A trip to Thalankuppam  

Posted by Praveen in ,

Thalankuppam is a small fishing hamlet to the north of Chennai, near Ennur high road. The place's claim to fame is that the climax of the Tamil movie 'Kaakha kaakha' was shot here. When SidK suggested this place to us, we weren't exactly jumping up with excitement. But, we were all eager to get out after many rusty unproductive weekends in Chennai. We set out from the college in the afternoon sun and traced our way along the Marina beach. The route was pretty easy as it runs parallel to the beach in most places. Nikhil, sitting behind Sidk's bike was having a stupid 'high' smile all the way through.
Pillion riding..

After you went past the gates of the Chennai port trust, we faced some heavy truck traffic. For about 9 kms, we could see a long line of trucks. Its dusty and a little carelessness can land you under some big wheels. We almost had a truck tipping and falling on our head, after it well into a ditch. Thankfully, when it reached halfway through the tipping, it felt its not worthwhile and went back to normalcy.
The heavy truck traffic near Chennai port trust. This line stretches for 9 Km.

All of Chennai's industries are situated in North Chennai. Right from the legendary bullet factory to Ashok Leyland, the road is chockablock with factories on either side. So, naturally one can see smoke billowing out from high walled compounds. And if you look closely on the beach sides, you can see parts of pipes running to the sea, to dump out the effluents from the factories.
Eating up the sun

Pipes(the red ones) carrying effluents from the factory to the sea

The team enjoying a short rest.

The tea shop at Thalankuppam junction took me back to the days in shanghumokhom beach in Trivandrum because of the chilly bhaji and the strong tea, which tasted exactly like what we get back home. The tea shop owner was a cool dude whose T-shirt screamed, "Sorry girls, I date only models." From the junction, it is just a matter of one kilometer before we reach the Thalankuppam pier. On the way, we saw groups of old women sitting on the ground and playing cards. Some kids were having a competition on spinning tops.
The tea shop guy and his family. Checkout his cool t-shirt.

The bikes doesn't go till the pier. We stopped at a place which looked like a small boat jetty. There were so many rusted cylinders, cans, pipes and other industrial wastes dumped in the vicinity, a picture perfect "urban decay". A short walk took us to the pier, near where the river flows silently into the sea, forming an estuary. There  were only very few people at the place, and all of them were from the locality. Some old men were sitting on the edge and fishing. 

Scenes of urban decay..

The pier was nothing like the sea bridge back home, which even in its widely concreted pathway of safety scared me sometimes. This consisted of two beams on either side running till the end. And connecting beams in between at regular intervals. Like Rahul said, 'looks like a railway line'. Only that, under the line you have waves crashing in and walking is precarious at first. 

A country boat passed under the bridge and naturally, I pointed the camera at the boat. Just then, the man in the boat, who looked like some kind of anofficial, pointed his fingers and shouted-"switch off the camera. This is a prohibited area. I'll call the police". This old sea bridge beside some industrial dump, prohibited area! This was not my first run in with moronic officials who get agitated on seeing the camera. And as always, to satisfy his ego, I said, "Sorry sir, I didn't know". After some more repetitions of "I'll call the police", he went on his way. Case of frustrated middle aged officials taking our their anger on hapless travellers and harmless photographers!

Anyway, we started walking on the thin ledge towards the end of the pier. Rahul, the 'master of cliches' that he is, started playing the song 'uyirin uyirae' from 'Kaakha Kaakha', possibly a respectful nod to that movie which was partly shot here :P . Halfway through the walk, Rahul and Nikhil abandoned the idea of reaching the end and sat down. We continued walking. The wet ledges on some places scared us. But, it was all in the mind. After sometime, we started walking casually. Inside the dilapidated structure at the end of the beach, two men were getting ready to return after the day's catch. The sunset was on the side opposite to the beach. In Chennai, we are not lucky enough to see the sun going down into the sea and since am an early riser, watching it coming up is out of the question.
A walk over the sea..

or a swim under the bridge

After sunset, it was time for some long shutter speed experiments under the bridge. Rahul got a local cigar from one of the locals. Even the non-smoker in me was attracted to the romanticism of smoking a cigar. We all had our brains blasted by it. It was getting pitch dark and the return journey started. The "master of cliches" played the title song from the latest Tamil flick 'Mankaatha', as he saw a group of guys playing cards under the street light.

Long shutter experiments under the bridge

Capitalism, Industry,Pollution...death.

The boat jetty at night

 The BJP 'Thattukada' was one of the highlights of the return trip. We are so used to seeing the faces from the Gandhi family everywhere. And so it was a surprise when I saw photos of Advani and Vajpayee in a small shop in North Chennai. I had to say that I am a BJP supporter to make the shopkeeper pose with the pictures.

The return ride was difficult, with the darkness, dust and the heavy truck traffic. When visiting North Chennai, better leave your cars behind and trip in bikes if you don't want yourself sandwiched in between two trucks. We stopped near the Burma bazaar to savour Burmese street food. We ordered more and more of 'Attho', 'Fry', 'onion filled eggs' and ofcourse, had our fill with free unlimited soup. We went back to our dens with a vow to do 'this' more often. 

                                      Burmese street food...Attho,fry,stuffed eggs etcetera etcetera

The 'business' of open letters  

Posted by Praveen

It is the season of open letters. From Narendrabhai Modi(whose usual line of thought is that the sword is mightier than the pen) to Rajdeep Sardesai, everyone is writing an open letter. Then, there was an over-the-top open letter from a Madrasan to a Delhi boy, which resulted in this particular Madrasan girl trending on twitter and which spawned a 100 other equally over-the-top open replies. The latest open letter is by the bleeding hearts of India Inc(minus the likes of TATA and Ambanis). The letter is addressed to the govt of India. 

The letter is divided into four parts. The first three parts vaguely deals with issues related to corruption, eradicating which will supposedly make our country heaven. They talk about how the common man suffers because of corruption and also on the need to come up with reforms to fight this. There are also brave references to the corporate-politician nexus. Suggestions are made to enact a law similar to The Bribery Act, 2010 of U.K. And then there are suggestions for a proper redressal mechanism and cleansing of the judiciary. But when it comes to the last point, one will realise why India Inc(one of the biggest benefactors of corruption) is suddenly so concerned about corruption. 

The fourth point talks about 'environmental clearances which continues to delay several investment proposals and hamper economic growth'. The environmental clearances, tied up with the Forests Rights Act is a particularly touchy issue which even resulted in the 'transfer' of former environment minister Jairam Ramesh to another ministry. When he was the minister, he refused to give clearances to many projects and later had to cave in, most notably in the case of the POSCO project. It was a constant tussle between him and the 'development at any cost' advocates in the government and the PMO. It is no secret that these tussles and pressures from vested interests in the industry resulted in his job change. 

Forests and natural resources are being raped and reaped across the country over the last few years. The arrival of huge FDIs and the need for more land has resulted in indigenous communities getting uprooted and huge amount of land being given to corporates for a pittance. The 'environmetal clearances'can be an effective tool in able hands. So, it serves the corporates well if they can take the sting out of these regulations. The letter says-

"it is worthwhile considering the introduction of an on-line AUCTION process for allocation of natural resources which will provide the much needed TRANSPARENCY and prevent discretionary and irregular practices. Owing to several such impediments, fresh investments are not forthcoming at the pace required for a rapidly growing economy such as ours. Policy uncertainties and delays in approvals are forcing many large corporate entities to seek out opportunities in other geographies"

It looks more like a heartfelt appeal to the Govt to give every available land to the corporates. The first three points on corruption looks like a cloak to cover this intended request. 

Are we all writing Open letters?

Talking about open letters, we all seem to be unknowingly writing open letters. This report about google handing over a wikileaks volunteer's gmail data to US government is a shocking reminder of how our privacy is at the mercy of google. Even though google can save itself from some of the blame by pointing to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act under which they had to reveal the information, it is no excuse for not fighting it out for their clients' privacy. The google transparency report gives some disturbing figures. It is a report on the requests to google from government agencies and federal courts around the world to remove content from their services and hand over user data. The number of requests from India(1700) and the percentage of compliance(79%) tells some tale. And as expected, Switzerland, that country which is the symbol of secrecy, has made 'zero' requests. 

image courtesy-earthpm.com

Where did the funds from India go?  

Posted by Praveen in , , ,

And so, I was reading up on the current crisis in Somalia and the entire horn of Africa, as part of an assignment to write an essay on it. There is a huge requirement for funds there and countries and organisations from world over are contributing. So, naturally I was curious to know what India did for the cause. All the figures are available at  United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)'s financial tracking site. Suffice to say, it was a huge disappointment to see India's table. We had pledged an amount of $ 8,000,000 and ended up contributing zero(as on oct 3, 2011). 

2011- Pledge of $ 8,000,000 for Horn of Africa drought and that of $ 1,000,000 for Myanmar earthquake not honoured

The site has an easily searchable archive of contributions that each country has provided during various disasters the world over in the last decade. India had failed to honour their pledges on three previous occasions in this decade-2010,2007,2005. 

2005. Pledge of $ 25,000,000 not fulfilled for earthquake in South Asia

2007-Pledge of $50,000 for Peru earthquake and that of $ 1,000,000 for Bangladesh cyclone, not honoured.

2010-Pledge of $ 5,000,000 for Chile earthquake not honoured.

At the same time, it has to be said that India did contribute to various other causes during the same time period. But pledging help and then failing to honour it is an entirely different matter. The question is, was this money ever released? And if so, where was it re-routed to? Or, whether it is a case of just pledging some money and then forgetting about it? I have no idea where to look for, to answer these questions. Can someone help?