From conducting 'nila cutcheris' and yoga sessions to cultivating water lilies and herb gardens, the nondescript terrace has become a hub in several residential complexes, says Geeta Padmanabhan

"Mottai maadi admittedly doesn't have the elegant resonance of "open terrace", but those who have re-discovered its potential believe the phrase deserves patenting. A growing group of people has decided to give the mottai maadi, even at a height of a four-storeyed building, its place in the sun.

Dr. Ramanathan of Vasantha Memorial Trust Hospital, Ashok Nagar, is among those trying to revive the terrace-trial life. For two-and-a-half years now, he has been hand-nursing potted plants on the terrace of his hospital. In bins and pots, under water tanks and behind walls, he has an impressive collection - from water lily to vernonia — forming a backdrop to the MS musical soirées he organises regularly. "Our Endrendrum MS programme has been on since October," he said. "We knew MS well and we wanted to spread her divine music." Two rare recordings she presented are played, and a senior artist discusses an aspect of her music. Someone who values this opportunity sings MS' renderings. "These ‘concerts’ are significant because there's no sabha in this area," said Dr. Ramanathan. "This space can accommodate 100 people." More rasikas, and he will relay it downstairs.

Rooftop events

Mottai maadi is back as "cool". The late afternoon sea breeze and accessibility bring in regular visitors to programmes, despite the "ouch" of climbing steps. Sure, the city is high-decibel. Not everyone is musically inclined. But "music such as this transcends the neighbourhood sounds and smells," said a determined Dr. Ramanathan. "It's MS' Katrinile varum geetham for about two hours once a month." He's planning solar lights and a yoga teacher will conduct sessions in the morning.

Badri Seshadri, New Horizon Media, stood his ground on the roof to get permission to rig up a terrace "auditorium" for lec-dem events and movie screenings. The partitioned space has drop-down reed curtains (to keep the evening light out) and screen projection, Internet access, cordless microphones, power points, fans, lights, "everything except the AC-d cocoon and reflector glass." Three wireless mikes facilitate Q&A sessions. "Monthly movies, interactive session every Friday," beamed Badri, whose dos are connected with books his firm publishes. For two years now, speakers and participants have been trekking up some thirty-nine steps to meet the company philosophy: Sky is our limit. "If we had to brand it, it would be Mottai Madi Koottam/Talk," he said. The facilities are open for renting.

Cultural revival

For many, it's a cultural revival, a look-back to the childhood of growing up in a house with a mittam for family dinners and conversation, of nilachoru on the terrace, of informal kutcheris... The idea has caught on, feels Badri. He might add greenery and would like to have an event a day. "It's all so easy," he said. "Take your hard disc to the rooftop and round up people virtually. It's cost-effective and convenient. Imagine the impact it will have on the city if every terrace is used like this!" At 2 p.m., his office is empty. The staff has gone up to the roof for lunch.

"At our nila kutcheri, for two hours, our Foundation kids sang individually and together, played the mridangam and keyboard to a 50+ audience terrace," said Amarnath and Surendranath of the Mylapore trio who organised a kids' concert on a borrowed terrace on VP Koil Street. "It brought families together. People watched from neighbouring buildings. It has created a stir. People say, 'Why not in our area?'"

There's pride in our old practices, they pointed out, terrace events are great relaxation. "Cool up there," said Jumanah Haseem, a Class V student and one of the performers. "I'm so glad she got this opportunity to perform," smiled her mom Shahin Riyaz. "We wanted to be part of the tradition."

In the unplugged atmosphere, kids performed without restraint. Bharath 10, Girish 10, Swathi 13 went door-to-door inviting everyone in the building. "Gives kids an opening to perform in public," said Jayanthi, a mom. "You perform to the city." Said Srinivas the mridangist, "It's more challenging. People are sitting close, mistakes are magnified." It's a chance to get over stage fear. "We can have kids' kutcheris every festival day," suggested the trio. "Rooftop events need no travel. People learn to be quiet."

Going green

It's a growing idea. People have herb gardens on their roof. Dr. Solomon's friends regularly received brinjals, tomatoes and green chillies from his "terraced" veggie farm. Ashoka awardee Vellore Srinivasan helps people grow greens in eco-friendly baskets on the terrace. Kids' activity centres advertise them as space for birthday parties. We may not specifically pay for a parapeted roof, but shouldn't we use well the space so generously left behind by the builder?