Masked Marvels


The Man from Madras Musings has recently been going walkabout and what he is amazed at is the way people have taken to wearing medical masks in an attempt to ward off the dreaded H1N1 virus. Any alien coming down to Madras that is Chennai can be pardoned for imagining that this is a city of masked bandits. No matter that the Health Department has repeatedly issued bulletins that the virus is so microscopic that such masks are no protection against it. There is now apparently a shortage of these masks and those who are not lucky enough to possess one have decided to make do with their handkerchiefs. As to how this can be of any use is beyond MMM but there it is. What is interesting is that when it comes to a sneeze or a cough, most mask users doff the masks. Perhaps they believe in spreading the good germ around. It is also interesting that nobody is paying attention to the health warning which has sensible words of advice. It asks people to shun crowded places. But you need only walk down to the closest shopping mall, cinema theatre, multiplex or T Nagar to see that this piece of advice has fallen on deaf ears (perhaps because of the mask) and everyone and his uncle (or her aunt) is out there in the crowded areas, replete with these useless masks. The warning also requests people not to spit in public. But how can we be forbidden from indulging in our national pastime? So off go the masks when it is spitting time.


What MMM would like to know is whether these masked men (and women) are really serious about protecting themselves or whether they intend these masks to be fashion statements. Some have them carelessly slung around their necks while others wear them like the ruffs that Queen Elizabeth I made famous. This reminds MMM of the times of his youth when the spondylitis collar was the ultimate status symbol. While the problem of the back came to just about anyone it was only the rich that wore these collars. We now live in more egalitarian times. And you should have seen the joy on a neighbour of ours who was asked to wear one by the doctor. She would never wear it at home but would religiously sport it while attending social get-togethers.


To come back to the H1N1 mask, MMM is of the view that Chennaiites face a new crisis of which they will become aware of only as time wears on. This is the question of how to greet people now. The Health Department warning expressly forbids the shaking of hands. It also frowns on touching any part of the face and so the pat on the cheek with which Dr S Radhakrishnan greeted the Soviet Dictator Stalin is now out of question. As for warm hugs, which the Chief is adept at especially with the young uns, that is completely ruled out. Smiling may not be of any use given that the mask hides grins and grimaces. The only way out is to follow the tribal custom of sticking out the tongue. This may not be such a bad idea. The tongue is often a dead giveaway of bodily conditions but then the tongue too would be hidden behind the mask and anyone who sticks his or her tongue out may get a mouthful of mask (ugh!). Perhaps the traditional Indian namaste is the best. That way you keep your dirt and MMM keeps his.


But whatever happens MMM (the Man from Madras Musings) will never become MMM (Man in the Medical Mask). Before we go on to other subjects, what is this?






Two men in medical masks trying to speak to each other.


Telephone surveys


The Man from Madras Musings has frequently lamented about telemarketing agencies calling him on the phone at all odd hours disturbing his peace and making him think of homicidal thoughts. And the manufacturer of the car that MMM uses surely takes the cake. Shortly after the purchase, MMM was touched to receive a call asking him if all was well with the vehicle. MMM replied with great cordiality that all was indeed well whereupon the voice at the other end beamed (or at least MMM assumes it did), MMM beamed back and the call ended.


After a month, there was another call asking if all was well. MMM was a trifle brusque but managed to answer with civility that the car was doing fine. A month later there was one more call asking if all was well. This time MMM began having doubts. Perhaps two months was the most that anyone who bought this particular brand of car could be happy for. MMM also began worrying if there was something particularly wrong with the car which they had hidden from him. Did it mean that they were frequently checking up to see that the car and MMM were still in one piece (or two pieces taking car and MMM as two different entities)? Then matters ceased for a while and MMM had practically forgotten about the issue when there was a call last week from the Bangalore branch of the same car company. “We are simply checking up about our vehicle” was the opening line. “Your Chennai office has been doing more than a good job of it” was MMM’s reply. “Oh!” came the rather surprised reply and the caller hung up. He left MMM in a state of unease with vague misgivings about the future. For if MMM’s car is now receiving national attention …


Colourful Chennai


What’s up with city the Man from Madras Musings wonders. Till recently this was not really a colourful place though the Chief may disagree. Buildings were painted white which with successive seasons turned a dull grey interspersed with moss green when the drains worked overtime. But of late, homes and offices have begun sporting colours that defy logic. Magenta, a variety of pink that in days of yore would be associated with cheeni mittai, yellow (of the daffodil variety), red, ochre… you name them and we have them. Government buildings are not lagging behind either. Several of them are nowadays painted in aquamarine or bottle-green and if that paint is not available then they are daubed with a sky-blue colour. Motorists who are sensitive to colours have been known to shy suddenly and cause accidents when while rounding a corner they unexpectedly come across these bright creations. It would appear that someone somewhere was left with a surplus consignment of paints meant for a child’s playroom or a discotheque and rather smartly decided to market it to house-owners and Government departments and is now laughing all the way to the bank.





The Man from Madras Musings was at Central Station the other day and overheard two railway porters talking about their sons. One was quite disgusted with his offspring and said that his position was so bad that he (the son) did not even have a cell phone. The other commiserated with the first in his hour of misfortune. Which made MMM wonder as to what the two would think of the Chief. A gentle pity would perhaps be the most that the Chief could expect.