Sunday, 14 May 2017

Happy Streets of Madurai

When I received a message request from my friend RJ Ramana of Mirchi FM Radio Channel in Madurai to participate in the Happy Street Program in Madurai on 14th May 2017, I never imagined that it would really be a day of unwinding from the hectic professional life. 

It was a certainly a day that residents from Kamarajar Salai came out of their concrete jungle homes and took to the busy arterial road to play games that one could never imagine to play on a normal day. By the way Kamarajar Salai in Madurai connects city to Ramanathapuram Highway and is intricately crowed with shops and establishments which is even more thickly populated with residences since it has close proximity to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple. 

Happy Street as a novel concept to promote camaraderie among the people and bring about togetherness in coming out for a common cause to refresh and rejoice within their own environment is a welcome step. Kudos to the energetic Commissioner of Madurai Corporation for hitting upon a fantastic idea and implementing it with the support of Corporate Sponsors, Media Houses and the Civic Administration.

The response to the Happy Street Program was enormous from the public as they made use of the space to come out to let their spirits and energy enthusiastically be engaged in an activity of their liking, most importantly something that was far from their mundane daily life. It was heartening to see people of all ages throng the location, which was cordoned off from vehicular traffic and take centre stage to display their talents in various games like Basket ball netting, Shuttle Cock, Table Tennis, Carrom Boards and Skipping. 

Youngsters were excited to display their skills in roller skating, Trampoline Jumping and Archery. The Youth got an opportunity to play Cricket with Tennis Ball on the cement road which was a dream pitch to stroke around. The Cycling Team with their gears were doing synchronized cycling that was a treat to the eyes of the audience and passerby.
Professional Boxers were giving an opportunity for the young to throw a few punched with the boxing gloves on, something that we do not see too often in a place like Madurai. Gymnastics was also part of the game on display, as young persons were seen trying their luck on the pole by scaling it and balancing themselves on the top of it.  Spinning of Tops was a treat to the eyes and a surprise package, since not many know the trick to get it on their palms to spin off.

The Organisers were able to get the crowd to do some on the spot dancing with live bands playing out Western Songs and popular film songs. Certainly ‘Mustaffa ....Mustaffa’ Song from AR Rehaman got the crowd to wave their hands in unison to get a magic effect. Celebrity playback singers also lent their voice by performing hit songs on the stage. An young girl just jumped on stage to do a graceful dance synchronizing with the tune of ‘Alegra....Alegra’ Song which was very well sung on stage. The crowd that swelled around the stage were also doing some graceful moments for each song.

The Radio Jockeys led by RJ Ramana did some fantastic fast paced dances with the crowd pulling in participants from all ages. RJ Jackson Durai and RJ Kalyani too added grace to the dance party. This apart there were choreographers from the Cine World who kept the audience engrossed to their dance movements with various dance groups.

The mobile phones were the busy gadgets since Selfies dominated the day, with every bit of the proceedings getting a gentle click by all. No one was left in the crowd. It was hilarious to witness people sporting coloured hair wigs and taking / posing for selfies on their mobiles. Guess how many mobiles did go dry with batteries burning out of the charge.

The Happy Street was not confined to just Games and Fun, on a serious note there were many social themes on which awareness was spread through to the public. Noticeable among them was Effective Consumption of Water, Environment Protection, Planting of Trees, Organic Food and Healthy Civic Lifestyle etc. A Mobile Blood Donation Van was also stationed at the location to get the public to do donate blood and save life.  Soups and Food items were also part of the package to keep the public attracted.

On a personal note, I felt elated when I had a chance to meet up with some of my family friends like M. Rajesh of Guna Vilas, Sivanath and Nitin Shah from Classic Readymades. My friend Gnanagugan was up with his family for the program and even tried his skill in ‘Stick Fight’. I was able to meet up with Media friends like Edwin, Photographers Selvam Ramasamy and OSD Suresh. Suresh even got me pose for a snap, which was a cute remembrance, so did Deepika who shot me in action.

The thrill to be on a busy road for three hours on a Sunday morning with the public of Madurai was a pleasant opportunity. The mini carnival sort of program would eventually benefit if more colour and content is added in the ensuing editions to represent the cultural advantage that a city like Madurai has. It would be on comparable lines very soon with the carnivals that takes place in many cities around India and abroad.

For now the tagline of the Happy Street program in Madurai “Vanidiya Vaarthu.....Vanthu Vilayadu” (Vehicles will not come.....Come and Play) shall remain as a memorable one!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Capturing the Colourful Chitirai Festival in Madurai

Chitirai Festival is an all encompassing event that brings good cheer to the people wherever it is celebrated coinciding with the full moon day. One could ask why is it all the more special in Madurai, which is also known as the Temple City in Tamil Nadu?

Madurai with the iconic and legendary Sree Meenakshi Amman Temple is probably the all happening place, where one could be immersed in the thickness and richness of colour, tradition, heritage, music, dance and performing arts. The people of the city from far and near places flock in groups not merely by the hundreds, but actually goes beyond the thousands and even surpass the lakhs to participate in what could be termed as a “Mother of All Festivals.

The cultural festivities associated with the Chitirai Festival in Madurai is mindboggling as the entire city comes alive with sound and light, dance and songs, prayers and offerings, divinity and affinity, love and joy etc. There is so much of love and warmth in the air with celebrations taking place in every nook and corner involving all segments of people. One significant reason for this mass celebration can be that two major events like the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam and Lord Kallazhagar's entry into the river Vaigai takes place during the same period.  Both the events have a legendary legacy attributed to it, but yet in modern day times, it is almost getting more significancant due to the large crowds who are emotionally, spiritually and culturally blended to a tradition that is almost owned and expressed by the people of Madurai.

Every year, I used to watch the newspapers for a big size photograph of the Thirukalyanam, Therottam and Alagar's Entry into River Vaigai and then forget about it after a few days. But this year was something special and spectacular, since I got into the thick of the things and ventured into the city to have a feel of what the Chitirai Festival was all about. The other important or rather main reason for me to get into the crowds was my Canon DSLR Camera that I carried to shoot some photographs of the happenings.

I must honestly confess that I was awestruck with the lively energy and electrifying atmosphere around the city during festival. People came wearing their best dress and accessories, children with play items were seen having fun all around. The Women kept pace with the crowd in moving swiftly in waves to have a look at the deity and offer their prayers. The elderly were seen in the crowd sitting on the pavements and on the staircases of the shops and establishments and praying to the lord from a comfortable distance. The Youth were exuberant and making their presence felt in a huge crowd. So much of crowd assembling on their own, staying with the festivities and dispersing peacefully without any issues is something that needs to be appreciated.

The most striking feature of the Chitirai Festival is the procession of Sree Meenakshi Amman along with other deities in various forms along the much famous Chitirai streets in Madurai. The spectacle is truly colourful and soulful when the procession goes past you, as you can witness young Children dressed up like the Lord in appropriate attire with jewels. Meenakshi Amman is the most common dress that children wear, and no surprise you can witness the charm and beauty of Meenakshi Amman through the young children who do not get tired in a grueling route spanning atleast 20 Kms. Children are also dressed up like other god and goddesses and are accompanied by their parents along the entourage. Folk artists break the noise barrier with their thunderous performance of Oiyilattam, Mailyattam, Kollattam, Thappattam, Kaavadi Attam etc. Cartoon Caricatures comes alive with many sporting huge faces of animals and famous historical personalities to draw the attraction of the crowd.

I was completely swept with the colourful pageant that passed across and started to click some fantastic photos, which made me happy. The interesting aspect is that many would come forward and voluntarily ask for a photograph to be taken. On the contrary, I would approach many to take a photo of them as they sing and dance along the procession which is a representation of a rich culture and tradition that is customary with the soil. The photos which were shared through private messages with my friends have got a great response. Many acclaimed that I am an avid photographer and sent their comments in many other ways, much to their choice of words and sentiments.

But honestly, I would very humbly submit that I let my passion out for a walk down the streets of Madurai......what I got in return was a splendid opportunity to capture the colours of Chitirai Festival. I am sure, it would take many days to sink in going by the fabulous feedback that my photos have managed to bring in for me.

Yes .....truly!!!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Mockery of the process of Counselling!

The new era of television programming in Tamil Nadu has inadvertently taken upon itself the process of conducting family counselling just like an entertainment item,with an attitude of "I am the Healer", which is nothing but a sheer mockery. This cheap practice of playing with the emotions of people through the talk shows, wherein the host is projected as a moral counsellor for family issues is not a very welcome step considering the larger welfare of the society. 

The reality shows which features a popular face, without any professional qualification and expertise in counselling as the host to deal with intricate human relationship issues within the family is a derogatory portrayal of the social and moral status of the families. No professionally qualified Social Work personnel would accept what is played out on the small screen as an acceptable solution to the issues that are discussed. At times it is disgusting to observe the questions and the state of the conversations that are being conducted on such shows. 

The poor hapless persons who are being featured on the show do not know how they are manipulated and projected to the society. To add insult to the wound, more than the actual show itself the promo is over hyped way beyond reality, to create a sensation among the viewers. It is very pathetic to witness the sorry state of insensitivity to very painful human issues which affects all and sundry.

One must remember that Family Counselling is a very professional practice which is based on many aspects like Confidentiality, Trust and Professional approaches to therapeutic interventions etc. It is no secret that such counseling must be handled by professionally qualified and experienced persons, knowing what they are doing and what is expected of them, not just decked up with glitz and glamour. 

The centrality of the issue here, is that what needs to be handled very carefully within a closed set up is played up with drama under full lights, bringing the bad side of it to the drawing rooms in prime time, which is glaring to all sections of viewers. 

For one little moment, one must imagine what impact these programs would create in the minds of young boys and girls who are just entering the adulthood phase?, since most of the programs featured involves extra marital affairs, illicit relationships and cases of domestic violence. The manner in which they are projected will sow seeds of moral degradation in the young and fertile minds, which will cause more harm to them than positive benefits. 

On the other side, I also wonder why these poor people go to the television channels for sorting out their personal issues. There are many organized and well established Family Counselling Centers with professionally qualified experts to give them a better relief than what those on the reality shows could provide.  It is high time they realize the need of upholding their very own ‘self dignity, irrespective of the conditions they live in either by circumstance or by choice.

I have carefully avoided taking names of any particular host or the TV Channel, maybe because they all seem to be sinking in the same rot. Moreover, it can also be taken that the professional ethics within me is still intact. Yet, I cannot end this blog post without posing a crucial question as to 'who is to be blamed for this social menace which is spreading its dangerous claws on the social fabric?'

Self dignity being sold on a soap opera!!!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Festival of Lights and Secular Spirit!!!

Deepavali – The festival of lights not only just brings happiness and joy to the people in the society, but there is a whole lot of other deeper significance attached to it which is very fascinating to know. The air of expectancy for any festival in India starts from the shopping spree that people resort to, as the festival fast approaches. Many times the shopping spree is the only aspect that people do really enjoy, more than the actual day of the festival.

Tiruchy Days:
As youngsters in Tiruchy, we were introduced to the concept of pre night deepavali street sales that are conducted around the teppakluam near the main guard gate. It used to be an adventurous night of wading through the crowd and just bargaining with the vendors to get goods at half price, which was usually the pattern on which the small time traders would conduct their business. It was not only e clothes, but instead any property that could be useful for each and every one. 

The innate happiness what we would get after we purchase any material or item at throw away prices from the street site sellers would be a more happy experience than the actual festival day.

Infact the joy after grabbing a new product or an item at a throw away rice would be t he talking point among any age group. As a bunch of close friends, we used to go to the main guard gate for the Deepavali night sale get drenched in the sea of humanity. The purchase would eventually end up with a sumptuous food a very preferred restaurant. For most of the adventurous guys who would make it to the Deepavali Eve Shopping it would mean that when they go back home, the festival is already gone by. On a philosophical note, this experience of going out in the night with friends can be equated with the feel of growing up in age as adults, as we would be permitted to return home late, many times it would be early morning.

New Insight @ Vilakuthoon
Deepavali Eve night shopping continued at Madurai as well as I moved to settle down at Madurai- the cultural capital of the state of Tamilnadu. Madurai with its magnificent Meenakshi Amman Temple and a whole lot festivities attached with the city has been and will always be a favoured place for many. The streets around the Meenakshi Amman Temple would be buzzing with frenzied activities on any day, since most of the textile showrooms, jewellery shops, fancy items, foot wear retailers, eating outlets and general stores are stacked up with stock and staff to handle large volume of customers.

The high mast light tower which stands at ‘Vilakuthoon’ junction is the nerve centre of all attractions during the Deepavali Eve Shopping fare, since it will be flooded in a sea of people who throng the arterial road for doing the last minute shopping for the big festival in the city. There is a pereception in the society that the street shopping is done by people from the low economic strata. If one makes a visit to Vilakuthoon area during the Deepavali season, they would find people of all segments in the society do come with their swelled purses and sparkling mood to get immersed in the shopping spree. For many it is a jolly good walk down the crowded road which can be thrilling experience. Apart from purchases like dress and fancy items, one could quench your thirst with Sugarcane Juice and have a quick bite with lots of snacks, not missing the popular 'Jiggarthanda'.

For a very long time, I was wondering from where do the street hawkers come and set up their mobile shops sell all variety of clothing and fancy items for the public during the Deepavali season in places like Madurai and Trichy, infact the whole of Tamilnadu. My curiosity started to grow in me and it rather became a desire to go beyond the crowds and locate a few street sellers to get to know them in person. I must confess that this desire was worth a try and left within me a pleasant feel of secularism.

Sales & Secular Spirit:
The first person that I met with was Mr. A. Rahaman who was selling colourful umberellas. He was a bundle of energy and positive vibration that kindled a spark within me about this concept of Sales and Secular Spirit. He hails from Tiruparankundram and he comes to the city for Deepavali sales not only to make money, but to make it with happiness. He recounts that this practice has been going for many years and that what money he makes during the Deepavali Night Sales which lasts for a week prior to the festival is a considerable amount with which his family is supported during the year. He wanted to sell his umbrellas to people by making friends with them despite the crowds. The manner in which he posed for my camera brought real goose bumps within me. I was impressed with his knack of sales and wished that he grew in stature to own a shop of umbrellas in Madurai one day.

The next was this man from Rajasthan, whose name I failed to recollect now. He was a mobile showroom, holding in his hands a couple of hangers with new frocks for girls. He spoke chaste Hindi and said that he travels all across India to sell textiles and his visit to Madurai during the Deepavali has become a sort of a planned schedule. He was a bundle of emotions, since he had problems in conversing with the Madurai folks in Tamil, but yet he was able to attract a lot of customers. I guess his turban might have helped ...perhaps!

Mr. Subramani who was selling fancy items along with his brother and wife on the pavement bang opposite to a big textile showroom was infact doing good for both. Those who stopped to buy bangles, ear rings and other fancy items also walked into the textile showroom as well. 

No wonder the Textile sales guy who was waiting at the entrance also invited me into his shop for a few photographs, whichI politely declined, since my focus was the street sales and not show room sales.
The moot point here is that he was not selling all branded products of beauty care, but despite that he had customers from all kinds to buy the items that were on display on his rickety stand. The moment I took out my camera to take a picture of him, he sported a new look with his neatly worn dress.

Lifelong lesson:
One aspect that I can share with you all is that, we Indians are mentally and socially very close knit and there is a secular fabric that is lacing us to our society. No wonder our secular identity is causing a strain to many eyes across the globe. The Festival of lights has certainly lights up many families with happiness, some with sweets and some with super sales.

Come What May...India will stand united with good Samaritans like these chosen few whom I have featured in this blog.

Friday, 4 November 2016

All Souls Day

The solemnity of observing the ‘All Souls Day’ is always a very important day of thanksgiving blended with a fond and warm sense of remembrance to the departed soul. The visit to the grave yard is not merely rhetoric, but most often something which turns out to be a soul searching moment of personal grief.

The grave yard no doubt wears a festive atmosphere, with the yearly cleaning of the area. The mud made graves are re- done by clearing all the bushes and dirt strewn around it. The sand is dug up from the nearby grave and heaped on the grave of our departed soul. The termite struck wooden cross is re -painted and the lucky one with granite are washed, so that the names and the dates of the birth and death of the departed person is clearly visible. Finally it is the topping of flowers of all kinds, especially marigold which is the commonly used flower by all. Not to forget the roses and, lilly, jasmine and paper flowers. The candles that are lit up along with the incense complete the much wanted decoration of the graves.

When all that is done, then comes the prayers which are recited by the kith and kin who stand or kneel around the grave of their dear departed ones. Some graves have huge gathering of kith and kin and they start a family rosary or a prayer; some graves have one or two people doing the same; but many graves do not any one around to stand and pray for the departed soul.  Their grave is also not done up and remains a place of dirt and dust. I often wonder why there cannot be a common fund to make up all the graves which are un-attended for years. It is a pity that there is inequality even in the form and sizes of the graves. Though it is common fact that all the grave holes are of common size of length and breadth beneath the soil, they are distinctly different in size, shape and colour above the soil.

Chicha .....!!!

Every year I make my yearly visit to the G Corner grave yard which is maintained by the parish of St. John De Britto’s Church in Subramaniapuram at Tiruchy. I spend moments of reflection which is often with tears at the grave yard of Chicha, my paternal aunty who was very fond of us, especially me since I grew up with her from my teenage onwards. Her name is Josephine Francis, but to all of us she was Chicha. A spinster who took the burden of the family on her shoulders at a very young age, she was a warrior of sorts who defended the family in times of trouble and turmoil. She was not much educated, but a very god fearing Anglo Indian Lady who was very popular in our surrounding.

To me she was very special, since we all learned our life from her, which was laced with love and prayers, we often had fights and arguments...but then they will all wade away with the night. She slogged for the family like no one, and despite her poor health she was at our service any time of the day and night. She was a character that no one could miss, who stood out with guts and valour doing chores of household work which was manual in nature. Though there are many of our loved ones in our family who have helped us grow and have departed, my relationship with Chicha is always very special.....loads and loads of personal experience can be written on endless pages about her for years to come.

What makes me very sentimental about the ‘All Souls Day’ and a visit to Chicha’s grave is something that cannot be explained in words. It is deep rooted within me and will remain  me till my last breath, since I had the divine blessing to hold her hands as she passed away.......and her last breath withered in my hands !!!