Short on clothes

The Man from Madras Musings has been at the receiving end ever since he wrote the piece on nighties. There is a growing body of opinion that by commenting on women’s slumber-wear that is now outdoor-wear, MMM had overstepped his er… brief. He has received letters from irate readers, largely forming the distaff side of Madras Musings’ readership. MMM will not be surprised if pretty soon WOMEN (World Organisation Meant for Empowering Nightie) plans on a march to the registered office on Madras Musings and having reached there, burns MMM in effigy.

Among the plethora of letters that have come in are some that have questioned as to why MMM chose to gloss over men wearing shorts and T-shirts and going pretty much everywhere in the city. MMM pleads guilty to that and the only defence he can think of is that having grown up in this city where men thought nothing of wearing dhotis which they conveniently folded up at knees (an uncle once told MMM that it provided ventilation) and went about, shorts appeared to be a natural progression. But that answer did not please a lady who is into education. “The sight of fathers coming in shorts to school in the morning to drop their wards is not in any way better than mothers in nighties,” she said. Now before MALE (Men’s Association for Lungi Enhancement) marches towards Madras Musings office, let MMM remind them that these are not his views but those of the lady who expressed them.

Ultimately it appears to MMM that it is all a matter of comfort. And on that count MMM has a question. Has our Madras that is Chennai changed its dress code from saris and dhotis to nighties and shorts? Have the days of the saris (nine or six yards) and the dhotis gone forever? Will they be seen only at weddings and similar events? MMM fervently hopes not.

MMM also tends to agree with what a wag wrote on the subject. In these days of load shedding owing to power shortages, why not a bit of clothes shedding he asked? And before anyone thinks of sending further mail on the subject, let MMM draw a discrete veil by saying that correspondence on the matter has now ceased.

Short on water

Chennai is now a city that takes its rainwater harvesting seriously and it is also seeing the benefits of it. The Kapaliswarar tank in Mylapore is just one example, its brimming with water being a sight for sore eyes. But come summer, the thoughts of the Man from Madras Musings automatically stray towards the 1970s when the city became water-starved for the first time in recent history.

MMM remembers the evening when the hand-operated pump was first installed in his ancestral house. The well had run dry for the first time and there was no other source of water for a household that had at least twenty-five people. Everyone from grandmother downwards learnt how to operate this mysterious creature, which creaked and groaned, besides needing to be propitiated with several mugs of water to create what the plumber referred to as “prime pleasure”. The pleasure was all the pump’s for those who operated it, and that included everyone from grandmother downwards, soon came to recognise it as a grade A pain in the rear … of the house. This was the first time when the Corporation was supplying water to our hitherto self-sufficient locality and that august body too was coming to terms with the ground profile of our locality. We came to know of words such as gradient, head and flow and even the maids were soon discussing such matters with authority. For some reason, the Corporation supplied water through the hand pump only in the middle of the night and MMM remembers that everyone adjusted their sleep schedules accordingly. In those days of no TV, it was easy to turn in at 8.00 PM, wake up at 1.00 AM, pump the water and fill all the buckets and vessels, go back to bed at 2.00 AM and wake up at 5.30 AM once again. Enterprising souls came up with a unique creation – the plastic kudam.

Then came the deep bore-well. This involved digging deep for water. People spoke proudly in code – MMM recollects walking along with a group of elderly men. “50,” said the first, to which the second said “60.” MMM assumed that they were discussing the age up to which they had managed to avoid bifocals when a third said “300” and everyone else looked at him with a newfound respect. As the gent in question did not appear to be so venerable MMM made discrete enquiries and came to know that they were all discussing the depths at which water had been found via the bore well in their respective backyards. When the bore wells ran dry, you had to repeat the exercise in some other part of the garden. And if all possible spots had been exhausted, the digging had to just go on deeper. Even if it involved the risk of digging right through to the United States.

Summer was also when the water pumps in the house suddenly stopped working. Washers and fan belts fell apart and the plumber was practically a fixture in the house. Uncles and granddads clambered up overhead water tanks defying all fears of heights and attacks of vertigo. And from there they roared instructions to the plumber, who crouched on all fours besides the pump which was the ground, did exactly what he thought was best.

The last of the great icons of the water scarcity was, according to MMM, the water tank on wheels. This was a vehicle that regularly extracted human sacrifices as it raced along our roads, reckless in its hurry to deliver or collect water. You had to book water days in advance and even then there was no guarantee that some neighbour would not seduce the tank driver into delivering the water into his empty underground sump and not yours. For some reason, these water-carriers invariably plied their trade in the witching hour of the night, but then, Big Boys Play at Night if you remember. And what was bigger than the water scarcity?

Things have changed since rainwater harvesting and the water tanker has receded into the background somewhat. No doubt most of these vehicles have gone back to ferrying what they were originally built for – petroleum. But in MMM’s view they are simply biding their time, waiting for the day when Chennai will once again be in the grip of a water crisis.

Short on Patience

That is what everyone is on the roads these days, what with our temperatures soaring. Matters have come to a pretty pass, at least in the view of the Man from Madras Musings, when he espied a policeman asking an errant auto-rickshaw driver if he had “informed everyone at home” before setting out for the day. Surely such phrases were the auto-rickshaw driver’s copyright.