The Madam- Mutt muddle

The Man from Madras Musings notices that the city’s civic body has suddenly bestirred itself. Street and road names are now prominently displayed at junctions and intersections, on well-designed display boards. As to how long these signboards will remain unmolested by posters and handbills is anybody’s guess. But MMM realises that the Corporation cannot be blamed if the citizens of Madras that is Chennai do not have civic sense and persist in defacing signboards. Perhaps the civic body can think of putting up a signboard next to each of these name boards with a statement to the effect that anyone defacing the latter will be severely punished. But what if that board (the warning board) is also covered with posters? Perhaps the easiest way out would be to post (pun fully intended) a policeman next to each signpost. But knowing that our city is rather short on the constabulary, MMM feels that the best option would be to allow nature to take its course, by which he means that after man pastes posters, we can leave it to cows and goats to eat them up or for rain to come down and wash them away.

When the new signposts were put up, MMM had a field day going around looking for howlers. Unfortunately he did not carry a camera and such gems as Wheat Craft (for Wheatcrofts) were not recorded for posterity. For by the time MMM made a journey that way again, this time armed with a camera, the signboard had been corrected. While MMM was not happy at such efficiency for it robbed him of the opportunity of shoving in a photograph into this column and thereby save on a few words, he could not but help admire the alacrity with which the Corporation had worked. Truly the city’s civic body does not sleep. But as an illustration of the adage that you cannot keep a good man down, MMM is happy to share with you another howler and thereby save on a few words after all!

Now what Sevalia means MMM is unable to fathom. Could it be the English spelling of the Tamil pronunciation of the French word Chevalier? Going by the same logic, and if this thoroughfare had retained its old name (Boag Road), it would have no doubt been spelt as Poke Salai.

But be that as it may, MMM has digressed considerably from what he set out to write when he thought of that inspiring title for this section of his fortnightly outpourings. Writing Indian words in English is quite a challenge and MMM’s sympathy is with the Corporation. What for instance is the English spelling for the Sanskrit word that stands for a religious establishment? Is it Mutt? For that is what the Corporation follows. But are they and the establishments themselves not aware that a mutt in English is a mongrel? Several years ago, the Corporation opted for the word Madam in place of Mutt and the establishments were incensed and up in arms. Were they to be associated with women running disorderly establishments of ill-repute they thundered. They wanted to be Mutts once again and the Corporation gave in. The Madam-Mutt Muddle (MMM) has been occupying the mind of MMM ever since. Math is a suitable option but that is a subject in which MMM was never strong and so he would rather not consider it. Going by international transcription standards, the word ought to written as maTham with Th standing for the hard version of t. But as this will not make sense on a road sign, what about Muthum? Can this be interpreted to mean a kiss? Once again we run the risk of the Mutts/Madams/Maths/maThams being up in arms. Can it be mattam? Would that not mean inferior? And so what is the way out? MMM would very much like to know.

In silence and darkness

Each time the deadline for this column approaches, the Man from Madras Musings is filled with a nameless dread. What if nothing strange or peculiar happens in the presence of MMM and he is unable to fill in the requisite number of words? The Chief’s demeanour would be peculiar enough to deal with. And on such occasions he resorts to the divine and prays at temples, all the while keeping one eye open for anything funny happening in the vicinity. And with the muse playing truant this time, it was back to temples for MMM. As he entered a fairly well-known shrine MMM had a feeling of having gone back in time. For one, the ugly tubelights (with the holders prominently declaring the names of the donors) were all practically invisible. There was no power (and so whats new in Chennai) and the only illumination was from oil lamps. Complete silence prevailed for the public address system had gone quiet and the only connect with the present times was the persistent ringing of cell phones. MMM was able to pray in peace and quiet. Oh what is to be the subject matter for this column MMM asked and presently his prayers were answered.

The power supply was restored just as MMM finished his prayers. The PA system sprang to life roaring out a devotional number thereby ensuring that none could get on with their personal prayers. Then came the automated bell-cum-drum which began going thud-thud-clang- thud-thud-clang. The tubelights came on, revealing their ugly holders and also the huge holes that had been dug to let in the ducting for air-conditioning. God had after all changed with the times and demanded 21st century comforts. Those on cell-phones had to speak louder so that they could be heard above the din. It appeared to MMM that while prayers were a sure way to heaven, such high decibel temples were a near enough approximation to hell.

His inner peace having been shattered MMM left. It was only much later that he realised that his prayer had been answered after all. He had enough for a column!


The Man from Madras Musings was at the airport last week. Never very comfortable with the thought of being airborne, he was not in the least assured by the announcement which went – “Dear Passengers, this is your call for the final departure…” The voice not realising the havoc it was causing to the more sensitive and nervous repeated the same thing at least thrice before no doubt some well meaning supervisor noted the obvious. The announcements were set right after that but not MMM’s nervous system.