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Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Sparrow Day

Today is World Sparrow Day.

Sparrows were part of my childhood. They would fearlessly land on our terrace and pick at the grain dried by my mother. Their cheeping would be a background music to all our activities.

The sparrows have disappeared from our lives. The number of common house sparrow in existence today is unknown. The changes in their natural habitats has depleted their numbers. A family of sparrows built their nest in my son’s apartment on the 13th floor. There was a sunshade above a tiny balcony that was enclosed with a steel grill. They had made a nest in a narrow space above the grill and the flat above. My granddaughter’s mornings and the milk drinking ritual was accomplished with the help of these sparrows and the parrots that would shriek and flit around.

The common house sparrow’s disappearance is a universal phenomenon. In London there was a huge hue and cry a few years ago when the population of sparrows fell drastically to about 85%. In India it is just sporadically reported and has not ruffled any feathers other than amongst the scientists and naturalists.
One reason maybe the size of these little birds. Tigers and peacocks, turtles and deer are more exotic. Sparrows are small fry after all.Their ubiquitous presence was taken for granted.

One of the reasons for their depletion seems to be the introduction of unleaded petrol. Denis Summers-Smith, expert on sparrows says that the unleaded petrol uses Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) as an anti-knocking agent which kills small insects. Adult sparrows can survive without insects in their diet but they need the Grain was easily available with women cleaning, drying and scattering grain in their terraces and backyards. Store houses and godowns had lots of grain scattered around. With apartments this habit is gone and supermarket packets of food stuffs need no drying.

The sparrow also featured in stories and poems told to kids. Today Dora and Scooby Doo and Pokemon are more familiar figures than sparrows. Today the sight of a sparrow is rare and a child may not even recognize it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

DREAM MERCHANTS ON CHENNAI'S ARCOT ROAD

There is a Hollywood; Bollywood is the Mumbai film industry’s popular identity;and Kollywood stands for the Tamil film word. The ‘K’ comes from Kodambakkam where the South Indian film industry took root and flourished from the late 40’s. However, the gigantic studios set up by film makers on cheap land sprung up beyond Vadapalani temple and in Saligramam churning out their creations of dreams.

Madras Presidency became the Capital for most of South Indian and Sri Lankan cinema. In 1948 AVM studios moved to Vadapalani from Karaikudi and have been the prime producers of films and TV serials. They have indoor and outdoor sets, street scenes, temple, village and other sets. The studios are equipped with modern supporting infrastructure like recording, dubbing and editing studios and a preview theatre. The studios are open to the public to enter the dream world of films and entry is free between 9.00 to 18.00 daily. AVM Studios also has a Go-Karting centre within the studios.

Prasad Studios and Prasad Film Labs was started by L.V. Prasad in 1956 and have produced over 150 movies in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. The studios has some of the best post production equipment and facilities for feature film and advertising. They have state-of-the-art Shooting Floors and Equipment, Film Processing and Printing facilities, 6 film labs, 17 audio recording and mixing studios, 3 large VFX studios, digital intermediate suites, digital restoration studios, telecine suites and DVD authoring suites. To commemorate their fiftieth anniversary, Ramesh Prasad, scion of the family launched the L.V.Prasad Film and TV Academy, an institute to train passionate youngsters in the different aspects of movie making.

To cater to the huge clientele generated by the film industry, both restaurant and bar goers and the others visiting the area connected with the many aspects of movie making, there are a few good hotels near the studios. Hotel Green Park, Hotel Aaditya and Hotel Maurya flourish with film folks patronage.Stars too are investing in restaurants--Simran who has now shifted gears into domesticity has opened 'Aapa Kadai' in Dubai and now in Chennai as well. Other stars have interests in hotels surreptitiously....what is known as 'benaami' or nameless!

Sadly, with dud productions and lack of second and third generation involvement in the risky business of film making, many of the famous studios have down sized or closed down. Vijaya converted some of their space into a hospital and Kalyana Mandapam. Majestic and Bhanumathy’s Bharani Studios have closed down. The vast studio spaces of land are slowly being developed into housing complexes and commercial spaces.

In surrounding colonies of Vadapalani, Saligramam and Valasaravakkam villas and Spanish style sprawling mansions and imitative French chalets have been built, decorated and furnished to cater to the TV and film location demands. Some are even equipped with swimming pools and gyms. Many of these are owned by artists themselves as a clever investment in real estate and source of regular income.

When you are driving on Arcot Road watch out for the dream merchants in SUV’s and top end luxury vehicles. Behind the blackened glass you may catch a glimpse of a star. Or it could be a Madhavan or Simbu--young stars of Tamizh cinema--riding incognito behind helmets on high powered bikes on their way to donning on makeup and roles to face the cameras.

Schedules

If it were not for the last minute, many things wouldn’t get done


For centuries, the first thing women have done is to light the fires in the kitchen. Their day, especially in the developing countries, starts with boiling the milk, making tea or porridge and/or breakfast for the family who will soon leave the home.

However much I have evolved into the persona of emancipated, western oriented, independent woman who has only a single responsibility..my husband..left, I still continue to do the same. The schedule is brushing teeth and then setting a pan of milk to boil. I then cut up some papaya for my husband who is already up as he rises early and has learnt to make his coffee.

Then the day winds on with regular activities interspersed with sudden assignments, errands etc. However, I do have a running list of ‘things to do’ that generally get done as scheduled.

I must talk about my husband’s—you will see him in my blogs--predilection for doing things at the last minute. The maxim at the top was presented to him as a plaque when he was racing to complete the refurbishment of the out-of-city branch of the bank in which he worked. He completed 56 automation and refurbishment projects in a matter of two years including relocations! So you can imagine the number of ‘last minutes’ that he and I had to cope with as every individual project was date and time bound. He also rushed through many big projects in his career as a Consultant Civil Engineer including one in ’76 where an African countries conclave, OAU, took place in Mauritius. Idi Amin was to step down as the Chairman of this association and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, PM of Mauritius was to take over. The important item on schedule was to custom build a chair to take Idi Amin’s weighty personality. Even the car in which he was riding was suitably bolstered up!

This was an experience gained from ‘handling’ His Heaviness The King Of Tonga for whom a ceremonial raised platform was designed to receive him at the Chennai airport—way back in the late 60’s. Everything went according to schedule until he sank into the back seat of the VIP car and needed to be heaved out from the sunken seat. Thank God another car had been arranged for his equally heavy wife!!

After retirements schedules have become relaxed other than meal times and medicine intakes!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

First mango

Summer is creeping in on gusty warm winds. It is still pleasant inside my third floor apartment, but if you go out, the heat hits you. I sit in direct sunlight every morning to absorb natural Vit D. Today the sun was sharp!

I also used my first raw mango---a teeny weeny one--in my sambhar to give it its tartness. I don't use tamarind as the husband can't tolerate it. Usually I add a dash of lemon, but in mango season, I enjoy the fresh flavour that mango gives.

My daughter says she has still not spotted the first Alphonso mangoes in Mumbai where it usually appears around this time at shocking prices of course --Rs 300 for EACH mango. Incidentally last year the farmers who exported the 'aapoose' mango as it is called locally claimed that they got this price!

In my house the first mangoes come in only for my father-in-law's death anniversary ceremony...this year it is a little late and falls on April 12th. If we get ripe mangoes before that, we may be tempted to break the embargo.

Watch this space!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cordless and clueless

I have learnt a lesson from my friend Grannymar---and my brother may get offended that I didn't learn it from him.

I can write just a few sentences and it need not be a page long blog.

I am pretty annoyed right now as my Panasonic Cordless phone's battery has died on us. Any attempts at getting spares is futile. All the retailers are only interested in selling new ones--or so feels the husband--and the company outlet is tucked away in a remote part of the city.

Why do I need one...well I have to talk at length with people, interviewing them about such profound topics like where they like to eat, why they like a suburb, what shops they prefer buying stuff and so on. Now with the landline I sit on my bed, with a notepad (the original spiral bound variety) a pen and take down notes....not really comfortable, is it.

Why don't I go shopping for a new one or source the battery you may ask?

I am now under a blanket ban from my daughter not to step foot into an autorickshaw after my adventurous accident in one two weeks ago. More on that soon. Poor husband has to drive me around and has zilch patience for shopping.

Thinking of alternatives.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Open the Envelope

Monday came at last, and with it, the letter. Kala held the letter with trembling fingers. She turned it this way and that way, read, reread her name, the address and the senders name. She read it in her mind and then with a jiggle of sheer delight, she read it aloud in an Oscar Awards voice, "Open the envelope".

As she began to open the envelope, she was beset with doubts. "Suppose it says--Oh my God! I wish Mani was here," she wheezed. " Its just not fair. When I need him, he's never there. He was not there when I fell of the ladder, nor for Sannu's delivery or for his growing up milestones" and ran out of breath.

Kala sat down on the sofa and had a whiff of her handy inhaler placed in every room for just such moments, to ease the breathlessness due to the combined tension, excitement of the letter and annoyance against her husband. She picked up the letter as she got her breath back and started to tear it open. She suddenly realized that the envelope was packed tight with the folded letter. "What if I tear an important part of the letter?" she asked, doubting her adroitness. So she got up from the sofa saying, "I better open the envelope with a pair of scissors or knife," and went into the kitchen.

She had sent off the reply to the letter with so much expectation and finally the reply was in her hand. She picked up the thin bladed knife and began to insert the sharp edge into the little area that had missed being sealed. She stopped and placed the envelope in front of Lord Ganesha's picture on the Pooja shelf. After a brief prayer, she opened her eyes and to her utter joy, a flower had fallen on the letter. "Oh God! What a wonderful omen," she chortled and picked up the letter and knife and went and sat on the dining table outside the kitchen.

She now inserted the knife into the envelope and slowly slit it open. She pulled out the folded letter very, very carefully. The letter was the best bond paper, white with a navy blue, embossed letterhead. Her eyes quickly scanned and zoomed on to the main paragraph.

"Congratulations. You have completed the first step to our fantastic offer of a sure win at the lottery. We request you to send your International Postal Order for $25 so that we can process your application to the next step in the process."

Kala crumpled the letter in her hands and threw it angrily at the wall as the mocking words of Mani, her husband played back in her ears. "These people have got your name and address from a database generated from your credit card. They will demand money as processing fee and that will be the end of their contact with you. Nobody gives away money for free, Kala."

Friday, March 11, 2011

DISASTERS—NATURAL AND MAN MADE

by Prof N Natarajan

Nature has created a beautifully balanced ecosystem for human beings and other forms of life. We pat ourselves on our backs and boast how intelligent, creative, powerful we are and how we have constructed the wonders of the world. Man has innovatively created the modern world with all its gadgets and comforts and advanced science and technology not to speak of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The final frontier of death too is within conquerable distance say the experts.

Then comes the burp from Mother Earth that is a humbling experience. Look at what a one minute earthquake has managed to do in Japan....mass devastation to life, living and manmade, so called impregnable forts.

This should be a moment of introspection that should pull us back from the brink of annihilation. What can be done with a hope for a tomorrow in mind?

We should:
 Slow down the tendency to exploit, injure and destroy Nature.
 Stop destroying forests by deforestation and mining activity.
 Show more respect to water and stop wasting it blithely in a hedonistic way.
 Reduce the generation of heat that leads to pollution and the release of poisonous chemicals and gases into the air and water.
 Conserve and protect all other living forms that are necessary in the chain of existence for sustained ecology.

The list can go on and on. However, there is one single manmade danger which can cause a greater havoc than nature’s fury especially in India which has a high density of population. This is a Nuclear fallout. The Japanese earthquake and the resulting tsunami have forced that Government to declare nuclear emergency in all the five nuclear plants with fear of a nuclear meltdown. People are being evacuated from the two locations in very large numbers. This is ironic for a nation that was the victim of nuclear attacks and whose people are still living through the nightmare of consequences.

All that glib talk about the safety of nuclear installations by canvassers of nuclear power has proved to be false. The present Government in India has still time to retrace its decision for development of nuclear power. This disastrous step is being taken under the pressure of international merchants of death, just to augment energy supply by a marginal 5 to 7%, throwing all caution to the wind. No lessons have been learnt from another manmade disaster in Bhopal from which we have not recovered yet. In retrospect even the Japanese may be realising that their genius and power of invention should have been used to create a safe and efficient form of solar, wind or water power as an alternative for fossil fuel instead of banking on nuclear energy. This would be harnessing the gifts of nature in a positive and non-exploitative manner.

History is a great teacher. We can ignore it only at our peril. This is not a wake up call. It is in a way the last bugle. Heed it, or perish.