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Vol. XXXIV No. 5, June 16-30, 2024

Short ‘N’ Snappy


Newton’s Cats

The Man from Madras Musings was reminded of this caption when he recently went to a centre of excellence to give a speech. And let him explain briefly what he means by that reference to the great man of science and his felines. Years ago, when MMM was a mere mmm and also a Cherubic Child of Calcutta he happened to read in his school textbook about how Sir Isaac Newton had two cats, one small and the other large. And when he locked himself in his study, they scratched the door in order to be let in. The man who defined gravity and caused untold anguishto countless mediocre students like MMM thereafter hit upon a bright idea – he would bore a hole in the lower half of the door to allow the animals easy ingress and exit. Only being a scientist he had two holes done – a large one for the large cat and a small one for the small cat. It was a friend who pointed out to him later that the large hole would have done perfectly for the small cat as well. The story may well be apocryphal, but MMM can vouch for the fact that it appeared in his textbook.

All of this came flooding into MMM’s brain when he entered the centre of excellence. He was there to speak to an invited audience and the invite had been sent out in the name of the Director of the institute. The published programme clearly stated that the Director would address the audience as well. On arrival MMM found the venue, the audience and the rest of the staff but of Director there was not a sign. The building and the meeting hall were all that they ought to be – concrete, steel and glass – the kind that requires air conditioning 24×7 if you have to function in it. It was just that on this particular day, the AC was either turned off or was malfunctioning. With the heat outside being overpowering, the atmosphere inside was like an oven. Men sweated freely while fair ladies fanned themselves. All it needed was a couple of punkahs near the ceiling to take us back to them dark colonial ages.

After a while in the sauna, MMM made bold to ask as to when Ye Director would grace us with his presence. The sooner the event got over the better was MMM’s considered view. There was no answer to that and the organisers wrung their hands in distress. There were hushed consultations about what needed to be done. The audience had by then become restive and resembled the proletariat that starts revolutions. It was probably this that decided the organisers. One of them stepped forward and said that while the Director was on his way the event could go ahead. Another man stepped to the podium, and this was when it was discovered that there was no mic attached to it.

More wringing of hands and then someone came up with a portable mic – the kind that you wear around your head and speak. It was just that none among the faculty had used such a device and they all persisted in holding the mic in their hands. As a consequence everything they said came out in hushed whispers and what with the heat and the noise made by makeshift hand fans, not much could be heard. The speeches however went on interminably and then, finally, when everyone had nearly expired in the heat it was MMM’s turn. He opted to wear the mic and make the most of a bad situation. He could do nothing about the heat, but he at least made himself heard. The audience clapped at the end, more out of relief probably and the expectation of being released into the comparatively mild Chennai summer. And meanwhile, of the Director there was no sign.

The vote of thanks was delivered and then there was lot of pressing invites to stay back for tea. But MMM fled. He does not know if the Director did put in an appearance, but it is MMM’s guess that he was informed that the AC had failed and so had wisely opted to stay back in his office. Full marks to him if so.

But it was amazing that a centre of excellence should slip up so badly on the smallest of things.

Help with History

The Man from Madras Musings has reached an age where he looks reasonably old. People rush to open doors for him, and he is asked if he has ever met Gandhi (the Mahatma that is) personally. And apart from that daft query there are several more, often with requests to help recreate a particular time period for a cinematic production. These are days when assistant directors seem to be freely circulating MMM’s phone number judging by the number of phone calls he receives. He does help when possible but draws the line at the inane. One of the latter variety had to do with recreating how Chennai looked in 1995/1996. MMM remarked that this was not so far back in time but the person who called said that was his year of birth and so he did not have a clear idea as to how things were ‘back then’. Suppressing an urge to tell him that that was just about when fire was discovered and the wheel invented, MMM asked as to whether the person had ever heard of the Internet.

“Sure,” came the answer.

MMM- “And are you aware of YouTube that has hours and hours of videos?”

“Yes, but why…?”

MMM – “Are you aware that there are plenty of clips from Tamil movies of that era on YouTube? Can you not see them?”

The voice at the other end was silent. But MMM got the message – watching those videos takes time while a call to MMM would mean getting all the answers in one shot. MMM has over the years become wise to such people. He politely refused to help thereafter. The news obviously went around the Assistant Directors’ club. The next call was to ask if MMM would be interested in acting in a film, and after a pause, also help with the historic context. MMM said no and that was that.


It is daft email time again! After a lull, MMM is getting emails from far and wide – a sign of its burgeoning circulation. The latest is as follows – We are a research organisation. We are going to launch a social study in 12 blocks of Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu to improve the quality of life of girls and women for which we have a Data Collection Team Required. We heard you provide a team for data collection. Can you give us a team for this study? If you cannot provide teams for this district, then tell us which states and districts where you can give us teams.

If the next issue is delayed you will know that Editor, Deputy Editor, The Man from Madras Musings and the Special Correspondent have all banded together as a Data Collection Team and have gone to Tiruvallur.

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