Diving deep into drains

The Man from Madras Musings is of the view that drains in Chennai or for that matter anywhere in India are no easy businesses. There is our habit of treating them as all-purpose disposal chutes for one. Secondly the department that is in charge is generally a few centuries behind its counterparts in other parts of the world, most notably Singapore which is the city that our city has been trying to emulate with remarkable lack of success.

A couple of years ago, a huge stink was raised, and rightfully so, on the subject of men actually having to go down into the drains to remove blockages. In MMM’s view there can be nothing more degrading than that. Apart from the indignity, there were health hazards too, not the least being the habit of most of these deep-drain-divers to intoxicate themselves to the maximum extent possible, mainly to render themselves insensitive to the contents of the drains. And so that evil was removed, thanks once again, as in several other matters, to the intervention of the Courts.

But drains continued to get clogged largely because we would not change our habits and persisted in pushing everything down drains – plastic covers, thermocol packing and other such insoluble items. With the option of sending men to the bowels (quite literally) of the earth now not available, the brains in our drains departments came up with a mechanised solution. And this contraption recently came to MMM’s notice.

In shape and size it is remarkably like any other vehicle owned by the department that is in charge of sewers. It is battered, shapeless and is in imminent danger of keeling over. In its rear it has a complicated system of pulleys, over which a hose is wound. While a normal vehicle needs a driver and perhaps at most a second-in-command, this comes with a full platoon of six people, including the driver and the second-in-command. Now why is that you may ask. After all, in the old manual system you needed only four people – there was the man who did the diving, the second-in-command who kept the manhole cover open and ensured that no good Samaritan came forward and closed it when operations where in progress below, a third man who was in charge of the refreshments and a fourth who did nothing but bellow instructions down the abyss. And MMM does not include in this tally the numerous hangers-on and curious onlookers who are dime-a-dozen in this our land.

The modus-operandi of the new system is like this. The vehicle sets out to unclog the drains at the busiest hour of the day. It parks itself just abaft the manhole which being usually right in the middle of the road, ensures that traffic is thrown into complete chaos. Then emerge two godly beings (Men 1&2), whose job, like that of Moses is to ensure that the traffic parts into two streams and keeps flowing. The driver (Man-3) remains in his cabin and conducts operations from there. The vehicle you must realise remains on ignition right through, thereby consuming fuel and belching fumes, but we have now become immune to such trivial things and so this does not perhaps matter. At the press of a button, pulley 1 begins rolling and hose begins uncoiling itself. This activates man-4 whose job is to roar at the driver and tell him exactly where things are going wrong, for go wrong they do. The pulleys not being oiled as they need to be frequently get stuck, pulleys 2 & 3 being the chief culprits. Man-5 is employed for such contingencies for he climbs up and does adjustments. After a goodish bit of shouting instructions that thingummy A should be pressed and whatsit B has to be pulled to good effect, the hose behaves itself. Man-5 has in the meanwhile pushed the hose into the manhole and the work of unclogging starts. This, for some reason involves the bringing out of plenty of sewage water which floods the surroundings. In the meanwhile MMM notices, a fairly large crowd collects to watch the human drama. Some of these men give their own instructions and also sometimes express their contempt for the driver who is not able to press hard enough on thingamajig C or shove sufficiently enough pedal D. Though they don’t say it, being men of decency, it is clear that if given a chance they would do darned better. MMM wonders as to what their own professions are and as to how these are faring if these men prefer to spend their time watching drain operations. (For that matter what was MMM doing there?)

After a longish period, work concludes or it must be assumed has concluded and the party moves on. And what was that? What about man-6 you ask? He is in charge of the refreshments and he keeps them flowing. Man-4 in particular needs them as his job is to keep roaring, above the din of the traffic.

Season of Weddings

It is that time of the year again, when the Man from Madras Musings is flooded with invitations to witness couples being united in holy acri, sorry matrimony. There are invitations and invitations but the ones that delight MMM are those that are out-of-the-ordinary, chiefly by way of daft poems, goofy and mushy paragraphs and the occasional printer’s devil. MMM’s card of the year is one that begins with this preamble –

“Sweetest will be the movement Happiest will be the Occasion Joyfull will be your presence of my Marriage”

MMM sincerely hopes that the proof-readers of Madras Musings don’t correct a single letter from the above. But even if they do, you get the idea. The word movement is the one that puzzles MMM the most. Are we invited to witness a wedding or the nuptials? And just in case you thought MMM made that up, he has preserved the card and this can be viewed on demand.

There are some thinkers who feel that Indian weddings are the biggest waste of time and money. While MMM agrees to the time bit, he is not so sure of the money side. After all, just think of the several essential aspects of our economy that are kept going by the simple expedient of conducting lavish weddings. Jewellers, silk saree weavers, caterers, wedding hall owners, event managers, singers, dancers, valet-parking services, priests… and then after an interval, income-tax sleuths, doctors (not looking at Chapter 2 but the immediate aftermath of over-indulging in the sweetmeats and fried foods), banks (loans and mortgages department)… the list is endless. Imagine if all these people were to be unemployed. Where would we be? The mind boggles. And so, long may the ‘movement’ continue.

But that weddings have been professionalized to a great extent was evident to MMM when on attending one, he found menu-cards being distributed to the assembled guests long before the couple was united in wedlock. Someone had understood why people attend weddings – food.


A wag recently informed the Man from Madras Musings that social equality has been achieved in Madras that is Chennai. And what did he mean by that MMM wondered. Was it justice for all, elimination of poverty and access to education? No apparently. He meant that needs, comfort goods and luxuries sold at the same price – onions, petrol and beer are being sold at roughly the same price – Rs 65 per individual unit of sale – kgs, litres etc. And on that happy note, let us see what the budget brings.