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

Vol. XXX No. 4, June 1-15, 2020

Short ‘N’ Snappy


What is with the AC remote?

The weather is the absolute pits. As Perhaps Greatest Writer once said, the city is divided into two groups – the first which says it does not mind the heat as much as the humidity and the other which says just the reverse. The Man from Madras Musings prefers to belong to a third group that minds both – the heat and the humidity. What amazes MMM is that the temperatures have not been soaring as much as they ought to, but it still feels like living in a furnace. MMM is informed that this is due to what is called the wind chill factor wherein the temperature may be something but it feels like something much worse altogether. Though why this phenomenon should be called wind chill MMM has no idea. Wind roast or wind bake or wind broil may have been more appropriate.

It is in weather like this, and mind you, Chennai has weather like this for much of the year, that thoughts automatically turn towards air conditioning. Oh for a blast of cold air is the general cry. MMM is of course aware that just around thirty years ago, hardly anyone used air conditioners in this city of ours. It was meant for the uber rich. But since then there has been democratisation in several ways and now the AC is pretty much ubiquitous. MMM can claim to have lived through the times when there was no AC except in cinema theatres and top industrialists’ offices to a time when it is available in cars and even buses.

In the old days, ACs were made of sturdier fibre. When you needed to cool yourself you operated a lever of sorts to switch on the main power, waited for the stabiliser to kick in and then turned on a rotary switch of some kind. There would be a grinding noise and that meant the AC was working. Soon you were flooded with gushes of cold air and you revived. There were, of course, days when the AC threw out black smoke and you called a mechanic who came, opened the innards of the machine and there you saw all the dirt accumulated from your house or office. Squirrels or rats sometimes made themselves comfortable inside and when they passed on to the great beyond, you were immediately alerted by the smells that wafted.

Compare that with today’s AC. All sleek and the innards hidden away discretely somewhere near the rooftop which only the service personnel can access. Today’s ACs don’t grind and groan and are probably a lot more efficient than those battle tanks of old but their remote controls are something else altogether. MMM is not sure how you handle them, but he is ­pretty much flummoxed. Firstly, reading those buttons is a task by itself, especially when you need to adjust the settings after you have switched off the lights and are in bed. Secondly, there are no texts but only symbols and this is where the confusion sets in. How can you distinguish between one snowflake and another and decide which one is larger? And then there are drops – one drop, two drops and sometimes three. What do these stand for? Third – what is the silhouette of a muscular torso supposed to mean? MMM is told that pressing this activates what is known as power chill but he has found that in this heat it only means that power consumption is a lot more for some marginal increase in coolness.

There are other mystic symbols and words – mode is one that MMM never will ever master. He has found that tampering with it usually makes the room feel like a sauna. And then there is ‘sleep’ – in what way this is supposed make the AC function is something MMM is yet to fathom.

He has therefore come to the conclusion that the AC remote is good for just switching on and switching off the AC. The rest of the settings are best left the way the person who installed the AC set them. It is best not be to a fool and rush in where even angels fear to tread, especially during summer.

Anticipatory obituaries

The Man from Madras Musings is aware that it is ­customary for most well-established periodicals and dailies to have prepared obituaries for celebrities, often written by other celebrities. These are kept aside with the view that they can be immediately churned out for print as and when the subject matter of the obituary departs for the great beyond. Some of these tributes can be masterpieces, in their style, construction, analysis of the person and also usage of subtle humour. In this our land, and particularly our city, obituaries are usually hagiographies – woe betide the person who writes anything negative about someone who has just had a tryst with a bucket.

That said, Indians in general and more so those residing in our city simply rejoice in deaths. It is a great social occasion when everyone meets up with everyone else, drinks coffee, makes nasty comments on its quality and then departs for home, after a cursory word or two about the dear departed and a gloomy shake of the head. The Chennai idea of page 3 is the obituary column of the newspaper. Sometimes we also jump the gun – the person concerned may just be somewhat ill, but we give full rein to our imagination and speculate that death has occurred.

Such was the case last week with a master scientist who resides in our city. Someone else who shares the same name passed away and his relatives put up a news item. A media channel, as is usual with entities of its kind, deciding that it must be the master scientist who had passed on, immediately put out an obituary without any verification (known in Chennai as verivification), no doubt to satisfy that perpetual urge for breaking news. That got social media going and tributes began to be posted. It was quite a while before the media channel took down the offending post (no apologies mind you). The social media posts still remain. And some of them showed MMM how obituaries are often attempts at glorification of the living at the expense of the dead.

“Oh what a great man,” said one. “He waved to me when I sat in a pew behind him at an event around seven years ago.” Another, and there were several others of the same kind, expressed ‘shock’ at the passing. Now MMM may sound callous but it is his firm belief that you cannot be shocked, stunned or taken unawares when a nonagenarian passes. If people don’t plug it in their nineties then when do you expect them to go? But then this is Chennai. There were others who praised themselves – “He was such a humble man despite his achievements that he immediately recognized my talents, praised me and predicted a bright future for my work.” It made MMM wonder as to who had really passed on.

Anyway, master scientist is happily with us and long may he guide us. MMM wonders if he read the tributes and if so, what he thought about them.


The Man from Madras Musings notes that while social/physical distancing has become a fetish of sorts with humans, animals seem to happily be unaware of such things, as is evident from this picture taken during the lockdown.

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