This column falls due just as what little there is of the mind of The Man from Madras Musings (MMM) has got all addled with the heat. MMM can think of nothing other than the heat at this point in time and conversely, he is forever dreaming of cooler climes. But that is not to be, what with MMM having many irons in the fire (a singularly appropriate expression given the temperatures prevalent) in this our blast furnace that is also known as Chennai or Madras.
In order to cool off, MMM goes for a swim quite often. You cannot say MMM is a very graceful swimmer, but what he lacks in style he makes up by sheer strength. It has been said by MMM’s critics (and here he has in mind his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed) that MMM in water is a menace to others in the pool. Which is not entirely unjustified, for MMM is at his best when there are no other swimmers in the vicinity.
In summer this luxury is usually denied MMM for he, not being of the uber rich category that has its personal swimming pool, mingles with the hoi polloi and sports in the water to the extent he can. But, sadly, he finds that the extent is narrowing rapidly, not because of MMM expanding in size or becoming restricted in his mobility but entirely due to certain kinds of people who swim these days, or at least think they do.
MMM is no snob, but he does feel that there is a kind of social hierarchy in swimming that needs to be observed. Many years ago, when MMM was a mere MMM and learnt swimming, these were proprieties that were binding and could not be given the go by. Thus, the slow and steady swimmers, who swam rather in the manner of the whales, were given the extreme left lanes and also much of the deep end. The elderly, who walked in the water for orthopaedic reasons, rather in the manner of elephants that had come to a watering hole, did so on the traverse, taking care to ensure that they did not block the lanes of the fast swimmers, who like shoals of smaller fish kept darting to and fro. The shallow end was reserved for the crocodiles, them that did not move much but stood about chatting. Another corner of the shallow end was for beginners and, as they progressed, they moved to a quiet secluded part of the deep end.
The above social order, where each knew his or her place, was conducive to everyone. But these are days when we are in a mixed society and inclusion is the norm. The crocodiles think nothing of standing in the middle of the pool, the largest of them holding the others in thrall about how he made a killing in the commodities market. The man was a kind of human ticker tape, the way he was reeling off prices of such items as koton, iron (pronounced as in irony), branj and ishteel. The others stood around and it was a wonder that they were not taking notes on waterproof notepads. Colliding with them midstream, MMM wondered as to why they had to meet in water if all they were wanting to do was to chat about their business skills.
The coaching classes too have changed in nature. This being a generation of aggressive parents, they much prefer their wards to swim in the outer lanes as it enables them (the parents) to walk along on the sides, yelling out instructions rather in the manner of a coxswain in a boat race. That in turn has displaced the whales who have taken to swimming traverse at the deep end thereby pushing the elderly elephants to walk traverse at the shallow end. And these being days of the ultra safe, when no public pool in the city can have a deep end (the number of those dying by drowning has not come down due to this useless ruling by the way), there is no stopping the non-swimmers from jumping in and blocking others. In short, society is in the melting pot and MMM fears this onset of socialism in the pool.