Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 2, May 1-15, 2019
For once, The Man from Madras Musings is at a loss for words. It had been a great friendship between Chief and MMM and at the end of it, he, the Chief, has shaken MMM’s hand off and gone to a distant land. With whom is to MMM now laugh over Madras that is Chennai?
MMM even now thinks of that happy day when he brought the Chief a picture of a shop signboard, which gave the address as Mind (instead of Mint) Street. And then there was that awful issue when we consistently left out the letter L from the word public. Fortunately nobody noticed. The same cannot be said of the issue where MMM made fun of the postal services and speculated on the way they delivered issues of Madras Musings. Someone in the Department of Posts read it and by some stroke of misfortune it was the man who stamped or franked the Madras Musings copies. The Chief dealt with the irate visitor and promised on MMM’s behalf to behave in future. There was also the time when MMM wrote of ladies walking around in public in nightwear. There were howls of protest, led by a Lovely Lady from Lancashire. The Chief calmed them all down.
There were some aspects to his personality that none of us ever managed to fathom. For instance, how IT savvy was the Chief in reality? He maintained that he was in a tech-free nirvana, preferring to handover such mundane responsibilities to Flower or God-On-Seven-Hills, his two assistants who dealt with the mountains of manuscripts, correspondence and other paperwork. MMM had his doubts and one afternoon managed to catch the Chief poring at a desktop. When confronted he just shrugged it off saying he could read what was online but had never managed to move the mouse. He however did gamely agree to pose in front of the machine as he called it and the accompanying picture was the result. When he did go abroad, never for more than two weeks as the next issue of MM had to be handled, he did send out some emails. He said he typed them out with two fingers, just as he did with a typewriter. And then there was the matter of cell phones. For years he fought the very idea and then when everyone insisted he did get one, he promptly gave it to his assistant. That person did all the dialling and answering. When all the heavy work was done, the Chief would deign to take the instrument in hand and utter some benediction or the other.
Finally, on the title Chief – MMM would have never dared call him Uncle or Muthu. Sir sounded too formal and so it became Chief. He appeared to like it and so that was that. There never will be another Chief for MMM.
The phone rang and The Man from Madras Musings answered it rather reluctantly. These are days when MMM feels low and depressed. True, the Chief was ailing and old but then there was always the comfort that he was there. But then MMM digresses. Let him get on with the story.
“The Glory that was Ind,” said the fruity voice at the other end.
MMM wondered if the caller, a former bureaucrat, had been indulging rather freely at lunch. But then clarifications came forth –
“I don’t expect you would have even heard of this book, a great work of the past that told us about the glory of India,” it said.
MMM rather brusquely replied that he had read the book though he did not add that going through it was something of a penance.
The voice became impressed.
“Am I speaking to Professor MMM?” it asked, a new obsequiousness creeping into its tone.
MMM assured it that it was and added that he, MMM, was no professor.
“Are you not attached to any institution?” asked the voice, a ring of disappointment now evident.
MMM said he was not.
“A freelancer?” it asked, rather in the manner of Lady Bracknell saying, “A handbag?” in the Importance of Being Earnest.
MMM said he was.
“Oh in that case, I just called to ask about the exact nature of the illness of your boss.”
MMM was not giving him any personal details and so politely suggested that the conversation take a different turn.
“He was a glory of Ind,” said the caller. “I guess now your magazine will have to wind up.”
MMM did not reply but he knew that somewhere the Chief must have been chuckling. After all, had he, the wise man that he was, not made enough arrangements for the magazine to continue? Indeed that would be the greatest tribute that those of us who worked with him can ever pay him. And striving to be worthy of his standards will be everyone’s endeavour.
So sucks to you, you pompous caller.
There have been many moving tributes to the Chief and The Man from Madras Musings has been reading them with a heavy heart. One, however, from a senior art critic, was tailor-made for this column – “Will miss her, She was a dear friend. Chennai will not be the same without her. RIP.”
Chief – wherever you are, MMM knows that you are laughing out aloud at this one.