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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 16, December 1-15, 2012
Short 'N' Snappy

Free public conveniences

The Man from Madras Musings notes that the worshipful one has again spoken. Last time, it was in connection with the blue enclosures that now beautify most street corners. These mayoral gifts to the city were meant to hold garbage for a week or so. In reality they now hold garbage for weeks on end and have developed a larger penumbra so to speak, all of which receive garbage as well. And what with 'Nilam' having struck the city, many of these blue (nilam in the lingua franca) boxes are now tilting at alarming angles.

But leave that aside. The latest paternal pronouncement (and a rather worshipful one at that) has it that effective February 24, 2013, relieving yourself in public will be for free. So what is new, you cynics ask. Are not people already doing that for free? But that is where you make your pooper, so to speak. What the latest er... release has to say is that all pay-and-use loos in the city will become free effective that day. And so you can simply stride in and go about your, er... business without fishing about in your pockets for that elusive coin or two.

MMM is all for it. He is fully aware that the countless who don't have that coin, or who certainly don't want to spend it on a call, would, given a choice, rather go about their activity inside closed premises and not so brazenly in the open. So why not ease their passage into the mysterious and esoteric world of toilets. The point is, who will maintain these toilets once they become free for all? That is the question that MMM would like to pose the WM. The rather bored-looking individuals who thus far sat at the entrance of the pay-and-use were, after all, doing so only because of the small change. And it cannot be denied that every once in a while they did wash the place and keep it clean or, rather, cleaner than what you would expect. Now what is to happen? You will be barely able to enter these places in future and, so, the net result? It will be back to compound walls and the trees that survived 'Nilam'.

That is not all. The announcement has more freebies, in keeping with the current trend where everything from birth to death is free for some sections of society. It also has it that on getting the urge you can walk into any hotel or wedding hall, ask for the nearest toilet and then proceed to part with what is yours. And no, in case a wedding is in progress at the venue, you don't have to carry a gift. And you can even stay on, have a good meal and probably get to kiss the bride as well. MMM can imagine future weddings where there will be three queues – one to greet the bridal couple, the second to the lunch/dining room and the third to the toilets. Imagine noticing a friend at a wedding and asking him as to whom he knew, only to have him turn a bright shade of cerise and confess that he was there to use the place we all know!

All in all, Chennai is becoming an increasingly interesting place to live in, even though the pressure is clearly building and the refuse keeps piling up. What next? Portable commodes?

Those blue boxes

The Man from Madras Musings has a set route to and from work and during these journeys he passes a neighbourhood that he particularly admires. Neat houses set behind gardens, quiet people and rows of trees on both sides. All that was until road works were initiated a few years ago on the main road that marks one end of this sylvan spot. To execute the road works arrived a team of workers, if you could call them that. For, as far as MMM can remember, they did precious little beyond waving a shovel or two occasionally.

But what did happen was that one corner of this colony became a shantytown. Huts sprouted and the availability of a public tap nearby meant that those who had come to dig had dug their heels in and decided to stay on. The corner became notorious for drunken brawls late at night, and, every day, as MMM passed by, he could see why India was rapidly advancing beyond the billionth baby. Not that all this appeared to disturb this Eden-like colony. Life continued as it was for most of the residents. They did not appear to care that the roadwork for a short stretch could be taking so long.

And then just as the area had settled down, with the natives and the invaders living together in an uncertain truce, the roadwork providing a convenient and protective moat, along came the blue box. Those in charge of its positioning (who were probably the same as those in charge of the road works) decided that the edge of the shantytown was the best place for it. One morning it was erected and stood rather like Fort St George must have done in 1640 – four walls of corrugated material and no foundation. Neither the invaders nor the inhabitants appeared to be overly con-cerned.

But the invaders had not contended with the civic sense of the inhabitants. The original settlers began throwing their garbage vaguely in the direction of the blue box. The debris often fell on the neo-arrivals. The stench became unbearable and, what is more, the newly arrived soon found themselves enclosed in what appeared to be a wall of rising garbage. The state of siege continued for a few weeks and then the workers vanished one by one. The shantytown was dismantled. The garbage gradually filled the moat and passing vehicles levelled it off. Only the blue box remains to tell the story of the great invasion and how it was finally fobbed off thanks to the wiliness of the local residents, aided and abetted by the blue box. And to ensure that no further settlements take place, the residents keep throwing garbage all around the blue box. It has become a kind of shrine to civic indiscipline.

Modernising a name

The Man from Madras Musings offers you three pictures below, taken over a period of six months even as the signboard at Warren Road kept changing. And so did the street name too, as you can see.

Evidently, the metal boards installed by the previous regime are not to the liking of the current one which has decided to retro to the wall paintings of yore. But the street name has kept up with the times.


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In this Issue

Projects in suspended animation
Pedestrian power to take on lack of attention to them
Overpowering stench of apathy
The 'Father of Indian Cricket' in Madras...
...And founder of the MUC 125 years ago
An ideas man in the publishing world
The 'Radio Vadhyar' as a Tamil scholar
Songs, films and essays

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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