Thursday, 16 July 2015

Queen Mary's College, Chennai - Centenary Celebrations

Yesterday I attended one of the events connected with the centenary celebrations of the Queen Mary's College, Chennai. This was the first college exclusively for women in Chennai and probably the third such college in India. It is administered by the Goverment of Tamilnadu which controls the purse strings and the faculty appointments. At present around 7500 students study here in two shifts.

The college was established in July 1914 and therefore the cebrations had started a year ago and were just culminating at the end of the centenary year. My wife studied here over forty years ago and has very fond memories of how it used to be then.

About a year ago she had arranged for the members of Chennai Weekend Artists to visit the campus on a Sunday morning and sketch on location. I spent most of that morning wandering around the campus and therefore made only a few quick sketches which I am posting here.. It was my first visit to the place and I was struck by the air of decay and neglect. Despite some efforts to spruce up the place in view of the occasion, that air still prevailed yesterday. 

In fact one of the guests at the function remarked to me about this and asked asked why on earth anyone in authority would want to deliberately run down the place, for that is what seems to be happening. To me the answer seems very simple and obvious. The people in power obviously do not care either about heritage or education. It must be a source of very great irritation to them that such a prime site facing the Marina Beach, and with a sea view from almost every part of the campus, is not exploited to its full commercial value.

Some years ago there was a proposal to shift the Government Secretariat to this location and relocate the college to a much smaller site. But there was enormous resistance to this idea, not only from the students and some of the staff, but also from the general public. Ultimately the court intervened and the government was compelled to drop the idea. One would have thought that the authorities in power would have been gracious enough to then take up the upkeep of the college in all sincerity, but that has not happened so far. Is it too much to hope that there will at last be a change of heart and that the government will do everything in its power to restore many of these buildings, use them appropriately so that the buildings are alive, and also maintain the grounds which have the potential to be a beautiful campus but  alas, at present, resemble a dump or a thorny scrubland depending on which part of the campus you are in? 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

India's National Musical Instrument - The Veena

The veena is India's national musical instrument. The musical notes emanating from this instrument are rich and very pleasing. And the musical concerts by veena vidwans (expert players) draw huge crowds. But all this has not resulted in any benefit to the skilled makers of this musical  instrument. This fact was the central theme of an article in today's issue of The Hindu, one of India's national newspapers.

I was very distressed to read this article. Unfortunately we seem to be losing a lot of crafts and skills that have been honed and perfected over generations. If this is the plight of something as glorious as veena music I can only wonder what would happen to very many other less popular but equally precious links to our heritage.
There was one more reason for this particular article catching my attention and moving me. My wife is particularly fond of veena music. She initially learnt to play this instrument when she was a teenager and continued to learn and train well into her late 50s from her aunt Vidya Shankar, a reknowned musicologist and veena vidwan. 

My taste in music is very different and for most of my life I have given carnatic music performances a miss. But about a year and a half ago my sketching friends in Chennai Weekend Artists and I were asked by the editor of a local newspaper if we could attend the December music concerts all over Chennai, that this city is famous for, and make some on the spot sketches. I therefore attended a few concerts at different venues and a very remarkable thing happened.

On earlier visits (that I had been compelled to make despite my protests) to these concerts, my focus had been on the music and an attempt to appreciate it, which I found very difficult to do. But now, with my entire focus on the sketching, the music was only something in the background and I found it very pleasing and soothing. By the time the month long musical concert season was over I was a convert and now I am more than happy to sit through some performances, with or without a sketchbook in hand.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Dakshina Chitra

Dakshina Chitra is a very popular heritage village located on the Southern outskirts of Chennai, on the way to Mamallapuram (previously known as Mahabalipuram). Some months ago I had visited this place with members of my sketching group (Chennai Weekend Artists). My friends were delighted with the sketching opportunities at this venue, and since then we have made two more visits to the place. I am convinced that we will be going there many more times.

During our second visit to Dakshina Chitra there was a performance by a troupe of drummers from a neighbouring state. In the short time available before the start of their performance I managed to do a couple of quick sketches of a couple of the artistes. These served as warm-up exercises to my main sketch of the day. This was a sketch of the Chettinad House. Chettinad is a small region in Southern Tamilnadu known for its local cuisine, architecture, and consequently its skilled masons, carpenters and craftsmen.

Our most recent visit was last month. This time there was a newly constructed building called the Chikmagulur House which caught my eye. It represents the type of houses seen in a certain part of Karnataka, a neighbouring state. As has been my practice over the last few months, I sketched this and the other sketches of the day directly in ink with a Hero 578 fountain pen.

My next sketch was of a cluster of thatched houses typical of rural Tamilnadu. We use different types of thatched roofing in this region. The roof in this cluster is made of river-bed reeds and is considered a higher quality of thatch roofing. The space under this type of roof is much cooler than under other types of thatch roofing which use the woven leaves of palm trees.

Villages in Tamilnadu have temples dedicated to a guardian deity. These temples are called Ayyanar Temples and the priests in these temples come from the potter community. As a result, the icons in and around these Ayyanar Temples are usually made of terracotta. Dakshina Chitra has showcased one such temple and my next sketch was of a white painted terracotta idol facing this temple.

After each sketching trip one of the members of the group posts a report of the visit and the other members then upload their sketches and photographs of the day into this thread. If you would like to see what others in my sketching group sketched on these visits please follow these links:

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Doll Bazaar, Mylapore

Navarathri is a festival celebrated widely throughout India over nine successive nights. In several Indian languages the word means “nine nights” and perhaps that is why the festival is called Navarathri. There are many variants of this festival and in South India, and in particular in Tamilnadu this is a time when people arrange dolls and religious icons in an artistic manner within their houses and invite their neighbours over. There is therefore a lot of socialising over these nine days.
Each family tries to outdo the others in the selection and artistic arrangement of the stuff that they display. This results in lots of doll bazaars (markets) springing up in the weeks preceding this festival and during the festival itself. Most of these bazaars sprout around temples. The vendors spread out their wares on the pavements or hawk them from pushcarts.
In even the recent past most of these dolls were made of eco-friendly material like clay, wood, reeds and so on and were made by local craftsmen. The displays therefore also served to showcase local crafts and arts. But of late I see plastic dolls of Hindu deities, made in China, flooding our markets. To me this robs this festival of much of its charm and relevance.
During this year's Navarathri I visited the area around the Mylapore Temple along with others in my sketching group to sketch the doll vendors. Although I did sketch some of them the dolls themselves were small and therefore did not figure too prominently in my sketches. But I think I did manage to capture some of the character of these informal and very chaotic shopping areas.
I sketched all four on location, directly in ink, using a Hero 578 fountain pen.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Chennai Weekend Artists

I have not posted in this blog for several months but I have been fairly regular with my Sunday morning location sketching. I am still part of the same sketching group that I joined in Sept 2012 but we now have a new name: Chennai Weekend Artists (CWA) hosted by the art community Pencil Jammers.

Chennai, which was known as Madras until 1996, celebrates its founder's day on the 22nd of August every year. It suddenly occurred to us that by visiting different locations within the city we at CWA were actually celebrating Chennai/Madras round the year. We therefore presented our work and several of us spoke about our activities at a function held as part of the Madras Day celebration this year. The event was very well received and soon after that we found our membership surging.

Earlier we had a membership of around 30 or 40 with not more than ten members ever getting together at one time. Now our membership is in three digits and we regularly get around 30 persons participating every Sunday morning. The participants vary in age from 6 to 60+ and it is therefore now a challenge to choose locations which will meet a variety of sketching interests.

So far we have visited a number of locations within our city and our sketching itself has been confined to only a pre-lunch session every Sunday. But I think the group is now ready to spread its wings. We are considering locations outside Chennai and perhaps one day we will even think of journeying overnight to our sketching locations.

Starting from the top these are 1. A corner of the General Post Office Building on Rajaji Salai ("Salai" means "Road"). 2, Kapaleeswarar Temple, at Mylapore. 3. The State Bank of India Building on Rajaji Salai. 4. Valluvar Kottam at Nungambakkam.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Chennai Weekend Clickers

 The Chennai Weekend Clickers (CWC) is a group of photo enthusiasts who meet and go on photo shoots together every Sunday in and around Chennai. I am not sure when this group was formed but for the last three years they have held exhibitions of their members' best photographs of the year. For the year 2013 their exhibition was held at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai early in Dec. It was a very popular exhibition and very well attended.


Muralidharan Alagar, from my sketching group at PencilJammers, is also an avid photographer and a member of CWC. He was therefore able to get us permission to do some spot sketching of photographs that caught our fancy and also permission to post our sketches online on the understanding that we would do only quick sketches and not very detailed ones.

There were around 200 photographs on exhibit by about 40 photographers and we had a wonderful time, first viewing and admiring the work on display and then picking the ones to sketch. We PencilJammers also spent some time chatting, comparing notes with one another and interacting with a number of visitors who found our sketching interesting and wanted to chat us up.
We spent around three hours at the exhibition,but probably only a couple of hours actually sketching. During this time I managed to do nine sketches, directly in ink, and then added some charcoal shading later at home.
Until a couple of months earlier I had done very little sketching in public and on location. I used to sketch at home, mainly using reference photographs, and liked to take my time doing it. But since joining PenciJammers in late-September 2013 I had begun to like sketching in public, on location, and also directly in ink. I had also been attempting, during this time, to sketch quickly and in a somewhat loose style. As a result, I particularly enjoyed this sketching experience immensely.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Semmozhi Poonga

While Bengaluru (Bangalore) has the reputation of being a garden city and is known for its beautiful gardens and trees Chennai, though not known for its tree cover, is also surprisingly green. Many of its roads and streets are lined with trees offering a lot of shade. But unfortunately these trees are not well kept. Chennai is also an extremely pedestrian-unfriendly city and therefore although the streets are shaded, the people out on the streets cannot enjoy a leisurely walk at any time of the day.

Chennai also has between 250 and 350 parks which are supposed to be maintained by Chennai Corporation. In fact many of them are not at all maintained, but this is something that is improving of late. The three largest parks in the city are the Guindy National Park, Semmozhi Poonga, and Tholkappia Poonga. The last two are recent additions to Chennai's park-list although both were already large open lung spaces of the city.

My sketching group from PencilJammers visited Semmozhi Poonga several times in the space of a few months. I was with them on only one of these visits and I found it to be a very pleasant place to visit. But my wife who had been there about a year earlier was very critical of the poor upkeep and felt that the place was being allowed to go to seed. Hopefully the people in charge will realise that they owe it to the public to preserve such spaces in pristine condition.

At Semmozhi Poonga I started my first sketch sitting at a shady spot, but unfortunately I had not taken the sun path into consideration. I soon found myself out of the shade and sitting directly under the hot sun. Fortunately I had already completed the skeleton of the sketch. I therefore packed up and completed that sketch at home. 

Meanwhile the others in my sketching group had selected a spot in the park that offered multiple sketching options and were engaged in a discussion on different approaches to sketching. I joined them and decided to experiment with a loose and quick gestural sketch based on suggestions from my friend Ganapathy Subramaniam (GS). Though new to this way of approaching a sketch I was quite pleased with result.