Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 10, September 16-30, 2020
The lockdown has given rise to several unsolvable mysteries as far as The Man from Madras Musings is concerned. Who for instance are the people who ring your doorbell? There was a time when you could identify the local butcher, baker and candlestick maker even from a distance. But now they all appear masked and you never know who is calling. If you thought you could identify them by their voice, forget it, for they all mumble into their masks. If fact the only way you know they are saying something is by noticing the way the mask keeps bobbing around the vicinity of the lips. No wonder MMM sees so many walking around bare faced – they must be sick and tired of trying to make sense through masks.
When this is the fate of even familiar faces, what kind of reception do strangers hope for when they need to perforce call on people? MMM includes in this the band of couriers, handymen and errand boys of various kinds. At Chez MMM for instance all of these people prefer to stand outside the gate and yell “Saar..Saar…Saar,” in increasing volumes until someone notices. The first Saar is often nothing more than a soothing murmur, muffled by the masks, and then when it produces no results, the subsequent ones, after the mask is removed accompanied by muffled oaths, are much louder. Fortunately the room where MMM works and types his daily quota of words overlooks the gate and so MMM is often the first person to know of a caller.
Thus it was the other day when a man began his clarion shouts for Saar. MMM on venturing into the verandah found a masked stranger waiting without, rather like a character out of Alexander Dumas. He, the stranger and not MMM, was brandishing a basket of some kind, which he through more gesture than word, indicated was meant to be handed over. And so MMM went out to meet the bearer and having signed for the basket, brought it in. He found a sticker that had the name of his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed and realized it was a gift for her. Of the sender’s identity there was no clue.
The basket, on MMM’s good lady opening it, was found to contain what appeared on first sight to be a collection of beetroots. There they were, all purple and alluring. Only on touch they proved to be squashy and on closer inspection they turned out to be something else altogether. A card lay at the bottom and it revealed these to be mangosteens, a kind of fruit about which MMM and his good lady had all along been ignorant.
The card was rather appropriately worded when you consider the colour of the fruit, for it was full of what is referred to as purple prose. But what took the cake was a sentence that said that mangosteens had a Socratic flavour – something that MMM is yet to make sense out of. His first impulse was to throw the gift away, for when you think Socrates, hemlock is usually the next to come to mind. Was this like some Trojan horse? Anyway, MMM and good lady did not know what you did with the fruit and so they decided to keep it in storage for a day or two.
The next day, MMM was roused from his afternoon nap by cries of “Saar…Saar…Saar”. Looking out, he found the same masked man. It was like something out of the movie Amadeus. Had he come bearing more fruit? On the contrary, he had come to take back the basket, and the fruits. He had apparently made a mistake and had delivered it at Chez MMM when all along it was meant for someone else who was a namesake of MMM’s good lady. That ended MMM’s tryst with Socratic mangosteens. He is yet to make sense of that description by the way. And his good lady is still pondering over who sent them in the first place.
The numbers game
Each evening, a friend forwards that day’s statistics for COVID19 as released by the Government of Tamil Nadu. The Man from Madras Musings eagerly awaits this missive and then for the rest of the day, his mood fluctuates from sunny to downright overcast based on what he has seen. His good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed takes a far more balanced view and remains oblivious of fluctuations – in the figures and in MMM’s moods. She does not worry about either – the figures or MMM’s mood swings. And that is that.
Now MMM does not share in this equanimity. He belongs to that type to whom anything from the Government requires attention and immediate analysis, including property tax, income tax, water tax and other such demands, all of which even before they give you details of amount due spell out the penalties in case you don’t pay. Despite having read those threats for years, MMM still cannot control a tremor of the hand and a faster beating of the heart each time the Government chooses to communicate with him. In matters of Governmental communications, MMM is like Ben Bolt’s Sweet Alice with hair so brown who trembled with delight at his smile and wept with fear at his frown. The only difference being that MMM, what with receiving many Government communiques has hardly any hair left, brown or otherwise.
Anyway, to get back to the COVID figures released by the Government, there are some very reassuring aspects to them. Rather like the pricing strategy of a well-known shoe company, the numbers always hover just below a psychological level. The total cases reported is always just short of 6,000, the number in the city is just below 1,000 and the number of fatalities is always in a high double digit, a tad shy of the nineties. Yes, we do know Tamil Nadu has been a consistent performer across many fronts, but so consistent a performance even in epidemic ratings is somewhat startling. But there are now some naysayers who have begun to doubt these figures. There has been a newspaper report too asking as to how these numbers are more or less rock steady.
There are however drawbacks to this consistency. Just as a person who leads a sedentary life is prone to palpitations if he has to run to catch a bus or avoid a dog, so too has MMM been led into a certain complacence as far as these numbers are concerned. And so, when the figures on certain odd days do rise higher than the Plimsoll line so to speak, he goes into a tizzy and looks on the darker side. The reverse is also true – on days when the numbers dip somewhat, MMM goes singing about the house. All said and done, there is not a dull day with this virus. But as they say, too many shocks to the system are not good and MMM looks forward to the day when the virus will be a thing of the past – with or without a vaccine.
Of late the offices of Madras Musings receive a lot of emails and so The Man from Madras Musings was pleasantly surprised to receive this postcard for a change. It touched M and other people at MM that someone had taken the pains to send a card just to acknowledge receipt of the magazine. Thanks friend, and may your tribe increase.