Chennai, seen from afar
The pilot had just announced that we were cruising at some impossible height in a speed that sounded dangerously high and for good measure he added that the outside temperature was at some cryogenic levels. None of these made the Man from Madras Musings comfortable though he was told by the pilot to relax and enjoy the flight. In order to divert his mind from the frightening statistics provided, MMM picked up the in-flight magazine and shiver his timbers if the first article that smote his eye was not the one titled “48 Hours in Chennai”. And what was written there gave MMM plenty of material for this column.
“A city that is at ease with its 2000 years old history…”began the article and here is where MMM would like to take up issue with the chief who has all along been hoodwinking us into believing that Chennai is only 370 years old. But there was more to follow.
On the subject of the Marina Beach the article said “while on the beach, choose any café as a relaxed grazing ground and munch on a sandwich and coffee”. Now where are these cafes is what MMM would like to know. The best he has managed so far is the boy who sells sundal and murukku to those sitting on the sands and the woman who purveys health drinks made out of strange grasses.
On Fort St George the article has this gem: “The sprawling land around the façade and the majestic fort overlooking the sea have witnessed several fights over the 350 years of its existence.” Now what is all this about chief, unless we include the battles political that have taken place in recent years?
According to the writer Mount Road has “swanky malls that house all the trendiest designer labels”.
The article states that Kapaliswarar Temple must be visited at 2.00 pm. Now MMM would like to inform the writer that the temple is usually closed at that hour and even if it were open, walking on the granite stones at that time is not really advisable unless you are training to be a fire-walker. The write-up also claims that this is the biggest temple in the city, a fact that can easily be disputed.
Elliot Beach apparently is picture perfect “with golden sands, surf and hill cottages”! Also “visitors can windsurf, swim, sunbathe, snorkel, sail or take boat trips.” You can also eat “fresh catch” fried by locals and served with mint sauce. Now unless we are looking into Elliot Beach Part 2 or some such sequel, the article must have been written by someone doing some ardent crystal ball gazing. In fact MMM is willing to bet that the nearest the writer came to Chennai was to look it up on Google.
Be that as it may, MMM had to agree that all this made Chennai far more exciting than it really is. Perhaps this article would do much to restore Chennai’s reputation which has been much maligned by Lonely Planet calling it the most boring city in India. Incidentally, the article had a picture of what MMM is pretty sure is not Marina Beach. But the caption claimed that it was so. Oh well! What does it matter?
More footpaths vanish
Walking by the side of the beach the other day, the Man from Madras Musings was intrigued to see some road laying work going on near Sivananda Salai, the rather idyllic road that connects Beach Road with Mount Road. Now MMM hears this stretch is to remain idyllic no longer. The trees that lined it on the banks of the Cooum have been cut and road widening is in progress. All this is to ensure easy access to the new Assembly building which is rising rapidly. And, MMM noted with a pang, that the sidewalk along the University walls has been done away with on Sivananda Salai. Incidentally, does anyone know what happened to the statue of Swami Sivananda that stood at the junction of Mount Road and the road to which he lent his name? The statue vanished one night when the University claimed that it needed the land on which it stood. A committee was formed to find out the whereabouts of the statue and install it elsewhere. It is MMM’s guess that the statue is now keeping company to Neil in some vault of the Madras Museum.
Railways beef up security
The Man from Madras Musings never ceases to be amazed at the efficiency with which our railways function. And he is not joking. Given the volume of traffic the system handles, it is truly a wonder. But there is one aspect in which they always come up with something amusing. And that is railway security. MMM has written in the past about how an X ray machine was introduced to scan baggage. Now this works pretty well at airports where the traffic is manageable but railway stations are another story altogether. And so, the X ray became one more item of curiosity at the Central and MMM, who invariably had his bags scanned, noticed that the man who was supposed to see the scanned image was often facing the opposite direction looking deep into the eyes of a lady constable opposite. She, was in charge of opening and checking the bags of those who rather incredibly could opt for not scanning their bags! And even more incredibly, here too, there was a choice on whether bags needed to be checked or not.
The latest in all this is a sticker that needs to be pasted on the bag after it has been through the scanner. Now, most people who travel by train do not budget for a baggage scan in terms of time and are in a big rush. The pasting of the sticker has become yet another bottleneck. And the sole woman who is in charge of this is further impeded by the fact that the stickers are rather imperfectly perforated and so do not come off all that easily in her hands. Consequently, a big crowd collects around her, each person impatient to have his/her bag duly stickered so that he/she could rush off to catch the train and here was this woman, all thumbs, with one sticker stuck on to each of her fingers and trying in vain to get them on to the bags.
All this was too much for the man-who-was-supposed-to-man-the-scan-but-chose-to-scan-the-lady-constable-instead. He bellowed out to the woman-who-was-to-stick-but-got-stuck as to why she was causing such a delay. Whereupon the woman-who etc said that the @#*&: (such a rich vocabulary delighted MMM) stickers were really the limit and what could be done by her, a mere woman? The scan-man then offered to help but that meant that the bags had to fend for themselves on the scanner and all the while the passengers were hotting up like hell. In the meanwhile the lady constable who was till then being scanned by the scan man instead of the bags looked on serenely. She reminded MMM of Mona Lisa.