven stones dislodged – ends the game.

‘Seven Stones’ involved a lot of running around the street, and it was easy because there were not many cars.

The Fourth Avenue or ‘Shanti Colony’ as it was called used to be the pride of Anna Nagar. People would walk freely. I would imagine it to be the widest street in the whole world. We had great pavements, and I remember walking to Book Nook library with a bunch of my friends.

I recently discovered some old black and white photos of mine that show me playing cricket with my sister and my cousins in the front lawn of our house. And there is this photo of mine that I am still searching for – it had me sitting in the *thinnai* of our home, and you could see nothing but open plots in the backdrop.

I also have plenty of memories about rains in Anna Nagar.

Let me assure you, it floods frequently in Anna Nagar, as with the rest of the City. We have always had waters staying upto hip level for a few days during the months that the North East monsoon is active. Being a November born, I know that in Chennai, it always rains on Deepavali Day and closer to my birthday. It just happens all the time, and I don’t need to follow the weather reports to know that.

I have many memories of rains. Like the one time when water levels came up to the third step of our thinnai. That was the year, I learnt how to make kaththi kappal (paper boats).

A slightly terrifying memory was crossing the Cooum River, that was quite nearby to our home – it still is just three streets away. There used to be this stone bridge that one had to take to cross over. My grandfather – a retired Southern Railway official who was tall, and a strict disciplinarian – used to take me across the River during the rains to the *Panchali Amman* Temple on the other side, to pray for my good health during the rains.

I remember going to the local *Bawa Stores* with my grandfather to buy vegetables. He used to carry this dirty yellow cloth bag. I always used to hope he would get a slightly better looking bag for shopping.

The mid-1990s changed Anna Nagar dramatically. We suddenly had super-markets. Many shops started coming up on the Second Avenue (which we used to call *Blue Star Main Road*) and slowly onto Shanti Colony too.

Shanti Colony went from being this quiet, laidback housing colony, to a mini mall of sorts. Almost all the housing quarters there used to have open space for car parks, and a few housing complexes used to have badminton courts too.

But things changed within the span of a few years. I left Anna Nagar for the first time in my life in 1994 for my college, and by the time I came back I could hardly recognise the place.

Too many things changed too fast. But it was still not too bad. I quite liked some of the new supermarkets even though I missed a few old shops. There were more things to buy, but I missed some quaint old people. *Book Nook* and *Velmurugan* libraries were shutting down, but we had stores that sold books.

Slowly, people started buying cars. Suddenly the distance to the Blue Star bus stop felt longer than it actually was. People were no longer playing cricket on the streets, but there were more gyms where we could sweat indoors.

The Anna Nagar Tower – which used to be central to my childhood – had changed too. One could no longer climb up to see the vantage view, because all of sudden there were frequent suicides from atop.

Multi-storeyed apartments came up in places that had individual houses. Huge building complexes came up in all the grounds where we used to play “tennis ball cricket”. We lost South Colony grounds, P&T quarters grounds, what not.

By the early 2000s, I was trying to establish myself as a journalist, and I spent less time with my school friends. But whenever we met, a lot of us lamented missing out on our weekend cricket. Personally, I was going from thin to obese.

The Anna Nagar I live in today has no resemblance to the place I grew up in. Shanti Colony road has become a one-way stretch. There are shops on either side, and many vehicles are regularly parked either on the pavement or on the road. It does not feel safe to walk there. And I can only just how small the stretch is.

Bawa Stores has changed location, and is today a small kirana store. There are many stores that sells vegetables but very few carry cloth bags, and certainly I miss those dirty yellow cotton bags.

Traffic during weekends is unimaginable. It takes one by car at least 45 minutes to just get away from Anna Nagar. Many prefer to stay indoors. There are no kids playing street cricket. Seven Stones? I don’t even think people will recognise it any more.

If Anna Nagar was metaphorically like the game of seven stones, let us just say the team that managed to decontruct it has won the game.

I see that black and white photo of me, my sister and my cousin playing in Anna Nagar. I miss my childhood, but I miss Anna Nagar more.

(I filed this story on December 4, 2015 when Chennai was heavily flooded. Power was cut off in Anna Nagar locality, and there was close to three feet of water outside my home. I had originally filed it for a website, but it was not published by them. So I am publishing it here, ten days later.)

Who ruined Chennai? We, the residents, did

 

The read-out from the ground during the Chennai floods and resulting relief measures of the past few days is straightforward: The power of citizenry has far outweighed the reaction/response of the government.

This is not to discount the efforts of the exceptions: the few good officers, the many good public servants, and the celebrities who have identified themselves with the masses through their efforts.

That said, and granting that the rains have been extraordinarily severe, questions about the government’s preparedness and response need to be asked.

Was the city’s 1600-km-long storm-water drains network adequately cleaned and desilted in the run up to the monsoon? The unusually severe flooding in localities such as Mambalam make this question pertinent – when, for instance, was the last time there was a concerted effort to remove the concrete encroachments that prevent the free flow of water along the Canal? How many concrete encroachments have been identified in other canal ways?

There are reports that the pre-monsoon storm water drain cleaning was affected because of a Court ruling on manual scavenging, and substantial time waste in getting robotic cleaning equipment from outside the city. Could this have been avoided? In fact, some news reports called out the inefficiency of the city’s storm water drains mid-November itself, much before the bigger deluge.

A further drilling down on the topic of monsoon preparedness shows that the city was probably ill-prepared last monsoon itself, but got away because of not as high a rainfall. This is an irony of the highest order given that Chennai is a city that has a history of shortage of drinking water.

The Chennai Corporation and other government agencies in the city already have a handbook on the “Disaster Management Plan” for the city. So why were the citizens caught unawares when the big deluge happened? Why were there not clear and pointed alerts issued to the areas identified as “low lying” in such reports that must have been put in place in the summer months. Don’t the government have resources like boats stored near the areas the could face such problems?

Was there an error in anticipating the pile up of water in reservoirs as against the rain system formation off the sea? The floods that Chennai experienced was not because of the rains that came in from the seas but because of the water that came from the discharge of water  from reservoirs and lakes. Was there a failure in managing the water storage in the reservoirs, while anticipating the rains?

Beyond such questions, however, lurks the terrible apathy of the residents themselves towards the city’s infrastructure. So before we start celebrating the “spirit of Chennai” and patting ourselves on the backs for “fighting back,” it is only fair we identify what it is that we are fighting against. And for that, we need to swallow a few bitter pills.

Political legacy

Successive governments have failed to give Chennai a holistic vision, with the result that we have only seen incremental improvements to the city’s infrastructure for a long time now.

Neither of the two main political parties has been able to able to retain a second term in the Tamil Nadu Assembly since 1991, with the result that the city has suffered an uneven vision and choppy execution of ideas. This has also coincided with cartels exploiting the situation (but more on that later).

The manner in which the political leadership has viewed the Chennai Corporation Council has dramatically changed over the past two decades.  If the DMK treated the post of city Mayor as training wheels for the party’s heir apparent MK Stalin when he was elected to the post and served from 1996- 2001, the AIADMK government that followed did away with direct elections to the post after a piquant situation arose for a few months where Stalin had to discharge his duties under an AIADMK government.

This meant a complete discontinuity of projects, with successive governments more intent on overturning the policies of the previous government than on working together on long-term policy and planning for the city’s infrastructure.

Vote bank politics

Those who volunteered on the ground this last week will agree with this observation of who saved whom in these floods: by and large, the poor saved themselves; the middle class saved each other; the para-military have saved the marooned and the rich and powerful did not need any saving.

History – of the populist announcement variety – is now poised to repeat itself: In the wake of heavy flooding in 2005, the government announced Rs 2,000 in cash, 10 kg of rice, dhotis and sarees to the most affected people. This triggered chaos; a stampede at one of the relief centers killed 42 and injured 37.

A quick summary the approach of successive governments runs thus: spend the first two years of power blaming the policies of the previous government, spend the third year haphazardly putting out a policy that will yield incremental results over the next two years, spend the fifth year in beating the drum about “achievements”.

If that is the situation with the government, what of us residents? Here, a short-list of five ailments that all of us could address collectively:

#1: We rant in private, but don’t dissent in public. We scare easily. We don’t like to associate ourselves with those who voice dissent against the government. We label the dissenters as loonies, or treat them with contempt as fringe activists who are only disruptive, and without a forward agenda.

For instance, Pallikaranai was among the worst affected areas during the flooding of the past week – and it was eminently predictable, once the government began permitting builders to destroy the marshland that served as buffer. The problem has been consistently highlighted and as consistently ignored – for instance, how many of you recall reading this report from 2005, or this more recent one, or the many reports in-between?

It is not that people have not dissented – it is that people have been browbeaten into silence. To get a sense of how dissent is addressed, look at the current AIADMK regime’s track record of filing defamation cases. Or consider the case of IAS officer Vijay Pingale, who was shunted out of his post because – wait for this – he warned that Chennai was about to be flooded.

At every such instance, we pretended that we could neither see, hear nor speak – because we didn’t want to become the next target of the government’s wrath.

In 2003, I was a reporter with The Hindu’s Chennai bureau, covering the rains and the infrastructure breakdown. The then AIADMK government filed a defamation case against the publication. It became evident that the judicial process was the weapon used to stop such reports – the sheer nuisance factor of having to go through the rigmarole of a court process often serves as an inhibitor of good reporting. Again, most of us ignored the TN Assembly’s Privilege Motion against senior journalists of The Hindu then – and we have all forgotten it since.

#2: We have institutionalized sycophancy, where earlier we merely tolerated it. Successive governments vie with the previous regime to host shows of grandeur aimed at deifying the leader of the moment. And sadly, the stars of Tamil filmdom are happy to be part of such shows, where they heap praises on the superhuman leadership qualities of those under the focus lights in the auditorium.

This sycophancy coupled with the stifling of dissent, effectively shuts out any possibility of dialogue between the people and the governments they put in place, as also any attempt to identify and call out issues so they can be addressed.

The government does its bit to further such sycophancy through its populist schemes, where the focus is not on the effective working of the scheme as much as it is on huge posters of the senior politicians “participating” in it. Consider this.

Compounding this is the reality of Chennai polity: we are forced to choose between megalomania on the one hand, and a family enterprise on the other.

#3: We are okay with cartels – the more we are affected by them, the more we pretend they don’t exist. Check, for instance, just two powerful cartels, both pertaining to our city’s infrastructure:

Even a cub reporter who has spent less than a month covering the Chennai Corporation knows that the contracts system, especially for roads and storm water drains, are rigged. There have been many reports, in many newspapers over the years pointing to this – but again, we turned a deliberate blind eye to it.

The cartel that routinely corners a bulk of the contracts for laying the city roads is powerful. Just two weeks back, media had reported how a Joint Commissioner of Chennai Corporation was transferred just three days after he fined the city’s contractors over the poor quality of roads laid.

This, too, is not new. In 2005, when I was reporting for The Hindu, I recall the paper carrying the story of a woman IAS officer, also a Joint Commissioner at the Corporation, who took on the contractor cartel. She was promptly shunted out under a cloud.

The other big cartel, that wields considerable influence not just over government but also over the media, is real estate. They not only managed drowned out calls for sustainable development, they also ensured that the only news the people ever got was benign, wrapped in gloss.

No Chennai native needs an investigative report on the major buildings that have come up where once lakes and waterways existed – it is a reality set in concrete and glass that we see with our own eyes every day. Some of the most influential corporates have added to the mess by blatantly violating the Coastal Regulation Zone within the city to set up multi-storey luxury apartments and five-star hotels.

The periodic government encroachment drives are mere roadshows. Some huts are demolished; they come right back within a few days. No lasting action is possible, or will be taken, because those who live in such constructions are captive vote banks.

Until three weeks ago, we in Chennai were used to seeing spectacular advertisements of apartments for sale along the I T Corridor and surrounding areas, with names like “Lake View”, “River View”, “Water World” etc – names that piled irony on poor planning, since such places were built where once there were lakes and waterways.

#4: We live in denial. Chennai is an unevenly developed city, with far too much attention paid to the Central and Southern parts and little to none to the North. The media, too, focusses on the ‘glamorous’ areas while largely leaving North Chennai region uncovered, with the result that the civic failings of that region remain undiscussed, and unattended.

We have world-class pavements and well cared for avenues in Poes Garden – home to the chief minister, and to the reigning Tamil superstar — but not everywhere else in the city. We have closed a stretch of Besant Nagar beach in South Chennai on Sunday mornings as a bit of tokenism for pedestrians and cyclists, but don’t care much about them otherwise.

We are fuelled by our love for cars; we want the city tuned for its free movement, but at the cost of pedestrians and cyclists. In many places, the horribly designed road medians and concrete speed breakers prevent water drainage. We have allowed our tax money to get washed away even by the smallest of rains.

#5: We are in a time loop. There is a running joke among journalists who cover Chennai’s civic infrastructure about a rite of passage: “You have not arrived yet until you report the Chennai Corporation’s plans to construct a multi-level parking at Panagal Park and unveil a new vision to decongest T Nagar,” a senior journalist told me in 2002. Senior journalists are today telling tyros the exact same thing, in newsrooms across the city.

Chennai, for all the reasons cited above and for more that remain to be listed, has become a living embodiment of the Karl Marx dictum that history repeats itself – first as tragedy, then as farce.

(An edited version of this report appeared on the Scroll website on December 7, 2015. )

 

In flooded city, residents show resolve

In the aftermath of the floods caused by the heavy rains in Chennai over the past week, the city’s residents are trying to do their bit towards the relief efforts. Some of them are turning to effectively use social networks for this.

The city has received some of its heaviest rains in recorded history since the onset of the North East monsoon. Pradeep John, who is an amateur meteorologist and a weather blogger who uses the psuedonym “Tamilnaduweatherman” on social networks, says the city on an average received 850 mm of its annual average of 1200 mm during the months North East monsoon is active.
This year, it has already received more than its annual average in the two weeks since monsoon set in on October 29.
The relief efforts carried out by the government officials is coming in for praise from various residents.

 

The city experienced relatively much lesser rains on Tuesday than it has in the past week. Some parts of the city experienced a semblance of normalcy, but there was no easy let off from the floods in several low-lying areas, especially the ones located next to the city’s water ways.

On social networks, there were genuine acts of volunteerism with people offering their homes/offices for those in need. One such message posted by Gokul Nath Sridhar, from the content discovery App TenReads, on Facebook on Monday offering to help any known friend of friends with accommodation at his apartment in Perungudi was shared more than 200 times within a couple of hours of posting it.

On Tuesday, he posted: “I’m thrilled to say that we were able to accommodate Ranjith Kumar, who cooked us amazing Aloo Masala for dinner! We wish we could have helped more folks, but unfortunately, we couldn’t.”

There were startups that offered their office space for temporarily for those who were unable to reach their offices, especially in the much affected “IT corridor.”

Co-working space rentals TheWorks@ on Monday posted on Facebook: “Folks, if anyone affected by the rains is looking for a place to work out of for today or tomorrow, ping us at The Works At. We have a few extra seats across our OMR, Alwarpet and Kilpauk locations that you can use at NO CHARGE for a day.”

Entrepreneur Senthil Nayagam reached out to the CEO of Oyo Rooms Ritesh Agarwal and impressed upon him to offer discounted rates because of the floods. Oyo offered the discount, and the message got shared on Facebook.

(This article is published under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License) Attributable to Karthik Subramanian.

 

I am …

As a baby, I was very fond of my ear-rings.

As a baby, I was very fond of my ear-rings.

My mother always used to recall the day I was born. It rained heavily, and Madras was flooded.

A lot like today I guess.

She would always recollect two specific incidents that happened. The rains that enveloped the maternity ward in Kasturba Hospital where I was born.

The other incident was how our home in Perambur was submerged in water, and how they had to keep the newborn in a cradle lot closer to the loft (‘Paran’ in Tamil) for the first few days, safe from all the waters. (My grandfather and father both were employed by the Southern Railways and they had a living quarters allotted in Perambur Railway Colony).

Every time, my grandmother used to narrate stories of Krishna, especially the birth of the God, she would narrate how there were massive floods in Mathura and how Vasudeva heroically saved His life from the villainous Kamsa by taking him across the Yamuna River that was in spate. She would immediately add: “You too were born in similar rains. We did not have any electricity for the first ten days that we brought you home as a baby. Yet many came to see you.”

This might sound weird but I have always felt a certain connection with rains.

It has always rained on the important days of my life. If not a torrential downpour at least a slight drizzle.

So much so that every time something seems important enough in my life, I look skywards for some sort of confirmation that it is. If it rains, then something important is happening in my life.

I was an introvert as a kid. I used to struggle to speak, to make a point or even make my presence felt. This would be a surprise for you if you meet me today. But the first half of my life at least was very different. I have for long wondered why I was that way, until I think I found the definitive answer. I grew up in a household, where circumstantially I was constantly told to “shut up” or “behave”.

This is tough to explain, but in all honesty this is not such an unusual way of disciplining children back then.

So I would not talk to others much as a kid. Instead, I had imaginary friends, who I used to chalk all across the walls of our home. I used to immerse myself in the stories that my grandmother would narrate. We got our first television quite late in our home. I do not think I watched any amount of television till I was 10 or 12 years old. In hindsight, this was such a blessing.

I moved to Anna Nagar when I was fairly young, I guess even before I was two or three years old and have stayed here from then on.

Growing up in Anna Nagar through the 1980s was fun. It used to be a great neighbourhood for walking and cycling, and probably still has the best avenue trees in the city. Those were the days when kids could play either street cricket or “seven stones” on the streets without having to worry one bit about approaching cars.

I did not move out of Anna Nagar for most of my growing up years. In fact, till I finished schooling, barring the visits to cinema theatres during my high school days, there was hardly any necessity to leave Anna Nagar.

The neighbourhood had it all: Velmurugan and Book Nook libraries, where I got my dose of Asterix, Tintin, Famous Five and Secret Seven; Shankar Chat Bandar, who continue to make the yummiest samosas and channa masala; the erstwhile Grand Theatre, where I remember watching the James Cameron-directed Aliens some four times in a week; Anna Nagar Tower Park, where we used to play ‘legside-only’ cricket.

I was fairly good at academics up until Primary School, and specifically till Calculus and Organic Chemistry was introduced into the syllabus. I was quite proficient in English right through school, and that was partly because of my love for English comic books – especially Indrajal comics – and mostly because of my grandfather.

My grandpa – thatha – was tall, well-built and an extremely scary man. A very strict discplinarian, he would at times bring to a balance the excessive affection I would receive from my grandmother (paati).

But he was not all bad. He would buy me English books to read, and often take me to Book fairs. He also formed a part of a weekly ritual. Every weekend, he would take me to the Flower Bazaar market in Parrys Corner by bus, and take me through the maze of stores that sold many varieties of flowers.

If I close my eyes even today, I can go right back in time and recollect even the minutest details. The slushy roads, the haphazardly parked vehicles en route to the market, the many rickshaw wallahs who would yell at you to give way, the seemingly endless rows of stores selling flowers by the kilos … it used to be both awe-inspiring and scary at the same time. I would hold my thatha’s hand real tight because I was scared that I would get lost in the crowds. There have been times when he would be standing right beside me, but I would suddenly feel a jolt down my spine as if I am lost in a sea of humanity.

Thatha also imbided a certain habit towards newspapers. Every week, he would collect paper clips and sit beside me to create a scrapbook. I remember collecting ‘Know Your English’ column and looking forward to political humourist Art Buchwald, who had such a wonderful turn of phrase.

My academics took a tumble when thatha passed away. Suddenly, what seemed effortless seemed dreary and difficult. I still have the award for general proficiency I received in my class Six, because I consistently got good ranks until then. (The prize was the comic book version of William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”).

I just went from the guy who would consistently get ranks 1 through 3 to suddenly failing to get the minimum required 40 marks in Maths. Organic Chemistry then sealed the deal. Where others would see chemical equations, I would only see endless, meaningless circles.

I can say I went through a difficult phase for three to four years, where my academics dipped and the lack of accomplishments started bothering me. It did not also help that I had biggest buck tooth around, and was bullied in my neighbourhood by a much older guy who would mock my appearance endlessly.

I managed to claw my way out of this phase when I finally discovered how empowering extra-curriculars would be. We organised a school drama inspired by the ‘Back to the Future’ movie. I also started participating in debates and other competitions, most specifically Dumb Charades. I would recall two incidents that would completely change my outlook.

There are quite a few memorable incidents I can think of when it comes to extra-curriculars at school. But two stand out: being a part of Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp at the Theosophical Society grounds in Besant Nagar, where we organised a quick play; and competing at the Le Park culturals organised by the Lions Club of Madras at the Anna Auditorium near the Marina Beach. In both instances, I remember casting aside my fears and facing a big audience of strangers.

Schooling ended on a mixed note. I did not have the best of grades, but I still enjoyed being a part of Jaigopal Garodia Vivekananda Vidyalaya. This is the only school I attended from kindergarten through High School. I cannot thank enough all my teachers there, including the ones that I feel maybe could have been better, and I will always nurture the friends I made there.

You can always make new friends as you go along, but the ones that know who you really are are probably the ones that you made earliest in your life.

I moved away from Chennai, where I was born and did all my schooling, for the first time ever when I went to college. In fact, this was the first time I moved out of Anna Nagar.

Sri Sankara Arts and Science College is in a small village Enathur, that is still a good seven kilometers away from the temple town of Kanchipuram.

Moving to Enathur was frustrating initially. If Anna Nagar was the ideal city neighbourhood that had every thing, Enathur felt like the village that had nothing to offer.

My three years in Enathur in hindsight feels like a penance. No television, no girls to chase, no fancy restaurants to eat at, no places to hangout, … It was quite aggravating when it panned out.

I used to cry, quite literally, during the first few weeks of my stay at the hostel in Enathur. It was not a nice picture.

But those years also taught me something very important. It was one thing to long for what I did not have, but instead of drowning in that, it can be quite empowering if used right. I used to sit on the mile-marker stone on the Enathur village road and imagine my own future. When I did that, I always imagined being happy. That magically would change my mood.

After Enathur, I came back to Anna Nagar as a graduate with a second class degree but decided to not look forward to others helping me. I tried to create my own opportunities.

I studied post-graduate diploma in mass communication and journalism at the Madras Christian College’s Continuing Education Department. It was a poor cousin to other post-graduate degree programmes but it served an important function in my life: I gave myself a year to get back into city life, maybe catch up on a bit of fun that I had missed out while being in Enathur the previous three years, and redirect some focus on how to do well.

Though I was aspiring to enter the world of advertising as a copywriter, it was by sheer chance that I applied for the job of a sub-editor at News Today, an evening daily in Chennai.

I took the job more as a whim, but it then impacted my life for the next 15 and half years. There was no turning back thereon.

I would be lying if I say all my journalism thereafter was driven by lofty goals of idealism and in the pursuit of being a government watchdog. During the initial years, it was purely to impress one person.

But journalism teaches you life lessons worth taking. It is a profession where you will come across a lot of idealistic people. It involves a lot of hardwork, long hours at office, frustrating mistakes and, of in recent years, endless targeting by people who do not even have a clue how much of diligence goes into it.

I do not consider my career so far as remarkable but I have had a few successes. I have edited a tabloid for the publishers of The Hindu, where I have also enjoyed a long stint as a reporter as well. Whatever one might think about the paper’s left-leaning editorial stance, I would still rate it the best newspaper to work for. I am sure most journalists would agree.

This March, I took a sabbatical to give myself a year to regain my health, spend time with the family that I have for nearly 16 years completely ignored and also to re-establish my own goals going forward.

This might sound a bit presumptuous. But from my own experiences thus far – from being an introvert to an extrovert of sorts, from going from Enathur to The Hindu, from going from a reporter to an Editor, from my friends from all over the world who face and survive in far more difficult circumstances – I back myself to come back from any situation I find myself in.

Drawing on those thoughts, I would back anyone else too to do well too. No one can set our limits of what can be achieved.

I have also had wonderful role models. Senior journalists that I have observed from close quarters, my friends from Germany and all over the world who were part of the workshops I attended in Berlin and of late a lot of enterprising youngsters and entrepreneurs, who have shown no fear in passionately pursuing their dreams.

During my break from a job, I have tried to recapture the essence of my years growing up. I think this is quite important for all of us to do, if we are to make the second half of our lives meaningful.

My feeling now is that sometimes we attach too much importance to things that are sure to pass by, sooner or later. More than the articles I have written or the tabloid I have edited or other such accomplishments, I think my real success has been in backing some good people and being a good friend.

I am pretty old school when it comes to the word ‘friendship’. I think friends do a lot more than just RT your message or favourite your profile photo.

We all know that a true friend is someone who is actually there at times of need.

So, on my birthday today, I want to thank my friends.

I sure hope I have been a good friend to a some people.

And yes, if you want it, we could be friends too.

Oh, by the way, my friends call me Kat.

Left or Right?

cropped-img_3808.jpgFor several years now, I have wondered which political view I subscribe to.

I would like to think of myself as a progressive liberal, because I find myself agreeing with writers of such political disposition. I have always found brilliant the Left smugness. My idols though are not India.

I love Jon Stewart, the American talk show host, whose Left smug was awesome because it was backed by solid research. I love Robert Reich because he talks of topics like income inequality with such passion that I have wondered why don’t we have such public personalities here. Among the humourists too, I loved the Left of centrists. (I don’t think many in the Right of centre have much of a sense of humour.)

Most journalists I admire are left leaning. I think it just makes for better journalism somehow, because by and large the liberals question the status quo. Somehow, it is sexier as a viewpoint.

But before I go on a hyperbole, let me clarify that any ideology stretched to the extremes is no good. The extreme Left is as dangerous as the extreme Right. I don’t just say this hypothetically.

I have traveled a little in my life, thankfully. If you keep your eyes wide open, travelling through Berlin and through Cambodia, you will know that history has shown that in such places the extreme Left ideology had the same pitfalls as the extreme Right.

Now I would like to position myself as maybe a moderate Leftist, where I think many views worth pursuing lie. That said, I think there are views within the moderate Right that are worth welcoming too.

One of the grudges that my Right leaning friends have with the other side is that sometimes Left ideology is dimissive of historical contexts. This applies extraordinarily to the Indian example because there is definitive proof that this geographic region was thriving culturally and scientifically much before the Western Civilization as we know it came to be.

There are enough examples of movements now in recent decades where people are going back to traditional wisdom backed by scientific proof.

There is no question that any Indian should not take pride in what was. (There is a programme in EPIC TV “Made in India” that I strongly recommend.) The only question is to what degree one should take pride over such things, and to what effect.

A lot of trolling and counter-trolling seems to happen in a space where many like me – I am candid to admit that my political views are still a work in progress – are coming up against people who are so sure of their political leanings.

In many ways, instead of me finding out where my moorings truly lie, I am being defined constantly by what I oppose.

I just have to construct a small logic on why I think BJP is not good for India, almost immediately some friends tag me a “secular liberal”.

I think there can be a better way to go about this. I would allow all my friends to encourage selecting their political associations not based on who they oppose but more by virtue of what they find reasonable.

Luckily, I had helpful people who pointed me towards the literature that made sensible reading, the columnists who made sense and the humourists who made me laugh.

I have said this before. I do not want to be pigeon holed to one ideology. I have asked my Right wing friends who keep arguing with me, to point me towards columnists who good Right wing commentators who speak about in a moderately palatable tone. Most of the times, what I get instead are viral rants. Silly questions about “where were they when this happened” “what were they doing when they were killed”. It is evident most of these things do not do much more than provoke and mobilise.

I just am past a stage where I allow people to do that to me. I am at a stage where I want to question back, and engage in conversations.

In my opinion, there is a need for a moderate Left movement in India. People like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are capturing the imagination of youngsters in US and UK.

And for the youngsters too, I would say it is time they started expressing their political views, even on fora like Facebook or Twitter. It might be trivialised by many as “paper campaign” or “benign protest” but the more anyone starts writing, the better chances for self-motivation to be able to step out and express on the ground.

It is time to acknowledge that all of us are political. Whether or not we like it. If you are not willing to take control of your own politics, someone else will. Most probably, someone else has already.

What should have been a rip-roaring comic caper … Naanum Rowdy Thaan

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Vijay Sethupathi regains some lost form, while Nayanthara shines in *Naanum Rowdy Thaan*

From its title to its unique casting to generally the way it has been marketed, Naanum Rowdy Thaan has a lot going for it. It held the promise of bringing back to form Vijay Sethupathi, who was a sensation a few years back before he lost track a little.

The characterisations are generally twisted, but twisted in a good way. Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) is an aspiring rowdy, who vehemently resists his police mom’s (Radhika) wishes that he joins the police force. Nayanthara is a deaf woman, who looks fabulous in designer kurtis and leggins, and aches to avenge the rowdy Killivalavan (Partheban) who killed her parents. RJ Balaji is the motor mouth friend of Pandi and they both run an underground on-demand rowdy service and keep holding kangaroo court for young kids, and other innocents.

There are enough elements in place to make *Naanum Rowdy Thaan* a solid comic caper, and there are some funny moments too. The initial scenes between Vijay Sethupathi and Nayanthara are fantastic, both in terms of the acting chops the lead players bring and also some clever dialogues. Vijay Sethupathi refers back to his old films at opportune moments, and he pulls it off in style. The audience went berserk when he said “paaaah” and “ennaachu”.

The chemistry between Vijay Sethupathi and Nayanthara, especially in the first half, works like a charm.

The chemistry between Vijay Sethupathi and Nayanthara, especially in the first half, works like a charm.

But where every thing starts going south is when there are repeated sexual innuendoes. I am not a prude, but I just found this completely out of place in this film. It starts with Pandi checking whether or not Kadambari is really deaf and is a lip-reader. So we have a close-up of Pandi uttering “Wothaa Ommmala” (The Tamil equivalent to ‘Fuck’ ) to check whether Kadambari has read it right. The real tease here is whether the audience will get to see Nayanthara mouth the words. Of course, she says “rojaa poomalai” (rose garland).

This was still funny, and would have been good if it had been just one of those rare moments. If only the director did not resort to overdoing it.

The second half is replete with more such opportunistic placements of innuendoes. When repeated attempts by Pandi and his gang of friends to murder Killivalavan fail, Kadambari decides to walk upto Killivalavan’s den to figure out whether she can kill him, she colloquially says “Yenna enna venumnaalum pannikonga” (“Do whatever you want to to me”) and eventually threatens “Naan ungalla potturuven” (I am here to kill you). You just need to know a little bit of Tamil to understand what the dialogues mean, and again the tease here is having the lead actress mouth these.

To put it in a nutshell, somewhere down the line, Naanum Rowdy Thaan loses whatever grace it had in the first half, and degenerates into something a bit crude. This is a movie I wanted to like because it had some of my favourite actors in it, some good music (Anirudh’s “Thangame” is beautiful) and some great cinematography.

Anirudh's "Thangame" is a surefire chart-buster.

Anirudh’s “Thangame” is a surefire chart-buster.

There are lots of fun moments in the film, no doubt. But it kind of left me wondering why we need to resort to this sort of approach to film comedy. If directors want to make a sex comedy, why not go the whole hog? Or why not just cater full on to only the front-benchers?

Multiplex cinemas are bringing back families to theatres, and it is important that film-makers recognise this.

The film’s director Vignesh Shivan’s earlier film ‘Poda Podi’ too was similar in many aspects. It held the promise but somewhere along the way just became too crude.

I would still want to end this review on a positive note. Vijay Sethupathi has returned to some sort of form, and hopefully delivers a solid hit sometime soon so that he can fulfil the promise of doing some meaningful cinema. No actor has looked as good as Nayanthara in recent times, and she is superb acting form. There are some scenes in the first half where she absolutely rocks. One hopes that she gets a good enough script soon.

RJ Balaji is fast developing to becoming a good comic actor, even though he is getting typecast as the motor mouth. His jokes seem to be getting a fantastic audience feedback.

But there are just one too many characters in the film, and the narrative slows down dramatically in the second half. Just too many things going on.

Naanum Rowdy Thaan should have been better.

Naanum Rowdy Thaan should have been better.

And what can I say about R.Partheban. In my opinion, there has not been a more schizoid film personality like him in past few decades. He can be artful, poetic and tasty in the films he makes sometimes – “Housefull” or “Kudaikkul Mazhai” or more recent “Kathai Thiraikathai Vasanam Direction” – but then again he would go to the other extreme and do things so crude that no other actor would dare attempt.

Bottomline: Naanum Rowdy Thaan has some fun moments, brilliant performances, good songs but falls short because of some unwarranted crudity.

How to walk on the streets (aka) Why to stay indoors (aka) The Human body can heal itself but motorbikes are not so divinely blessed

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This really happened.

I went out to buy some medicine and vegetables. I prefer to walk to shops well within three to four kilometres from my home, and sometimes I don’t pick the stores closest to home. I actually have a secret theory about this too. The closest stores to your home often sell the suckiest products. (I shall write more on that on a post about all my secret theories).

But the point of this post is to generally talk about how to walk in a manner that is safe to fellow motorists that rule the streets.

So there is this narrow lane I was taking and since it had rained last night, there were puddles all over.

So there I was, trying to keep to the corner as much as possible, but this was a lane. Out of nowhere, a gentle motorist on an 180 cc Pulsar swerved so close to me, and slammed my right hand. I felt a stinging pain and was thinking “What the Fuck”.

But soon I realised that he was just trying to avoid the puddle, just like me. Then it struck me. He is actually thinking like an pedestrian on a bike. More like an immobile pedestrian who is just having a good time on a fuel-inefficient bike designed for race tracks.

I quickly enquired, “I hope nothing happened to your bike. It seems very costly, and I sure as hell hope no nuts or bolts got damaged.”

“Thanks. Yes. That was close. That was a huge puddle of water and I had just bought the bike. It cost me close to a lakh of rupees. Oh, by the way, I hope your hand does not hurt … much.”

“Naah, don’t worry. It will just sting for an hour or so. If that is a ligament tear, I will have to wear some support bracelet. Worse still, a fracture … I will have a cast for a month. But the damage to your bike, I am sure that would have hurt a lot more.”

“Of course. I am glad you are so understanding. This bike is like my baby, or better yet, my lover. I take so much care. If someone, so much as puts a small scratch on it, I would kill the person.”

“Whoa, hope I did not put a scratch on it inadvertently when you slammed my hand while driving.”

“No. You are polite. Don’t worry about it. Nothing I can’t handle in my first free service.”

“So glad to know that.”

“One suggestion. Why do you come out? Don’t tell me it is for shopping. That is so outdated, and uncool. Stay indoors and order online. Walking around is kind of so last century thing to do.”

“Awwww. Thanks for that concern. Next time if I am out walking, and you feel endangered by a puddle, please ride right into me.”

“Haha. I think you are beginning to joke now.”