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Vol. XXVI No. 17, December 16-31, 2016

A people’s behaviour to be proud of

by The Editor

Have we finally come of age? We allude to the people of Madras that is Chennai. And in that we include everyone – common people, those in administration and those in power. Recent happenings would certainly indicate this to be so. If our perception is correct and this trend is maintained, we can certainly take pride in the fact that we are a mature and balanced people, worthy citizens of a metropolis that claims to be the capital of culture.

In our view, it all began last year when the city was flooded. Overnight, Chennai revealed a facet that had remained hitherto unknown. From being a city where neighbours rarely were in touch, we became a community, united under a common cause – of providing relief and rehabilitation. While the administration struggled, we proved that we were better. People sacrificed time from routine activities and worked on helping those affected by the floodwaters to put their life together. The usual attitude of just sitting back and waiting for someone else to do things had gone.

We now turn to two recent happenings. The first concerns the call for a bandh to protest demonetisation. We are no economists and so do not hold any view on the latter exercise, for or against, beyond observing that it has put ordinary people to great difficulty in its execution. But we do know that a bandh is no solution and that it at best provides a day’s holiday to people. However, we do like what we saw. The principal opposition party in the state supported this bandh and in the past this would usually be enough reason for all normal activity to come to a halt. This was, however, not so this time. Everyone went about his or her usual tasks. True, the cynics argue that the principal reasons for the bandh failing was the party in power not supporting it and that demonetisation had turned off the availability of cash with which political parties purchase support for bandh-s. We would, however, like to think differently and credit the people with better sense.

Last, and perhaps the most important evidence of change, is what happened in the immediate aftermath of the late Chief Minister’s passing. We have seen how things were handled in the past when leaders of great stature died in our city. We only need to contrast it with what we saw now. The police and the administration rose to the challenge of keeping the peace in a most admirable fashion. There was not a single untoward incident despite the body being kept in state for the better part of a day with more than a million mourners filing past it. And there was the aspect of mourning itself. Too often in the past this meant the letting loose of unruly mobs that indulged in rioting and arson. There was none of that this time.

People put up temporary roadside memorials for their leader, chiefly a photograph with a wreath on it and a lamp burning by its side. Even the customary loudspeaker blaring songs was absent. There was complete silence on the roads with everyone having voluntarily downed shutters of establishments – no gangs going about ordering closure.

At the end of the day, even as the interment took place, the creeping darkness, the cold wind and the complete silence spoke more by way of people’s sorrow than any noise and violence could have. In a way it was a fitting farewell to a person of whom it was said law and order was her forte.

Perhaps we may not be so well behaved on another occasion. But we are certainly changing as a people. And that is to the good.

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