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Presented at the International
for Information Technology in Tamil's Conference in August 2003, in
Chennai. The Conference was organized by the Tamil Virtual
Anna University, and others, and was sponsored by the Government of
“Chennai and Videoconferencing:
Videoconferencing for Performing, Teaching,
and Discussing Tamil Language and Performing
Ph.D. candidate in Folklore,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
Ours is a 24-hour world. That is to say, the world is
connected, and at least half of the world is always awake.
aside, at least one third of the world is always open for
Consider the times around the world when, in Chennai, it is 12:30am at
night. To the east, it is the following morning: in Melbourne,
in Singapore, 3am. To the west, it is the previous day: in
8pm; in New York, 3pm; and in San Francisco, 12 noon.
Facing Singapore -- and beyond, the nations of the Pacific
the seaport of Chennai is halfway between Africa and Australia, in the
center of one of the most culturally-rich and economically-promising
of the world.
Perhaps in part because so many Tamil people speak English
USA telephone customer and technical assistance is often given in
When a person in the USA buys a computer, car, etc., and calls a number
for technical assistance, the odds are good that the answering person
be in Chennai.
Catering to an international clientelle, such telephone
must work when their employers and the public demand their services --
in many cases around the clock, in multiple shifts. Thus, the 9
5, or 10 to 6, workday is in many Chennai businesses today a thing of
past, a provincial concept, a quaint relic of a bygone era.
It is well and good for people in Chennai to use
as employees for foreign companies, but Chennai-ites should not just be
actors in other people's scripts in this realm. They should also
be offering their own unique services, and owning the communication
that would provide these services. Chennai should also be using
technology on her own terms, for providing her own cultural offerings
her own way. By offering interactive performance of, instruction
in, and discussion about arts, culture, beauty, morality, tolerance of
diversity, etc., Chennai could truly help make herself, and the rest of
the world, better places.
Chennai is an education, technology, and performing arts
only of India, but of the world. She has many ancient and rich
on which to build, and which could be applied to, and transposed into,
videoconferencing. Videoconferencing, a form of video-mediated
can be defined as communication in which all participants can send as
as receive audio and video; it may occur via the Internet or other
Webcasting, which occurs via the Internet, involves transmitting but
receiving audio and video (audience members may be able to respond with
One style of teaching/learning that is practiced in Chennai
in all of India -- is known as the "lead-and-follow" method. In
lead-and-follow method, the teacher's statement (for example, a few
of music) is often meant to be repeated by the student. Sometimes
it is meant to be improvised upon, or replied to. Sometimes the
is meant to join in and, alongside the teacher, finish the
Chennai could specialize in using this technique to teach via
At present, Subbu Arumugam is attempting to begin a
Dr. Premeela Gurumurthy, head of the Dept. of Indian Music at the
of Madras, is a scholar and performer of Katha Kalak Chebam (also known
as Harikatha). Villupattu and Katha Kalak Chebam are,
folk, and orthodox Hindu, styles of discourse, or, storytelling.
In both cases, the lead speaker alternates between speaking, chanting,
Villupattu and Katha Kalak Chebam instruction should be
videoconference. These artforms need to develop and evolve in
to stay alive. In Katha Kalak Chebam, there is a complex system
must be adhered to in regard to referring to traditional commentators
scholars, saints, pundits, etc.) according to what episode of an epic,
such as the Ramayana or the Mahabharata, is being narrated. Much
of the information to be learned can be placed on websites (in Tamil,
and other languages), but teaching and performing requires presence –
physical presence or tele-presence. (Numerous studies have shown
that for videoconferencing to give its best results, the participants
also periodically meet physically.)
There is a tremendous market around the world composed of
of Tamil background, who speak just a little Tamil. It would be
if such young people could experience aspects of traditional Tamil
and the most modern of communication technologies at once -- this could
increase their interest and proficiency in both the ancient and the
forms of communication.
Today, if children of Tamil descent around the world wish to
practice a Tamil form of performance, the main opportunities are for
Natyam dance and Carnatic music. Other options, including from
and popular culture, should also be there.
The Lakshman Sruthi Light Orchestra, which recently toured
has opened an instrument shop and instruction and rehearsal centre in
Nagar. As this light orchestra, like most in Tamil Nadu, plays
Tamil cinema songs, the Lakshman Sruthi Light Orchestra's participation
in video-mediated events would in a sense signify an entry of the
cinema world into the realm of video-mediated communication.
More than once I have heard young men in Chennai Internet
wearing the headset earphone and microphone, and singing Tamil cinema
to distant parties via Yahoo Messenger and other instant message
programs, which increasingly enable near-instantaneous audio and video
communication, along with text. The sharing of such music could
channeled into structured (and profitable) activities.
Due to Chennai having been, and continuing to be, a world
cinema production, the infrastructure, facilities, and expertise
composers, choreographers, playback singers, etc.) are here for cinema
production and post-production work. Much of this activity has
expanding into the television industry. It could also expand into
the webcasting and videoconferencing industries: in these cases, it is
not a matter of entertaining people, but rather of engaging them in
intellectual, and educational relationships and experiences.
historic cinema studios should be consulted with regarding how this
best be done. Cinema people could contribute both in terms of
and discussing the cinematic arts, and also in terms of applying their
production abilities to videoconferencing projects.
The Karaoke industry is large in much of East Asia, although
it is minor in India. Karaoke involves clients entertaining
and others by singing songs. Often the lyrics appear on a video
and are read by the singer. Sometimes the singer's live image is
also placed on the screen. Karaoke practices thus utilize many
techniques, such as superimposing foreground figures onto various
and displaying subtitles in different languages.
In the cases of webcasting and videoconferencing,
may be called for, which may call for computer voice-recognition and
capabilities. Specialized software needs to be developed for such
Chennai shops such as Pro Music in Egmore sell musical
electronic) and install sound systems. People are coming there
DJ lessons, even though there are very few opportunities to do public,
professional DJ'ing in Chennai, in part due to music and dance venues
The world-music, fusion-music scene is almost non-existent
and this, again, is largely because, at present, music is not allowed
be played late at night here. Much experimenting is going on
the world by DJs and musicians, who are mixing pre-recorded and live
for crowds of dancers. At such discos, video is often projected
large screens. Sometimes computers enable aspects of the music to
directly affect the visuals. Sometimes people can see images of
as they are dancing, mixed with other images.
Developing audio and video for the international disco (or
is a significant component of the computer hardware and software
Why should Chennai exclude herself from these technological and
experiments and developments? Why should the rest of the world be
denied Chennai's presence and leadership in these realms? Why
musicians be forced to go elsewhere to work and to develop their
North Indian cinema music mixed, sampled, and otherwise
for some years been played in discos around the world. This is
as "bangra" music. What is the name for south Indian cinema (and
folk, and classical) music transposed into dance/disco music? It
may be that there is not a widely-known name for this yet because to
it has only rarely been done in public.
In sum: Chennai should build on her glorious traditions –
strengths, successes, and achievements -- including the above-mentioned
lead-and-follow teaching/learning method, and the music and cinema
by expanding them into and applying them to video-mediated
such as videoconferencing and webcasting.
Presently, the British Council and the USA Consulate have
two of the
finest videoconferencing facilities in town. Dishnet’s
suite in Sterling Tower is available for approximately 5000 Rs per
The Satyam I-Way Internet centre on Radhakrishnan Salai claims they
soon have a videoconferencing booth. Chennai's Indian Institute
Technology is involved in numerous innovative video-mediated
projects, many of them related to the Dept. of Engineering's Dr. Ashok
Jhunjhunwalla's world-leading work with wireless Internet.
There are a number of Internet centres in Chennai where one
can go to
videoconference with instant message programs. However, the
comes slowly, and the image is small; and only one or two individuals
participate on this end of the event.
A few of these Internet centres are open 24-hours
franchise branches only). These 24-hour Internet centres, for
people, greatly enhance the quality of life in a city.
journalists, tourists, and many others find it a wonderful convenience
and relief to be able to use such facilities at irregular hours, to
be able to go out to work on academic or professional projects, and
most importantly, to be able to arrange to participate in text, audio,
and/or video meetings with people around the world, in all of the
time-zones, around the clock.
Chennai has the telecommunication infrastructure and the
know-how for excellent video-mediated communication, as has been
for example, by the recent telecasts of heart surgeries from Apollo
(both the surgeries and the telecast were successful!).
ventures such as Direcway are just getting underway here. The
Virtual University, based in the Tidel Park complex, has made a
start and is positioned to help lead the way.
But today, where in Chennai can cultural, civic,
professional, and other
groups go to hold a videoconference with colleagues in other Indian
or in other nations? The options are few and are not especially
What is needed are "teletoriums."
Tele is Greek for, from a distance. It seems the word,
is derived from the word, auditorium. As an auditorium is a place
one goes to in order to hear, a teletorium is a place one goes to in
to communicate with distant people, that is, to telecommunicate with
Teletoriums, as the word is usually used in the USA, is a space
with technology for videoconferencing and large screen display (usually
video projectors and screens). With the addition of such
a rehearsal centre could be a tele-rehearsal centre. A seminar
could be a tele-seminar centre. A disco could be a tele-disco.
A DJ could be a tele-DJ. A tele-DJ would need to see a
of the people on the dance floor, so as to be able to judge what music
to play next. A tele-DJ in Chennai could transmit music to
anywhere in the world -- at all different hours. Of course, the
could also be a collaboration, coming from numerous sources.
Public activity at 3am in Chennai need not be associated
or other bad behavior: rather, 3am public activity could be associated
with international educational and business meetings; performance and
of the arts; upward social-economic mobility; a service economy; and
teaching of language, management, and all other subjects.
Let us imagine for a moment, what an ideal Chennai
might look like.
First of all, it would be in a central location, such as on
near the centre of town, or perhaps on or near Nungambakkam High
Its facilities would be accessible 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.
Our ideal teletorium would be available to individual
citizens, as well
to groups of all sorts, including people of Chennai's many
There would be small rooms for individual meetings, slightly larger
for groups, and a large space (seating and non-seating) for
The facilities could be used for family reunions, as well as for sales,
educational, and many other types of events. Webcasting could
launches, announcements, and openings for products, services, and
Among the options would be low-cost, low-quality
the regular Internet), more expensive videoconferencing via ISDN lines
and specialized hardware, and videoconferencing via Internet2.
a new generation of the Internet, was originally developed by
in the USA (including the University of Pennsylvania, where I am
a Ph.D. candidate), and is now being used in many places around the
(www.internet2.org). Internet2 enables multi-party
videoconferencing. Sites that are Internet2-capable become places
where the international community that uses such technology can visit
form collaborations. It seems that the sea-floor cables that have
recently reached India from Singapore may be Internet2-capable.
The only way that such a teletorium could come into
existence and be
maintained would be as a combined venture of businesspeople, engineers,
academics, people in the arts, and civic leaders, led by the
One or more restaurants might be included in the teletorium
This would enable people, for example, to dance and then eat and drink,
if not in the same room, then in adjacent rooms. People should be
able to send an e-mail, or videoconference with friends or family,
if they have just been tele-dancing and tele-music-making with
Fax and telephone services should also be at hand, as one never knows
communication channel will work best in a particular case. The
between conversational, artistic, and business communication is
and unnecessary: all such events can happily co-exist in the same
(the walls would be sound-proof, of course). All of this would
to people discovering new ways of working via videoconference, as the
enables access to more employers, and to more customers.
It is sadly true that in many places and times late-night
been associated with bad behaviour such as overuse of alcohol, and
-- but this need not be so in the future.
Today, for many people around the world -- especially the
craftspeople, and performers involved, and many members of the public
the late-night music and dance scene is more about learning about and
new audio-video software and interactive telecommunication, and about
than it is about getting drunk. Part of the fun and glamour of
a disco, or tele-disco, is participating in an intellectually
technological and artistic experiment.
Everyone knows that cyber-communication and heavy alcohol
do not mix well. Excessive drinking can lead to reckless and
behavior, and these are the last things that one wants in the vicinity
of expensive and delicate telecommunication equipment. Also, to
possible imperfections in inter-continental interactive
processes, one needs to be alert, and sensitive to the smallest cues
the distant parties -- which is not likely if one is drunk.
often want to look their best in a videoconferencing environment: for
thing, they might be seen by perspective employers.
In our 24/7 teletorium complex, no alcohol would be sold
or served during certain hours. Our teletorium
would develop drinks other than alcohol, such as fruit drinks (with
to the customer's taste), and vegetable drinks. Dancing is good
weight loss and getting and staying in good shape, as well as for
one's creativity. Dancing in our teletorium to excellent music
come to be seen as a healthy and intelligent activity.
I am from New York City, and I recognize in Chennai many of
wonderful qualities that are found in my hometown. Both cities
by the sea, and both are trade-, university-, and arts-centred.
Today, Chennai stands at a moment of decison. The rest
world needs Chennai at this moment! Chennai's developing of
-- especially in regard to the performing, teaching, and discussing of
language and the arts -- could help set the world on a wonderful new
lay a new international cultural foundation, set an excellent example,
and inspire people around the world.
Let the government work together with businesspeople,
and academics to form new cultural, business, and artistic
Let Chennai develop new forms of facilities and practices for meeting,
performing, and teaching! The rich cultural background that would
support such an effort is here to a degree unsurpassed by any other
in the world.
The establishment of teletoriums such as the one imagined
benefit Chennai's music, tourism, and computer businesses, as well as
Most of all, let us rescue late-night music from the
rowdiness, and instead associate it with high-technology
efforts, and the spread of beautiful culture around the world!
Eric Miller <email@example.com> is currently
Ph.D. research concerning storytelling in rural Tamil Nadu.