Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 20, February 1-15, 2023
It has been a hair shy under six years since The Woman from Madras Musings moved to live in a different area of the city and she must admit that the neighbourhood association here is much livelier than the one in her childhood home. The association, which comprises a small, residential quadrangle covering a few streets, is quite energetic and shares a variety of useful information with members including updates on civil works and safety alerts. Most homes have security cameras too, so interesting clips are often shared on the messaging forum, making for interesting anecdotes.
A couple of weeks back, for instance, the neighbourhood had a minor snake scare. A largish serpent was spotted in the park by a parent and a child; this information brought forth a flood of admissions that others too had glimpsed the animal in the vicinity. Grainy, black-and-white videos emerged over the week showing a fairly large specimen joyfully slithering along the exterior walls of homes and exploring the nooks and crannies in the area. These thrilling clips were then forwarded to family groups, urging loved ones to ‘be careful.’ And then, one fine morning, the association was informed that the snake was, at that very moment, nesting in one of the gardens and was helpfully sent along a picture as well. This caused great excitement, of course, and the friendly neighbourhood snake catcher was immediately invited to introduce the animal to safer, unspecified environs. Another short video followed a couple of hours later, this time shot on a mobile phone. It briefly showed the catcher bravely handling what was a large snake indeed. Much congratulations were shared all around and that was the end of the snake episode. This area – very much urban – has a surprising number of wildlife sightings. The neighbourhood was left terrorized by a couple of unruly monkeys earlier in the year and those photos and video clips were quite intriguing, too. (Wo)MMM’s own little garden is regularly visited by a family of house sparrows in the early hours of the morning – this, (Wo)MMM was told to her delight, is a rare sight these days and a blessing of sorts. A squirrel runs up and down the parapet walls of the terrace for two whole hours without fail each afternoon, too, but that’s by the by.
Anyway, it’s not just animal sightings that are captured by the neighbourhood cams. The latest video doing the rounds this week is that of a cat burglar scoping a home in the dead of night. (Wo)MMM must admit that it made for an intriguing film. Consensus is split on whether the thief was aware of the security cameras; for what it’s worth, (Wo)MMM thinks not, based on his movements. He walked on tippy toes here and there and where there were presumably windows beyond the range of the camera’s vision, he got onto his haunches and proceeded to clumsily frog leap down the path. Once he was done, he removed his shoes, threw them over the gate and climbed over, melting into the night. The fellow, (Wo)MMM was given to understand, had been spotted in suspicious circumstances, hanging around other homes, too. And so, there was much debate on what to do with this video – would the police find this helpful, given the man’s face was not visible? Finally, someone mooted the idea of arranging for paid night patrol, which (Wo)MMM understands is under consideration.
Incidentally, a similarly strange event transpired at the Eternals’ apartment, too. (Wo)MMM was sitting inside the bedroom when she overhead a strange conversation between the pater and the young girl living in the flat below. Had the pater, the young girl asked, seen a gentleman asking for money on behalf of the regular appalam vendor? When she was told that he hadn’t, she replied a bit crestfallen that she was now currently in the possession of a great number of appalams – (Wo)MMM immediately imagined a thousand or so packets piled up in her living room – that were given to her by the gentleman in lieu of a sum of money that he had claimed was due to the vendor. Her parents were not at home and she thought she would have a rather hard time explaining the purchase of such an astonishing quantity of condiment. The pater was moved by the tale and would have doubtless offered to take some off her hands had the mater not hastily intervened. (Wo)MMM has not been updated on whether the appalam artiste has been identified, yet. She was instead given a much stranger tale of a similar heist in Madurai when the mater was a child – but that is a story for another day, perhaps.
If these tales are anything to go by, safety seems to be an increasingly tenuous virtue in the city these days. Based on the stories and reminiscences of people living in the Betternals’ area – once considered the back of beyond but now a sought-after urban sector – (Wo)MMM senses that the growing security concerns are perhaps changing the spirit of the neighbourhood. She remembers that when she moved here – a mere few years ago, as mentioned – she was assured that the area was safe enough that she need not worry about latching the main door. (Wo)MMM remembers being rather impressed and disbelieving of the claim at the time, especially since the home in question was an independent structure. Things have changed now. (Wo)MMM’s own home has a security camera as well as a more technologically advanced locking system. It was installed after much hesitation, for such measures seem to go against much of what the Betternals believe – trust in the safety of the neighbourhood and a wish to be friendly with and accessible to the local community whom they have lived with for decades. (Wo)MMM has seen many walk up the steps freely to meet the Betternals for various things – civic workers raising an alert of maintenance due or new issues, the kirana shop owner delivering goods purchased over call, the local pharmacist bringing necessary medication and on the odd occasion, even people seeking monetary help with educational fees or medical bills. It has been a point of pride all along – and understandably, (Wo)MMM supposes – that the home is seen as a friendly place. Security measures, however, demand that hospitality take a back seat. It’s not a practical change as much as a cultural change, really.
It is a conundrum and one that (Wo)MMM has no answer to.
The fairly recent cold snap delighted The Woman from Madras Musings as she is sure it did MM readers, too. Though if she were to be honest, what brought more joy was all the drama on social media – the hilariously outrageous hashtag #ChennaiSnow became quite a trend, much to the ire of the rest of the country, parts of which were battling icy toes and blue noses in two-degree winters. (Wo)MMM’s friends in Bangalore, specifically, were well and truly annoyed by all the fuss because some competitive types had surfaced online declaring that what with beaches and great weather, Chennai was now indisputably better than the garden city. (Wo)MMM won’t lie – the whole drama was immensely enjoyable.