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October Issue

The Spoken Word

A Look at Slam Poetry in Chennai

Vasanthi Pillai, III Year B.A. Economics

Art forms evolve with time and that is what makes it so beautiful. Poetry as an art form has seen extraordinary evolutions from the haiku to micro poetry to free verse. However, the recent culture of transforming poetry into a performing art is insofar the most inspiring.

Slam poetry or spoken word poetry is a form of art where the poet performs her/his piece of poetry, usually for a minimum of five minutes. The poetry is not expected to have a particular structure; however, abstract poetry generally does not fit into spoken word poetry very well, as it is generally looked at as storytelling in poems. Abstractness dilutes the intensity and weakens the impact of the piece.

Slam poetry is slowly growing more popular in Chennai, especially in the past year. Chennai has been exploring this art form through open mikes across the city, bringing poets off their journals and directly before their audience. Providing a public space to perform poetry through cheerful and supportive audiences signifies a healthy growth of this art form. The most admirable part of open mikes is the non-judgemental attitude from the audience, the genuine love for poetry and a strong community that is built out of artists who explore.

Various groups like Open Sky Slams, Mocking Bird, Let’s Talk Life and Ashvitha Bistro’s Weekend Open Mikes have encouraged and brought together anonymous faces behind those metaphors and connected them with their voice. The Airplane Poetry Movement was found for the primary purpose of communicating through spoken word poetry.

This new form of art has a long way to go. Many poets are experimenting with styles and genres in these open mikes and the warmth they receive from the audiences gets them going. An art form grows with people and in turn, makes the people beautiful.

[Photograph Source: Facebook]

Where The Artsy and The Bored Unite

Jerusha Jose, III Year B.V.A. Fine Arts

In the midst of the whistling wind through the red stone buildings, the overpowering smell of bats, the empty stares of the residents of the statue garden, lays The Madras Museum, located in the heart of Egmore.

Started in 1851, it is the second oldest museum in India after the Indian Museum in Kolkata. It is particularly rich in archaeological and numismatic collections. It has the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside Europe. Among them, the colossal Museum Theatre is one of the most impressive. The National Art Gallery is also present in the museum premises. Built in Indo-Saracenic style, it houses rare works of artists like Raja Ravi Varma.

If you could spare an hour to peruse, I would to be honoured to share my top ten picks of must-sees at the Egmore museum.

10) Nolamba Sculptures – These sculptures are gorgeous and a good way to establish the royal Hindu timeline.

9) Bronzes Gallery – From Natarajas to sleeping Buddhas, this gallery has got it all. Plus, if you sit there for a day, you are bound to see an overly-enthusiastic, if not adorable, tourist visit this famed gallery.

8) Thanjavur Armoury – A really cool exhibit if you are into weaponry and wars.

7) Anthropology Exhibits – A great place to learn more on those 7th grade history lessons on Mohenjadaro and Harappa, and learn it more effectively.

6) Jain and Buddhist Sculptures – These cool marble statues are rather therapeutic to the burning heat…errr…heart.

5) Sati Stones – Heard of the social evil, Sati, right? These stones stand in memorial of those women gave up their lives to society’s obligation and pressure.

4) Copper Plates – A little ambiguous on the functional side, these pretty plates are a visual treat for anyone interested in art.

3) Numismatics Section – Money, Money, everywhere. P.S: this place does have tight security.

2) Art Gallery – Some of Raja Ravi Varma’s masterpieces are housed here. It is a must-see for anyone, whether a Chennai-ite or not, artsy or not.

1) Cannons – My personal favourite, these British cannons are majestic and cool to check out.

Visiting the museum isn’t just ‘Nerd’s Day Out’, some exhibits are pretty amazing and help us understand the art and culture of South India that we should take pride in.

[Photography Source: Internet]

A Haven For Book Lovers

N Cynthia, III Year B.A. English.

In today’s modern world ruled by online shopping, eBooks and Kindles, the thirst for the feel of skin on paper, the smell of print on paper, the sensation of curling one’s fingers over the spine of a book- all these incomparable feelings seem to have been washed down the drain.

However, the oldest bookstore in Chennai, Higginbotham’s, shows that modernisation can never win over tradition completely, at least not in the ways that matter. Though Higginbotham’s shows clear signs of its age, it is still sought after for the variety and quality it offers.

The store boasts of an impressive collection of books in several departments – Travel, Astrology, Indian Literature, Fiction, Religion, Spirituality, Yoga and Cooking. In addition to the lucrative pile of books that every bibliophile dreams of having, Higginbotham’s also offers a 60% discount sale for which an entire section has been allotted. Narendraraj, who is in charge of this section says, “The discount sale would probably get over only at the end of the year.”

Aravind N, a student in Kaligi Ranganathan Montford School, says, “I am a die-hard bookworm and I came to Higginbotham’s to buy books at a cheap price. A 60% discount offer! I simply cannot miss out on this opportunity.”

Narendran says that online shopping has impacted heavily on the sales in Higginbotham’s. “They deliver the goods at the customers’ doorsteps and lure them with discount offers. The number of people that shop for books in the flesh has reduced painfully but Higginbotham’s is still the bookstore everyone points to in Chennai.”

Narendran asserts that Higginbotham’s has no intention of succumbing to the hype regarding online shopping. “We have no interest in online business as of now,” he says.

He adds that the bookstore draws people of all ages and classes- “the rich, the poor, students, young and old alike.” Students also frequent Higginbotham’s as there are several books on Anatomy, Bio-Chemistry, Pathology, Electrical Engineering, Statistics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology.

higgin
Inside the Store

[Title Photo Source: Internet]

MLS Library Gears Up For Archival Process: Seeks Volunteers

Gowri S, III Year B.A. English.

MLSlib.jpg

        The 200 year old MLS library – a cultural legacy

“We, that is, all of us, have a fantastic opportunity to turn Madras Literary Society (MLS) into a vibrant centre for creativity and learning. Think about it! We could have workshops, lectures, storytelling sessions, theatre, book readings, book launches, and so much more,” said Mr Rajith, an active member and volunteer of the MLS during a talk on ‘Issac Newton and The Principla Mathematica’ by Mr. Sidharth Chandrasekhar which was organised by the library authoritities as a part of the revival process . The library, which is more than 200 years old, housed in a 110-year-old heritage building in the DPI (Director of Public Instruction) Complex, is currently seeking volunteers who would help in the classification and restoration of books of archaic value.

Over 50,000 books of varying genres, like philosophy, art, history and literature are currently present in the library, which need to be sorted, classified and catalogued in order to make them accessible to everyone.

According to Ms. Thripurasundari Sev, a member of the library who helms this effort, “These books need immediate attention. Delaying it further would make the restoration process difficult, maybe even impossible. We are in need of volunteers who would help us to revive these books of priceless value.” The library currently has 9-10 volunteers and around 290 members and is headed by Mrs. Uma Maheshwari as the librarian-in-charge and Rear Admiral Mr. Mohan Raman as the Secretary. A restoration process has been initiated in the library meant for the older books which tend to become fragile when the acid content of the paper combines with the humidity of Chennai.

“The books are carefully dusted, after which each and every page is de-acidified and fumigated. They are then inserted into a sheath of archival quality paper which ensures that each page is well protected,” said Mr.Rajith, who mentioned that it is an internationally accepted practice. This archival process is also a reversible process and gives the books a new lease of life for another 70-80 years.

The Madras Literary Society is managed entirely out of funds earned through membership and by way of donations from well-wishers, which unfortunately is not sufficient for the initiative at hand. Finding ways to make MLS self-sustaining and raising funds is an important requirement. “This is where expanding the membership base, organizing workshops, events, and activities will help. Corporate Social Responsibility funding is also another area for us to tap,” continued Mr.Rajith.

As an attempt to develop the membership base and make the initiative more interesting, MLS has planned a series of talks and events which will be convened in the library premises. Their ‘Adopt a Book’ initiative triggers the collection and preservation of books which talk about our collective past and also highlights the library’s endeavour to enhance our understanding of the past. The MLS library is the city dwellers’ collective heritage, a legacy, and the need of the hour is to responsibly nurture and not neglect it.

[Photograph Source: Internet]

Movie Review: Pink

Hafsa Fathima, II Year M.A. English.

I almost shrugged off the chance to go watch Pink. I didn’t understand Hindi, for starters, and it wasn’t like the movie was going to tell me anything that five years of studying feminism hadn’t. Still, there was a free ticket, and a movie about my favourite activity, putting the patriarchy in place, couldn’t hurt.

I am immensely glad I am a total cheapskate, because, and I downplay this as much as I can, what a beautiful masterpiece of cinematic undertaking.

Set in Delhi, Pink focuses on the lives of three girls, Meenal (Taapsee Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari), Andrea (Andrea Tariang). After attending a concert with Rajiv (Angad Bedi), the girls return to his house with his friends. Much merriment follows; drinking, a badly taken selfie, laughter. Things take a dark turn when Rajiv tries to sexually assault a drunken Meenal, who attacks him with a glass bottle, injuring his eye. The repercussions are swift; Rajiv and his friends follow the girls around, stalking and threatening them. The cops refuse to take the girls’ concerns seriously, and things escalate when Rajiv ends up filing a case against Meenal, accusing her of the intent to murder. The gravity of the situation escalates every day, and the only ally the girls have to turn to is retired, bipolar lawyer, Deepak Seghal (Amitabh Bachchan).

The movie is only part courtroom drama, but it’s the scenes in court that are the most gripping. Bachchan is a subdued, eccentric who slowly rises to the occasion, dismantling his opponents’ arguments eloquently. His restraint is a nice contrast to the fire of the three women; all bring unbridled and passionate performances to their characters. The diversity of their characters is much appreciated; all come from different backgrounds, religions, all dress differently and have different values, and all are proof that sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of their clothing or the way they behave. Andrea’s story is particularly moving, as it sheds light on the real life objectification and demeaning attitude women from the North East have to face.

To the feminist who’s been fighting the fight for a while now, Pink may be textbook stuff, but that doesn’t mean it should be written off as surface level. Bachchan’s stern comments on the sexist double standards are what the masses needed to hear for a long time, and will continue to ring in their ears after the credits role.

[Photograph Source: Wikipedia]

Sleeping Sun Awakens

Shrishti S, III Year B.A. History.

Around 5:30 AM on 18 September 2016, 4 militants from Pakistan attacked the Indian Army brigade at Uri, in Jammu and Kashmir. The line of control was crossed when grenades were dropped on the administrative tent and in the subsequent fire that spread, 17 army officials were killed. While the militants were killed, a lot of soldiers and administrative staff were injured in the attacks.

An infuriated Indian Army and the Ministry of Defence took up investigations regarding the security situation near the Line of Control (LOC) area. Tensions rose in the atmosphere, with the Indian populace fighting and crying out for the unfortunate incident experienced by the army and the absence of an intention on the part of the Indian Government to retaliate against the offensive trail adopted by militants. Amidst delay in talks and condemnation expressed by the world on the ill-fated event, Indian soldiers waited for nothing short than a doomed contingency to befall them.

 

However, in the writer’s opinion, a progress was made by the government. From not playing sports with the neighbouring country, the Indian Government moved to not participate in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) meeting that was to be held in November in Islamabad. Of course, India also boycotted sporting events such as cricket and badminton but an attempt to successfully stall an all-governments meet was a novel attempt to resolve an issue that could have been handled by swift deliberation and action in the first place. An attempt, nothing else.

 

On 29 September 2016, 11 days after the attack, India witnessed the four lions of the Sarnath capital, the national emblem of the country, coming alive on an aggressive front. The Indian army successfully conduct surgical strikes as a pre-emptive measure to stop terrorist groups from staging further attacks in the Jammu and Kashmir region and other metros of various states. Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh made several press statements after the attack, which became a controversial agenda as the details of the attacks were not disclosed and the entire operation was carried out in a hushed manner. A pleasant surprise awaited the Indian population, like Christmas gifts in the morning after Santa’s visit.

 

Pakistan, after literally facing the line of fire, dramatically proclaimed the surgical strike as ‘naked aggression’ on part of the Indian Government. The Government of Pakistan warned India to be prepared for repercussions. In other words, posterising ‘winter was coming’ in black and blue words. Thinking that words would bleed as much as Indian weapons did, Pakistani officials created an outburst by terming Indian military’s attacks as ‘hostile narratives’ and ‘vitriolic’.

 

Much like Jon Snow in the Battle of Bastards, in an unexpected turn of events, the media and denizens of this forever defensive country saw the Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, saying that India would “never forget” Uri and would “leave no stone unturned to isolate Pakistan in the world”. As promised by the Minster of State for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and former Army chief, Vijay Kumar Singh, India did give a befitting reply to the unfortunate incident that had impacted it greatly.

 

Victories come with a heavy price and while personal and governmental targets may have been attained, the military attacks on both sides proved to be costly for the already fragile relationship shared by countries that once coexisted in perfect harmony. While both countries prepare for the worst, only time will tell the impact of the strenuous Uri attack which shook not just India and Pakistan but the global community.

An Ode to Filter Coffee

Farasha Pharis, III Year B.A. Economics

Dear Filter Coffee,

I know it’s been a while since our last cup together, but I hope you’re doing well, and I hope to see you soon. I write this letter to reminisce our time together and to tell you that I miss you dearly. The first time I saw you, it was entrancing. You sat still for a moment while you were moved from the kitchen to the table, after which you began the beautiful dance. From the cup to the saucer, or miniature bowl if you must. It was definitely the most enticing, long-drawn movement I had seen. No spillage or a drop wasted; who would want to waste you?

You are not a luxury, you are royalty. You have earned your place in this world, in your own right. From the verandas of Iyengar households to the Saravana Bhavans in the United States, you remain humble yet pleasing to everyone who lays their eyes on you. The smell, sight and taste that lingers long after the cups are cleared away, it evokes memories for anyone who grew up with that smell.

Even with the advent of Starbucks and other coffee houses you should know this, those skinny soy vanilla and hazelnut lattes, they’ve got nothing on you, darling! You remind me of home when I am homesick and you remind of a world left unconquered when I am home. You, my love, are the best thing that happened to this great city. You’ve given it an identity that dates back so many years and will be its identity in the future.

You make monsoons a dreamy time of year, whether they come in as light showers or floods. You give us hope, hope of something better. You are quite cheeky too, at times. First comes the smell from the kitchen that sends me into a trance, then the sight of your dance makes me so restless and finally, the ever pleasant taste that always leaves you wanting more.

Whether you come as a part of ‘tiffin’ or alone, you make my heart happy. Stay the same, darling.

Whether you come in the form of Mylapore Maami’s hot coffee or Amadora’s ice cream, you will always be my first love, because Madras is home and there is no Madras without you.

Love,
Farasha

[Photograph Source: Wikipedia]

Bondas and Bondings

Mathangi N. M., II Year B.A. English.

Seated in the back seat of the car, it was almost easy to miss the place we were looking for. I guess we were hoping to see a big building that screamed, ‘Commercial Set Up!’, but no, Café Samarth redefined restaurant dining. On Friday and Saturday evenings, tables are set, table cloths laid out and chairs drawn with immaculate care out in the open garden. On the Saturday that I visited, it being my uncle’s birthday, there were the loveliest hibiscuses placed in a white vase right at the center of the table. The white board next to the buffet table read: Birthday wishes to R. Madhavan, Uncle of G. Kaushik.

Now one may say, what’s so great about all that? All restaurants these days go to great trouble to create a leisurely ambience for their customers while they dine. Why is this place unique from all the others? I have two words for you: the staff.

Autism and Down Syndrome are just words that echo in our peripheral minds. While we are aware of their existence, we are content to remain in a state of partial oblivion. At that cozy little place tucked within the heart of Adayar, one is shaken out of this oblivious bubble as they come in contact with individuals with special needs who have been given opportunities to exhibit their culinary skills.

And that brings me to the yum factor: the food. Café Samarth offers a South Indian and a Maharashtrian Menu, prepared and served by their lovely staff. A crunchy sandwich, some poha, stuffed paratha and good old bondas occupied my plate and mind that evening along with some good old family chatter.

The bondas, however, took up more space in my thoughts than I expected. Ibrahim, a staff member who worked at Café Samarth with my cousin, was finished for the day and came to say goodbye to him. Without a moment’s hesitation, he engulfed my cousin in a bear hug and fed him a piece of bonda and ruffled his hair. I assure you, a collective “aww” rippled through the witnessing crowd.

When you eventually tire of air conditioned restaurants and mechanical staff, make your way to Café Samarth and get ready to take away some wonderful memories with you.

Delicious Food at its Best

Annapoorni K. H., I Year M. Sc. Chemistry

When you think of Chennai, what comes to the mind first? I bet you’d say the beach, people, temples… but for us foodies, Chennai means delicious South Indian food. Or I should say cheap, affordable South Indian food. I mean, you can get delicious South Indian food pretty much anywhere, but affordable means Chennai.

Now, now, I know what you’re thinking. There are only two places here where you can get amazing, vegetarian South Indian food – Sangeetha and Saravana Bhavan. Wait a minute, together that’s almost forty places in the city alone. Hot, delicious, vegetarian food paradises. Yes?

My grandfather, at his ripe old age, seems to prefer Sangeetha over Saravana Bhavan. That got me wondering. Which one is better and why? So, I went around the city, eating at a few outlets of both and this is what I found.

The dozens of Saravana Bhavan restaurants across the state and the countless restaurants around the world will tell you that this family means business. Like with any typical Saravana Bhavan, the restaurants teem with people, be it New York or good old Kumbakonam. The customers would tell you things like: “It’s like home food”, “It’s delicious food at affordable prices”, “You can bring the family here; sit back and enjoy the food”. Well, that is true since I’ve said the same. What can I do, being human makes hypocrisy my middle name! Like millions of others, I’ve made spur-of-the-moment decisions to have a meal there, waited hours for a table and ended up spending way more than I planned on food. If cheap and affordable is their mantra, I think they’re missing their mark by quite a bit. Charging Rs. 100 for a cold coffee is way too much (I mean, cold coffee is cheaper at Satyam Cinemas!) but when a hungry man is charged 95 bucks for 2 hot idlis with sambar and chutney (2 types, mind you), then you bet they’ve got “cheap and affordable” all wrong!

On the other hand, we have Sangeetha, my grandfather’s current favourite restaurant. Why? Because they home deliver. Okay, that’s not why since the SB does it as well. Sangeetha doesn’t charge Rs. 95 for a plate of idlis, they restrict themselves to Rs. 40 per plate. Considerate, aren’t they? Smart, too. The quantity, in this case the size of the idlis, is higher and leaves the customer thinking he’s getting his money’s worth.

Yes, yes, being 100% South Indian, I love my idlis and obviously, I’m biased and judge these places by the idlis they make. However, my point is this: when the simplest of South Indian food is so pricey, is either of these restaurants good? Okay, the quality of the food at both are fine, I’ll admit. The waiters are generally at their irritated best in the former and quietly annoyed in the latter.

If you want regular food, that’s what you get in both places. None of the fancy food festivals here, thank you very much. Who can complain when what we want is what we get? I bet that’s exactly why everyone who eats at these places (myself included) just goes about saying things like “Delicious, affordable food at its best”!

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