Gassed out of wits

The Man from Madras Musings is not certain about those of you out there but he has definitely been bitten to the core by the mosquitoes that have sprung up all over Chennai following the rains. And MMM, in his rather naïve way, has been hoping all along that the Corporation would soon begin its gassing or to give it its more dignified nomenclature, fumigation services. But MMM’s hopes were belied for long till one evening when he was out for a stroll along a rather quiet road near his house. There was a sudden blood-curdling roar which MMM, a little while after his heart had ceased to flutter, managed to make out to be “vallaam, vaa”, the standard cry adopted by men who imagine that they are helping someone to reverse a vehicle the proper way. In this instance MMM noticed that the vehicle was of a sound vintage (perhaps pre Second World War) and had a caged rear rather like the ones in which stray dogs are impounded.

As the contraption on wheels appeared to be making straight for MMM, he rather wisely moved behind a parapet wall and waited. The decrepit vehicle wheezed and jolted its way, entirely in the reverse, accompanied by the steady chant of “vallaam, vaa”. The intonation and the movement stopped within a few feet of MMM so that he could get a good glance at the interior of the cage. A man sat on a rickety stool, holding to a dirty old oil drum which was tilted at an angle. His job was to prevent the drum from toppling over and it was a wonder that he was still holding on it. From the lid of the drum emerged a tube which was connected to a pump of some sort. This in turn led to a cannon like contraption that protruded out of the rear of the vehicle. The floor of the cage appeared to be the receptacle of a wide variety of refuse and litter.

It was a shock to realise that this was the fumigation vehicle for MMM had always imagined these to be state-of-the-art tankers with electronically-controlled nozzles for spraying the fumes. Perhaps it was the rather belated realisation of the truth that this offspring of a gun carriage and a kennel that stood before him was going to spray the gas that completely dulled MMM’s wits. He stood rooted to the spot and suddenly the man reciting the reverse mantra stopped it all and let out another yell. This was a shout of a different kind and it immediately galvanised the man inside the cage into action.

He rocked the drum which sprang into life and lurched forward so alarmingly that it almost threw the man onto the floor of the truck. There was a sound like a death rattle and the cannon shook all over. Then came a mushroom cloud of gas, all completely aimed at MMM. By the time MMM recovered from it and managed to get his eyes to stop watering and his nose to resume breathing, the jalopy and all that it contained had vanished. A distant clanking noise and dull roar indicated that the operation was continuing elsewhere. Down by the road, MMM could see several mosquitoes happily dancing over a puddle. It appeared that they had nary a worry in this world. And why not? If this is the method used for gassing mosquitoes, then MMM would rather be one. Better to be a mosquito for Madras Musings than be a man.

Twisted Tales from T Nagar

T Nagar is to the Man from Madras Musings a microcosm of Chennai that was once Madras. It’s poorly maintained roads, its burgeoning population, its buildings- many of which are forever in the news for violation of building norms but continue functioning anyway… and above all the crazy traffic. The much touted flyover near Panagal Park has not done anything much by way of easing the congestion. In fact it has only added to the chaos for it now has a scissor shaped cross-roads below it where traffic from four different directions meet. As to how they disengage themselves and move on is one of life’s eternal mysteries.

Perhaps you are shaking your heads and saying that nothing much can be done about it. But surely you would agree with MMM that steps can be taken at least to not let the situation worsen any further. But that does not appear to be priority for those in charge of smooth traffic flow.

Under the mistaken notion that this area would be a little less crowded on Sundays, MMM drove there. Little did he realise that this is the day when every man and his uncle was out there shopping. To add to the atmosphere, a funeral procession chose that very hour to wend its way slowly down the subway close by, cross the road and then proceed along one of the principal thoroughfares. MMM agrees that the timing of the final moment cannot be chosen by anyone and he is therefore definitely not holding a grudge against the dear departed. But surely his mourners could have chosen to move a little faster and be somewhat brief over the dance, the bursting of crackers and the strewing of flowers. At one stage, crackers were burst by a man who was in some sort of a stupor most probably not induced by grief, close to a vehicle laden with gas cylinders. And with around a thousand cars in the vicinity! MMM simply shut his eyes and prayed and that is an act that you must have noticed MMM indulges rather too often in these days.

But MMM’s prayers were shortly to be answered though not in the way he would have wanted to. Shortly after the cortege had moved on, so did the traffic, until it came to the next bottleneck. This was a wayside shrine at which the birthday of the Goddess was being celebrated. Among the many acts demanded of the faithful was one that involved walking over a pit of live burning coals. MMM was amazed to find traffic being diverted along a narrow alley that in Biblical times would have qualified as the eye of a needle. The reason? Half the main road had been cordoned off to build the pit which would carry the coals. A huge plaster cast of the Goddess benignly watched the proceedings. A vast open-air kitchen had sprung up at her feet and food was being cooked in huge cauldrons, all on the road of course. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Chennai is still considered an overgrown village.

Manual Automated Parking Lots

India is a human resource rich country which means it is grossly overpopulated and there is no better illustration of that than our city. This is probably the reason why even automated tasks become eventually manual activities. Take the automated parking system introduced in Mylapore with much fanfare a couple of years ago. These are now entirely controlled by the attendants who were initially meant to assist people to learn how to use the parking meters. The Man from Madras Musings finds that these machines now do not accept rupee notes and only take in coins. And who should supply them for you but these assistants? And then the decision to allow some people to park without paying the fee is also taken at times. For some reason, parking fees are charged only for certain hours of the day and for the rest of the times, the attendants turn off the machines. MMM is not certain if this is as per the agreement with the company that installed the machines and is charge of collecting fees. If so, it is a very inefficient system.