Of Horns, Red Lights and Government Cars

A friend who has recently returned from a foreign clime was recently sharing his experiences with the Man from Madras Musings. The city that he visited belongs to a country much richer than ours, having become wealthy thanks to oil. And that city too has traffic jams, just like what we have in Chennai. It also has a large Indian population. Yet says the friend, what surprised him the most was the way our people behave themselves on the roads there. The complete silence that prevailed at traffic signals made for a very peaceful experience says MMM’s friend. On hearing this, MMM could not help but reflect on the sad way in which we conduct ourselves, especially at traffic hold-ups. Those at the rear think that by tooting continuously on the horn all bottlenecks will ease. And once the traffic light changes to green, it is the driver of the vehicle that is right at the back who is the loudest, encouraging those ahead to move on so that he does not miss his turn before the lights change. Not that such an eventuality deters our friend. It is probably only in Chennai that vehicle users assume that they have a few seconds extra time to negotiate a junction after the lights have turned to red. All that needs to be done is to accelerate to the maximum extent possible and charge ahead. And in case others have not noticed, the simple tactic of keeping the hand firmly pressed on the horn ensures that such a racket is created that everyone moves out of the way.

The cars with red lights are a class by themselves. The drivers of such vehicles believe that they have only lane for themselves – that on the extreme right side. And they keep their foot only on the accelerator, the brake being very rarely used and as for the hand, it is firmly pressed on the horn. And what with the swirling red light, the glowering security guards and the auxiliary vehicles, it all makes for a frightening combination. And taking of red light, the only ones such vehicles recognise are the ones on themselves. The other red light, which exists at traffic signals and which is supposed to turn green to allow vehicles to move is not recognised by these VIP cars at all. Such lights are meant for the common man/woman, not for demi-gods who go around in vehicles with red light bulbs flashing at the top.

As if these trappings of office are not enough, we now have designations and the official status of the panjandrum inside the vehicle prominently displayed on the outside. That is for those around to recognise who is inside and move away in deference. But some of these plaques make MMM suspect their genuineness. The other day he saw one that simply bore the legend “CHAIRMAN”. But of what it did not say. Could it be that some private sector mogul had decided to adopt the same tactics as our Government servants?

But all that pales into insignificance when compared to the vehicle which sports an additional legend that states that the vehicle is on urgent Government duty. As the two words are completely contradictory and together could be classified as an oxymoron, MMM has never believed that such vehicles could really be rushing off to attend an emergency of sorts. And his suspicions were confirmed when the other day he did see such a vehicle rushing ahead. MMM followed, and then discovered that the vehicle belonged to a Government department that dealt in fish. Perhaps it was carrying the catch of the day and needed to deliver it before the fish began to rot.

Gifts Galore

But let us turn to cheerier topics. It is that time of the year when the festival of nine nights is celebrated and women from all over town are zipping hither and thither, in response to invitations for kolu, the display of clay dolls. The good lady who has committed to staying by the side of the Man from Madras Musings through thick and thin (and surely sick and sin) is among these frequent flyers and while MMM is all for her travel (provided he is not asked to chauffeur her), what he objects to are the gifts that are given on these occasions. One household gave plastic combs, another distributed buckets. A third gave kumkum containers made of metal which when opened carelessly could give a vicious cut with every danger of leading to tetanus. To what purpose such excrescences? MMM is waiting for the day when CDs containing pirated versions of films will be given as gifts.

The story of a book

A hallowed institution of the city is due to celebrate its sesquicentennial a couple of years from now. The Man from Madras Musings learns that there is considerable speculation as to whether a book will be brought out to commemorate this. MMM also wonders if any attempt will be made to bring out a volume of the same standard as the one that was produced to commemorate the same institution’s centenary. Copies of that publication are almost impossible to get now with even the institution’s library copy having gone AWOL. Having come to know that measures are afoot at the institution to acquire a copy, MMM alerted the powers-that-be of a second-hand bookshop that possessed one. The purchase was made and it was only then that it was discovered that this copy was that institution’s official library copy and had been disposed off as unwanted some years ago. Surely what you win on the swing you lose on the roundabout. But so much for our sense of history. MMM also learns that this is a malaise that is sweeping across several of the city’s libraries. Books that are not borrowed often are deemed unwanted and sold as waste paper. That some of these may be priceless reference volumes is not being thought of by anyone.

Road repairs

What do you do when your road is battered after the rains and you are unable to convince the PWD or the Corporation to do anything about it? The Man from Madras Musings hears that the residents of an upmarket road had been trying their level best to get someone in authority to come and check out the abysmal condition of their thoroughfare. Nothing happened till a VIP (and a very very high up one at that) grandchild had her ear-piercing ceremony at a hotel on the same road which meant doting grandpa was also on his way. Within no time road rollers were summoned, gangs worked three shifts and the road was smoothened to perfection. Now for all of you out there who live besides pot-holed roads, here is your chance. Get together and build a five star hotel and then get VIP grandchildren to celebrate events there.

The absent rain

Pot holes remind the Man from Madras Musings of the rains of which there is very little at this time. A communiqué from the Met Department, as reported in the papers, blamed it all on lack of clouds. Trust them to come up with something original.