Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Year wishlist for Chennai

Disclaimer: I have referred to Mumbai as Bombay and Madras as Chennai. This is intentional. However, this is not hypocrisy. This is the way people generally talk about the two cities. Just yesterday, I heard someone talking of a Bombay-Chennai flight. I'll be happy to have someone enlighten me on this issue.

Here's my new year wish-list for Chennai

1. Get a good drainage system - In 2009, please do not let rains that are hardly 10% of what one gets in Bombay paralyze the city and let the politicians have a field day offering relief when a good drainage system would prevent any of this from happening in the first place. It's time civic officials went to Bombay and learnt!
Picture: A flooded street in suburban Chennai (28 Nov 2008) after Cyclone Nisha {Note that the rains were not even as much as Bombay usually receives}

2. Build flyovers, not underpasses - Do not sanction any new underpasses (famously called subways) to connect either side of the railway tracks. Sanction flyovers. A little rain and people living in on the wrong side of the railway tracks such as West Mambalam and Nanganallur are cut off from the rest of the place.

3. Build wide roads, free of potholes - Hope the corporation of Chennai is listening. I repeat. Build wide roads, free of potholes. If you cannot, at least do not call them 'High Roads'. It really sucks. Call it just a road.
Picture: An manhole on the arterial Sardar Patel Road in Chennai

4. Implement the law on auto-drivers - This one's last on my list because I know the impossibility and the impracticality of such a suggestion. But, a faint hope in my heart makes me root for this. Bring the auto-drivers, who are a law unto themselves only in Chennai to book. Send them to Bombay to see their counterpart return the Re 1 change!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Chennai's first grade separator

This Sunday, on Diwali-eve, Chennai got its first grade separator - at Kathipara. This was a project marred by delays. Originally due to open in April 2007, one portion connecting GST Road and Inner Ring Road was opened in March 2008. All arms were thrown open on this Sunday i.e. October 26, 2008 after an inauguration by CM Karunanidhi.

When I went past it on Tuesday morning, I could clearly be seen that the project had been completed in haste and inagurated as a face-saving measure. There were absolutely no finishing touches and the grade separator didn't look brand new from any angle. When I traveled across the GST-IRR grade separator in March, I had seen the poor finishing touches on that stretch. Then, I had hoped that all would be set right when the project was completed fully. But, that was not to be.

Leave alone finishing touches. People can manage with shoddy work. But how can people manage without signboards? On Tuesday morning, I saw vehicles coming on the wrong side, for there were no signboards to indicate the routes. Grade-separators can be confusing. In fact, rade-separators without proper signboards are like death-traps. Indeed, that was what happened. The next day, I read in The Hindu that the grade separtor had claimed its first victim. (http://www.hindu.com/2008/10/29/stories/2008102958550300.htm). As I said earlier, grade-separators must have proper signages, more so, when people haven't been exposed to such stuff before. But then, that's not always the case. Especially, if it's Chennai.

Even now, I fail to understand the delay in the project. The Hindu claimed it was "contractual problems and escalation in the cost of raw materials". Whatever they say, the delay is unexplainable. Tamil Nadu has a lot of clout in the UPA government at the center. TN MPs have plum ministries including Surface Transport and Highways. What prevented Mr T. R. Balu, the Highways Minister from using his good offices for the benefit of his people, many of whom spent a lot of time waiting at the construction site morning and evening due to traffic jams? Fine, even if he didn't want to appear prejudiced towards his home state, why should he make statements about the project being 'ahead of schedule'? If you don't believe me, read up at http://www.hindu.com/2005/09/26/stories/2005092614620300.htm. Now, can someone explain?

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

In Hyderabad

On one of my early days in Hyderabad, as I boarded a city transport bus and looked about for the conductor, I was surprised when a fat, round woman in a grey sari with a grey overcoat gruffly asked me to buy a ticket in Telugu using the English word for ticket. As I handed her the change and collected my ticket, I thought that I had met a rare species - a woman conductor (or shall we say conductress?).
But, soon I was to be proved wrong. On four consecutive bus rides spanning over three days, I met the so-assumed rare species, making it no more rarer than the male counterpart.

On a weekend in Secunderabad, I was again surprised when two middle-aged women in maroon saris, whistles in their mouth, worked as parking lot assistants on PG Road. One of them whistled hard as she helped a larger car squeeze into a parking slot.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Media War Hits Chennai

It will probably be the battle of the year. It is something students of marketing shouldn't miss out. Yes, I'm talking of the impending launch of The Times Of India in Chennai. The Chennai edition of TOI will roll off the presses from April 14. And, already it has caused a flutter in the Chennai circles.
The TOI sells its paper for anywhere between a rupee and two on weekdays in the other metros. In contrast, The Hindu's Chennai edition sells at Rs 3.25 on weekdays and Rs. 4.50 on Sundays. TOI is pricing its Chennai edition at less than a rupee a day (It's Rs 170 for six months.).

TOI makes no bones that ads are the main source of its revenue. One of the first signs of The Hindu gearing up for TOI's competition in the ad market was when it carried it's first full cover-page on 29 February 2008. It was followed by another one on March 8. It is common for the other editions of the TOI to carry full cover-page ads every now and then. TOI frequently carries flap ads which cover half of the first page. (This is even more irritating that a full first-page ad because the flap keeps popping over and makes reading uncomfortable unless you throw off the page.) Now, this was the first sign the market leader The Hindu wanted to be in the good books of ad providers and did not want them to drift towards TOI.

Another sign was seen even before the full first page ads. This was on February 23 when Metro Plus on Saturdays was modified as a tabloid named Metro Plus WEEKEND. The first Metro Plus WEEKEND's cover-page had Shruti Haasan revealing her shoulder bone - a tamer version of TOI's city supplements. As my grandfather rued that it had nothing to read, I thought about TOI's weekend supplement called "Whats Hot?" brought out every Friday. Metro Plus WEEKEND is still higher in terms of content. After all, for The Hindu, old habits die hard!

March 27, Thursday saw a brand new supplement from The Hindu. This was NXg aimed at Generation Next, which The Hindu believed had not been given its due. It was aimed at the youth, like a TOI city supplement. It provided us details of Koena Mitra's Hollywood projects and Emma Watson's table tennis. But, it had a section on Books besides the usual music, movie, fashion rants, something which a TOI supplement does not carry. It may sound repetitive but old habits die hard! The Tuesday Book Review column (especially the Know Your English column) in The Hindu is still my favorite. And, I can say nothing about The Hindu Literary Review, published in black and white on the first Sunday of every month. It does not carry a single ad.

Even The Hindu Sunday Magazine carries some small quarter page ads only in the second-last and last pages. Sometimes, even that is not there. The Hindu Sunday Magazine provides well-researched articles on a variety of topics. In contrast, TOI's Sunday Supplement called Life! is printed on glossy paper and projects minor trends as the next big thing. It contains more ads than written material. I will provide an example of the absurd articles in Times Life! in my next update.

The Hindu Friday Review has no TOI counterpart. The concept of Indian culture is alien to the Old Lady of Boribunder. The Mount Road Mahavishnu, however, still takes pleasure in his cultural roots. I love the Friday Review for its pictures. They make you want to read the accompanying piece even if you've had no formal training in the arts.
(To be continued...)

Friday, 29 February 2008

MAD RA(ndom) (thought)S

In IIT, there are a lot more people from other parts of the country than there are from Madras. And, most of these people wouldn’t want to be here in Madras if it weren’t for the IIT.

For one, the weather is a big turn-off. Madras has three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest goes one popular comment. And, it’s quite true. Being in the rainshadow of the Ghats, Madras defies convention by being the only place in India not to benefit from the South-West monsoon. The North-East monsoon does oblige the city sometimes, only it’s too random. However, for the past couple of years, thanks to global warming which seems to be altering weather patterns around the world, Madras has been getting a fairly decent amount of rainfall. Thankfully, for now, the IIT M administration need not think of compressed semesters, at least in the near future. The North-East monsoon essentially operates on a trough of low pressure somewhere in the Bay of Bengal. Sometimes, if you are lucky, a depression develops there even in summer and the city gets some much-needed rain.

And of course, if we in the campus get only half as boiled as people outside, we must thank the forest, something which the profs teaching ID120 never forget to emphasize.

Another crib about Madras is about watering holes (or the lack of it). Well, it’s simple to understand. There is a water problem in the city. Water includes all types of it except saline water. But, for those in need, there’s dear old Pondy (no, not the one on DC) just as Goa would be to the guys in Bombay. (The reference to Goa is made only in passing and is in no way a statement on the character of the Goan.)

For the hip-hop kind, Madras lacks a newspaper with Page 3. There is one paper with Page 3, exported from the immediate northern neighbors to Madras. Well, sorry but even the newspaper supplier to the insti doesn’t think that to be worth of supplying. So, as of now, Madras is the bastion of a newspaper best enjoyed with morning filter kaapi. It may not have a Page 3 but the extent of its popularity can be gauged from the fact that even without a single hoarding, it is the media sponsor for every event worth talking about in town.

I said as of now because it has finally occurred to the largest English newspaper in the world that Chennai (Madras is the nick) has a huge unexploited market (they sat for two days in Gurunath and enticed people with bags, the less said about which the better) and they’ll set up shop in this place from the old Tamil New Year Day, which falls on April 14. Poor folks must have wanted it to be on the New Year Day as if it were a superstar release but got RGed because April 14 is now the old New Year Day, thanks to dear Karuna.

And, of course who can forget the mother of all clich├ęs – ‘Conservative Chennai’. Chennai’s passion for its culture is mistaken for conservatism. What is also overlooked is now the traditional co-exists with the modern. For tell me one other place in India where a shop would serve filter kaapi in a davara-tumbler (where you can cool by measuring by the yard) and just across the road would be a coffee-bar where you could get cold coffee and cappuccino in a mug of your choice. This is easily demonstrated within our campus if we talk of Tifanys (with a recent price hike) and CCD (with prices already hiked). If there is a kadai which would serve idli- vada – sambar on a plantain leaf, there would be a pizzeria or a KFC just opposite. Go to T Nagar, you’ll find it.

And in Madras, if we have Bharatanatyam and Carnatic, we also have Salsa and Rock. ( In fact, the paper without Page 3 routinely carries a section on learning Salsa in 8 steps in its city supplement.)

Even if one leaves room for misunderstanding, Madras seems to the victim of an image trap. Orkut profiles still say ‘City: Chennai (for studies)’. And, the portrait of the Madras auto kaaran is superimposed on the inhabitants of a beautiful city.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


I'm not a die-hard fan of Tamil cinema. However, to my utter disbelief, I managed to catch Bheema at Satyam Cinema's Studio 5 within two days of its release. I was told that actor Vikram was returning on-screen after a long gap of more than a year and expectations from the film were quite high.

Bheema is different in the sense that the 'hero' dies in the end. As I was watching the movie, I wondered how the director would treat Vikram's character given the series of cold-blooded murders committed by him in the movie. I wondered if the director Lingusamy would break free from tradition of commercial cinema. Surprisingly, he did. The audience's reaction was expected. There was a walkout immediately after the scene showing Vikram's death.
The director didn't stop there. He had a message for the youth. From whatever little I could make out from the Tamil words written on screen, the message went like 'While choosing your path, you choose your end!' Good message save for the fact that only a handful of people remained in the hall besides me!
The director's intention seems to have been to showcase the ill-effects of being a witness to horrifying violence in one's childhood. However, the end-product ended up glorifying violence more than anything else. No doubt then that in the words of The Hindu, Bheema is '
violence with a capital V'
And ironically, for a movie which speaks about impressionable childhood minds, the audience had many under-age viewers enjoying the violence. This, in spite of the A rating for the movie.