Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chennai Kidathon - A well organized show

It is nearly 6 years since I had been to a marathon. Wait ... Wait... I'm not a marathon runner. But, I regularly participated in the marathons as a "walker" ... signing up for 5K walks... whenever it happened in the bay area in USA. Recently, there were several marathons organized in Chennai. But, I didn't register for any of them.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter had brought a few brochures about Chennai Kidathon from her school. We enrolled her in that marathon, just to give her the "marathon" exposure. When I enrolled her in the marathon, I didn't have high hopes about the quality of the show or the organization of the event. But, I was pleasantly surprised when I started receiving emails from The organizers kept us well informed about the following:
  • The specific timings of the event
  • The parking space available (in fact, the organizers had partnered with Uber to provide free rides to/from the venue)
  • Time/Venue to come and collect the bibs (since my daughter enrolled through her school, the bib/T-Shirt etc., was delivered to her in school)
  • Route map to the event 
  • etc.,
I was very impressed by the thoroughness of the organization. I was doubly surprised, when I reached Nandanam Arts College, Annasalai to park my vehicle. They had a great line up of volunteers guiding us to find spaces to park our cars in all the nooks and corners of the college. There were nearly 200+ cars parked in the college and the experience was hassle free. I didn't notice any organizer/volunteer quarelling with the participants. They had arranged shuttle service which moved participants between Nandanam Arts College and YMCA in Anna Salai. Since the parking space was near to the venue, I took a brisk walk. In YMCA, they had clear sign-boards and banners directing the participants to the assembly point. They had arranged a carnival area filled with food / play structures. There were several dust-bins and trash bins to collect water bottles. Despite the fact that they had separate trash bins to collect water bottles... some of the kids had dropped the water bottles on the roads. (Read: Plastic ban in India, gaining momentum)

They conducted a warm-up exercise for the kids and started the program on-time. That was again a surprise to me. Since the program involved kids, I was expecting a 30 minutes delay. But, they started the marathon sharp at 7.45 am (the advertised time). I was so happy to see several 100s of children, wearing yellow T-shirts, enthusiastically participating in the program. I met a few of my ex-Juniper friends and my Toastmasters in the Kidathon.

When the kids finished the marathon, they stood in queues and collected certificates. That was also coordinated well by the volunteers. I'm glad that I made my daughter to participate in the Chennai Kidathon. The quality of the show was really "world class". It was on-par (in fact, above par) when compared to some of the marathons that I participated in USA. Great show Chennai Kidathon organizers !!

Also read:

Srirangam Temple in Trichy - Poor Management
Vandalur Zoo - Infrastructure is world class, but people's behavior is still local class

Monday, January 06, 2014

Srirangam Temple, Trichy - Poor Management

We went to Srirangam Temple in Trichy, last week and had a horrible experience. My previous bad experience during a temple visit was in Tirupathi. I completely stopped going to Tirupathi after that. Srirangam ranks next in my list of "temples that you should not to go to".

(Also read: Ayyappan Temple in Trichy - The BEST that I've ever seen)

Here are some issues that I noticed during my visit to Srirangam Temple on 27-Dec-2013:
  1. Poor Crowd Management – No proper queue for people who opted for Rs.250 dharshan. People were dashing with each other and treated like buffaloes. There was no proper partitions or dividers for the queue. There was hardly any space to stand / breathe for people. Children and elderly people were finding it difficult since there was a stampede whenever the gates were opened.
  2. Poor Communication of the timings for Dharshan – People were let to stand in the queue for nearly 2 hours and then we were told that the Dharshan is closed. Different signboards / digital displays were communicating different timings. Temple authorities were conveying a different time and police managing the crowd were conveying different timings for Dharshan. People were totally confused.
  3. Irresponsible Temple Management & Police – When we insisted to meet the Temple Manager to file a complaint, nobody was willing to give his/her contact number. We were asked to go to the office to file a complaint. The folks in the office pretended that they did not belong to the temple and were not ready to accept the complaint. They did not even have a complaint form. They were not ready to call the Temple manager also. They asked us to go and search for him in the Temple. Police offered “No support” and were treating people with “arrogance”. None of the officials showed interest to either accept a complaint or solve our problems.
  4. Police / Temple Representatives / Poojaris focusing only on “Special VIPs” – When nearly 200+ people were standing in the Rs.250 dharshan and when nearly 500+ people were standing in Rs.50 & free dharshan queues, police / temple authorities / Poojaris were letting several VIPs to bypass the queue. In fact, many of them were not just VIPs. The people who were escorted to bypass the queue were either ordinary people who had “contacts” in the temple/police organization (or) people who gave cash to the workers. Most of the Poojaris & policemen were busy spending their time in escorting such VIPs. None of them were ready to listen to us. Nearly 75 people were let to bypass the queue, by officials.
The following are certain actions that the temple managers should do :
  1. Provide proper partitions & structures for queues – especially when they are charging Rs. 250 for a special dharshan.
  2. Install clear sign boards on the temple Dharshan Timings (the sign boards should not be contradicting each other). 
  3. Install clear sign boards on where tickets for special dharshan have to be bought. 
  4. Temple Manager & Asst Manager’s contact information should be publicly displayed 
  5. Complaint forms / box should be available & accessible in the temple for general public
  6. Punish government employees who are escorting people other than REAL VIPs such as MLAs & MPs. 
  7. Sensitivise and train public servants about the need to patiently listen to “public” and the need to “serve” people without displaying their arrogance/power.

After making a lot of protest, I wrote a complaint letter and got signatures from nearly 30 people who went through the hardships on 27-Dec-2013. Immediately after returning back from the trip, I filed a complaint online in CM Online Grievances Registration Cell & in Hindu Religious Endowment website. To my surprise, I got a call immediately the next day from Mr. Raja Additional Commissioner, Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments Department. They officially registered the complaint and requested the Joint Commissioner for Srirangam Temple to take action. I also got a confirmation receipt for my online petition / complaint.

I was positively surprised by the pace at which the administrators of Hindu Religious Endowment website responded to my complaint. I'm hoping that they'll take the proper action too, to set things right at Srirangam Temple, in Trichy.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Ayyappan Temple in Trichy - The BEST that I've ever seen

Ayyappan Temple in Trichy is one of the BEST temples that I've ever visited. The temple is located about a kilometer from the Central Bus Stand and the visit is worth the time that you spend in traveling to this place. Here are the highlights of the temple:

Also read: Tirupathi Tirumala Visit - May be the last?

  1. This is the ONLY temple that I've seen which doesn't have a Hundi 
  2. Absolutely no noise in the temple, though the temple had nearly 150+ people
  3. Temple is maintained very clean
  4. Very spacious (can accommodate 500+ people)
  5. Place for meditation
  6. Plants all over the temple
  7. Writings all over the temple about the importance of respecting parents/teachers, tips about worshipping God, tips about leading a good life, stories and letters from common man etc.,
  8. Signboards clearly telling the devotees (what can be done & what cannot be done). In fact, one thing which I want to commend about the signboards are the "positivity" in the language. Instead of saying "Don't pluck flowers", the signboard would say "Let us refrain from plucking flowers" or "Let us not disturb the plants" 
  9. No Poojari's doing any archanais or expecting coins on their plates. In fact, in all the temples that I've visited the Poojaris will treat people with partiality. If you put a Rs.10 note on the plate, they'll do additional archanai and give you flowers in addition to vibhoodhi. If you just drop a Rs.1 coin, they'll just give you vibhoodhi alone... but "generously". If you don't drop any coin, they'll give you just a "pinch" of vibhoodhi. 
  10. Free of cost service for taking care of the slippers. They had proper partitions for people to queue up even to leave slippers in the stall.
  11. Volunteers to guide the devotees in a friendly manner
  12. A place where you can get Sandal Woood Paste, Tulsi leaves & Tulsi water

We go to temple to get peace of mind. At least, I go to temples only for that. However, in most of the temples you get a very unpleasant experience - either because of the lack of cleanliness, or excess noice generated by visitors/loud speakers or because of the way in which temple administrators treat devotees. Ayyappan Temple in Trichy is an exception to all of that. The experience that we got in Ayyappan Temple in Trichy is in stark contrast to the experience that we got in Srirangam Temple. If you are in Trichy, definitely visit this temple - I can guarantee that you'll get peace of mind. I wish we have many such temples in our community.