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The 2006 edition of Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival attracts people outside Mylapore

By Our Staff Reporters

Finally, the annual Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival achieved what it sets out to do - bring communities to open spaces for a celebration of art, culture and tradition.

This year, it was a challenge. Because two leading stores of the area, Rasi and NAC Jewellers, took the organisers - Mylapore Times - to court. That too, on the eve of the festival. The court order upset the round-the-clock work that was going on for the fest but the dampener had little effect.

In the end, many Mylaporeans, young and old, enjoyed a unique festival, which is getting national media coverage, and is completely supported by 'Sundaram Finance'.

Held in spaces around Sri Kapali Temple from January 5 to 8, the fest is getting bigger by the year.

Artist Kuberan and his team decorated the streets with lamps encased in coloured shades while Bhoopalan advised the lighting team to bring the streets to life and Pandurangan taxed his team to have the stalls up in record time.

All of which, along with the illumination on some heritage houses, set the tone for the colourful fest.

The two kolam contests brought about 150-plus each evening. A woman from Nanganallur, who later won a prize, said it was a prestigious event to take part in.

Two women from the UK dropped by to take a close look - they are researching Indian designs and motifs and the carpet of kolams was a godsend.

Today it has evolved to become a four-day festival, of which the two-day kolam contest is the highlight.

The men on stilts (kokkalikattai), who came from Wallajah, performed a vigorous dance on the street, and won over the kids.

The scattered rains late on Saturday disturbed the mythological play by Ananda Vinayaka Nataka Manram, in progress on the main stage. But the actors didn't give up. They lit camphor at the temple gate, the rains stopped and the play was started again. When it ended at 10.30pm (sorry, residents of Sannidhi St.) there were 200 people to applaud the effort.

The heritage tours on cycle-rickshaws received a great response - four foreign tourists jumped in on Saturday. Dr. Amarnath played a part time guide and the breakfast (pongal, vada and coffee) stop at the heritage house of Manjula and Natarajan on East Mada Street is still generating 'wows' from those who were on the tour.

The Tamil Nadu Quiz held at Lady Sivaswami Girls school attracted 180 teams. Some said it was tough, some liked the variety. And the finale was tight. The winners - V. V. Ramanan and Ramkumar Shankar, who called themselves Chennai Vennai, and second was Deccan Dreams with V. Deviprasad and N. Srinivasan.

Alongside, at the same venue, were artistic displays by nine people - craftworks borrowed from Navaratri kolu displays. Great work, congested corridor. It was a first time effort and the organisers plan a bigger independent show in 2007.

Outside, the streets came alive. Pitchupillai Street, the Art Street run by Stella Maris Fine Arts students, was teeming, as was Kumaragurunathan Street where stalls offered crafts of all kinds and the Tamil book sales stalls on East Tank Street got a better response. It was good to see good old Alwar - Mylapore's colourful old books seller - also find a place here.

Art teacher Sasikrishnan brought his students from Chettinad Vidyashram, stretched out a canvas, and worked on a Mylapore theme. Visiting kids daubed a bit.

The art contests for kids was a riot - of colour and screams for prizes. The Stella Maris girls managed well.

The Kalaripayattu performed by youngsters on the main stage on Sunday ( courtesy - Aseema Trust) made a huge impression, especially on young people. They had flown into the city from Madrid that morning and enjoyed presenting the show before going back to their native places.

Chennai Kalai Kuzhu's street theatre play on the elitist educational system had people fixed to the quadrangle.

Randor Guy's talk on 'Legal Eagles of Mylapore' and V. Sriram's talk on 'History of The Music Academy' also drew good audiences.

The last show - vintage Thamizh film songs of T. M. Soundararajan, presented by Madhu's Viswaraag - was a great way to sign off.

Despite the spanner in the works, the festival ran its course. And if the comments posted by people are anything to go by, Mylaporeans are proud of it. And want it to get bigger and better.

Is it fair to frustrate the Mylapore Festival ?
By Vincent D' Souza

How do you frustrate a community event?

Mylapore Times, the organisers of the 'Sundaram Finance Mylapore Festival' learnt it the hard way. In the end, it was a good learning experience.

Over the years, the annual kolam contest has grown into the festival, and come out into the open, and there have been murmurs from a few businesses on the Mada Streets that the fest causes 'huge losses and upsets shoppers'.

On one occasion in the past, a leading jeweller on North Mada Street, attempted to upset the hour long kolam contest held on this street.

Radha Silk Emporium's promoters want the fest scrapped.

Each year, dialogues by the organisers with business people 'opposed' to the fest have not turned positive.

Is it too much to complain when one side of a street is made 'vehicle-free' for a world famous kolam contest held only for one hour?

The opponents have only one stance - go to some playground and have the kolams done there.

They fail to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that the fest ( 30 events, over 200 artistes, 4 days) attracts thousands of people from all over the city as well as tourists and this can only help business; not cause 'huge losses'. Ironically, the people who oppose the fest are themselves in the business of tradition /arts /heritage.

This time around, the opposition turned severe. A case was filed in the High Court on the eve of the fest. Which meant the organizers had to be in court from 11am to 4pm on Day One of the Fest, thus frustrating the preparations.

Orders were passed that shops should not be put up on Sundareswarar Street because there are two schools here and untoward incidents could take place. The fact is - the schools close by 3 pm and the fest events open only after 5.30 pm. Result - crafts stalls, set up by self-help group women from the city and suburbs, and the food fest stalls had to be shut down that evening once the court orders were issued. (They were shifted to other venues).

Losses for simple women and waste of huge quantities of foodstuff. And this is the most popular street for people.

Because the court order directed that nothing be placed in front of the Rasi store, even four poles put up to merely support a roof of giant canvas kites created by young artists, had to be removed, and hence, artistic works rendered waste.

Ironically, foreign shoppers at this store happily enjoyed the shows from the sidelines. And lest it be forgotten, the store till lately had a canopy on public space, and erects shamianas for its sales, and has all its vehicles parked here for good. So does Rasi have the moral right to snub a fest?

As the Day One events got underway, delayed though, some men opened the manholes on East Mada Street, drew out sewage, dumped it in the middle, and disappeared. Vehicles running on it spread

it far and wide. Was this another method to create stink at the fest?

Strangers rapped the staff of the lighting contractors, asking them to shut off / shift generators. Momentary darkness followed. Another way to frustrate visitors?

As people became aware of the legal case, the issues, and the tactics used to negate the fest, they expressed their annoyance strongly.

Political meetings at Mangollai, day-night pujas outside the temple, large street-corner clothes sales, private parking cornered by a few businesses - all these flourish here.

But a unique, not-for-profit cultural event, managed by just three full-time people, and a small band of volunteers, now on the national map, is sought to be frustrated.

Sad.

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