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

Vol. XXX No. No. 14, November 16-30, 2020

Short ’N’ Snappy

Joe Biden, the Tamilian

The US is to shortly have a new President, provided the present incumbent makes way. The new Vice-President is a woman who has a Madras connect and, the city, so The Man from Madras Musings notes, has made much out of it. Uncles, aunts and distant relatives have begun crawling out of the woodwork. Some artistes put together a cringeworthy message wishing her all the best. It is still early days, and more will come sooner than later. Our party in power, with its legacy of women in leadership was first off to congratulate. The Leader of the Opposition too added his best wishes. It of course remains to be seen if the lady in question acknowledges Madras or Chennai in her growth story. There are some who dismiss that single reference to aunts in Madras in a speech as a mere electoral stunt.

But what is surprising is the way the city began to look upon President-elect Biden as a forgotten son or something equivalent to that. It all began with an innocuous statement made by the man in 2013 or so, to the effect that he was descended of a George Biden who worked for the East India Company and married an Indian woman (does this mean the President-elect has Indian blood? After all he did not say that George Biden had another wife who was an occidental from whom his line was descended). Then in August this year came an article by a Professor in England who wrote on Christopher Biden in Madras and surmised that he could have been the ancestor. We don’t think so and for further details please see page 4 of this issue. It is during moments like these that MMM misses the Old Chief, who would have immediately established not one but several links between Joe and other forms of Biden and Madras. But be that as it may, there is no way a George could have become Christopher. Another aspect that is conveniently overlooked is that President-elect Biden is a Catholic, which Christopher definitely was not. He has after all a memorial to himself at St. George’s Cathedral.

But these are all matters of minor detail when a city has decided that it IS related to him. As soon as the news broke of him winning, the article dating to August was dusted and aired on most social media platforms. MMM received it almost a hundred times with a query asking whether it was true. MMM wishes he had an answer. And now to add to the confusion, this issue of MM too has a story on the subject. But what was interesting was the way the story of namma Joe’s connect to namma Chennai grew within 24 hours. In the morning it was more a question of whether it was true but by afternoon it had become one of absolute certainty. One Tamil channel spoke of Biden Sr walking on the Marina, conveniently overlooking the fact that there was no beach in the 1850s. Then came an avalanche of WhatsApp forwards – first of just the memorial stone at St. George’s and then of a portrait of Biden Sr, then a pic of the cathedral and then all of these together by way of a collage.

But what took the cake was a WhatsApp forward worth quoting verbatim –

“Though America Voted Its New President Mr Joe Biden not many people know that his great grandfather Mr Christober Biden served as the Chief Magistrate of Madras city for many year in the 1840s. He is remembered with a plaque at the CSI St Georges Cathedral Chennai picture year 1848”.

This text was accompanied by the attached pic above. MMM does not know who the man standing by is and in the absence of any other information assumes it is ‘Christober’, Joe Biden’s ancestor, standing by the side of his memorial plaque. Anyway, with a name like Christober, the man can only be Tamil. So, move over Kamalambal Harris. But what MMM cannot make out is how a Joe Biden, who is 78 this year, could have had a great grandfather who died in 1858.

The Monsoon came, saw and went

As is usual at this time of the year, the city is eagerly looking up at the sky and indulging in its hobby of cloud spotting. The weathermen have made their usual vague predictions – we could have a bountiful monsoon, on the other hand there is this, that and the other to be considered and on the basis of that, this and the other, we could have a moderate monsoon or none at all. And then there came a night when all weather channels predicted clear skies only to have clouds arriving en-mass, lightning flashing, thunder pealing non stop and rain coming down in buckets. By early next morning, the city was back to its other hobby – complaining about the rain and waterlogging. Mind you, The Man from Madras Musings is not finding fault with the city complaining about waterlogging. The citizens pay their taxes (at least some do) and so expect some modicum of repair to ensure the roads remain free of water after rains. But then this is Chennai – we are never prepared for flood or drought and have still managed for over 375 years.

The next and perhaps most unexpected development was an sms from the authorities – stay at home it said, for the rains were going to be torrential and only a Noah would make bold to step out. This was probably from the same department that sent out notifications to schools asking them to shut down each time it rained in those happy days when schools meant live classes and not horrible sessions online. Anyway, whatever it was or whoever it was that sent the sms to MMM and others, it had the desired effect – the rain stopped and has after that not returned to Chennai, except for some showers a few days later.

That has since brought to an abrupt halt all of those screaming about the waterlogging. MMM notices that the leader of this pack, rather like Abou Ben Adhem is our beloved Leader of the Opposition, who is forever flaying the Government for something or the other. MMM does not hold any brief for the current administration but this he can say with confidence – when it comes to protecting the drainage heritage of the city, both the party in power and the one in the opposition share honours equally. It flooded then, it floods now and it will flood in future. MMM for one takes those pronouncements of those in office about completion of flood mitigation programmes in the city with a large lump of salt. We will need to live with this. But then, we may have to get used to it also, for climate change specialists are anyway predicting a rise in ocean levels and our city is in the front line of risk when it comes to flooding that way. Looking at the matter from both sides, we are bound to get flooded.

Those brief hours of rain had some of our social media lions roaring to their fullest. There were the usual laments about vanished lakes, buildings constructed on water bodies, cutting of trees, relaying of roads at repeatedly higher levels and corruption in high places. Thereafter, when it stopped raining, everyone went back, to encroaching on lakes, constructing on water bodies, cutting trees, watching roads being relaid at repeatedly higher levels and getting work done via corruption in high places.


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