The great divide
The readers of this publication can be strictly divided into two categories. One variety imagines Madras Musings to be the local variant of The Times, London. Stately corridors, an army of staff gliding up and down steps and along corridors, the Chief in a panelled sanctum, the rest of the gang, The Man from Madras Musings included, sipping tea from bone china cups and feasting on wafer thin sandwiches, etc. That at least is the impression MMM gets when he sees letters addressed to various departments in MM, such as editorial, postal, finance, etc.
The other variety knows the truth and this group will readily tell you that a vital ingredient in the workings of Madras Musings is the regular meetings between the Chief and MMM, who between them run the editorial, postal, financial etc. And, therefore, it is vital that the Chief and MMM meet. No meet, no MM. And till now it was all very easy. The Chief had to merely command MMM’s presence and it was done. All MMM had to do then was to jump into his car, turn right, make a U-turn, turn right and then proceed straight till he hit the Gemini flyover. And from there it was a mere bagatelle. A couple of turns more, a few curses given and taken freely between MMM and other road users in the true spirit of motoring in Chennai, and MMM was at chez Chief. And then over a cup of coffee, Chief and MMM would discuss MM, its behaviour in sickness and in health and all would be well.
But now, what with work on the Metro going ahead in full swing, journeys to the Chief’s hangout (and it is not a panelled sanctum) are proving to be a tough proposition. Rather like a computer game where the degree of difficulty keeps increasing with competence, the route that MMM takes has been complicated beyond comprehension. You would not be far wrong in imagining the process to be akin to those children’s puzzles where, with the aid of a pencil, they need to help Brer Rabbit find the shortest way to his warren. What was earlier a couple of turns here, a U-turn there and a bit of rounding at the straight, coupled with the exchange of curses, has become a maze of one-ways. There are days now when MMM having set out to meet the Chief has after a couple of turns found himself back at starting point, namely Chez MMM. In fact, the only thing that has remained constant is the free exchange of curses and, here too, MMM is now more at the receiving end as he frequently pauses at every corner to select the best way forward.
Which brings MMM to the key point at issue. How is the communication to be bettered between him and the Chief? One option would be letters and that is a mode that the Chief would be most comfortable with. But with his hand-writing being pretty much undecipherable at either end (there are days when even the Chief can’t make out what he has written), this option is ruled out. Emails could be a way out, but at the Chief’s end there is a complicated process of printing them out for his perusal and we are committed to saving trees. MMM is of the view that smoke signals could be the only way out, provided the general pollution does not distort what discussions of pith and moment the Chief and MMM are having. Oh, yes, we do have the telephone, but the Chief is rather short in his telecons. Does MMM hear someone say SMS? OMG! Dat wd b a bit 2 much wd it not?
And so at this point MMM and Chief are divided by (and not over) the Metro. It is rather like Pyramus and Thisbe. And, no, before the first category of readers comes up with it, let MMM assure them that MM’s finances do not permit travel by helicopter.
The Man from Madras Musings is a confused fellow. You would not be far off in branding him Confused Character of Chennai (CCC). His doubts pertain to what constitutes heritage. The Government is of the view that monstrosities of 1980 vintage are worthy of protection while those built 100 years ago, being the crass creations of the commerce-minded British, ought to be demolished. If MMM is to believe what is being written about and said not-so-freely, the 1980 eyesore, according to the Government, is a classic example of ‘early modern Chennai architecture with a goodish-bit of the Chola about it.’
MMM trusts and prays that Chennai Chola, as evolved in the 20th Century, will not be a subject of study in architecture courses in the years to come. But in case it does, MMM, on the afternoons when the Chief has not sent him off on some errand concerning an old building facing imminent demolition, has compiled certain essential elements of what constitutes Chennai Chola.
a. Copious use of red granite – the ancients used granite for their temples. We use granite for just about anything and dressed granite at that – road med-ians, cladding of walls, flooring etc. In all this, red granite is the preferred stone.
b. Use of domes (preferably two domes) – referred to in native parlance as doom (rather appropriately). No new Chennai Chola structure can be considered without it. Where only a single dome is possible, it is usually customary to have a smaller dome on the larger dome, ref as can be seen on the Kalai(gnar) Maligai at Queen Mary’s College. This is also known as the doomsday obsession.
c. Use of aluminium windows and vitrified tiled flooring. The latter to pre-ferably be in red/ochre colour. Use of tiles with divine images for corners and borders is a must, as they prevent the average office-user from spitting into these places.
d. Large black granite commemorative plaques with lettering in gold informing the not-so-concerned passerby as to who inaugurated the doomed struc-ture. These spots later become convenient places for pasting posters as and when the office union has a strike or an election.
e. Non-aligned doors and windows – from the first day, no door can be locked without lifting up or pressing down. Ditto for windows.
f. No free natural ventilation – In the absence of electric power (assuming that these Government valhallas suffer the same problems as we lesser mortals), the staff can engage in the children’s game of dark room.
g. Ornamental grilles in concrete to ensure a convenient space for news-papers, used coffee cups and homes for spiders and other winged inhabitants.