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Vol. XXIX No. 24, April 1-15, 2020

Short ‘N’ Snappy


These are not the best of times, definitely. Here we are, locked down against a virus, with the end, by which The Man from Madras Musings means the lifting of restrictions on movement and not anything else, quite some days away. Suddenly, all our known ways of recreation have been taken away and we are left to our resources. People become highly creative at such times and this is more than manifest in the kind of forwards that keep pouring in via social media. MMM for his part has chosen not to add to the chaos and has devised his own methods.

The first of these is to go for short walks around the immediate neighbourhood – he does this by himself and so there is no question of coming into contact with anyone else. During these short journeys he makes many discoveries that never cease to amaze. The first is the sheer variety in flora – there are all kinds of trees and MMM finds himself wishing that he had some knowledge of botany to know what each species is. There is one that keeps showering deep red flowers, each shaped like a cup. And then there is a yellow blossom with a heady fragrance. There are also the bougainvillea bushes – red, white, yellow – and as MMM walks along he reflects on how these were introduced to our country by Sir Alexander Arbuthnot, Chief Secretary, Acting Governor, Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras and founder of the Madras Cricket Club.

There are many other plants that MMM does recognize – suddenly a hibiscus shrub that was all along barren, bursts into flowers. Some introspection reveals that this is no coronavirus-inspired show. The plant has been flowering every day; it is just that the more religious-minded among MMM’s neighbours had been stripping it early each morning. Now with social distancing norms in force, they are letting the plant be and so MMM has got to see its flowers. Plucking flowers off neighbours’ plants is an old Madras habit in case you did not know. MMM recalls a fairly well-known personality of the city who at the age of 93 climbed a tree in his (the old man’s and not MMM’s) locality, to pluck flowers and fell off, leading to a swift demise.

But demise is hardly what MMM ought to be writing on in this bleak scenario and so he requests his readers to expunge that anecdote from their minds. There has been a lot more that MMM has observed from his balcony. One of these is the variety in birdlife. Each morning, a flock of parakeets make their way from a tree in the street next to chez MMM’s, blazing a green trail across the sky. Perhaps they are going to the residence of Triplicane’s famed Bird Man? There is a cuckoo that sings regularly from a konrai tree that grows just outside MMM’s window. By the way, this tree is now suddenly transforming itself from being all green to several streaks of yellow – these are all sprays of flowers that burst forth around the time of the Tamil New Year, which this time is going to be rather subdued. There is yet another bird that lets out a shrill whistle every once in a while, rather like the kind that railway guards used to blow (do they still use those?). MMM is not able to identify this particular bird. Crows are of course in plenty. And they have just become a tad bolder – they come up close as MMM sits on the verandah. It is almost as though they want to convey a message – that this lockdown is meant for us to take a deep breath (not when someone nearby coughs though), pause and look around.

MMM realizes that all these flowers, plants and birds have been around, day in and day out. It is just that MMM did not pause to take a look. Now he does.

Going the Audio/Video Way

Each day The Man from Madras Musings is flooded with advice on how he ought to be spending his time. The general view appears to be that MMM is idle, and so his well wishers ought to be sending him unsolicited suggestions on how he could keep himself gainfully occupied.

The first and most useless of all are those videos that people think are funny – these are invariably from abroad and show people in well off surroundings coming up with more and more peculiar ideas to entertain themselves – a man pours soap water (there is a shortage of this in other parts of the world by the way) on the floor and simulates a tread mill to run. Someone has arranged all the rolls of toilet paper they hoarded and is practising golf with them. And then are those very silly acts of extreme exercise which if followed will only result in visits to hospital, and as you know, these institutions don’t want you to come visiting at this time.

The second lot are these celebrity interviews – on how they spend their time admiring flowers, being kind to dogs, learning new recipes, how they learnt to sweep (you don’t learn this is MMM’s view – someone gives you a broom and asks you to get on with it), how your baby looks so cute (all babies do, especially to their parents). And then you have these astrology forwards – how on such and such date all will be well, the Covid vanishing into outer space. This is very good for some positive thought, but these claims are not based on any science and they also make a mockery of the ground reality. When thousands are falling ill, the last thing you need is some charlatan going around claiming a miracle. Close on the heels of these predictions are those quack remedies for the virus – cow’s urine, cloves of garlic, rasam, and much else.

The latest on this ‘forward’ bandwagon are these online performances – everyone is singing, dancing, declaiming, answering questions, talking ad nauseum by way of entertainment. Most of it is mediocre beyond a degree and does not merit even one audition or viewing. A far classier option is to go online and view the various galleries that museums across the world have thrown open for virtual viewing. Equally worthwhile are the programmes of the various international ballet and music troupes that are now available for viewing. But what is most irritating is these same links being sent by hundreds of people by way of forwards. MMM wakes up each morning with several messages giving the same links and asking MMM to view them.

By way of social distancing, MMM has taken to blocking those who repeatedly send him such forwards. He has also decided to ignore much of the messages that rather like the statistics of COVID infected people, is increasing relentlessly. Unwanted messages, unlike the virus, can be ignored or even better, deleted. It is a pity in MMM’s view, that a lockdown on social media forwards was not imposed along with social distancing diktats.


Short N Snappy

We still need to keep smiling and a doctor friend sends the Man from Madras Musings this picture, together with the caption that the school cannot be all that ‘litrate’.

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