Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 21, February 16-28, 2023
Damsels in distress over pending PhD theses, RJs and DJs needing content, Government officials needing presentations to entertain visitors at short notice – they all beat a path to the door of the Man from Madras Musings these days. MMM like Sherlock Holmes ought to be demanding a bejewelled snuff box or two for his services, but then, as his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed has often pointed out, he lacks the killer instinct. He is happy to share whatever knowledge he possesses and get on with life. There are however some rich dividends, chiefly by way of content for this column, that make all such interactions worth MMM’s while.
It was a dark and stormy night when MMM’s phone rang. He ignored it but it kept ringing persistently and he realised this must be a caller from a government department. Only they are that relentless in their pursuit of their quarry. Sure enough it was, and from the mode of address (no third person Saars, etc), MMM realised that he was dealing with someone fairly high up in the echelons of power. The voice however displayed considerable emotion and from a certain quaver in it MMM realised that it was relieved beyond belief that it had got in touch with MMM. The conversation was brief, the caller merely stating that he would like MMM to visit an office on a matter of urgency at the earliest. A car said the voice, would wait outside MMM’s residence at a particular hour the next day, and then rung off. The vehicle arrived at the appointed hour and a masked driver stepped out (he was masked owing to fear of Covid). Having ushered MMM into the vehicle he drove on, stopping not till he had reached his destination, which MMM recognised to be a well-known institution of the city. Minions bowed and scraped, and MMM was fawned upon even as he was taken up in a lift to a sanctum of sorts where after being ushered in, MMM saw that the others bowed low and departed, leaving him in the presence of someone who clearly exuded power but appeared to be in the grip of a debilitating emotion.
“Have you heard of So-and-So?” asked the presence, referring to a colonial personality.
MMM said he did. He then briefed his host on what information there was on the man. The presence was impressed and having risen from its seat came over to MMM and asked as to how MMM knew so much. Not wishing to state that all what MMM had spoken of was on the internet, MMM asked as to why there was so much interest on a man everyone had forgotten long ago.
The presence then pushed a file of papers towards MMM and asked him to read it. MMM perused the sheets to find that some years ago, a persistent letter writer had begun sending epistles to the institution asking about a portrait of the colonial personality. MMM, well aware that the person in question was closely connected with the institution, thought it was a reasonable request. Indeed, MMM, and the late Chief, had also been on a similar quest for years but to no avail. Anyway, to get back to the letter writer, he had beseeched, pleaded, cajoled and used every other kind of request in his messages, which were being sent at the rate of one every alternate day, but the institution had, beyond filing them, done nothing. But then came a day when after a fairly rude letter, the man had, having lost all patience, filed a request for the picture under the Right to Information Act. The institution now had to reply, which was why MMM had been summoned.
Could MMM help asked the presence. Sadly, the answer was no. MMM replied that if at all there was a portrait or photo, the most likely place was the institution itself, where the person had worked for almost 25 years. Well, said the presence, a lot had been lost in the heat wave of 1959, the drought of 1967, the tornado of 1973, the great fire of 1981, the floods of 2015 and the cyclone Vardah in 2016. MMM said there was nothing that he could do and left.
That was not the end of the story. A week later, MMM received a registered letter. It was a copy of the reply addressed to the letter writer. It regretted the institution’s inability to provide the picture asked for but most helpfully added that further enquiries in this regard could be addressed to MMM!
It was a fine Sunday evening, and the Man from Madras Musings was out for a walk. The traffic was just picking up after the usual afternoon thinning out. A posse of policemen was waiting behind a tree close to an opening in the median between two sides of the road. This was a favourite spot for them, for many motorists and two-wheeler riders attempted a U-turn at the opening, despite enough signboards warning them that it was not permitted. During weekdays, with traffic being heavy, it was an easy task to catch offenders as driving speed had to be necessarily slow. But this being a Sunday afternoon, many of the violators were speeding away, without pausing to stop when the awful majesty of the law tried to apprehend them.
However, you cannot keep the good men down and sure enough along came help from a most unexpected quarter, pun fully intended. A man who had quaffed freely at the font reeled up. It was clear that he was at his happiest for he was declaring to all those around him that he was feeling happy and expected everyone to feel the same way. And then, out of the blue, he broke into a jig. He danced his way through the traffic, much to the horror of some and the amusement of many, and eventually wove his way to just about the opening in the median. Having arrived there he stopped his footwork and began to mime, swaying this way and that, often attempting a pirouette and failing but not giving up. This had an unexpected outcome – motorists and two-wheelers attempting the U-turn had to necessarily slow down and that enabled the law to scoop them up, escort them to near the aforementioned tree and conduct their business – admonishing some, fining others and negotiating with a third and most intrepid lot.
It was a win-win situation as far as the police and their new-found comrade in arms were concerned. He was dancing and giving free rein to his happiness, and as for them, they were able to catch the offenders. The rest of the public had a good time. The traffic violators were the ones who lost out. MMM moved on but not before reflecting on how two arms of the State, namely Tasmac and the law enforcement agencies were on the same side, at least this once.
These are days when the Queen’s, oops sorry, King’s English is not considered strictly necessary in this our land. In fact, as the Man from Madras Musings often gets to hear, anyone who is fluent in it is branded ‘Peter’. But then for some reason, signboards invariably carry their message in English and the pickings can be rich, as is evident from the picture alongside.