Unveiling the Invisible: Chennai Photo Biennale vies for a feminist discourse in photography

The exhibition at Govt. Arts College brings to the forefront the process of reclaiming women’s spaces, bodies and role in the society.

Srinjoy Dey

Chennai, March 1: An almost life-sized photograph of a woman gazes at the passers-by. The lines beneath her eyes suggest exhaustion, the curves of her pressed lips are an indication of an imminent trauma inflicted outburst. She is holding a passport-size picture of a man in his early thirties – her dead husband.

Rajitha holding a photo of her husband P.Ramesh, a tenant  farmer in Bhupalpalli Village, Telengana – who committed suicide in 2016 due to an outstanding loan of Rs. 2,30,000.

The portrait of the widow is one among the 20 picture series by Gurgaon-based writer and photographer Vijay Jodha. The Chennai Photo Biennale exhibition feature in the Govt. Arts College called ‘The First Witness’ captures the process and the consequences of bear witnessing a farmer suicide. The image scale “subverts visual culture in India where large hoardings are a monopoly of the famous and powerful,” says the artist’s note, “the project seeks to contribute towards ensuring that eventually no farmer is left without means or dignity. In that sense, this project is driven by hope rather than despair.”

The Chennai Photo Biennale has the potential to emerge as a landmark photography event in India, with a footfall of over a lakh visitors in its first edition in 2016. Stellar names like P.Sainath, Nalini Malani, Gauri Gill, Atul Bhalla, Anna Fox, National Institute of Design (NID), National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology were associated with this year’s edition from February 22 to March 24.

The work of P.Sainath, who emphasizes on recognizing rural women’s contribution to the economy, was also presented. The project, titled ‘Visible Work, Invisible Woman,’ journaled the stories of rural women who are largely neglected in the public discourse.

P. Sainath’s work is a collection of photographs shot in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The series questioned the existence of rural welfare schemes for women and the societal challenges that mar them. He critically examines, for example, the all-women panchayat in Madhya Pradesh whose powers are limited due to the deeply-rooted social stigma. He also chronicles the journey of women manual scavengers, herders, wood-cutters, gatherers, seed-sowers and land-tillers. He also highlights the condition tribal and Dalit women as the victims of the worst kind of oppression and the administrative failure to acknowledge the issue.

The Mumbai based Aishwarya Arumbakkam, explored the misconceptions and taboos attached to gender through a popular female Cambodian folklore character – Ahp, . In her retelling of the myth, she changes the narrative by portraying the story through Ahp – whose isolation and public perception is symbolic of a larger culture of misrepresentation.

A more direct subversion of gender role was portrayed in Indu Antony’s ‘Manifest’ where the 13 queer subjects were unbound from their archaic positions in the society. The Bangalore-based artist’s work encapsulated the discourse of gender performativity. “Queer or straight, women perform their femaleness both within and against societal gender rules that dictates what women should be. In a patriarchal society we work harder to establish our womanhood against norms that trap us in limited boxes of “feminine” self expression,” she says in her note.

Shah’s work is an exercise in introspection of the past, and how far along the society has come, and the path forward.

Tejal Shah’s ‘Hysteria’, on the other hand, explored the classical art trope of the ‘mad woman in the attic’ – symbolizing the Victorian perceptions of the woman as an emotional being, incapable of rational thought. Present in classics such as Jane Eyre, the trope is popularly used by feminist critics to highlight the multi-layered oppression that subliminally indoctrinated within the individual. The series show the male dominance manifest in discourses such as psychology and literature before the waves of feminisim that has brought about a much needed change and crafted space for women to enter and widen the structure of knowledge.

“I am happy to see a wide variety of representation of women in the event. It is crucial for our voices to be heard for the society to move towards inclusivity. One must understand the importance of counter-discourse as a driving force,” says Akshaya Mohan, a former research fellow at Christ University, Bengaluru. With at least 18 independent women artists and a few collectives with women members participating, the Biennale has already become a space for discussing gender and questioning the existing gender norms.

Concern in IIT Madras over consequences of improper waste management

Vidushi Sagar and Sneha Kanchan

Chennai, Feb 28: The deer appear strange amongst the ashen coloured buildings of Indian Institution of Technology Madras. Ears shot up and eyes wide, their hooves nimbly tread over the grass scattered with construction debris. This is an everyday sight at India’s premier engineering institute constructed within an ecologically sensitive zone, or in other words, a forest.

In November 2017, the National Green Tribunal had given IIT Madras a week’s time to clear all the solid waste dumped on campus. This order came in after Antony Rubin, a Chennai-based animal activist filed an application with the NGT. It raised the issue of improper waste management and its consequences upon the flora and fauna of the region, also consisting of spotted deer and black buck.

The application filed involved five respondents — the State of Tamil Nadu, IIT Madras, Greater Chennai Corporation, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. What followed was an inspection by the TNPCB which brought out the loopholes in the institution’s solid waste management system, including the non-function of the campus’ biogas plant. Plastic waste was also found dumped near the Krishna and Velachery hostel gates by the TNPCB officials. 

In February 2019, construction debris can still be seen around the campus; parts of glass, rods, and cemented stuff strewn on the grass. Open bags of cement were discarded near the Chemistry Lab. Styrofoam cups and small plastic bottles could also be occasionally sited adjacent to roads.

Construction debris found littered outside hostels near Sangam Ground Road within the campus.                                                                                            Photo credits: Vidushi Sagar

In early 2017, Rubin had alleged sub-par waste management during the institute’s fests Saarang and Shaastra, as also mentioned in several news articles. Reports and pictures of toxic chemical waste dumped near their bio-technology laboratory had also surfaced since then. According to a 2016 Times of India report, two deer died within 10 days due to plastic ingestion, as confirmed by forest officials. An News18 report also mentioned a source from the Forest and Wildlife Department who revealed that a 2kg. football shaped plastic had been removed from the stomach of a spotted deer.

An RTI filed by Rubin in March 2017 exposed 220 deer and eight black buck deaths between 2013 and 2016. Another one in September 2018 revealed that from 2017 to September 2018, 111 spotted deer and five blackbucks had died. A bunch of post mortem reports stated multiple puncture wounds with haemorrhage as the cause of deaths.

Open cement bags outside the Chemistry Lab near the Administration Block. Photo credits: Vidushi Sagar                                                                                                                                    

The issue of a dog-deer conflict within the campus has also been contentious. IIT Madras officials blame the deaths on the stray dogs in and around the campus. The infamy around dogs is also shared by students. Vipin V., a PhD scholar said, “Once I saw a dog attack a deer. My friends have also seen similar incidents.”

Rubin had a different story to tell. “It is unfair to blame just the dogs. They are scavengers. When the deer ingest waste, it slows them down making them more susceptible to attacks. Increased construction also blocks their escape paths. Plus, they are such sensitive creatures that they with the slightest of shocks,” said Rubin. He added that the puncture wound indicated in the autopsy reports could also be inflicted by dogs post the deer’s deaths.

According to V. Seenivasan, the Senior Horticultural Officer of IIT Madras, the solid waste management on campus is well managed. “We have a self-help group on campus, which is responsible for picking and collecting trash. The food wastes from the eateries and messes are collected. They are fed into the biogas plant and then sent to vermicomposting unit. The remaining waste is sent to a piggery unit in Kattupakkam,” he said.

“Both organic and inorganic wastes are collected from all hostel zones, academic and residential areas and are segregated. The inorganic waste are recycled and non recyclable waste is sent to the city dumping yard in Perungudi,” he added.

Speaking about the presence of plastic waste on campus Mr. Seenivasan looked outwards. “The people from the settlements that have come up along the boundary walls in, for instance, the Kanagam area throw trash into the campus. We take care of most of the waste within our boundary but this dumping gets left out sometimes,” he said.

Littering done by people visiting from outside is also something that happens according to him, since the campus has two schools, temples and a bank.

“The biogas plant was not working only for two to three months because of a blockage in the plant. We’ve taken care of that and fit a concrete grate to sieve the waste that goes in,” he said. He added that even plastic waste was accidentally fed into the plant without proper segregation.

The 2017 NGT order also held IIT Madras to polluter penalties in case of injury or death caused to the animals in case of improper waste management. This was done taking into consideration the endangered status of blackbuck under the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Despite IIT Madras’ assurances on the matter, activists like Antony Rubin are not convinced. He raises concerns about the institute not being held accountable with the southern bench of the NGT now almost defunct.

Rubin has filed multiple RTIs pertaining to a whole host of issues like illegal constructions, festivals and the vehicular traffic among other things plaguing the campus. He is anxious about the lax attitude of the administration regarding the care of such extremely sensitive creatures. “Because the deer die just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers in a quick motion. 

Scooters and cycles ride on two separate paths

Chennai, Feb 28: Despite Vogo’s newest introduction of e-scooters at some Chennai Metro stations, bicycles continue to be rented with no constraint on the number of their users. Chennai Metro has been providing free bicycles on rent to its commuters for the past two years. The only catch is that people renting the cycle must deposit a Rs. 3000 security deposit and an ID proof while renting the cycle. Once it is returned to the Metro station, the entire amount is refunded to the commuter. The bicycles were introduced to encourage cycling as well as an eco-friendly mode of transport.

A private company called Vogo Automotive Pvt. Ltd. has started providing e-scooters at certain Metro stations in Chennai. The charges of the scooters are Rs 4 per km travelled. Vogo is provides similar services in Hyderabad and Bangalore as well. The scooters are also fitted with a GPS tracking system to avoid theft.

There are commuters using both these services but neither affects the other. Sundarajan (35) who is the station controller at Anna Nagar Tower Metro station stated that his station has been and continues to be visited by a minimum of five people daily for renting the bicycles. “On weekdays working people rent the cycles, on weekends they are joined by students as well as elderly people”, he said.

On the other hand, there are some Metro stations that still await the arrival of the e-scooters. Naveen (28) is the parking operator at the Alandur Metro station. “Some company personnel came and saw the space where they will keep their scooters but they never came. I called and asked them but they keep saying that they will come in a few days”, he said.    

Vijay (32), the station controller at Guindy Metro station stated that around 10-15 people used to rent the bicycle and they still continue to do so even after the introduction of the e-scooters. Nevertheless this does not mean that the e-scooters are starved for attention. They are also being used frequently ever since their introduction. Shambu Maheswari (37) manages the e-scooters at the Anna Nagar Tower Metro station. He says that so far, there are at least 4-6 people renting the scooters on a daily basis. In other places, the numbers are even higher. Mohan (34) is one of the new recruits at Vogo who is in charge of the e-scooters at the Guindy Metro station. He says that everyday at least 15-20 people rent a scooter from this station.

While the scooters have received a positive response, their usage appears to have no effect on cycle users. Although the bonus for the cycles is that they are rented by the type of people eager to cycle on a regular basis.

The magic of volunteering reaches over 12 cities

A closer look at one of the country’s most prominent youth-led NGOs

Tulika Chaturvedi

Chennai, Mar 1: It was on a sultry Independence Day afternoon 13 years ago that a team of two doctors and an IT professional were finally able to achieve their dream of creating an accessible volunteering platform.

Cited as one of India’s largest youth volunteer organizations, Bhumi was founded by Dr. Prahalathan K.K., Dr. Harishankar, and Ayyanar Elumalai, and functions with the help of as many as 18,000 volunteers, consisting of mostly students and working professionals. It has been instrumental in providing supplementary education to children in shelter homes, orphanages, and slums in cities like Chennai, Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Thanjavur, Trichy, and more.

“We have about 600 volunteers in Chennai working with at least 45 different institutions,” says Ganesh Kumar, HR Head for their Shelter Home projects. “Besides our education programs which come under Ignite, we undertake civic initiatives for Catalyze, which include campaigns, marathons, and workshops for environmental conservation, road safety, animal welfare, and cleanliness drives.”

“We look for volunteers that can afford to commit to Bhumi for at least six months,” he adds, “It is important for them to be articulate and know how to deal with children. We place them in teaching programs based on whichever subjects they’re inclined towards, be it arts, science, mathematics, or even sports.”

Remembering Bhumi’s fondest success story, Dr.Prahalathan says, “During one of our earliest projects in 2006, we came across a very bright boy in Thirumullaivoyal; he now teaches children at the same center and also in three other neighbouring villages.” Since Prahalathan is a practicing ophthalmologist, he doesn’t partake in the teaching process but looks into volunteer mobilization, fundraising, and managing PR campaigns.

Although the NGO has earned credit in the social-work circuit for its substantial work, it is not deprived of logistical issues. “There are times when we have to cancel classes as third-parties like donors might want to host events of their own, and orphanages have no option but to prioritize them,” says Ganesh, “Other times, volunteers may take too many days off in a row for their semester-exams or academic opportunities outside the city, but they should understand that it is hard to build a rapport with the children and lack of consistency demotivates them.”

Instances of the volunteers’ dedication are not hard to come across though. “I got a chance to visit an all-boys orphanage and the team was distributing gifts to the children,” says Aarthi Ramnath, a media student who interned with the organization in 2016, “It seemed like the kids and the volunteers knew each other very well; they kept cracking jokes on each other and received the gifts with big smiles.”

“Bhumi has an extremely inclusive work environment,” adds another volunteer, Madhumita Raghavan, a student of social-work who worked for the Speak Out project (teaching English to primary school children) in Mumbai. “Volunteers and any ideas they pitch are received respectfully – it’s like being part of a big family of people from different backgrounds that constantly engage and enrich you. It is heartwarming when the children open up to us about their aspirations, make us believe we’re headed in the right direction.“ she quips.

“We are working with 25,000 children at the moment and aim to cross ten lakh in the next ten years,” adds Prahalathan, “The goal is to reach as many children as possible and create a meaningful contribution to their lives so that someday they feel comfortable in giving back to someone else.”

Non-milled roads irk residents in Kandanchavadi

Sravani Nellore

Chennai, Mar 1: As one enters the Gandhi Street in Kandanchavadi, one cannot miss the striking observation that the slanting roofs of the houses on the right-hand side of the road equals one’s height. The constant re-laying of the road, sometimes twice or thrice a year, without actually milling it, has resulted in the elevation of the road by clearly three inches at certain spots.

As a result, some residents in the older houses here have had to build three-four steps in front of their doors to match the level of the road.

J. Jaikar, a resident in the street, says, “We came here when the place was wanting in development. When my house my built, it was actually three steps higher than the ground level. But now, the ground level has reached till the door. Every time a road is being re-laid, milling has to be done. Laying the road multiple times without milling has resulted in the increase in the width of the roads.

B. Ganesan, who owns a flour mill here, says, “During the rains, our houses and shops remain inundated for days. The last time the road was about to be re-laid, all of us gathered to protest against it, demanding the civic body to first mill it.”

The road’s height has increased by three inches in the Gandhi street. |Sravani Nellore

Responding to the complaints, Kamal Raj, Assistant Engineer at the Corporation office ward 184, said, “There is a new rule now that mandates milling before re-laying the road as against earlier, when it was done only where necessary.” Interestingly, most of the times, the Corporation found it unnecessary to mill the roads because of extra load, manpower and costs involved in it.He further added that once the drainage system work, that is under process, is completed, a new road will be laid in keeping with the rules.

According to Radhakrishnan, the head of Thozhan, an organisation that works on road safety, a road gets a warranty period of two-three years, before which, there shouldn’t be any issue. “Ideally, there shouldn’t even arise the need to re-lay the road in a period of three years. But contractors, who are hired for milling, quote very less than the market price and neglect the work. For instance, if the market price of milling is Rs.80 per square metre, the contractor instead takes just Rs.10 and doesn’t do the work,” he elaborated.

Why is milling necessary?

Although milling takes hardly four hours, most of the roads in the city are not milled. As per government order, 40 mm width of the road has to be milled, for which, a road roller has to make ten rounds across the road. When this is not done before re-laying a road, the height of the road increases. “The roads naturally tend to expand under hot temperatures, and if not milled properly, the height gets doubled up, which then leads to development of cracks, making it accident-prone,” Radhakrishnan explains.

Is alliance politics bad in elections?

Vivanesh Parthiban

Chennai, Feb 2: Are emerging parties which form alliance with the major parties at the verge of election cheating their followers and people? With the ongoing cry and anger among netizens on the alliance between AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and PMK (Paatali Makkal Kathchi), do these alliances serve the greater cause of the society or just the parties that forged alliance?

DMK Spokesperson Tamilan Prasanna

DMK Spokesperson Tamilan Prasanna said,” alliance politics as such is not bad but it must have an agenda for the people”. He also added that DMK-Congress is going to form an alliance for the 6th time in a Lok Sabha election and our alliance is based on Secular politics against the Modi Government. He said, “If PMK-AIADMK alliance has an agenda then it must be money”.

CPI(M) Spokesperson R.Sindhan

CPI (M) spokesperson R.Sindhan said,” Alliance politics has been vastly misused by parties in recent times who consider coalitions as an option to retain votes in election”. He also added that best example of coalition politics is the alliance between INC and CPI (M) in UPA-2(2009-14) when CPI (M) pushed many social security schemes like MNREGA using the alliance.

The other emerging parties like Naam Tamilar katchi(NTK) run by Seeman and MNM (Makkal Nedhi Mayyam) lead by Kamal Hassan are going to contest in all 40 seats in upcoming elections.

NTK spokesperson Karthikeya

Idumbavanam Karthikeyan, Naam Tamilar katchi(NTK) spokesperson said,” people don’t understand the history of a party, If they would have a small knowledge about PMK which has been switching sides over years then it would not be a big shock to them.” He also added that Anbumani Ramdoss (MP from Dharmapuri and Youth wing president of PMK) had created a big trust among the youth of Tamil Nadu and broke it by aligning with the same AIADMK government even though he abused in his rallies. He said,” an emerging party has a lot of dilemma whether it can win a seat in election or not but it must have some principle or ideology which it should uphold even when it forms an alliance which is illusive in PMK-AIADMK alliance.”

MNM spokesperson Murali

Murali Abbas, spokesperson of Makkal Nedhi Mayyam(MNM) said,” alliance politics should not come out of opportunism like the PMK-AIADMK alliance”. He also added that Anbumani Ramadoss has cheated all his followers and he was the one who lodged complaints to Governor on the Gutka scam by the AIADMK”. He said,” If a party promises change but chooses the same ruling party we don’t find any principle at work other than money in this alliance politics”.

PMK youth wing leader Ramadoss in his press release said he is not embarrassed about justifying PMK’s alliance with AIADMK and BJP. He also added People have accepted this alliance and in the last four elections PMK could not win only because of bad alliances and that will not happen with this alliance.

Ilaiya Thalaimurai, a political activist group’s leader Shankar said,” In India as we follow the first past post system whoever corner majority seats win the election wins.” He also said,” alliance politics is needed in this system because we don’t follow a representative electorate where all communities are represented, this may not be true for a single majority party in the first past post system”. He said,” Indian democracy even allows post poll alliances which is even worse than an alliance that happens before the election”. He also said,” We cannot accuse PMK alone for this opportunistic politics because last time when they contested alone it could not win any seat”. He also said,” this alliance is not a big shock to me because we have even seen DMK-BJP alliance in 2001”. He said,” Emerging parties in Tamil Nadu has a huge barrier because of this Dravidian parties which has a huge vote base as the emerging party lose confidence over time they ally with any one of this party to sustain in politics.” He also added that at least an alliance must serve a section of society in the state but some alliances are completely driven by money which dents the trust the people have in the party.

Two Dravidian parties have about 1 crore party members alone which make the two parties equally formidable in elections. If a third front has to emerge in Tamil Nadu it needs a great leader or an ideology that can attract people to its side. In 2016 election when People welfare front was formed as an alternative to the two Dravidian parties they could not make an impact on the election result which affected the morale of the emerging parties in Tamil Nadu. Alliance among the emerging parties was not a solution to break the dominance of the Dravidian Parties. Thus many emerging parties like the VCK (Viduthali Chiruthaigal Katchi) and PMK stands too loose to sustain their parties without alliance.

3D printed building promises to cut down labour force

The 3D printed building near the Civil engineering department of IIT-M | SRUTHI V

Sruthi V

Chennai, Feb 27: The Civil Engineering department of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) has constructed India’s first 3D printed building. The researchers aim at reducing the labour and cost of construction when compared to the conventional methods.

In conventional construction methods, a huge number of labour power is involved. This process is time consuming as it depends on the working efficiency of each worker.

In 3D printed construction, the machine plays the major role. Lesser labour power is involved for the entire process.

Rahul AV, a research scholar at IIT-M who works on this project said “In 3D printing you have to invest on the printer and the raw materials to be used. Lesser labour strength is involved. As our research work is still on, we are using special materials which are available in the market. Our aim is to use raw materials that are lesser expensive.”

The research work is done in collaboration with several companies and hence the materials used and the cost involved in the construction are not revealed and is kept confidential.

“Compared to conventional building it would perform better as it helps in constructing mass number of houses in a less time,” Rahul said.

In 3D printing, concrete is made in layers. The idea is to understand the early age behaviour of concrete or how the concrete behaves in the fresh State. For example, consistency like that of toothpaste, which is a fluid, when pushed out of the tube, does not flow out like a fluid unless a certain level of stress is applied. In 3D printing, we create that stress level at which the concrete starts to flow. The concretes are aligned in layers. The addition of layers prevents the concrete from flowing. This concrete is much stiffer and can withstand more stress.

Rahul said “We make a CADD (Computer-aided design and drafting) drawing of the structure and then using it a 3D drawing of the element is to be printed. The 3D drawing is uploaded into the computer. The computer will generate G-codes.”

G-codes are a set of instructions generated by the software that dictates how and when the printer should move during construction.

The advantage of the 3D printed building is that there are no human interactions and the amount of labour required is less.

“Most important advantage is the shape freedom. In conventional constructions we usually see rectangular shapes because the mould is easy to cast. Here we don’t require a mould work and any shape can be formed using the printer. Architecturally pleasing and unique structures can be made using this technology,” he added.

The other advantage of 3D printing is shorter time period of construction. In normal scenario several steps are involved. But in this case, the printing can be started instantly.

 “Compared to conventional building it would perform better as it helps in constructing mass number of houses in a less time,” Rahul said.

Chennai, the evolving medical destination

Apollo Hospital , Greams Road, Chennai | Sonam Choki

Sonam Choki

Chennai, Feb 28: The city is increasingly becoming a center of medical tourism with inbound tourists both from abroad and from different States.

According to a study by Confederation of Indian Industries(CII), Chennai draws in about 40 percent of the nation’s medical tourists and receives about 150 foreign patients every day. The inflow of medical tourists increased by 23 percent and Chennai is continuing to be the favorite medical destination among foreigners.

People mostly from Bangladesh, Iraq, Nigeria, and Oman come here for treatment for several ailments such as cancer, cardiac surgery, diabetes, spine surgery, urology, nephrology, as well as medical check-ups.

According to the Export of Health services survey conducted by the Director-General of Commercial in Intelligence and Statistics of India, from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, India saw 4, 60,000 inbound patients at its different hospitals. The largest group of foreign medical tourists was from Bangladesh, around 1, 65,000.

Devtosh Ghosh (26), a man from Bangladesh who came with his ailing mother at Apollo Hospital said, “My mother was suffering from cardiovascular disease. We consulted lot of doctors who said that there was no treatment for this disease. Thus, this made us to come here. After getting treatment here, she is now in a better condition with significant improvement in her health.”

Maruf Elahi (49), also from Bangladesh, who came here recently with his wife said, “My wife is suffering from skin cancer. I heard that Apollo Hospital gives best treatment and I came with the full hope that my wife will be cured.”

Moudud Ahmed (55) from Iraq who will be soon undergo kidney transplant said, “I am now ready to undergo transplant as I trust the hospital because one of my friends also got treatment from here and this builds my confidence.”

He said that staff here takes good care of patients unlike his country.

Ms. Jhansi Lakshmi, General Manager of Apollo Hospital at Greams Road said, “Every month we receive around 40 to 50 foreign patients. Patients mainly come here for organ transplant and various cardiac and neurosurgery treatments.”

Beside overseas patients, a lot of native people also come for treatment in the city. While some come here on doctors’ advice and most of the people come due to low cost surgery, qualified and experienced specialist and good quality nursing care.

Bipin Sharma from Lucknow came here at Apollo for cataract operation said, “You will never feel cheated here. In my area they take a lot of money but fail to give proper treatment.”

Toys have a smart future

Anushka Deepak

CHENNAI, Feb 28: Multiple cities in India witnessed the gigantic Toy Fair 2019 earlier this month. People flocked to their nearest toy stores to find the latest toy reveals of major brands such as Lego, Mattel, Marvel and DC for the coming year.

But unlike the previous years, toy inventors, distributors and sellers this year tried to aim to increase their sales, not just for 2019, but for the coming five to ten years. With augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)  taking over the world with a click of the finger, people are now realising that the application of immersive technology is not just used in science fiction films or videos but can also enhance the future of toys making them smart.

With platforms such as IBCricket, which brings cricket to the living rooms of people and games such as Pokemon Go, AR and VR are enjoying huge popularity. Apple and Google with their ARKit and ARCore are also taking the future of this tech-savvy generation a notch higher. Toymakers, in the meanwhile, are finding this a perfect way to bridge the gap between physical toys and screen-addicted children.

Experts at the Toy Fair said, “Successfully combining physical playsets with AR is not easy. Both physical toy designers and AR programmers will have to come together to successfully accomplish this vision.”

People from all age groups were present at the Toy Fair 2019 at Hamleys store in Pheonix Market City Mall. This was the first time since the opening of the store that they had an average footfall of around 250 to 300 people at once. From grandparents to little children to the tech-loving youth everyone went bonkers over the sale and new reveals by big brands.

People trying out the new AR and VR toy reveals at Hamleys, Chennai during the Toy Fair 2019

The vision to take AR and VR beyond gaming is also being carried out by a Chennai-based AR, VR, and Mixed Reality and Artificial Intelligence organisation Nutpam 360. They build virtual reality-driven training content for people working in large corporations and sectors like healthcare and education. Its VR simulators train people to not just learn but also get used to machines.

“For a year we were able to work on various 360-degree projects, and then we started using VR for companies,” said Senthil Sarguru, Co-founder of Nutpam.

Virtual reality just got real with Nutpam 360

The founders say it was challenging for them to find the right talent to build the technology, create image recognition, processing the content and regenerating a real world in the virtual world.

However, they too aim to try their hands on contributing to the toy market by developing future smart toys. “It would be amazing if we could innovate something that can enhance the knowledge of children as well as be fun to play with using our technology,” said Karthik Bavanandan, Co-founder of Nutpam.

The Agarwal family bought toys worth Rs 2000 during the 50% off sale

Some of the toys due for launch this year come from big names such as Lego and Mattel. LEGO’s‘Hidden Side’, an eight-set series of spooky locations and possessed vehicles, gives an optimistic view of the AR app as that it extends the physical play by helping children to imagine the haunted world surrounding their sets. A world they can conceptualise and play in once the app is closed.

At the other end of the spectrum, Pictionary Air relies entirely on augmented reality tech for its playing experience: You draw in the air using a light-tracked pen, in front of someone holding a phone or tablet camera. The camera tracks your drawing and projects it onto the screen for everyone else to see, and they guess what you’re drawing.

Pictionary air to launch by year-end | Jeff O’Brien/Krystal DeBord

“Pictionary air was the most loved of all we had to present. It’s a simple system, and it mostly worked very well when we tested it out at the Toy Fair,” said Sunitha S, a customer present at the Toy Fair.

Toy experts at Hamleys said that by 2023, consumers will spend tens of billions of dollars on augmented reality (AR) toys.


Navin Chawla, 16th Chief Election Commissioner of India, at a conference at Asian College of Journalism, here in Chennai.

Tanya Khandelwal

Chennai, Feb 28: Hailing how we still have our elections ‘on time, each time, every time’ while in the same breath highlighting the malaise of money and muscle power that plague the biggest democratic exercise in India, Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla opened his discussion with students at Asian College of Journalism here on Tuesday with the issue surrounding the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the context of the fast approaching general elections.

He threw light on both the pros and cons of elections in India, focussing on the orderly transfer of power post elections as compared to many other nations and the increasing number of registered voters on roll despite the low literacy rates in many areas. While he didn’t fail to mention the ‘Black Money’ monster that hovers over the whole process, he pointed out how the most recent example of the same was the 2017 R K Nagar by- election fiasco in Chennai where the Election Commission cancelled elections after allegations of cash-for-vote surfaced; a similar case had happened in the past in Thirumangalam in Madurai district in the State. All such malpractices raise questions on the fairness of this largely successful, ‘free and fair’ democratic exercise.

In this context, the issue of paid and fake news were also discussed, how these have become ways of manipulating the polls and tilting the scales in favour of one side as opposed to the other, all this happening with the money power that is an ever growing threat to the same. The media’s role in such practices has also been observed and many media houses of repute have been part of such activity, said Navin Chawla, refraining from naming any.

Responding to a question on state funding of elections as a possible solution to the issue of money power being used, he said that there are several models we could follow on the lines of countries like Mexico where the election commission, though not as strong and robust as the ECI, but nonetheless it steps in to monitor the time and space available to several political parties ahead of elections allotting them time and space on TV and in print proportionately. This, he said, is one of the many such models which could serve as a solution.

With respect to EVMs, he said, “My views have been cast in stone in this book,” referring to his newly released book Every Vote Counts: The Story of India’s Elections. He pointed out that in recent years, those who lose tend to blame the EVMs.“I think that our EVM and our system of accountability is completely safe,” he added.