Among the Chief’s favourite maxims is one on how before the British, there was no Madras or, for that matter, Chennai. These colonial masters left behind several traditions that continue, despite the six decades and more since they left us to our fates. Among these are social organisations, named after animals, wheels, those who work with brick and mortar and others. Most of these have their annual conventions in summer. This too is a British tradition, harking to Old Blighty itself, where the weather is warm and comfortable during the summer months, thereby facilitating meetings.
Out here, these meetings happen in summer too, at temperatures that enable you to fry eggs on sidewalks (if they exist that is – and The Man from Madras Musings refers to the sidewalks and not the eggs, of which Chennai has plenty). What’s more, there is also a dress code – suit and tie as worn during garden parties at Buckingham Palace. Enough to make you feel that you are living inside a pressure cooker.
Among those who get invited to such do’s is MMM and on these occasions he suffers agonies. He perspires in every pore and resembles more a wet sponge than a human being. And there are occasions when MMM has to make speeches as well, and be the life and soul of the congregation.
In the course of a middle-aged life, MMM has battled many venues – including some where microphones howl, others where they don’t work and yet others where the power fails necessitating MMM reading from his notes by candlelight. These MMM takes in his stride. But what he objects to most are venues with echoes.
He was saddled with one not long ago and it was a historic venue. The space that had become an enclosed venue had once been a pleasant courtyard, open to the skies. A well-meaning but misguided philanthropist had covered this, to make it an auditorium, without worrying about the echo. “Today we welcome Mr MMMMMMMMMM”, said the host and with a sinking feeling MMM realised that he was up against it, sorry, ititititit. The audience seating was arranged in five rows, one behind the other. All of them were straining to hear what MMM was saying-ing-ing-ing. And each time MMM cracked a joke, it was unnerving to hear the first row laugh immediately, the second a short while thereafter and then the third row, each reacting as and when the sound waves reached them. The last two rows laughed all the while. Not hearing a thing, they decided to be polite and laugh continuously, thereby tactfully encouraging the speaker.
Someone then suggested that the mikes be switched off. It was expected of MMM that he shout at his loudest and this MMM did thereafter, only to have the rear rows complain then that they heard nothing and could only see MMM’s gesticulations. And so the mikes were turned on once again and MMM was back to listening to his own voice of which some say he is inordinately fond.
The meeting wound to a close as scheduled and the audience was still clapping even as MMM left. Or so it seemed to him.