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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 7, july 16-31, 2009
Short 'N' Snappy

On the way to the hereafter

Passing away is, of course, a painful thing for those around, though hopefully those who pass away do not feel anything later. The Man from Madras Musings fervently hopes that the latter aspect is really true, for, given the way our city’s denizens send off their dear departed, it cannot be anything but painful for those who are seen off.

MMM has in the past written questioning the necessity for publicising deaths by printing posters with two weeping eyes set on either side of the photograph of the dead. This time, it is to the concept of the funeral procession that MMM would like to draw your attention. Given the kind of traffic we have, do we need these funeral processions?

The other day, MMM was driving near the Institute of Mental Health at Kilpauk (now, what took MMM there?) when all traffic came to a halt. Police personnel were forcing the traffic coming up the road via a narrow opening in the median on to the opposite side. Those coming down the road had to hastily make way for the traffic up and the confusion that resulted could only be imagined.

Was it an accident, MMM wondered. And then came the distant thumping of drums in a tattoo that MMM, after long years in the city, has come to associate with funeral processions. The drum-beaters came into view and walked on regally coursing down the lane now devoid of traffic and were followed by a hearse that did not contain the dear departed but a group of mourners all laughing and shouting, stripping flowers off a garland, and strewing the petals on the road. Then the dancers, who were probably under the influence of what you know, put up what can only be termed as a ‘spirited’ performance. All of them were accompanied by local toughs, referred to for some reason in the Madras vernacular as pistas (why should they be equated with the ­pistachio?), who were lighting crackers.

Those that were not doing this were trying to regulate the traffic which was thrown into chaos in the first place by these very same people. The regulation they did was not much different from that of the police. It mainly involved shoving cyclists and two-wheeler users rudely to one side and intimidating car users with rude gestures and trading abuses with bus and truck drivers. In the midst of all this was the bier, with the late lamented swathed in garlands, no doubt secretly glad that all this had come to an end and if he/she got through this procession in one piece, he/she can look forward to the peace of the hereafter. Even hell-fire would be preferable to a Madras traffic jam on a hot summer’s day. The bier, incidentally, was carried by pall-bearers. It is only in our city that a hearse would be used for strewing flowers while the body is carried manually.

MMM is not certain, but if more such processions happen, more and more people who use roads will swell the ranks of those tearing out, like MMM, what little hair they have. What MMM is certain about, however, is that these processions do not take place after obtaining any sort of permission from the police. That noble force appears to be as surprised about these as the lesser mortals on the road.

Competitive comfort

We at Madras Musings celebrate the past, but if there is one aspect of it that The Man from Madras Musings does not look back upon with nostalgia it is the control that our Government once exercised on telephone services. MMM remembers a time when a phone connection took years and, then, after it was sanctioned, the instrument, rather aptly black, took months to come after which the connection was established only after follow-ups for weeks and then the line went dead within days if not hours. Complaints had no effect and telephone users were periodically administered shocks by being presented with huge bills even when the connection never worked.

In Calcutta, a public spirited city like no other, a funeral procession was orga­nised for a telephone that had remained dead for months. Thousands of mour­ners joined the procession (rather like the one described above) and the instrument was cremated solemnly amidst multi-faith chants. Not that it had even the smallest effect on the Department of Telephones.

But how things have changed! There are now many agencies offering these services, telephones come in various colours, and connections work, though the billing still administers periodic shocks. MMM is quite happy to be living in this present age, where he knows that when he dials a number he will get through. But even MMM can be surprised.

The other day, MMM’s land line, which is a number given by the Government-controlled enterprise, went dead. A complaint was registered and, within an hour, a man arrived and said the line was fine, it was the instrument, which MMM had purchased from the market, that was faulty. MMM said that he would change the instrument and sent the man off. Within an hour, the man was back. He had noticed, he said, that MMM did not have another instrument ready with him and, so, he, the man, had brought a phone to replace the faulty one. It was a used phone which was lying about in office, he said rather apologetically, but it should work. The task completed, the line now working, the man ­departed having given an open-mouthed MMM a ­dazzling smile. Not one rupee had been demanded and none given. It was an amazing ­experience and even now MMM finds himself frequently reaching out to the telephone just to make sure it is for real.

Having said that, MMM wishes that the Department would get better voices for its recorded messages. There is one which says, “Dyulled number yis buzzy. Please dyul yafter some tayam” which takes the cake. It then goes on to say the same thing in Hindi which sounds even worse. MMM strongly suspects that both announcements were read out from a script written in Tamil.

Surely in this time and age we can get some pleasanter voices with better accents.

Our lingua franca

Now that Madras Week is around the corner, the Chief has this habit of ­looking quizzically at The Man from Madras Musings and MMM gets the message. “What are you doing for Madras Week?” is the unspoken question and MMM went on a walkabout with a colleague who orga­nises heritage walks. Our quest took us to Kesava Perumal Sannadhi South Street in Mylapore. Having come to the vicinity of the street, MMM and ­colleague could not identify the place, whereupon MMM stepped to an autorickshaw driver and asked him where Kesava Perumal Terku Sannadhi Street was. “No such place,” was the terse ­reply. MMM persisted. How is it that there are streets for all the other cardinal directions but not South, asked MMM. “Oh you mean South, then why did you ask for Terku?” was the reply. MMM left it at that.


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