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

Vol. XXXII No. 13, October 16-31, 2022

Short ‘N’ Snappy

-- (Wo)MMM

Chennai’s urban wild

It is said that pets and owners share the same personality traits. Going by a few recent encounters in Namma Chennai, The Woman from Madras Musings proposes that the same can be said for a city and its urban wild.

The first incident happened while (Wo)MMM and the better half were driving on a side street in Adyar, on the way to Thiruvanmiyur. This particular street has grown quite busy of late because people prefer to pass through it rather than navigate the horribly mangled main roads. So, those who need to cross the street find themselves facing a rather arduous task. (Wo)MMM was inside the car on this occasion when she noticed a doggie hanging on the edge of the pavement. It was evident that the animal wanted to cross the street, but there was no respite from the traffic. It seemed to be hurt, too – it didn’t patter about like its peers usually do but instead dragged itself along using its front paws, for the hind legs seemed to be injured. The poor thing looked so forlorn, you know. It cut such a sorry sight that the better half stopped the car to allow it passage. (Wo)MMM clucked in sympathy as it dragged itself across the street, hoping that it didn’t hurt itself too badly in the process. The second the doggie reached the other side, it jumped up on all fours like a seasoned gymnast and wagged its tail. As (Wo)MMM watched on utterly dumbfounded, it proceeded to give its hind legs a good lick and then merrily trotted away to attend to whatever mysterious business it had at hand.

It turns out that this particular doggie is a habitual manipulator of heartstrings. (Wo)MMM caught sight of the wee rascal once again the following week, pulling its usual scam of looking sad by the side of the street. A biker stopped to allow it to pass, his heart presumably melting the way the better half’s did earlier. The look on his face when the con was up was priceless.

The second incident has to do with a doggie, too, this time at (Wo)MMM’s home. The family had just returned from a night at the movies. (Wo)MMM got down from the car and went to close the gates when she was startled by the sound of panicked scrabbling right behind her. (Wo)MMM’s first instinct in the face of danger is to freeze, so freeze she did until the sound abated. She was rather apprehensive when she turned around but couldn’t help but giggle when she saw, standing outside the gate on the street, a dog with an unmistakable expression of mingled confusion and regret. It had evidently snuck into the home compound to catch a night of peaceful sleep, unaware that the family would return much later. (Wo)MMM felt rather sorry for the creature, truth be told – it is hard not to empathize with any soul that wants nothing but a little sleep. So she felt compelled to call out an apology – I’m sorry, she said, I hope you were not too scared and hope you have a good night. Believe it or not, the dog seemed to understand exactly what she was saying. It cocked its ears at her as if considering her apology and suddenly wagged its tail in what was plainly its way of saying, Oh, don’t bother, I’m sure you didn’t really mean it. And then, with a jolly hop and a skip, it turned around to lope away into the darkness.

The third incident was at the sports club where (Wo)MMM and the better half have dinner sometimes. The place happens to be full of cats. It overflows with the animals – they prowl around the tennis courts, lawns and rafters. Like their kin everywhere around the world, these club cats pace about authoritatively, giving one the impression that members are simply visitors on their property. There’s a good reason why the staff urges people not to feed them – the cats seem to be convinced they’re the owners as is and the slightest encouragement, the staff worry, will see them taking a seat at the dinner table for regular service. Where there’s a rule, there is a rule breaker. A friend who came along to dinner one day took great pleasure in feeding a nearby cat a piece of fried chicken, which the latter seemed to enjoy immensely. And that was that – it simply refused to leave and after about two plates of chicken sacrificed to the animal, the friend looked quite flustered. (Wo)MMM happened to order a plate of idli and decided to offer a morsel to the cat for a bit of a change. It unhesitatingly took the piece of plain idli proferred, with nary a thought. Sadly, it was not to the animal’s liking. The idli was immediately spat out and a look of deep disgust flashed at (Wo)MMM. The cat slunk away annoyed, never to return.

The elephant in the room

There’s a rather famous parable of four blind men and an elephant. Perhaps you know it. Four blind men come across an elephant, the story goes, and they attempt to understand what sort of beast it is by touching it. Each feels a part of the elephant’s body, leading them to quarrel with great conviction about their understanding of the animal’s appearance. The joke, of course, is that they are all right in their own way.

The Woman from Madras Musings has frequent occasion to be reminded of this story these days. Not only do people seem to be squabbling with each other about almost everything under the sun, but the arguments themselves, (Wo)MMM finds, are often puzzling – they seem to be fighting virulently over matters that they actually agree upon. Public debate in certain rarefied sections of society seems to have grown into a snake intent on eating its own tail.

Take the debate around a newly released Tamil blockbuster, for instance. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it could scarcely have escaped your notice that River’s Son – a fictional tale, mind you – is at the epicentre of great intellectual controversy between what some term as the Right and the Left. One faction declares themselves outraged at what they perceive to be reactionary religious overtones thrust upon the story; they don’t like it because it smacks of zealousness, they say. The other side claims to be incensed at what see as an unpardonable glossing over of the heritage of the characters; they don’t like it because it isn’t religious enough, they say. (Wo)MMM is well and truly confused – surely they can shake hands over the fact they both dislike the film? It is a fictional piece of work, for love’s sake!

There’s a third type in this crowd that (Wo)MMM finds quite entertaining. These types begin by avowing great support for one of the factions and quickly gain fame and support. Then, at the moment of greatest impact, much like the climax of a potboiler, they turn around and make a declaration that pretty much destroys the stance of their supporters. Take one gentleman who is rather famous on a short-messaging site, for instance. He posited, in the beginning, that it was rather silly to argue about a language-defined identity for River’s Son and his family. This, of course, gained him much support from one certain quarter. And then, one fine day, the gentleman wedged a well-timed spoke in their wheel by declaring that religion was an important identity for River’s Son and his ilk and it was in fact the lever behind their propagation of social evils resting within the system. He then went on to flesh out his argument, earning much ire from former supporters as well as their dissenters.

Isn’t public debate wonderful?

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