This is a column that appears in Madras Musings with rather alarming regularity


Reporters’ research


The arrival of a new daily in the city has thrown the newspaper world of this city into turmoil. In fact the churn began much before the daily made its actual appearance. Many of the friends of the Man from Madras Musings began calling up from strange and unrecognised telephone numbers. MMM, who has a habit of never answering calls unless he can recognise the numbers ignored them all. In this respect MMM differs from his good lady, who answers all calls and manages to strike up a conversation with even those who had called erroneously. However, that is neither here nor there.


To get back to the main story, eventually MMM got around to picking up the contacts only to have these reporters rather sheepishly confess that they had made a change and were now in new offices. To MMM it is all rather like a game of musical chairs, only there are fewer reporters and more jobs available. Now, given such a situation, all these young ‘uns, are under great pressure to rustle up some story or the other and very often they are given about the same time as it takes for a mosquito to breed. Consequently, old fogeys (mental or physical) such as MMM are in demand. While MMM is all eager to help, for he cannot forget that he was in his time helped by seniors in the field, he strongly resents the usage of the word “Uncle” as a standard form of greeting. It destroys MMM’s mental image of himself as a young man on the threshold of life.


And that is not all. The caller wants to finish her (and invariably it is a she) in a trice and so cannot be bothered with details. If MMM tries to give any side story, he is invariably cut short and told to stick to the point at issue. (“Uncle has had it, he rambles!” must be the war cry in journalistic circles). And when the reporter thinks the story is over, the call is immediately cut, with a terse thank you. But the story does not end here. Within ten minutes there will be a fresh call, this time with doubts which would not have arisen had the reporter listened to MMM’s story in full. Such calls keep continuing far into the night till the story is eventually put to bed.


MMM is peeved at the phenomenal ignorance of such reporters on very basic aspects of history and heritage, which a quick read of a book would set them right on. However, this being the electronic age, the gen X is more comfortable getting information with the brevity of an sms and preferably over a phone. The correct term apparently is “soundbite”, though it is perhaps more commonly used in the television industry. MMM has now taken to soundly biting off whoever calls with a terse “No comments”.


Controversy over crossed legs


But at least one request for a soundbite deserves recording in the annals of MM. The reporter calls the Man from Madras Musings and asks if he has heard of a particular starlet from the Hindi film industry. MMM confirmed that he had.  Whereupon he was asked if he knew that she had recently been in the thick of a controversy over a particular sitting posture of hers in a film. MMM had not and all this while MMM’s blood pressure, always apt to reach great heights began its ascent. The reporter then proceeded to ask MMM if could tell her, what as per the shastras were the acceptable sitting postures of women! MMM replied that alas, he knew nothing about our hoary scriptures. There was  a click of exasperation at the other end of the wire. “But uncle! I thought you were an expert on heritage!” You could see that MMM had fallen from his pedestal. There was nothing to be done except for hanging up on the caller. But somehow, MMM was not upset over his ignorance. Something tells him he will not be called again. Or perhaps he is too sanguine.


State of the art journalism


If there is one positive development with the present rush for journalists in the city, it is that the city itself is receiving a lot more attention than it ever did in the past. All kinds of people are trying to write knowledgeably about Alangatha Pillai, Charles Trevelyan and other such long forgotten characters, all of whom the Man from Madras Musings thought lived only in the Chief’s mind. The only problem is everyone is writing the same thing with a  few rehashed sentences thrown in for good measure. There is really nothing new, except for the errors of which one gave MMM a hearty laugh. Writing about the Mylapore Tank, a young lady had written that the Portugese had shifted the temple inland in the SEVENTH century! Kudos for imagination thought MMM. The other point is that not one of these new found writers is analysing anything critically. There is no viewpoint and most are simply descriptions of what they see. There is consequently no depth in their writing. The other day a young man called MMM and asked for a few sentences on Saidapet. He also helpfully added that he needed to write 100 words on the area. Realising that a few sentences would amount to just that and would save him the job of researching, MMM suggested that he could read “Madras Rediscovered”. “But Sir”, came the reply, “It has 300 pages and I have fifteen minutes to write the piece”. “Look up the index,” was MMM’s sage advice.


Railway Coaches as billboards


Now that the hoarding industry has gone into a temporary exile, those who need to advertise are desperate for new venues and what better than the sides of railway coaches? Given that our railways are commercialising with a vengeance, it is a win-win situation for one and all. That is, if you do not consider aesthetics and passenger convenience. These two of course do not matter in today’s world. To the Man from Madras Musings, there is nothing uglier than a railway carriage which is covered from top to bottom on the outside with vinyl sheets or whatever they are, advertising for products ranging from cell phones to pressure cookers. Even the window panes are covered, though MMM is assured that this does not block the view from the inside, owing to the special nature of the material used.


The railways in their zeal to make money, have forgotten that such blanket advertising hides the seat numbers which are usually painted above the windows. This helps passengers in identifying from outside where their berths are, especially in air-conditioned coaches thereby helping them plan which door of the coach they need to get in by. Presently, with the seat numbers obliterated, passengers have no option but to get in and then locate their seats. This results in a lot of needless to and fro movement, complete with bags and cursing porters. MMM who was recently part of such a fracas, is still recovering.


Hazards of the Cooum


Recently, the Man from Madras Musings was asked to give a lecture on heritage to school children. During the presentation, MMM dwelt at length on Pacchaiyappa Mudaliar, the man after whom the famed Trust is named. MMM spoke of how Mudaliar lived on the banks of the river Cooum and bathed frequently in it. “That was why he died young” said a voice from the audience. MMM is still to live that down.