Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVII No. 2, May 1-15, 2017

Short ‘N’ Snappy

Off with the red beacon!

Demo from Dear Delhi (DDD) has spoken. No more red beacons, he declared, and symbolically unscrewed the one on his car, after making sure there were sufficient cameramen around. Several others down the line, including Extremely Precarious Seat, who lives in Chennai, immediately copied this act, of course to the accompaniment of photographers clicking away. It was in fact the news of the day.

DeMo moreover declared that every Indian is a VIP. If that was truly the case, The Man from Madras Musings feels the obvious choice would have been to allow every Indian to have a red beacon on his car/vehicle of choice and that includes bullocks. After all, if the Aadhar card is now a must for man and beast, why not allow everyone to have a red beacon also? But, no, rather in the manner in which he demonetised currency, DeMo decided that he had to demote all our exalted leaders and the I Am Superior officers a peg or two by taking off the beacon. The consequence has been that there is a de-motivated set of MPs, MLAs, Ministers, Bureaucrats of all ranks, Chairmen of Nationalised Banks, High Court Judges, Panchayat Board Presidents, Chairmen of District Level Cooperatives, Block Development Officers; in short everyone other than the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker, who have to now unscrew the red beacons. And they will not even have the satisfaction of a battery of photographers capturing their act for posterity. Only DeMo had that privilege. Even EPS managed only an honourable mention and a postage stamp-sized picture in the media.

MMM, however, advises all of those who only till last week sported a red beacon on their cars to be of good cheer. That beacon may have gone but the other trappings of office remain – the letter G on the number plate to indicate that the vehicle in question cannot be expected to follow any traffic rule and can park anywhere, including the runway of the airport, is just one. Just in case the policemen on duty cannot read English, the G is now tagged on with the Tamil equivalent of A, short for ‘Arasu’ or Government. The second status symbol – tinted glasses so that the lesser mortals outside cannot see the exalted being within – though banned by law, continues to flourish. Then there is the circular metal plate just above the rear mudguard, which features the State emblem and the designation of the worthy within. MMM has often wondered as to why this metal disc is always positioned at the rear of the vehicle. It was after considerable introspection that he realised that it is ideally positioned – no traffic policeman would want to give chase to such vehicles if they had jumped signals. And, above all, there is the final and most important identifier of a Government vehicle – a rude driver, invariably with a huge moustache, who is trained to recognise just two parts of a car – the accelerator and the horn.

These elements are, after all, still allowed for our VIPs and with these in place, they just have no ground for worry. And as for those who do not have any of these but would still like to break the laws of the road with impunity, MMM is happy to dispense sage counsel, free of cost. He advises them to have a paper bearing the message ‘On Government Duty, Urgent’ pasted on the windscreen. It works like magic. Those who cannot manage a white sheet of paper and a printer can make do with a newspaper page. A scrawled message to above effect with a sketch pen can do wonders.

Do lights matter?

A propos the above story, as those who send letters to the editor of a beloved local newspaper are rather fond of writing, The Man from Madras Musings would like to know if traffic lights matter at all in our city. MMM writes from personal experience. There is one traffic light en route to the Madras Musings office that has never worked in living memory. No, that would not be the absolute truth for it does flicker to life at least once or twice in a year. But it remains dormant for the remaining 363 and a quarter days (and nights).

Now this is a fairly busy intersection with a large hospital that is separated by a busy road from its morgue on one side. There are besides several schools in the vicinity, as are many popular eateries. Traffic swirls around the place night and day. The hospital, founded in 1847 or thereabouts, follows certain practices from inception. One of these is the transporting of the dear departed in winding sheets on wheeled stretchers across the road, in the midst of busy traffic. And so this is one junction where the living and the dead compete for moving on, apart from the usual cows and dogs. Despite all this, accidents almost never happen and hold-ups are also comparatively rare. Everyone keeps moving. Collisions and the occasional skirmishes happen, but these are all viewed as part of the give and take. A few hot words are exchanged and then peace is restored, the traffic moving on. Nobody misses the traffic light and, as for the policeman who is perpetually resting under a shade-giving tree, he is a firm believer in the policy of laissez faire. He is, in fact, the first to egg people to keep moving, even those who pause and gaze at the signal, expecting it to come back to life.

All, in short, is well except on the odd day that the signal works. Traffic then begins piling up on all sides. Vehicles tend to jump the lights, resulting in accidents, and plenty of heated arguments. Those in two-wheelers shy away sharply on seeing the sheeted dead waiting next to them at the same signal and this adds to the general chaos. And then we have the poor policeman. A working signal means more work for him – he has to ensure vehicles don’t jump the signal and those that obey them stay well within the stop line. Based on the time of the day, he has to alter the time duration of the signals in certain directions. And he has to make peace among those arguing, something that he was doing earlier but with far fewer incidents to handle.

Taken all in all, life without a traffic signal is far easier than when it works. It may be best to have them all removed and leave it to the people of Madras to do what they do best – adjust, and get along with life.


The latest on the Aadhar card is that a similar facility has been suggested for cows, ostensibly to control their being smuggled across the border. Now who would have imagined that our plastic-eating bovine was in such demand? The Man from Madras Musings wonders if they will get Udder cards.


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