Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reinventing Mysore Dasara

I had mixed thoughts for Mysore as I read a blog post by my Chennai-based journalist friend Vincent D’Souza. A part of me wondered why some of our creative minds couldn’t think of designing a T-shirt for Mysore. The other part of my mind doubted if such fancy ideas would be acceptable to conservative Mysoreans or go down well with their thoughts on the pig menace, garbage pile-up in street corners and other mundane concerns.

Chennai too has pig menace; is known for its Coovum, a repository of all imaginable germs. Rail passengers to the city can’t miss the unwelcome sight of discarded plastic water bottles, paper plates, polythene bags, and other non-bio-degradable wastes littered for miles on either side of the track as they approach Chennai Central. And yet the city boasts of its December music festival; and has a critical mass of city-lovers that organizes neighborhood heritage walks, celebrates Madras Day and brings out city T-shirts. My friend who sees no contradiction in this would be the first to admit that pigs and Cuuvam can’t be wished away from the Chennai scene. They are as much a factor in the city as its heritage buildings and glass-fronted high-rise structures.

Namma Chennai T-shirt that Vincent blogged about fits in with the Madras Day celebrations (Aug.22), a community initiative with corporate support. They make a song and dance of it by holding an annual T-shirt design contest. The prize-winning design of last year, by Shreyas, a design student, is on this year’s T-shirt. Made in Thiruppur, event organisers order in limited numbers so as to make the T-shirt a collector’s item. Any die-hard Chennaiwasi who develops a chaska for collecting Namma Chennai items can be counted on buying the T-shirt every year.

Founded by a Chennai community newsweekly, Mylapore Times, along with the Nalli Silks and L&T, the Madras Day celebrations are supported by nearly 40 organisations that include not just business houses, but NGOs, select schools and colleges, public trusts, and private foundations, heritage societies and PR firms. Event management and marketing skills go into the design, release and sale of T-shirts and organizing other events.

We boast of much older, better-known and big-time celebrations – Mysore Dasara. But after every year’s celebrations all we get to read in the media is how mismanaged the events were; and about the need for re-inventing Mysore Dasara. There is talk about corporate sponsorship. It is not as if major companies don’t see mileage in Mysore Dasara. Snag is that Dasara ,in the manner in which it is now run, does not leave scope for corporate participation. Over the years it has come to acquire a reputation as a sarkari event that is staged with government grants, by a plethora of officially sponsored committees, mainly for the benefit of pass-holders.

Cross-filed from Praja-Mysore

Monday, August 20, 2007


Indian Railways Minister Laloo Prasad who doubles up as a management guru has been invited to address the country's top hoteliers at a hospitality summit in New Delhi. Topic: 'Lessons from a Moving Train'. The news item, though buried on Page 12, caught my eye because I had recently blogged about a lesson I learnt from a moving train - lessons from railway catering management.

The thing about railway caterers is that they manage to maintain uniform standards of tastelessness and yet sustain a growing demand for their meals on moving trains. Our rail minister's choice of topic for the hospitality summit had me wonder if someone had drawn his attention to my earlier blog piece. The Hindu news item said the rail minister would articulate "his now famous management tips on how turnaround of the Indian Railways was achieved." I would say Bihar could have done with his 'turnaround mantra' when Mr Laloo Prasad was at the helm in that state.

I recall a tip the minister shared with IIM-A students on his achieving the railway 'turnaround.' The minister noted that the railways were like a Jersey cow. The cow fell sick if it wasn't milked fully; so would the railways, if their full potentials were not tapped.

I can understand students from Wharton and Stanford taking in an audience with Laloo during their study tour of India; and then telling CNBC how "wow-ed" they were with our minister's management insights. What I can't figure out is how our b-schools, business chambers and hoteliers association, who know well enough how our railways work, can fall for the minister's Laloopadesa, as if it was a management Gitapodesa.

At the coming hospitality summit, Mr Laloo Prasad, as a seminar speaker, figures in the same league as managing director of Switzerland's international hotel management institute. The next thing that we might hear is that one of our premier universities such as JNU is to confer a doctorate on him. My sense is Mr Lalu Prasad has been such a hit for so long, with so many, because he knows not to take seriously much of whatever he says to the academics and the media.

Cross-posted from Desicritic

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An update on the Mysore commune initiative

An earlier post in Jan. on Prem Subramaniam’s ongoing efforts to develop a river bank commune near Mysore evoked following enquiries:

“…yearning for a settlement as described by you. Please count us in it and any updates on this would be highly appreciated”, wrote a Bangalore-based couple.

“…a great move. can you keep us updated on the legal transaction nuances.”

Prem, “still waiting to live my dream”, is hopeful of relocating himself in his dream setting, near Srirangapatnam, by the end of next year. Here is an update he e-mailed:

The current status on my plans to relocate to a non-urban environment in the vicinity of Mysore is that the final step in the alienation of the land is still awaited. The site comes under Mandya. Agricultural Land in Karnataka cannot be bought by anyone who does not already own agricultural land elsewhere and whose gross family income from non-agricultural sources exceeds Rs 2 lakhs a year.

People circumvent this rule. I did not want to take this risk. So an application has to be made to convert the land for residential use. This process was supposed to take about 4 months. It takes longer, as inevitably all the documents required take time to collate. The documents have to be forwarded in a lengthy process and final sanction wrests with the DC. The earlier DC fell ill and his replacement has not looked at documents relating to alienation of our site for over 2 months.So there has been no progress for over 4 months now.

Meanwhile I have finalised designs for built-up space with help from Bangalore based Chitra Vishwanath, a staunch advocate of environment-friendly buildings. There are many practitioners in Karnataka, Kerala,Pondicherry,Delhi and Mysore too, but the challenge is to have a seamless extension with the contractor chosen to execute the work. Through the offices of Chitra Vishwanath I have identified someone in Mysore.

I also have had an engineering company from Bangalore to do a report on the feasibility of setting up a micro-hydel, but since we are on the River Kaveri , I am not sure if it will be easy to obtain permissions, even though this exercise could create an alternate source of power for the village community.

I have used the time that has lapsed to visit organic farms in Karnataka, tourist attractions and do background work to establish contact with people with the kind of skill sets that I feel I will need to rely on. I have travelled by train,car,local buses and this has helped overcome the frustration of not being able to move on my project.

I have looked at an interesting model of a retirement community in Gujerat where some NRIs have taken 12 acres of land about 80 km from Ahmedabad,40 km from Baroda, and 4 km from Anand.They are in the process of building 100 one-bedroom cottages supported by about 20000 sq ft of common facilities.They accept only those over 60 and are offering the cottages on lease for 10 years with a reasonable deposit and a monthly outflow towards meals,maintnenance,electricity etc.

I am told that a similar variation is on offer by Classic who have the Kudumbam project near Chennai. There are variations to the theme in Coimbatore too. In Uttaranchal Anil Nayyar,formerly of Airtel, is setting up a residential Knowledge centre.

My own sentiment is not to relegate older people to a commune. It is meant to be a place for those who do not need to be on a 9 to 5 regime. So could include those in part-time jobs, those who can work out of home, those who may need to go to an office once in while and not on a daily basis. It should be an place which can provide a nourishing environment to at least three generations of people.Where grandchildren could come and spend time with their grandparents if the parents do not have time.Where the skills of the elders is available for a variety of purposes. I see value in offering an alternate tourism experience.

In the ideal world I would like to see about 4 to 5 sites of the kind I have envisaged within a 100 km radius and perhaps have these replicated in other regions of Karnataka.

The learning experience from attempting to convert agricultural land is that it maybe simpler to buy plantation land in Coorg, Chikmagalur or similar or look for similar terrain in Tamil Nadu. However these will be a little remoter and may not suit all.

There has been expressions of interest on what I am attempting to do and I have therefore initiated dialogue with someone in Coorg to acquire a 3 acre site about 8 km from kushalnagar.It is just 0.5 km from the Kaveri and amidst coffee plantations. Close to Bylakuppe,Dubare Elelphant Camp. If this works out I can include those interested in the development of this site for creating a commune.

Alternatively, if there are individuals with sites which are suitable, we can think of collaborating. I have to emphasize that I am not driven by commercial interests as much as making my concept work and share the knowledge so that an alternate quality of life is available for those seeking it. Underlying the work is the 4 cardinal principles of consumer satisfaction, commercial viability, benefit to local economy and engagement of local communities ,and long term sustainability.

Still waiting to live my dream!

Related posts: Dreams of a commune on the Cauvery bank
More on the Mysore commune initiative

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

No-taker Gandhian studies

Bangalore University centre for Gandhian studies has no students. Hasn't had one since they set it up, says The Hindu. Lack of interest among today's generation shouldn't come as a surprise to many. The fault need not totally be with the youth. It's probably because old-time Gandhians have failed; worse still, pooh-poohed attempts to redefine Gandhi. Lage Raho Munnabhai may be dismissed by Gandhians as much too simplistic and masala-driven. But the Bollywood attempt does reflect the need for teachers to relate Gandhi to the nation's current concerns.

The Gandhian Studies Centre at Bangalore University has provision for annual intake of 40 students, is endowed with a Rs.15-lakh annual budget; has built over the years an infrastructure, including a 200-seat auditorium and an open-air theatre. Media report says that the few who applied for the PG diploma course offered by the centre did so to take advantage of free hostel facilities. The authorities who got wise withdrew the facility. No go. No free hostel, no studients for Gandhian Studies.

One has to be naive not to ask why the university authorities would still want to continue with the studies centre (now a campus within the univeristy campus). The determination of education administrators to press on with the course may have to do with their devotion to Gandhi and his thoughts; their belief in Gandhi's continued relevance. Wonder if the authorities ever viewed closure of the studies centre as an option. Even if they did, they couldn't be expected to voice it without risking sharp resistance from staunch Gandhiwadhis.

Also read Talking Gandhi over brandy

Cross-filed in Praja-Mysore

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Karachi blogger's tribute to Kishore Kumar

Those of us who take our freedom of expression for granted don’t give a thought to what it is like to be living under socio-cultural environment in which listening to film music; or even of writing about the singer is taboo. Adnan, a blogger in Karachi writes that he thought twice about posting his tribute to late Kishore Kumar on 78 birth anniversary day (Aug.4).

Adnan says he usually blogs on religion and politics and many of his readers who believed music to be not Islamic probably “consider me a hypocrite”. The Karachi-based blogger rationalises his Kishore Kumar post saying that he blogs not for others – “I write for myself”; and that he couldn’t wish away a past in which Kishore da was his favorite singer.

Adnan’s mamoo and dad were Kishore fans; they rarely missed the Akashvani programme playing old film songs. Adnan recalled he got initiated to Kishore songs when he heard Kumar Sanu on cassette singing Kishore songs. Adnan went for the original singer, and liked what he heard even better.

It wasn’t just Sanu who copied, says Adnan, several Pakistani singers copied Kishore. He mentions Alamgir, Sheikhi, and Sajjad. Among his all-time Kishore favorites Adnan lists – Zindagi ke safar in Safar and the Aandhi numbers that are best heard in your darkened room, late in the night.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Casablanca in Malayalam

My friend S P Dutt, whose way of staying in touch is by sharing with e-pals interesting items he reads on the web, sent me a Guardian story on the making of a Malayalam movie, Ezham Mudra. The movie, inspired by Casablanca, would have in the lead Suresh Gopi and Mandira Bedi in the roles immortalized by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Director Rajeev Nath, who is scheduled to start shooting in Kerala in September, is reported to have said his film would be a tribute to the original (he has watched it 20 times). Most film goers of today are unlikely to have watched the original to compare Mandira’s performance with Bergman’s.

A notable aspect is that this sad love story, set on a beachfront cafĂ© in southern India, would play out in the background of Tamil Tigers’ fight against the Sri Lankan authorities. There was an earlier film in Tamil with the militancy in Sri Lanka as its backdrop – Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal.

Copy or inspired, Ezham Mudra raises viewer expectations. For those familiar with the old classic I’ve a question: Which desi name comes to mind at the mention of Ingrid Bergman?
Multiple choice - Mandira/ Monica/Pooja/ none of the foregoing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

You're never too old to blog

Elderly folk generally stay away from the computer, saying they can't get a hang of it and that it is too late to try. And lack of awareness of potentials of the web, even among younger middle-class parents, accounts for a low PC density. In Mysore, they say, there are no more than 5,000 broadband connections. People who ought to know better associate a computer and the Internet with video games and porn.

Most people over 65 have faith in the printed word. They don't care for what appears on the web, according a survey done by Hariharan Balakrishnan. In The Hindu write-up he says respondents to the survey included professors, padma bhushans and even Jnanpith awardees. It is not that they don't have computer at home. Nor do they lack computer-savvy children and grand-children. Balakrishnan says 95 percent of those who responded said they were 'computer-illiterate'. Apparently, they chose not to do anything about it. How many of the uninformed elders have taken initiative to seek guidance from their youngsters, asks Balakrishnan, adding that not many computer-savvy youngsters have been enthusiastic enough to educate their parents.

Wider computer usage, notably by senior citizens who have perceptible presence among NGOs, could change the way we address public issues. Those in Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) believe in morchas, and in old-fashioned petitions , signed and secured through written official acknowledgment by the departmental dispatch clerk; and they then complain that officials rarely give them a hearing or read their petitions. Tell them about putting their case online, and skeptical elders in MGP would retort, "but who reads your web?". A fair question; and an effective way of saying 'no' to change. Maybe, the word on the web may go unread by officials; but it is there online for anyone to see, anytime.

An MGP convener Dr Bhamy V Shenoy says their NGO is 18 years old with over "700 members on paper". It takes up civic issues, and in Dr Shenoy's words, "has served Mysore over the years often silently and sometimes through the press". Didn't I say they have faith in the printed word? Anyway, Dr Shenoy reckons MGP has failed to develop the way it should have because "of lethargy and indifference of the people". Ironically, Dr Shenoy made these observations in an online discussion forum.

A bunch of web enthusiasts in Bangalore have announced a citizens civic network site for Mysore that seeks to synergize with, not supplant, the work of MGP, other NGOs and also public spirited individuals who wish to be heard. Skeptics, of whom there are many to be found in any city, ask if we need yet another NGO. Efficacy of PrajaMysore would depend on the strength of its online members. Success of any online network calls for wider public awareness of computer usage.

Balakrishnan refers to the initiative of an 88-year old Sydey-based web enthusiast Eric Shackle to persuade senior citizens the world over to overcome their fears of computer. There is a world of information out there; life's experiences of a multitude waiting to be discovered through a computer. Eric calls it 'the magic carpet of the Internet' that anyone can hop on, without giving up the comforts of one's study room at home.

Eric has put down his thoughts in a web-book aptly titled, Life Begins at 80. As an Australian radio interviewer put it, Eric who led a busy life as journalist and PR man found it all coming to a dead stop on his retirement - "to go cold turkey after retiring can cause psychological problems; and Eric dealt with them by discovering a new world - the world of the web". Eric, now 88, was 79 when he got his first computer; 81, when he set up a website with a friend in South Africa.

Which reminds of a blog-to-blog chat(B2B) with my friend T R Kini. We are both 65 plus (I'm 69). We lost touch in the late sixties, and the web helped us re-discovered each other, after four decades, when we chose to trade nostalgia about our time together in London in the sixties. The B2B morphed into an eminently readable travelogue in which Kini recalls his hitch-hike from Delhi to London.

First published in Desicritic

Friday, August 03, 2007

PRAJA bangalore, a citizen’s network

It seeks to be a networking platform for concerned Bangaloreans;it's an attempt to bridge those who serve the city (municipalities and development boards) and those who care, and wish to participate (residents).

The other day I heard a spirited Mysorean, who has signed public petitions and joined deputations complaining that their petitions go unread by officials(who say,“we have no time”); and that MLAs don't find enough time to pursue their own priorities and agenda. Praja Bangalore works on the premise that this can’t be said about all officials and MLAs; and that there are still enough of them, MLAs and officials, who care; and can do with public feedback. Their task can be made easier with more people participation.

Of course, there are NGOs that carry public grievances to the civic authorities. But a citizen networking on the lines of Praja Bangalore would in no way minimize their role or compete with NGOs;it would complement the work of NGOs. Besides, it gives officials a wider perspective on issues and concerns of the people. Praja’s agenda, articulated in its ‘About Us’ page speaks of the scope and structure of the online initiative at citizens networking.

It is an initiative worthy of emulation. My thoughts are that it may not be worthwhile reinventing such website for Mysore; not now, at any rate. Because, Mysore has relatively low broadband density (5000 connections, according to some estimates) and lower web browsing public. But those of us who are familiar with the potential of the web would benefit, if only Praja Bangalore could be persuaded to open a Mysore page on their site. This way, we can count on networking the small, but significant, section of the Internet-connected Mysoreans, but also on the input and networking support of a sizeable number of Bangalore-based folk with strong Mysore connection.