Putting our best foot forward
“Take them on foot,” thundered the Chief. The Man from Madras Musings had just informed him, for there are no secrets between master and serf, that he had been approached by a couple from overseas to take them on a tour of George Town. MMM added that GT being what it is, he would much prefer taking them in an airconditioned vehicle with a few pit stops. The Chief differed and felt that taking them on foot would be the best. Which is where all of you came in.
Chief and MMM worked out a compromise. We would go by vehicle and then walk wherever possible. And that was that. The Chief went back to his deep thoughts and MMM away to plan the tour. And so on a bright Sunday afternoon, when most of Chennai slept, at least that part of it which was not glued to TV sets, MMM and guests went off to George Town.
All was well to start with. There was hardly any traffic and for once the area around the High Court was free of defecators and defecation. MMM and the faithful went around King George’s statue, goggled at the boundary pillar, looked up at Dare House and so on, all the way down Old Jail Road. Madi Poonga was at its best and then we arrived at Mint Street. And it was here that MMM’s troubles began. There was no option but to get off the vehicle and trudge a certain distance as a significant portion of what was once road had now been dug up for one of those never-ending projects that our city is blessed with.
The first sight that greeted one and all was a man relieving himself. He had lifted up his lower garment to the highest possible level and there was no way that anyone blessed with eyes could escape noticing what can only be described as “all”. It was left to MMM and visitors to look suitably abashed. The man was in no way perturbed and continued with his business. After that, anything that MMM showed the visitors paled into insignificance. They nodded at the Mint, smiled at Pachaiyappa’s Building and mechanically progressed down Broadway. The aphasia ended only on entering Bunder Street.
“Who is in charge of the footpaths?” asked the lady of the couple. MMM wished he knew. As far as the eye could reach there was none and we were banking on our luck as we walked amidst cows, crowds and cars. Underfoot was a rich dry mixture – part hay, part packing material and part rotting vegetables. “Who is in charge of…” was the next but MMM did not allow them to finish. “Garbage? Cleared every day twice”, said MMM. “It is just that GT generates too much of it and so it accumulates fast.” Nobody looked convinced. The garbage around looked as though it was as old as Casa Verona or one of the other dubashes.
Coming out of Bunder Street, MMM turned the couple to the right. He was keen that they did not look left and was by then wishing that he had not waxed eloquent about the King George’s statue while rounding the curve. From the vehicle the statue was clearly visible but not its base which doubles duty as one of the largest open-air latrines in GT. But MMM had by then run out of luck. The couple wanted to be photographed next to His Royal Highness. And so off they went. As though in greeting they were met by a 21-bum salute. Some of the users were on their thrones and others were taking care of their crown jewels. The rest of the tour was completed in dead silence.
Paeans in praise
Each morning The Man from Madras Musings walks down a particular stretch. It makes his day. For pasted on the walls on both sides are the latest by way of prayer to the leaders of our land. The Second Lincoln collars the lion’s share, but Artiste, who clearly has done an about turn on the earlier stance of a poster-free city, also gets enough and more mention. Closely following Artiste are the artisans, by which MMM means the gen-next. Perhaps arti’sons’ would be more appropriate had it not been for an arty sister who also queers the pitch. Immediately thereafter come two father-and-son duos, the first going strong while the second is practically out to pasture, and that is not entirely inappropriate as they advocated eco-friendly measures apart from politico-friendly overtures for survival.
The contents of the posters are fairly uniform. Deification is the order of the day. But what impresses MMM is the treatment or variety involved. Some restrict themselves to just one adjective – O Gold, O Parent, O Local Language, etc. are some of the common terms of usage. There are some who go by the simple dictum of a picture being worth a thousand words and so depict the leader of their choice in a variety of postures, those kissing babies being the most preferred. A third variety thanks the leader for several things – Government and party appointments, unveiling of statues and attending family weddings. Sometimes they go too far, profusely thanking the leader when a baby is given birth to in their house.
MMM’s favourite is a man who every day puts up posters in praise of the mater familias. These feature the local Good Queen Bess followed by a couplet. “O thou who art verily holy/That some compete with you – what folly!” is one and MMM must say it fails considerably in translation. Another was structured as a missive from the local fort to the red one up north, advising the latter not to lose hope as Bess is on her way to redeem it from its sufferings. It’s a wonder that she has not yet smiled on this yearning poet and showered him with favours.
Walking down this poster corridor MMM realises that there is no dearth of talent in this land of ours. Be it design, writing or ideas, they are all nonpareil. But what is sad is that all this is being spent on sycophancy when it could be put to much better use in solving day-to-day and larger problems, and thus earn public gratitude.