When in doubt, go walkabout – this is one of the various maxims that The Man from Madras Musings follows. And doubts assail him often, their intensity peaking just when the deadline for this column nears. So it was last week when, keeping company with mad dogs and Englishmen, MMM too walked about in the Indian sun, seeking inspiration for the column.
Having wandered lonely like a clo(u)d, MMM did not come upon a host of golden daffodils (unlikely in Chennai where you could come across terrible things quite easily), but he did espy a raised platform enclosed by railings. A Corporation of Chennai (second oldest Corporation in the world and civic body in charge of the first city of modern India, in case you did not know) plaque boldly announced to the world that this was a playground for children. It also gave the name of the councillor during whose tenure this was inaugurated. And just in case the plaque missed the average passer-by’s attention, a large but fading digital banner broadcast to the world at large the name of the benefactor once again and thanked her profusely.
Years of wandering around Chennai has given MMM a heightened sixth sense about places where rich pickings could be had for this column and something told him that this spot was one. And so he looked inside.
The place could have been a dioramic representation of the Sahara. It was barren and the only relief features were shards from broken bottles that adults who evidently made merry here at sundown had left behind. A few reed mats also littered the place, indicating that the celebrants at sundown stayed on after the party and left only when the milk was delivered. If these regular party-goers had been in other strata of society, they could have featured in the third page of at least one newspaper of our city.
MMM had assumed that a play area for children would have a merry-go-round, a slide and perhaps a monkey bar/climbing frame, which for some reason is known as a jungle gym in our country. But of these MMM espied none. He, of course, realised that those who frequented this playground at happy hours did not need them – they got the effects of all this equipment from what they imbibed. But what of the children, MMM wondered.
And then MMM saw the sole object that could be remotely classified as a plaything. This was one of those synthetic rubber water tanks that are visible on most buildings and have probably contributed more to the ugliness of our city than anything else. This was being rolled around the place by a couple of urchins. That made MMM realise that our Corporation and its councillor had achieved their stated objective. All other aspects, such as the photo-op during the inauguration of the play area and the obligatory news report, not to mention the more permanent foundation plaque and the semi-permanent banner, were merely incidental benefits, of course.