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

Vol. XXVIII No. 12, October 1-15, 2018

Short N Snappy


Taking people around Madras

The Man from Madras Musings has been around for quite some time in this city of ours. He therefore is ideally placed to give advice on where to go and, more importantly, what to see, particularly if those spots are of the historic kind. This appears to be the understanding of many Non Resident Indians at least, and come September, MMM’s mailbox gets fairly filled up with queries from those up north and also several others from faraway lands. They plan to visit Chennai, they say in their emails, particularly in December (when the weather is better they invariably write, even if they are from the African Sahara), and would it be possible to meet up with MMM, and, even better, could MMM take them around? Yes, MMM is now one of the sights. To these queries MMM gives a patient and considered reply. Then comes the most important question, at least to these NRIs. Does MMM charge for taking people around? When they receive an answer in the affirmative, most vanish into the night, leaving the field open to others.

Not all prove so miserly; some have offered gifts in kind. But there are only so many coffee mugs and pens that MMM can use. He also cannot be swayed by chocolates from abroad and so he firmly refuses any alternative to cash. It is, therefore, only the very determined who get to see the city with MMM. You may assume that it is all sweetness and light thereafter. But that is where you make your bloomer. Retaining the attention span of the visitors is a great challenge. And in this, the general filth and squalor is a great competitor to MMM’s commentary. There he will be, declaiming in rolling periods about a certain building, and there the visitor will be, his/her attention completely diverted by a pig chasing away a dog, or two people bathing in the open, or a pile of rotting flowers and fruits from a nearby roadside shrine.

There can be other claimants to attention as well. MMM recalls a particular tour when he was taking a group of ladies across the city in a luxury bus. MMM waxed eloquent on the beach, the Fort and Mylapore but nothing really interested the participants. They kept gazing out of the window and MMM may not have even been there for all they cared. Matters continued this way till the bus happened to pass by a fairly well-known hospital and where at that precise moment, there reposed, in an advanced state of illness, one of our beloved leaders.

MMM happened to mention this in passing and there was a sudden awakening in his audience. The bus nearly capsized when all the ladies crowded on one side of the vehicle, to get a clear look from the windows. MMM asked one of them as to what they hoped to see. After all, the leader was not put on display, at least not as yet. To this he was told that you never know – you could get an accidental view as the leader was being ferried between wards (MMM did not have the heart to tell them that at leader’s level, there is no question of being ferried between wards, it is the ward that is brought to the leader’s bed,) or you could see VIPs arriving or departing, or better still, the exact moment the bus passed the hospital could coincide with the release of a health bulletin… The possibilities were endless.

Faced with such macabre tastes, MMM opted to keep silent. After all, his throat needed a break. The discussions thereafter steered away from heritage and focused solely on leaders in sickness and speculating on when DDay would be. MMM was later thanked profusely for making the tour soooooo interesting.

Train travails

The Man from Madras Musings boarded the train at Egmore station, reflecting on how dirty this once pristine terminal had become over the years. Nothing had however prepared him for the filth in the compartment that he got into. Mind you, it was an upper class coach and MMM had paid quite a bit for the ticket. These are days, as you know, when flight tickets, if booked in advance, are actually cheaper than train tickets. It is just MMM was sorely tempted to enjoy a leisurely train journey. He had a good book with him and looked forward to reading it, falling asleep and waking up in time the next morning to get off at his destination.

But the dirt was something else. The window pane had not been cleaned in years evidently and, peering through it, MMM could make out a very brown Egmore station in which people appeared to be waking about at midnight, even though it was only early evening. The cabin that MMM sat in was steeped in darkness and no pressing of any switch got the light to work. MMM complained to the attendant who said the electrician would look into it. When? Shortly. Would that mean after the train had left or before? He could not say.

The train then moved and, suddenly, a few minutes later, the cabin was flooded with light. MMM’s co-passenger said that this often happens and proceeded to deliver what appeared to be a very learned lecture on strange behaviours among light bulbs he had known. He was waxing particularly eloquently on an erratic tube-light he had been fond of, when the cabin was flooded in darkness again. MMM’s co-passenger was rather discomfited at this and while he gathered his bearings, MMM went off in search of the attendant.

The man feigned surprise that the matter had not been attended to already but, to do him credit, he came at once, armed with screwdriver and a spare set of bulbs. He proceeded to swing his impressive bulk on to an upper berth and once there began a series of complicated manoeuvres into which all passengers were drafted. MMM was the man who had to periodically press the switch to see if whatever it was that the attendant had done, had borne fruit. MMM did his best though he did get confused as to when to switch ‘on’ and when ‘off’ and did switch on when the attendant said off. The net result was that the attendant sprang to the ceiling with all his hair standing on end like quills on a fretful porpentine. Order was restored when MMM switched off the light. Thereafter, this task was entrusted to another attendant who coordinated perfectly with the first man.

The light bulb was partially fixed – to the extent that it worked like a disco strobe light – flickering on and off at rapid intervals. Some suggested an online complaint and this was done. A reply was received stating that the matter would soon be attended to. Die-hard fans of the railways cheered. There was talk of how the railways in India catered to a vast multitude and the number of passengers at Egmore station in a day equals the rail-using population of England in a year or some such dubious statistic that routinely keeps popping up on social media. Under the circumstances, ought we to trouble railway officers over a mere bulb? MMM’s fellow passenger embarked on a lecture about how nobility and commitment to action was a strong trait in Indian Railways. But of action there was no sign. By then it was time to go to bed and so the lights had to be switched off anyway. And so that was that. Who said train journeys are boring?

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