THE HINDU

City’s answer to Google

Infoaxe.com is similar to Google. But what makes the company special is that its founders hail from the city



CREATING A BUZZ IN SILICON VALLEY Siddharth Jonathan and Vijay Krishnan

Both companies were founded by Computer Science graduate students at Stanford University, both companies operate in the same domain of Internet search; what’s more both companies also share the same mentors. Yes, the striking similarities betwe en Infoaxe.com, the recently launched personal search engine and Internet super-power Google are many; there is one striking difference however, unlike the American / Russian origins of Google’s founders; both Infoaxe’s founders hail from Chennai.

Founded by Siddharth Jonathan, engineering graduate of SVCE Chennai in 2005 and Vijay Krishnan, graduate of IIT Mumbai and student of Don Bosco, Infoaxe.com acts like a personal web-search engine archiving the personal web-usage of a user such that it throws up more accurate relevant results. Jonathan tells us how it started, “While using the web for our own research, we were a little disappointed with the generic results a web search engine would throw up; early last year during our final year at Stanford, we embarked upon creating a search engine which would throw up results on the basis of a user’s web browsing history — the result was Infoaxe.”

When a user logs onto Infoaxe, he is prompted to download a toolbar which then keeps a track of the web-sites a user navigates through. The searches are then mapped to the user’s browsing history, as Jonathan explains, “Let’s assume a student is researching colleges and is browsing through classes taught by a certain professor named ‘John Smith’; if the student wished to re-visit the same pages 3 months later he might find it difficult as the search query ‘John Smith’ in a regular search engine would lead him to generic results.” He continues, “Infoaxe, on the other hand, would land the student exactly on the same page he was browsing earlier, more so the ‘pivot’ feature also gives the user the functionality of re-visiting all the web-pages he was browsing at that period of time.”

Understandably the site has already gained a lot of buzz in Silicon Valley with it securing investors of the ilk of Draper Fisher Juverston, Labrador Ventures, the same investors who’ve invested in companies such as Hotmail and Skype. On the team’s plans moving forward, Jonathan, a student of SBOA school, tells us, “We believe Infoaxe can compliment generic search engines like Google / Yahoo and become a default search destination when a user is searching for a slice of his personal web memory.” For now though, the youngsters from Chennai are happy building their product and competing with other start-ups in the tech hub that is the Silicon Valley. Early signs are extremely positive, but as they would admit the journey has only just begun.

SUDHIR SYAL

Motorcycle diaries

PASSING BY Biker Sebastian Klein had interesting experiences to share when he stopped at Chennai, en route from Munich to Bangkok

PHOTO: K. V. SRINIVASAN

ROAD TO ADVENTURE Sebastian Klein

Is there really a road from Munich to Chennai?” meet Sebastian Klein, a 27-year-old biking enthusiast from Munich and he will tell you without batting an eyelid, “Yes, for sure there is.” Stopping off in Chennai, en route his epic 25,000 km journey from Munich to Bangkok on a 800 cc BMW F800 GS automobile, Sebastian has crossed 15 countries, traversed over 20,000 km and has met and interacted with people from over 30 different communities and backgrounds.

How did it all start?

Sebastian tells us,” I bumped into the BMW folks at an auto fair in Munich and told them of this idea I had of riding their new BMW bike from Munich to Bangkok. Though it sounded a little bizarre, they liked the idea, and offered me an internship in the company for seven months during which I convinced them to sponsor my ride.” Much like one of his inspirations Che Guevara, Sebastian had only three years earlier embarked upon a journey from Guatemala to Panama in South America. This trip, however, was going to be even more arduous, beginning in Munich on May 24, Sebastian rode from Austria through to Turkey in Eastern Europe, then made his way through to Iran and Pakistan crossing over to India at the Wagah border and then visiting Kathmandu in Nepal before traversing the length of the country to finally dock in Chennai.

With over 40kg of equipment, including camping gear, GPS equipment, maps, spare parts and food all assembled in sideboxes around him, it’s little wonder that Sebastian was referred to as Neil Armstrong at most of the check-posts he passed. From riding in the Carpathian Mountains in Turkey to camping at Varna (Bulgaria) near the Black Sea to watch the European Football Championships to visiting Cappadoccia, a unique mountain formation in Turkey; Sebastian has some unforgettable memories. What he most fondly remembers, however, is his trip to Iran, “The people of Iran turned out to be some of the friendliest I encountered during my entire journey, so were the people of Pakistan who insisted on sending a police convoy with me to ensure my safety.” During his travel within India, Sebastian also spent time with the Tibetan refugees at the Khardongla Pass in Leh before visiting Pokhara city and Kathmandu in Nepal.

After visiting over a 100 cities and towns over the last four months, we ask him what he finds special about Chennai. He takes a sip from the frothing mug in his hand and says, “The coffee in Chennai is among the best I’ve tasted in the world.” Sebastian’s scheduled to reach Bangkok over the next two months and his complete journey can be tracked online on his blog: www.seppotage.de

SUDHIR SYAL

One day in the life of … the BMW plant

For sheer driving pleasure

Sudhir Syal tracks the plush BMWs from the assembly line to the road

Photos: K. V. Srinivasan

Into the dressing room The BMW plant near Chengalpattu

The drive to BMW plant near Chengalpattu in Mahindra Industrial Park is quite a long one. Stefan Huelsenberg, the managing director of the BMW plant welcomes us saying “You’ve reached exactly 40 minutes before lunch.” He turns out to be as pleasing and patient a gentleman as one would want to meet.

A trivia

He takes us around the 86,500-sq.ft plant spread over 22 acres. As he begins his tour, he tells us: “It was only two-and-a-half years ago that this land was barren; today we have over 150 people employed, and a fully functional assembly line that produces over 200 of BMW’s 3 and 5 series every month.” The pride in his voice is unmistakable, more so when he shows us a photograph of the BMW headquarters in Munich, and explains the relevance of the BMW logo. “It’s a depiction of propellers against a white-and-blue sky. Many don’t know that BMW started as a manufacturer of aeroplane engines back in 1916.”

We walk into the squeaky clean plant, clearly demarcated into two sections — logistics and assembly. “Everything in the world is logistics!” booms Franz Hartinger, head of logistics who now joins us. He’s ably supported in his little speech by Pattu Subramaniam, the customs specialist , who talks us through the week’s activities. “Every week, two shipments arrive with 30 to 40-foot-long containers carrying over 1,500 parts per car set. These make up the Completely Knocked Down Units (CKD), which are assembled into the final BMW automobile.”

Suddenly, a bell rings. “It’s 12.10; time for lunch”, announces Stefan as we’re escorted into the common lunch room, where everyone eats together. Just like the rest of the plant, the scene at lunch too is unusually orderly. We quickly finish our lunch, and move onto the assembly line.

The assembly line begins with the trim line. This is the section where various components such as bumpers, seats and windscreens are assembled in different stations. The head of the trim line, S. Pazhiappan, says: “Everything is timed. The cars spend exactly 35 minutes at each station.”


I’m also informed that the process and parts used are the same in BMW plants across the globe. The car then moves to the next section, the overhead line. “We call this the marriage,” beams Stefan. “Here, the engine meets the body for the first time.” He is clearly enjoying this as much as I am.

After the tyres are added to the car, it then progresses to the final line where necessary fuels and fluids are added.

The engine now stands in readiness; the key is inserted into its slot. And, then it happens. The air is filled with a symphony of sounds — a new BMW is born!

Every working day, the mechanics get to hear the sound of a newborn BMW 12 times. But, it still has to undergo a number of tests in the finish line before its body can be affixed the ultimate accreditation –— the BMW logo. Of these tests is the one I’ve been waiting to do all afternoon — the test drive.


I get my chance. I am introduced to T.D. Arun Prasad, electronics manager, who shows me how over 700 functions within the car can be controlled through one simple circular console. For now, though, I only need the accelerator. Ah, the rush it gives! As we return, I meet Ravi Shankar, who I’m told, test drives these cars for a living. Do such jobs really exist?

It’s 5.20 p.m. now, and the bell rings again; it’s time to head home. I meet a few employees and there is a unanimous feeling of satisfaction and pride. The word ‘dream job’ is something I hear more than just once. I go up to Stefan, and ask him how the company manages this. Isn’t it difficult to keep everyone happy? He replies with a smile. “There’s only one thing that everyone works towards — ‘sheer driving pleasure’. Everything else takes care of itself.” Sometimes it’s just that simple…

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What a good start!

Here’s a chance to vote for India’s hottest start-ups!


HURRAY FOR ENTERPRISE Laura Parkins, Executive Director of NEN

First things first, what exactly is a start-up company? Wikipedia does a pretty good job of defining it as a company with “A limited operating history (less than five years), small teams (less than 50 people) and an uncertain future which may generally result in spectacular success, or failure.”

It’s to support, mentor and popularise Indian start-ups that Tata and the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), have come together to launch the TATA NEN Hottest Start-up Awards. NEN, founded by the Wadhwani Foundation, is a not-for- profit venture dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in the country. Besides initiatives such as the setting up of entrepreneurship cells in colleges, conducting entrepreneurship events and talks, the Hottest Start-up Awards looks at popularising India’s top start-ups among the masses and rewarding the winners with tangible benefits, including funding and mentorship.

Those who would like to get involved can simply log ontowww.hotteststartups.in or send out a sms with the name of the company to 56767.

The initiative is split into two rounds. The first one extends from till October 22 — this is when the public will be allowed to nominate and vote for their favourite start-ups regardless of which industry they belong to. Start-ups will also be judged by industry experts whose ratings will be factored in while choosing the final 30 that will make it to Round 2. Round 2 will be an entirely democratic phase, and it will culminate on December 23 when the final five winning start-ups will be chosen.

With prizes, including funding of Rs. 2 crore to Rs. 3 crore by the Seed Fund, admission to the Microsoft start-up accelerator program, specially designed classes by IIM-A and a host of other benefits; the stakes are extremely high.

As Laura Parkins, Executive Director of NEN tells us, “What Start-ups need more than anything is mind space, for people to hear about their products, appreciate the risks they have taken, their stories and goals. We believe the Hottest Start-up Awards gives them an opportunity to do just that; reach out to possible customers, employees and investors.”

Start-ups seemingly agree as well. As Sahil Parikh founder of DeskAway, a nominated start-up from Mumbai, tells us: “People tend to forget that the Apples, Googles and Microsofts of the world were, once upon a time, fledgling start-ups; it is initiatives such as these which many times enable one to take the next step.”

Interested in supporting India’s very own Google? It could now just be a click away!

The sultan of swing

Kel Llewyln, coach of Indian golfing greats Jyoti Randhawa and Daniel Chopra, was in the city recently

Photo: S.R. Raghunathan


ON AN UP-SWING Coach Kel Llewyln

It’s not every week that the coach of some of India’s leading golf stars conducts a training camp in the city; it was hardly surprising therefore that the camp conducted at the Cosmopolitan golf course attracted some of Chennai’s be st golfers. The coach of Indian golf stars Jyoti Randhawa, Daniel Chopra and Asian no.1 Liang Wen-Chong , 68-year-old Kel Llewlyn is regarded across the world as a master of the perfect golf swing.

His journey started at the age of 14 when he quit school to become an assistant to a golf teaching professional in his hometown of Geelong in Victoria, South Eastern Australia. Back then Kel had two sporting passions, amateur boxing and golf; as he remembers he had to discontinue amateur boxing on qualifying for the Olympics as he held a professional status in golf. As it turned out, this motivated Kel to take to golf seriously and in exactly two years he was competing with the best professionals from across the globe.

As his career progressed, Kel took to coaching and an assignment in 1985 saw him make his first trip to Delhi for a junior golf camp. The camp contained the likes of Daniel Chopra, Jeev Singh, Uttam Singh Mundy who were all between the ages of 12 and 14; it was here that his love affair with Indian golf began. As he tells us, “Golf was just catching up in India back then, though there was a lot of interest amongst the junior community. More than anything else, there was also a lot of competitiveness amongst the Indian coaches who didn’t quite like the idea of a foreign coach snatching their clients.”

He continues with a glint in his eye, “I guess this competitiveness brought out the Aussie in me ensuring I came back to India far more often.” Over the last 20 years, this love affair with Indian golf has seen three of his trainees Jyoti Randhawa, Daniel Chopra and Jeev Singh (whom he worked with briefly) break into the world top 100.

What sets Kel apart is his concentration on both the mental and physical aspects of the game, Kel is a qualified yoga and reiki instructor, both of which he believes helps the mental side of the game immensely. Around the world Kel holds a number of coaching positions; he is the Director of Player Development in the Asian PGA Tour, more recently he also set up his first Golf Academy at the Beijing CBD Golf Club, something which he also plans to do in India in the near future.

As someone who has seen the rise of Indian golf up-close, Kel believes that golf in India is certainly on the up-swing but he requests those involved not to get carried away, as he signs off, “People tend to forget that almost all of India’s recent golfing successes have come from Indians who have trained abroad. For India to become a golfing superpower, there needs to wholesale changes in the coaching system right from the junior level.”

SUDHIR SYAL

Are you on Facebook?

How the social networking platform has attained cult status worldwide. SUDHIR SYAL reports

PHOTO: M. VEDHAN

DIFFERENT PEOPLE, DIFFERENT ROLES Everyone finds a use on Facebook to network, share experiences and showcase their talent

“You just got poked”, “Your friend just threw a Sheep at you”. “You’ve been bitten by the Vampire”; at first use, the ‘Social Networking’ platform Facebook does seem like a whole number of things, a virtual war-zone, a juvenile hang-out or a criminal waste of time. What is it then about Facebook which has seen it attain cult popularity in India and across the world, popularity which translates into 20 billion minutes of usage every month, a valuation of approximately 15 billion dollars and addictive usage by young and old alike?

As hardcore users would swear, the site’s strength lies in its neat design and interface, a ‘news feed’ which keeps users updated on their friends’ activities, and a nifty photo tag feature which has made it the most widely used photography site in the world. True to the saying, ‘No man is an island’, the site is structured to enable a user to both communicate and find out about the developments in the lives of his social circle in a convenient and non-intrusive fashion.

History

The site was started by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, then a student at the Harvard Law School. Zuckerberg initially opened it out only to the students of Harvard enabling them to connect and share notes. It soon spread to other Ivy League schools. About a year or so later, like with so many other technology stories, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to run the site full-time. By then Facebook had already become the ‘in’ thing in college and school campuses. In September 2006, it was opened to the public and the response was phenomenal. One of the joys of Facebook is the different roles it plays for different people who use it, be it photographers, artists, writers, students, employees, entrepreneurs or retired individuals, everyone finds a use in Facebook to network, share experiences and showcase their talent. Take Kunal Daswani for instance, an amateur photographer based in Chennai, who owes his new-found fame as a photographer to Facebook. He tells us: “I uploaded a few photographs I had taken of my friends onto the site, they began to use them as their profile pictures and soon an entire group was formed around it. Now the group has over 300 members, and a number of people who’ve noticed my work have contacted me for freelance photography assignments.”

Parents use Facebook to keep track of the activities of their children abroad, while many use the site for inviting people to parties and events, the site also enabling users to send their RSVPs online. Facebook sometimes stretches to the totally unexpected, like in the case of Minal Kriplani, a professional baker and confectionary maker in Chennai. She remembers, “I once lost a baking dish and couldn’t figure out who had borrowed it, I logged onto Facebook and updated my ‘status’. Hardly a few hours later, a friend read my status, realised she had my dish and I got it back!”

Applications

Another big differentiator between Facebook and other platforms is the open platform which allows developers to create applications and make revenue through advertising on the site. There are over 200,000 of them which allow users to do various things such as take quizzes, play card games and review movies. The game ‘Scrabulous’ is popular among them. Created by Kolkata-based brothers Rajat and Jayant Aggarwala, it is ranked as the most widely used application game on Facebook with over 3.7 million users. Other popular Indian applications are an Orkut application created by software developer Jeetendra Mirchandani which allows users to log onto the competing social networking site Orkut or the ‘I think’ application developed by Internet firm Minekey which allows users to share their thoughts with others on varied topics.

In many ways, Facebook has changed the way the world has perceived social networking. Like with most cults and addictions, it does have its detractors too who believe that a lot of activity on Facebook is meaningless, others believe there is a loss of privacy. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, so much so a Facebook profile is soon becoming like a passport on the Internet. If you haven’t got the question already, brace yourself for it — “Are you on Facebook?”

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We blog, therefore we are

Bloggers meet to share different interests and ideas

PHOTO: R. RAGU

ONE FOR ALL Participants at the Bloggers Meet Chennai is the blogging capital of India and almost to re-confirm this, over a 100 bloggers deciphered their way through the numerous diversions in T. Nagar and cramped themselves into the basement of the Dee Cee Manor Hotel to attend the Chennai blogger meet. The meet was organised by Indian blog directory and networking space Indiblogger.in and Microsoft.As one would expect, the bloggers came with different interests and niches, each one sharing their common passion of writing regardless of whether they were being read extensively or not. Be it Puyal Ganesh, an old resident who has a blog dedicated to Chennai traffic and ways in which it can improve (http://chennairoadtraffic.blogspot.com) or D.R. Bhoopathy, a former Mariner who blogs on marine news and technology ( www.marinebuzz.com), there were a number of bloggers present who spoke of their interests and passions which reflected in their blogs. The common consensus was one of bloggers using their blogs as a personal space; admittedly to rant, gain attention, give free advice or make new friends.

Indiblogger.in was started in May 2007, by 5 classmates Renie Ravin, Balaganesh, Anwin Joselyn, Anoop Johnson and Naveen Roy who met while studying together in Nagercoil. Renie, the lead member of the group tells us, “There is a huge potential in the Indian blogging community, we wanted to create a space where we could bring all of it together.” So far, the initiative has been a success with over 3000 blogs being registered and almost 500 blogs being added every week. Through various web initiatives and events across the country, Indiblogger.in see themselves as evangelists of blogging and plan to help grow the blogging community across the country.

After a round of refreshments and networking, there were seminars conducted on ‘Mobile blogging’ by Aravind (http://atthealtar.blogspot.com/) and on desktop blogging tool ‘Windows Live Writer’ by Microsoft student representative Abhirami Rajendran. The evening concluded with a humorous play titled ‘Bloggers Hijacked’ by the ‘Rebelz’ Theatre group. All in all, the evening had good participation from a majority of Chennai’s popular bloggers who showed without a doubt that they had a point of view and weren’t going to be prevented from expressing it, be in the virtual or in the real world.

SUDHIR SYAL

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The magic lamp?

Retail, banking or even tutoring, a host of companies is creating applications that enable mobile users to carry out varied tasks with their handset. SUDHIR SYALreports


When Alexander Graham Bell uttered those famous words, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” even he would not have imagined the number of roles his creation would take over the next century. Today, the mobile phone can act as a tel evision, a bank, a retail store, a travel agent and perhaps even as a tutor. Founder of Samachar.com, renowned Indian technocrat and CEO of Netcore Solutions Rajesh Jain probably describes it best when he says, “The mobile phone is like a ‘Magic Lamp’ with new ‘genies’ coming together every day to light it with a new flame.”The genies here are in most cases founders of mobile centric start-up companies. These companies create applications which work primarily using sms and GPRS (General Pack Radio Service) and enable a user to use his mobile for a variety of day-to-day tasks. With India now set to overtake the U.S. to become the world’s second largest user of mobile phones (250 million users), mobile start-up companies are soon finding out that this is perhaps the best time to launch their services in the Indian market.

So what are the applications on the phones, and how many of them can actually be used to make life easier. We find out…

Innovations The most striking of the new innovations on the mobile phone has been the launch of mobile banking; pioneers in this field are a Delhi based start-up company named M-Chek. Sanjay Swamy, founder of M-Chek, tells us about the service,” We provide a platform for a user to link his mobile phone to his bank account or credit card, once a link has been established, a mobile user uses sms or a simple application to enter a security code and authorise transactions.” The application thus in effect converts the mobile phone into a debit or credit card.

Realising the potential of the mobile phone in effecting banking transactions, large banks such as ICICI and ABN AMRO have also launched mobile applications which allow users to carry out banking related tasks such as transferring funds, checking transactions and monitoring loans.

Mobile banking also extends itself into mobile retail or mobile commerce. Paymate is a leader in this space; here a sms is sent to the mobile user at the point of purchase, once the user responds with a confirmatory sms and his authorisation code, the transaction is complete. The service essentially enables high security cashless transactions while still hiding the user’s debit or credit card details from the retailer. Paymate has tied up with over 2500 online and offline retail partners such that users can now buy flowers, movie tickets and clothes using their mobile phone.

Booking travel tickets on the mobile phone is another obvious extension of M-commerce which travel sites such as Make My Trip, Yatra and IRCTC (Indian Railways) have capitalised upon. The mobile offerings from these sites work in much the same way as they would online; the user uses his mobile phone to select his travel preferences, provides his credit card details and a PNR number is instantaneously smsed to him confirming his booking.

Great schoolmate Perhaps the most unique functionality of the mobile phone is mobile tutoring. Wizdom.in, a start-up based in Chennai, offers a service where a user can study for the GRE using an application which can be downloaded into a mobile handset. As Anand Kanan, co-founder of Wizdom.in tells us, “The product is priced at approximately Rs.1,000 for a complete course and has an adaptive learning feature which reviews the users performance and provides him with instructive customised feedback every time he uses the application.”

Another application in the education space is a solution titled ‘School Mate’ created by Brite Solutions based in Hyderabad. The application provides a platform for teachers to send parents sms updates of their child’s academic performance, home-work and attendance. The service also comes in handy as a mass communication tool used to inform parents about PTA meetings and holidays at school.

With the mobile phone becoming an all encompassing instrument, it’s only natural it gains a large portion of the user’s attention. This has sparked off an industry titled mobile advertising wherein mobile ad companies serve ads on WAP sites and on sms. My Today from Netcore Solutions is one such daily service which provides three free sms alerts from categories such as news and cricket to subscribers along with relevant sms ads. This service has been a success so far with approximately 3 million mobile subscribers.

Though the average Indian mobile user still uses the mobile phone primarily to speak, send sms or at best as an alarm clock, one thing is for sure. With the technology world creating more and more user friendly applications which promise to make a mobile user’s life easier, a shift towards a mobile phone becoming an ‘ubiquitous all purpose companion’ is already beginning. And why not, it’s always by your side, chic, ultra-functional, and extremely convenient. More important, as Johnny Lever rightfully said in his inimitable style in a recent Hindi flick, if you think it’s getting too intrusive, you always have the option of putting it on ‘silent’ mode.

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One day in the life of a…camping centre

Building team spirit

SUDHIR SYAL goes camping at Tonekala and discovers the great outdoors



VERDANT SURROUNDINGS The camping site CITYSCAPE SUDHIR SYAL goes camping at Tonekala and discovers the great outdoors The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Anne Frank “Camping for Character”, this was the undying motto of one man, Major Wallace Forgie, a Canadian national who had come to the city to work with the Madras YMCA in the year 1927. Forgie, a retired Army Major who served in the World War I was an avid camper and outdoors man for whom camping took on a much larger meaning — it built character, team-sprit and confidence. “A good camper is a good human being,” he would often say. So when he didn’t find a single camping facility in the entire city, he made the developing and nurturing of a camping site his own personal ambition. A full ten years later, with funding from his associates from Canada, he set up Camp Tonekala thus making his goal a reality. As, I make the long journey towards the camping site, I am joined by the president of the Camp Tonekala Association, B.I. Chandhok, who helps me track its the history. “Tonekala co-incidentally in both Native-American Red-Indian dialect and Tamil translates to ‘Not for self’, this sums up the thinking behind the camp and those who run it.” Chandhok goes on to tell me how the camp shifted from its initial location to its present one at Avadi in the year 1946, and also explains how the Camp Tonekala Association was formed. “The death of William Forgie in 1968 and subsequent political pressures meant that by the early 1970s, all funding from Canada stopped. It was it at this stage that a number of Chennai citizens came together to form the ‘Camp Tonekala Association’ that and helps support the camp today.” Most of the original members support the camp till today, the passion and earnest in Mr.Chandhok’s voice is unmistakable, this year he completes 55 years of being associated with the camp and age certainly hasn’t slowed him down. After about 45 minutes of hectic travel through the hustle-bustle of the city, I finally reach the Camp and am greeted by a big board which announces, ‘We love nature’— the slogan of the camp. Spread over 14 acres of open space with abundant greenery, the sound of birds chirping and fresh serene air, a city-dweller like me just can’t couldn’t help but feel completely out of place. K.S. Govindaraj, secretary of the association who took over as the head of the camp after the death of Maj. Forgie, has been awaiting for my arrival and tells he tells me about the functioning of the camp, “The camp plays host to over 7,000 campers every year who come as a part of various scout and cadet groups from schools and colleges. In the day, most campers spend their time taking part in sporting activities and motivational team building sessions while most of the evenings are spent around bonfires.” Swimming in the covered swimming pool is a major attraction at the camp, while some of the other attractions include at the camp are a natural lake, a play-ground and a number of bonfire sites. where the campers gather during the night. Around the three base sites where a total of 31 tents can be pitched, there are is a healthy vegetation of banyan, tamarind and neem trees which help add to the greenery. Mr.Govindaraj is very clear on one stand, apart from camping equipment, first-aid and basic amenities, no other luxuries are allowed, in fact campers are even disallowed from going out of the camp to buy soft-drinks and other food-stuffs. Clearly, the *character building” legacy of the founder William Forgie continues, as Govindaraj tells us, “Our only objective is to promote camping as an activity which helps build character, discipline and self-esteem in students, this is only possible if they rough it out and experience the joy of nature and the outdoors first hand.” Camping is priced at a subsidised Rs. 5 per head per day, and the social objectives of the association are is also underlined by their conducting of vocational training in the form of tailoring and type-writing classes for the poor. As my tour of Camp Tonekala comes to an end and as the sun sets, I speak to Hari, a Teachers” Training College student who has been camping at Tonekala for the last 2 days. He reflects, “More than the sporting activities or the feeling of being in the outdoors, it’s the feeling of togetherness and bonding that a camp like this instils. I have gotten to know my classmates much better, and this is what I will take home.” Clearly, for him, the camp has helped build and discover character in amongst his classmates. As the camp celebrates its 70th year anniversary on the 30th of March, there will be no prouder man than Maj. William Forgie whose mortal remains fittingly remain buried in the middle of the camp-site.

* * *How to get there

By road: After passing the Dunlop Factory on Ambattur road, turn left at the Dr. Ambedkar statue and travel 4 km to reach the camp.

By train: The nearest railway station is the Annanur Railway station. The Camp is a 10 min walk from the station.

How much it costs

Camping: Rs. 5 per person per day

Swimming: Rs. 15 for half-an-hour

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A day in the life…of the Irungattukottai race track

Scorching the tracks

CITYSCAPE A 40-member team of volunteers works tirelessly to keep the races going. Sudhir Syal makes a pit-stop



Zoom, vroom Where all the action happens It was 8’o clock on a lazy Sunday morning, and two choices lay in front of me, sit back home and watch India take on Australia in a cricket series which just doesn’t seem to end or hit the road and take a long drive to Sriperumbudur to watch some high octane racing action. Why Sriperumbudur? Because the Irungattukottai Race Track here is where all the action happens, the home of Indian racing and a training ground for almost all of India’s accomplished racers. I’m also told that it’s a great spot to spend a warm Sunday afternoon.

I’m convinced. The one hour journey also gives me time to learn more about the history of the track. And it’s a story which dates back to the early 1970’s, when efforts towards acquiring a land at Sriperumbudur to set up a race track began. Back then, the popular racing destination was the strip at Sholavaram which attracted a diverse array of racers such as liquor Baron Vijay Mallya and Maharajkumar of Gondal who raced cars such as the Ferrari 365 GST and the Ford Mustang. A desire was felt however, to create a larger more challenging race track, and in the year 1990, thanks to the untiring efforts of the Madras Motor Sports Club, the Sriperumbudur race track was inaugurated.


I arrive at the track, and the first thing that catches my attention is the infectious sound of the engine as it roars around the track, one can almost follow the sound of the engine as it soars and falls in its journey around the track. The track itself is the longest such track in the country, 3.71 km long with 16 corners makes it one of the most challenging driving circuits. I make my way to the main straight at the race-track, it’s here that the cars are flagged off from and quite palpably, it’s here where all the action is. The pit-crews line up the pit-lane, cars line up the paddock waiting for their next race, engineers, mechanics, drivers and the fans all mingle in a friendly, warm environment where quite evidently there is a genuine enjoyment and interest in the sport.

Quite a change from the high security, clearly cordoned pit-crews one sees in Formula 1 on TV. Hang on a minute here, I think, aren’t these cars buzzing around the race track at almost 200 kmph and can’t all of this be a touch unsafe? I ask Rajan Syal, Chairman of the race committee, who heads the organisation team which ensures the smooth functioning of the race. He tells me, “The environment is extremely friendly, but most people don’t realise that there is a 40-man volunteer team in place working tirelessly to ensure that the race is enjoyable for everyone.” He takes us through the entire team, “They are 19 Marshall’s all connected on Ham Radio closely monitoring the race from vantage points across the track. In the event of an accident, they immediately radio the race control which is headed by the COC (Clerk of the Course) who then alerts the ambulance, the safety car, and takes a decision on the future of the race. All this happens in a matter of seconds, which is why there has to be a high level of trust with which the entire team operates.” Apart from this, there are also the time-keepers who keep an eye out for false starts, and update the positions of the cars during the race. Not to mention, the safety car driver who with a doctor by his side, follows the cars during the first lap of the race, so as to ensure that immediate medical attention is administered in the event of an accident. A team of stewards further review the operations of the entire race committee and ensure fair-play to all the competitors. The level of professionalism in operation is clearly immense.


I deem it safe enough to get back onto the pit-lane, for a sport generally considered male-dominated, I’m quite surprise to see a number of members of the fairer sex seemingly loving every bit of the action. I bump into Alisha Abdullah, a female competitor and she tells me, “Girls love the speed, the adrenaline rush, the excitement. With proper guidance and training, there is no reason, why girls can’t compete with the men in this sport.” In her next race, she over-takes four male drivers, going to show that she could well be right. Some of the male drivers also have strong contingents of female supporters, and this becomes quite evident as the races progress.

It’s nearing the end of the day now, and as the prize distribution unfolds with the champagne being uncorked, veteran race commentator Nilu announces the prizes. He’s had quite a tiring day himself, often straining his neck to update the audience of developments on the race track.

It’s been an exciting day at the race track, and strangely enough it’s been quite a relaxing day too. No better way to end the day, then to take my little car for a spin around the track. On my drive, I hear that I missed out on watching a rare Indian cricket victory. No doubt in my mind whatsoever though, I certainly made the right choice.

Snapshot

Sriperumbudur:

Started in 1990

3.71 km long making it the

longest race track in the country

Training ground for drivers like Narain Karthikeyan, Karun

Chandok and Armaan Ebrahim

Maintained and managed by the Madras Motor Sports Club

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The art of the start

Want to be your own boss? Sudhir Syal tracks the growing trend of youngsters turning entrepreneurs

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Circa May 2005, Saloni Malhotra, a graduate from a leading college in Pune, embarks on a career with a prominent internet company; an assured future, a good salary, a great working culture and perks mean she has little to complain about. Move to Au gust 2007, she is in the ninth month of running her own start-up and is looking at recruiting a workforce. Her vocabulary has evolved from one with words such as “job satisfaction” and “take home” to one with “boot strapping”, “cost cutting” and “venture capitalist funding.”

Saloni’s is not just a one-off case, she is one amongst an ever-increasing breed that has resisted the lure of a comfortable job, and has instead decided to start a firm. She says, “There comes a time when you feel that urge to start something new and set out on your own. The toughest decision is to make up your mind and follow that urge.” Her firm Desicrew Solutions is a rural BPO service which looks at outsourcing tasks such as medical transcription and translation to employees in rural areas such as Vaniyambadi and Mayiladuthurai.

She elaborates on her firm’s positioning, “The big cost associated with such tasks is that of real estate; by outsourcing such work to the rural areas, we are able to bring down costs by 40 to 60 per cent.”

The beginning

The toughest hurdle, agree most young entrepreneurs, is the beginning. Yogendra Vasupal did not find enough time to concentrate on his start-up and therefore, took the extreme step of quitting college. Few, however, are as bold. He says, “It’s a confusing phase. You get contradicting signals and points of view from everyone around you. The key is the passion and conviction you have in yourself and your idea.” Yogendra’s start-up Inasra.com is a website which gives users a platform to book hotel rooms and accommodation in 435 towns and cities across India.

Across various sectors

It’s not only technology and outsourcing related sectors that entrepreneurs focus their energies on. Some build their dreams on what might seem like the most bizarre ideas. Abhishek Dingra is a case in point. About four years ago, he started a retail chain named “Mr. Pronto.” His firm repairs bags, shoes and accessories. He has opened four stores in Chennai and has recently partnered with Reliance Mart to expand his business across the country.

But as many of them would agree, it’s not always rosy. For every successful entrepreneur, there are countless others who have fallen by the wayside. There are many who go back to their day jobs within a year, while there are also those who take a long time to see even the smallest percentage of profit. The benefits for those who do succeed however are there for all to see. Shalin Jain, is one such example. The Loyola college graduate’s firm, Ten Miles Corporation, which deals with internet based applications has been profitable right since its inception seven year ago. So much so, that his products are now being used in over 30 countries across the world. He says, “The best place to experience exponential growth, personally and professionally, is at your own firm.

Support groups

This trend is evolving amongst the student community, as Prof. Veeravalli, head of the Entrepreneurship Development Foundation at the Great Lakes Institute of Management says, “The number of students who have enrolled for our entrepreneurship programme has increased from just 15 last year to over 60 this year. This clearly shows a mindset change in students, who are more open to taking risks.”

The support extended to budding entrepreneurs has also increased. Most colleges have entrepreneurship cells which help students focus on their ideas. Student groups such as AIESEC have sustained programmes on entrepreneurship, while there are also independent initiatives such as Proto.in which aim to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem for both entrepreneurs and investors. Does all this lend itself to the beginning of another ‘India Shining’ story? Certainly not. What it does however is show that entrepreneurship is now seen as a serious career choice. And individuals too are ready to multi-task and take on challenges. Yes, it’s time to fly!

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Swirl and sip, the Aussie way

McWilliams treated wine connoisseurs to unique blends and flavours

Photo: K.V.Srinivasan

Flavours from Down Under John Rogers

Heavy rains and slow traffic meant that only a select group of invitees attended the recent wine appreciation event in the city. Another evening of swirling, smelling and sipping high quality wine, the only difference being that the wines showcased were not from the more popular vineries of France, Italy or Spain, but from the Australian wine company, McWilliams. McWilliams wines, one of Australia’s largest family-owned wine companies, has a history dating back to 1877 and produces as much as a quarter of Australia’s total wine.

The evening, a sit down, wine and cheese affair saw John Rogers JP, international trading manager of McWilliams give the guests a sampling of four Australian wines.

Both white and red wines were sampled, with each wine offering its unique taste and flavour. If the Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon white wine had citrus aromas of lemon and lime with hints of honey, the Mount Pleasant Shiraz had a deeper aroma of chocolate, oak, blackberry and pepper.

One of the most looked forward to wines by the select gathering was the Chardonnay titled Brand of Coonawarra, which with its butterscotch, nutty vanilla and cedar oak aromas certainly didn’t disappoint. Mr. Rogers also took the gathering through the process of the creation of each type of wine, apart from how one should sip and swirl a sip in order to experience all its distinct flavours.

Mr. Rogers said, “We have been travelling across the country, and what clearly stands out is how much the interest and understanding of wines have increased over the last decade!”

SUDHIR SYAL

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Sky is no limit

City-based Capt. Seshadri has co-authored a biography on ‘achiever extraordinaire’ Sunita Williams. Sudhir Syal reports

Photo: N. Sridharan

COSMIC INSPIRATION Capt. Seshadri

It feels like I’m waiting for the return of a family member, I’ve gotten to know her so well,” exclaims Aradhika Sharma one of the co-authors of the book.

Considering that she has been separated by a distance of over 50,000 miles away from the subject of her book, it certainly can be termed a unique experience. The subject in question is astronaut Sunita Williams and the biography compiled by Aradhika and her co-author Capt. Seshadri with the title “Sunita Williams: Achiever Extraordinaire” is an effort to capture the life of Sunita Williams filled with insights on her remarkable career and life.

Gathering information

In Aradhika Sharma, a features’ journalist based in Chandigarh, and Capt. Seshadri, a Chennai-based retired Army captain; the book has fittingly two authors from different walks of life. As Capt. Seshadri tells us, “It was only three months ago that we started researching Sunita’s life, finding it very difficult to source enough information, we knew we had to try and get in touch with her family.” Through a common friend, he managed to get the email ID of Sunita’s father Deepak Pandya, and he remembers, “A short while after mailing him we got a response — we were flooded with 50 pages of content and over 70 photographs of Sunita taking us through a journey of her life. There was no looking back from there.” The next few days were action packed as Capt. Seshadri and Aradhika worked round the clock to ensure that the launch of the book coincided with her return from space.

The book brings out Sunita’s Indian roots. Her father Deepak Pandya, a neuronatomist, migrated to the U.S. in the mid-1960s. It also presents interesting insights and anecdotes from her life, as Capt. Seshadri says, “Few would know that Sunita actually studied to become a veterinary surgeon. In fact as the story goes, she once decided to attend an Animal Seals show only to find on arriving that it was a actually a Navy Seals one!” This ironically turned out to be the starting point, as she began her career as a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Navy. It was during this period that she trained to join the NASA space program with her training lasting for eight years. It is here that in a short period of time she managed to break two records – the longest stay in space by a woman (194 days) and the maximum extravehicular activity by a woman, her four space walks (over 29 hours in space).

The book which contains a foreword by Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, India’s first man in space also throws light on her personal side detailing her interests including marathon running, windsurfing and her pets.

The book will be a good gift to her and her family, after her safe return.

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Talent from across the sea

Look who’s come to Kollywood. It’s actor Anarkalli Akarssha from Sri Lanka

Photo: M. Vedhan

KOLLYWOOD CALLING Anarkalli Aakarssha

Meet Anarkalli Akarssha – Miss Sri Lanka 2004 and Sri Lanka’s leading actor. She was in the city recently. We caught up with her and chatted on amongst other things, her proposed entry into Kollywood.

“I don’t enjoy this sort of freedom back home, it is such a relief”, she says as she flutters her eyelashes and poses for the camera. It’s an experienced pose, one pose you’d associate with a veteran actor. But this beautiful starlet, clad in a pink salwar-kameez, is all of 19 years. And imagine she was crowned Miss Sri Lanka two years ago!

Smart, intelligent and confident, Anarkalli, has come on a long way since she won the crown. A leading actor, a TV personality, a columnist, a former public relations officer with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs; you wonder where she finds the time to maintain that beautiful complexion. She laughs and tells us how it all started, “My family was always into films. My mother being a fashion designer I would most often be on film sets. Offers soon started coming in when I was quite young.” So early that her first work on TV was at the tender age of 3. The big break, as she fondly remembers, came when she won the Miss Sri Lanka crown and was chosen to take part in the Miss World beauty pageant held in China. “To interact with individuals from 109 countries was an enriching experience.” It was around this time that her acting career began to reach new heights. “I doubt many in India would be aware of our film industry. It produces an average of 10 films per month and draws inspiration from Kollywood and Bollywood.” On her film career she says, “ I have played different roles including a mentally unstable individual. But the most challenging was playing a mother confined to a wheel chair when I just 16.” Eight of the 10 movies that released last year had her starring as the heroine. Her most successful film till date has been “Hiri Podda Wessa” (translates to drizzle) acknowledged to be one of the biggest hits in Sri Lanka in the recent past. A film that stood up to the might of Bollywood and won. “A big fish in a small pond,” one might argue and she agrees, explaining her decision to come to Chennai to be a part of the film industry here. It’s not only for her acting skills that Anarkalli is famous for, she has a weekly call in a show titled “Anarkalli Live” on a popular TV channel, writes a column “Anarkalli’s Lanka” in Daily News (the national daily) and is in the process of cutting a music album. Something she enjoyed doing the most however was working as the PRO in the ministry of foreign affairs under the then foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera. She says, “To represent my country and interact with dignitaries from different nations was a memorable experience.” Anarkalli is also the ambassador for AIDS awareness, a cause she devotes a lot of time to. At 19, Anarkalli Aakarssha is a household name in Sri Lanka. But the canvas isn’t big enough, “My goal is to now make a mark in Kollywood. I’m a big fan of the Tamil film industry.”

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Fashion, Akbar style

Akbar Shahpurwalla was in the city recently to launch his menswear store Gabbana. SUDHIR SYAL catches up with the designer

Photo: V. Ganesan

Dressing up stars Akbar Shahpurwalla

Ever wondered who designs Amitabh Bachchan’s tailormade sherwanis on Kaun Banega Crorepati or for that matter, who designs the Ambani’s suits during their public appearances? The unfortunate part is, for too long, none of his work has bee n available in the city, the fortunate part is, that wait has now ended. Meet Akbar Shahpurwalla, men’s wear designer and merchandiser who was in the city for the launch of his fourth men’s wear signature designer store, ‘Gabbana.life’ (There are two in Mumbai and one in Colombo.)

Akbar in fashion and actor circles in Mumbai is held in high esteem as a designer and his association with the fashion world for over 30 years has seen him wear different hats. From designing the costumes for several actors in movies and ad-films to opening ‘Gabbana’ and launching his own design labels ‘Aqis’ and ‘Akbar’, it’s been a long, eventful journey. Looking his colourful best, wearing his own designs, he sits back on a couch in his store and tells us, “My earliest projects in the field of men’s wear were the designing of clothing for Bollywood stars of yesteryear. Stylising Rishi Kapoor in ‘Bobby’ was one of the first projects I undertook, further to which I have designed clothing for a whole gamut of stars stretching from the likes of Nagesh, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth in the South to yesteryear and contemporary heroes such as Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan from Bollywood.” The actor he most looks forward to designing clothes for, as he admits, is Amitabh Bachchan for whom his most recent work can be seen in the film ‘Cheeni Kum’.

Bold step

Apart from this, Akbar took the bold step of opening India’s first designer store importing clothes from the best western designers. He tells us, “The store was named ‘Gabbana’ as it was initially supposed to be a store which stocked only Dolce and Gabbana designs. It, however, came to life as a multi-brand designer store retailing the world’s top brands, including Armani, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana.” This was done way back in 1994, and as Akbar confesses, he probably was a little too early for the market. He explains, “Gabbana stands for high quality, exclusive dressing and hence you’d expect it to come at a higher price. With India’s fashion industry gaining steam and consumers becoming more aware of international brands, the store has gained immense popularity over the last five years.”

Diverse range

A quick walk through the store and you’d get a fair idea of what makes the design and clothing stand out. The collection includes Akbar’s own in-house brands ‘Aqis’ and ‘ Akbar’ which have a diverse selection in terms of casual shirts, summer jackets, coats, ethnic wear and accessories. Apart from this are the popular international brands such as ‘Versace’, ‘Armani’ and ‘Dolce and Gabbana’. On his own collection, Akbar elaborates, “We have tried to make something unique and exclusive about every item of clothing in our collection. All our fabric is imported from Italy, apart from which we use a lot of silk, linen, velvet and wool in our clothing which helps give it a different feel and finish.” Also available is a selection of shoes, belts, jeans and accessories again made in their own inimitable style.

Over the next one and a half years, Akbar plans to take Gabbana across six destinations in India and the Middle East. The store is located at 12, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam.

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‘Unconferences’? What’s that?

They are becoming a rage in the IT world. What are they about? How did they begin? Sudhir Syalhas the story



Voice your views In an unconference, everyone participates, contributes and learns

A new style of conferences is sweeping the IT world promoting an open spirit, a willingness to learn, to share, to participate and voice your opinion. Will this be the way all conferences will be conducted in future?

Over the last two years, a new brand of technology conferences, ironically titled ‘Unconferences’, has captured the imagination of the IT Diaspora across the country. Some say it’s an imitation of the West, others say it is relevant to a particular topic where a lack of awareness means people pitch in and learn from one another. The overriding reason, however, is an urge to be heard, to voice an opinion, and unconferences perhaps provide the perfect opportunity to fulfil that desire.

What are they about?

The central philosophy of an unconference can be summed up by the maxim “The audience is more intelligent than the speaker.” This means a member of the audience has as much of a licence to voice his views as the speaker. Another law which holds good throughout an unconference event is ‘The law of 2 feet’. The law of 2 feet states that “If at any point you find yourself in a position where you are neither learning nor contributing, you move yourself to one where you think you would.” This means everyone participates, contributes and learns from one another.

The activity of an unconference event is initially centred around the ‘Paper Wiki’; this is where those presenting take up a time slot and mention their topic of presentation. From then on, ‘the law of 2 feet’ holds good and attendees attend the sessions they are most interested in.

How did they begin?

The history of unconferences can be traced back to the Open Space technology (technology in this context means tool) events originating in the mid 1980s where participants would come together, break off into smaller groups and discuss topics related to technology. A spin-off of this was the inaugural ‘Foo camp’ in 2003, which later gave way to the inaugural Barcamp, a technology unconference in Palo Alto in August 2005. Barcamps have since become a rage across the world providing passionate technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators an open forum for discussion.

Unconferences in India

India has seen a sudden surge in unconferences, with technologists, entrepreneurs, researchers and corporates showing immense interest and as many as 10 barcamps held in the last two years. The first barcamp in India was held in Delhi on April 3, 2006, and the event has since moved to Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune.

As Kesava Reddy, a platform architect at digital strait and one of the organisers of Barcamp Bangalore 3, tells us, “Barcamps in India serve as a perfect networking ground for any young entrepreneur or innovator. The number of stories of individuals who have come to a barcamp with an idea to present and have walked out with the interest of a potential investor are endless.”

Apart from barcamps, there have been a number of other unconferences in India which have kindled immense interest. Amongst them have been events such as ‘Mobile Mondays’, an event where mobile technologists come together and discuss new mobile technology developments and a ‘Blogcamp’ where bloggers come together to discuss the new developments in their field.

Another project which is in the pipeline is an unconference book, a project which is being initiated by ‘The Knowledge Foundation’ (a group of technology enthusiasts), the book which would be co-authored by over a 100 writers from across the world on wiki ( www.unconference.info) would be a layman’s guide to an unconference and is set for release mid September this year. Apart from these in the coming years, many see the unconference format moving on to non-tech areas of interest such as food and fashion.

Corporate involvement

Corporates have also identified the movement and have started incorporating an unconference-like structure into their events. Take, for instance, Cognizant whose corporate knowledge management team organised the first ever corporate unconference for their employees in March this year. About the event, Sukumar Rajagopal, Chief Knowledge Officer, Cognizant, tells us, “Over the two days of the unconference, we had over 260 employees attending from various solution centres and corporate functions of the company. Employees networked, shared ideas, experiences and learning, making for rich interaction over the two-day event.”

Corporates such as Tata Consultancy Services have also taken an interest in such events, sponsoring and associating themselves with barcamps across India. Most corporates recognise such events being central to the innovative ecosystem developing in the country.

Though the unstructured format of the events and often frenzied execution means that in some cases enough importance is not given to content; many would still agree that for collaborative and pure learning, unconferences could still very well be the answer.

As Navjot Pawera, a web evangelist from Opera Software Chandigarh and someone who has been involved with unconferences across the country, tells us, “If innovation and entrepreneurial spirit is what the Indian IT industry needs right now, then unconferences provide the perfect seeding ground for just that. Seeing the energy, enthusiasm and participation levels at them, you can’t help but think that one day – perhaps all regular conferences will be held this way.”

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Bigger bandwidth

City band Junkyard Groove is back after a rocking show at the Dubai Desert Festival. SUDHIR SYAL on their journey beyond boundaries

PHOTO: N. SRIDHARAN

NEW FACES OF ROCK Members ofJunkyard Groove Meet Chennai’s rock band `Junkyard Groove’. Fresh from their performance at the Dubai Desert Festival, and as we find out well on their way to global stardom.

Ameeth Thomas, Siddharth Srinivasan, Jerry Abraham John and Craig Maxwell — these are names you might want to remember. Why? Well, because now they have the deserved right of calling themselves `Rockstars.’ So, it was confirmed, when we were waiting for them to show up at the agreed upon venue. While awaiting the rest of the members arrival, Siddharth (Axeman), the lead guitarist of the band, told us with a half smile on his face, “They are rockstars now, it wouldn’t be so cool if they came on time.”

Winning accolades

And deservedly so, an opportunity to open for bands like Iron Maiden and Prodigy in Dubai, a recording contract from a top label and now even a reality show based on them, very few Indian rock bands have gone as far as the Chennai based `Junkyard Groove’. And to think it all started hardly two years ago, they have really come a long way. As Siddharth remembers,

“We were all looking for a band to play with, Ameeth had come over for Easter and we threw around the idea of starting a band. Then we found our drummer in Jerry, everything fell into place quite quickly after that.” So quickly, that within six months of the band forming, it had won top accolades at rock fests held at JIPMER, MCC and the National Law School.

Alternative funk

As Ameeth, lead vocalist and someone who is renowned in the Chennai rock circles for his on-stage histrionics, tells us, “The difference from the beginning has been our sound; it’s not rock, it’s not pop, it’s not jazz; in fact we are still looking for a name for it.

Alternative funk is the closest we have got to it!” Some of their more popular songs are `It’s ok’, the song which started it all off for them, `Say goodbye’ and `Folk you’, a song which is a medley of English, Tamil and Malayalam.

But so many bands from Chennai that have claimed to be different have become exceedingly popular in the city and then seemingly disappeared from the scene. Ask them what their big break was and their answer in unison is `Shamal’. As Ameeth tells us, “Shamal is a contest, held in Dubai, which attracts the best in musical talent across Asia. On a lark, I sent in our tape and the next thing I knew we were all in Dubai looking for a place to stay.”

Winning at Shamal got them, amongst other things, a recording contract for three years with top recording label Creative Kingdom USA, an opportunity to play at the Dubai Desert Rock Fest with world renowned bands such as Incubus and Iron Maiden and a TV reality show which will be aired on Zee Arabiya.

And they still haven’t recovered from the experience. Jerry Abraham, drummer of the band, tells us, “Everything from our stay in Dubai to the arrangements at the venue was so professional.

The experience of playing at the same event with top bands like Iron Maiden was simply unbelievable.”

The band will be going back to Dubai in a month to record their album which they plan to launch mid this year and to begin shooting their TV reality show for Zee Arabiya.

Most recently, the band enthralled a packed stadium at Saarang — IIT Madras, a performance which all of them still refer to as their most exhilarating yet.

The only confusion the band now has is in finding a name for its debut album. `Four in a billion’ and `Nicer in a minute’ are some of the names being tossed around. Everything else is very clear. They want to create quality music, they want to perform live, they want to put India on the World music map and, most important, they want to enjoy themselves.

Going by their beginnings, they seem to be well on their way…

Junkyard Groove’s music can be heard online on www.myspace.com/junkyardgroove1

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With Sivaji Productions returning to Bollywood after a gap of around 45 years, their comeback film Delhiiheights promises to be well worth looking forward to!

It’s the final day of shooting, and what more befitting a location than the house of Sivaji Ganesan himself? But there is no chaos, no people screaming, no mass disorder… nothing that is commonly associated with a film set! Jimmy Shergill, one of the co-stars of the film tells us, ” It’s been like this all through. Everything has been orderly, in sync and in control from day one! It really makes our jobs so much easier.”

Neha Dhupia, the other co-star of the film, agrees, “There is such a big difference while working with a film house like Sivaji. The people are cultured, and the mutual respect for one another’s work is evident.”

The producer of Delhiiheights, the affable Ramkumar Ganesan, joins us. Wearing a bright maroon shirt, looking larger than life, he tells us in his inimitable style, “The first two films of Sivaji Productions were in Hindi. And now after Raakhi, which was shot in 1962(a gap of close to 45 years!), we are back with another Hindi film. It really is something we are very proud of!” About the movie, he tells us, “It is fresh and youthful, and appeals to the young, cosmopolitan Indian. It revolves around the lives of three couples, who live in high rise apartments in Delhi called Delhiiheights, and hence the name of the film.”

The core characters of the film are Suhana(Neha Dhupia), an ambitious corporate executive and her husband Abi(Jimmy Shergill), with the storyline revolving around how they struggle to balance their public and professional lives.

Debut Director Anand Kumar, a Delhi based ad-film director tells us, “It was hardly a year ago, in this very house, that I showed the script to Prabhu and Ramu. Five minutes through my reading, the meeting was adjourned. They absolutely loved it. ‘Shooting starts in one month,’ I was told!”

His next step was to meet popular Punjabi musician Rabbi Shergill, and formulate the music for the film. On receiving an opportunity to work with Sivaji Productions on his directorial debut, he tells us, “The freedom and support I have received has been tremendous. In fact, I have a feeling that my future films are going to be a little more difficult comparatively!”

Also present on the sets is Madhavan.

‘Maddy'(who has been very busy trying to get the perfect shot until now!), has a guest appearance in the film. He tells us, “I have been very close to the Sivaji family. This house is like my own. And when Ramu and Prabhu requested me to play a guest role, there was no way I was going to refuse.” The shooting was in fact shifted to Chennai from Mumbai, due to Madhavan’s father’s unfortunate illness.

The final ‘cut’, and we are done. All that is left is the customary breaking of the pusnikar, followed by a puja, which all members of the cast and crew participate in …

Setting the last scene before the magnificent Sivaji House (Left)

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Comments
2 Responses to “THE HINDU”
  1. Tahira says:

    Hi Sudhir,

    Just cam across some news that might be of some interest to you.

    Do let me know how best to get in touch with you, an email works well for me.

    Cheers

    Tahira.

  2. Wow! great bunch of information… this is really usefull and thank you very much for the post.

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