Before you of the faithful read the heading, shudder at the depths to which the Man from Madras Musings has sunk and pass on to read other columns in this magazine, let MMM assure you that he is not talking of anything even remotely connected to the digestive system. Well, there MMM is not entirely accurate for cooking gas IS connected to food and therefore the alimentary canal but there the relationship ends.
This is the electronic age and everything, but just about everything is automated and so is the system by which you go about booking a gas cylinder every time the one you are using is running low on the vital fuel. And the authorities have spared no expense in getting hold of the latest technology. The best that money can buy is their motto. And why not? Given the price of cooking gas, they must be making a pretty packet. But, and here is where MMM would like to point out that all is not hunky dory, the system is positively unfriendly when it comes to the elderly, or at least that is what MMM is given to understand.
Apparently, a pre-recorded voice with just the right hint of a lilt in its intonation, welcomes the caller to the mysterious world of gas booking. It offers a choice of two languages and then when the user has selected the lingua with which he or she is familiar, it rattles off a bewildering array of number options to choose from, ranging from whether you want to book a new gas cylinder to whether you want to bat the delivery boy on the head with the empty one at home. The glitch here according to an interlocutor of MMM’s is that the array of numbers is narrated at such superfast speed that even before the elderly caller has patted himself (or let us be fair and include a herself also) in having selected a language, the announcement of subsequent menus is all over, leaving a dead silence at the other end of the wire. And then there is no option but to ring off and dial all over again, this time with the determination to be more nimble when it comes to language selection. MMM’s friend informs him with a quiver in his voice that he is most certainly missing the sleepy and unfriendly reservation clerk who in the good old days would on occasion, wind and weather permitting, answer the phone and condescendingly accept a booking and if pressed deign to give a reservation number. At least then, says MMM’s friend, you could thaw the voice at the other end of the wire by lamenting about the weather or about the cost of living. But with the uniformly friendly pre-recorded voice, you can do nothing but pray.
The story does not end here. MMM’s acquaintance managed after a certain number of iterations to make a reservation or thought he did. When after a few days there was no sign of the gas cylinder he decided to call and find out what had happened. After having negotiated his way through the lilting voice and its karaoke of numbered options he finally got on to a human who in crisp business-like tones asked for a reservation number. MMM’s friend had received none. “Impossible,” said the flesh-and-blood creature at the other end. “We always send it by SMS to your cell phone”. When the caller said that he did not have a cell phone, there was a disbelieving gasp at the other end. No doubt the person at the help desk had fainted and others had to rally round with smelling salts. After a stage wait, a rather hushed voice, the kind that breaks bad news over the radio came on the wire and offered to manually take MMM’s friend through the booking process once again. Perhaps, said this person, who from the tone of voice appeared to be a commentator at state funerals, the booking had not been properly made. And so, the process was repeated. The only consolation says MMM’s confidante, was that the lilting voice was silenced. But you can never keep a good thing down and this time at the end of the process, the voice popped up and after belting out a reference number in record speed, cheerily congratulated MMM’s friend. It also assured him that he had “victoriously” made a booking. Not the most appropriate term here perhaps, but apt considering the kind of uphill battle it has become to make a simple booking.
Hop On-Hop Off has Hobbled Off
The Man from Madras Musings had long wondered as to what happened to it. He refers to the Hop On-Hop Off bus service that was announced with much fanfare by the tourism department a few years ago. This bus was supposed to connect the various (and may MMM also add, the few surviving) heritage spots in and around the city and those interested could buy a daylong travel ticket and do the circuit, getting off and on at the various locations. The service, rather weak even at birth and never very robust in infancy has, so MMM learns, passed on, regretted by none. The only vestiges of the existence of such a service are the rather ornamental signboards that were put up at the various boarding points. These no doubt are now being used for supporting political banners and cut-outs. The one near the Anna University has a gaping hole in it, rather convenient for tying one end of any banner.
Looking back at the service MMM is not surprised that it has chosen to pass on to the great destination above. Rs 250 was a rather steep price for a plain bus service. And it was run entirely during office hours. The first bus left at 9.00 am and the last at 4.00 pm which meant that the tourist had to be out when the heat of the day was at its peak. And once on the bus, no information of any kind on any of the destinations being covered was available for love or for money. Those who manned the buses certainly had no clue as to the significance of the places they were driving to. You only have to contrast this with hop on-hop off tours in other cities that come with wired running commentaries and the rest as they say is history.
And as for the destinations, the less said the better. The newsletter that the department of tourism released for this service invited people to take a “leisurely walk in the High Court campus to enjoy its architecture”. It also listed Ripon Buildings (named, it said “after British administrator Ripon”) as a tourist attraction! MMM would certainly not consider the interiors of our Corporation’s offices as a place worthy of a visit unless he was bound to (by which he meant being tied hand and foot). The brochure also claims that the Fort Museum is in Egmore. The Parthasarathy Temple it says, is dedicated to Lord Krishna, the great charioteer. Somehow MMM missed seeing this Krishna in Ben Hur. And then comes the piece-de-resistance. The modern lighthouse on the Marina says the newsletter, is a great tourist attraction. Now what is so great about that chimney-like structure MMM wonders. For more laughs, please visit http://www.tamilnadutourism.org/pdf/NEWSLETTER-MARCH-2009.pdf
As the Man from Madras Musings wrote in the last issue, tis the season of weddings and so tis also the season of goofy wedding invites. MMM was quite delighted to receive one which began with the entreaty, “Please ensure to come”. MMM has decided to go and come, as we say in this our Madras, that is Chennai.