Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 12, October 1-15, 2021
Not sure about you, but The Woman from Madras Musings always dissolves into a low-key panic when asked to play host to people visiting the city. Take us to your favourite local spots, they say. Show us the best of the city, they add. Well, (Wo)MMM’s ‘favourite local spot’ is the mater’s house and filter coffee, according to her, is the best thing in the city. But these are unlikely to entertain visitors, so the usual plans are dutifully drawn up in the hopes of distracting them satisfactorily – breakfast at a famous local joint, a visit to a beach or two, perhaps some pub or the other. All of these are typically accompanied by loud exclamations of how hot it is, how dirty the streets and beaches are, how underwhelming the clubs are and so on and so forth. It’s almost always annoying to play the city guide, in (Wo)MMM’s experience.
And so, when a message came out of the blue from a friend asking to be shown around the city, The Woman from Madras Musings felt a familiar twinge of anxiety. She needn’t have worried, really. She had an unexpected ally in the friend’s eight-year-old daughter who was satisfyingly wide-eyed at everything she was introduced to. The child proved to be a wonderfully objective tourist – she uninhibitedly made loud remarks on her opinions about everything from the sultry heat and mounds of garbage to the beautiful buildings and fragrant jasmine sold at roadside flower shops. She loved the sea, hated the trash on the beaches; devoured the idli-dosa at Mylapore and complained about the crowd at George Town bazaar; loved the Royapuram station and hated the heat. She was one of the few people who could see the city as it is and love the parts of it that deserve appreciation.
(Wo)MMM’s favourite moment of the trip was when the group was driving through a street in South Chennai. The walls were plastered with identical posters of a gaudy, flashy design that prominently featured a certain person. The child couldn’t read Tamil, but she was entranced by the unrelenting row of posters. After a bit of thought, she turned to (Wo)MMM. “Twins are two identical people, triplets are three. How many are these? How cool Chennai is!” Out of the mouths of babes…
The Woman from Madras Musings is watching life ease back into relative normalcy. Children are being steered back to school, their hair combed resolutely and shoes shined; people are trudging back to offices, braving the heat and traffic; and stray dogs are back to gleefully chasing pedestrians and cyclists on hitherto empty streets. The lockdowns almost feel like a thing of the past, don’t they? However, it is an immutable law of nature that great freedom must be accompanied by great annoyances. In this case, near-normalcy has been accompanied by the return of hideous noise pollution.
Between you and me, (Wo)MMM had acquired a sybaritic predisposition to taking afternoon naps during the lockdown. This noble pursuit was rudely interrupted last week with the spirited re-opening of a neighbourhood tea shop which seems to believe that its customers are best lured inside by raunchy film music rather than, say, it’s tea. (Wo)MMM had just fluffed her pillow and snuggled beneath cool sheets, eyes drooping with delicious sleep when a loud sensual moan blared through the neighbourhood, shattering the divine stillness of silence. It turned out to be the opening notes of a classic Tamil film item song, whose jangling beats and lustful vocals proceeded to resonate through the locality for the next five minutes. It must have attracted at least a couple of customers into the shop, for that was just the first in a carnal line-up of lascivious numbers. There are many things that tick off (Wo)MMM but being robbed of sleep is at the very top of the list. After several vain attempts to identify the culprits, she turned to the Namma Chennai app with a vengeance.
As an aside, the app really is quite easy to use; a noise pollution complaint was lodged within minutes. A resolution arrived within the hour, requesting (Wo)MMM to reach out to the nearest police station for help; from there, she was directed to call an emergency helpline number to report noise pollution in her area. (Wo)MMM wasted no time in calling the helpline, which was immediately attended to by a helpful gentleman who noted down all the details and forwarded them to the concerned local enforcement. A bit of a dance around to be sure, but to the system’s credit, very quick.
In the meantime, the shop had progressed to playing titillating songs from the ‘80s. Anyone who was on a mission to research erotic Tamil music through the ages would have found the playlist extremely helpful. It was during a thumping number from the late ‘80s that (Wo)MMM received a call from the patrolman. It transpired that he was unable to discover the source of music. The gentleman had gone on quite a few rounds, ears keenly cocked, but no luck. He heard the music over the phone at the other end, too and was equally astonished. (Wo)MMM wouldn’t have been surprised if the shop had been aware of this conspiracy to catch it – the song lyrics seemed to taunt all those in search, singing of slippery fish that couldn’t be caught in eager nets. In the end, it was (Wo)MMM’s driver who solved the whole thing – he refused to reveal the shop’s location but set off to have a quiet word with the staff, whom he seemed to know. A compromise was reached – the music still continued but was much softer. The pillow beckoned to (Wo)MMM once more and she fell into a deep sleep after a long day.
The Woman from Madras Musings read that the Union Road Transport Minister is keen to make vehicle horns sound nicer. Apparently, the sound of car horns disturb his morning pranayama, which he feels would be better supported with the sounds of traditional Indian music rather than soulless honking. And so, reports say that there are plans afoot to encourage automakers to make horns that honk Indian notes – the administration is working on ensuring that sounds of tablas, violins and flutes set the standard for horns in Indian cars. Presumably, the vision is to have people honk polite melodies at one another when requesting for their right of way on the road.
Frankly, (Wo)MMM is quite apprehensive of the whole thing. How long should a honk be to transcend the boundary from ‘sound’ to ‘music’? It’s not as if cars will work together to honk in symphony at any rate – the whole thing will likely devolve into Indian-flavoured cacophony, which doesn’t seem to be a better proposition from the current scenario. When was the last time anyone enjoyed elevator music anyway? Or the call-waiting music on a customer service call?
Our traffic needs demand more than polite strains of music. Actually, (Wo)MMM spent a particularly empty day fantasizing about a solution to this particular brand of noise pollution. It would be interesting, she thinks, to flip the current culture and mandate softer car and bike horns and much louder bicycle horns – maybe this would force rash drivers to drive slowly and safely instead of relying on their ridiculous horns to bully others on the road. (Wo)MMM also imagines that it would be great to give pedestrians access to powerful megaphones, especially at signals and tricky crossings, so that they can yell at vehicles to demand their right of way. Maybe (Wo)MMM should actually draft a decent proposal out of the whole thing and submit it to the administration – as long as they’re having fun with ludicrous ideas, she may as well throw hers into the hat.