Of hearty welcomes, past and present

The lady came, saw and then left. The Man from Madras Musings refers to the recent visit of the US Foreign Secretary who once had presidential ambitions. Presumably she wanted to meet others of her ilk who had had ambitions and achieved them as well. But be that as it may, what MMM really liked about the visit was the plethora of wall posters that made their appearance before, during, and after the visit.

“Welcome to Hilary Clinton to Chennai” was the burden of most that were on the walls near the airport. And in that context MMM wonders what happened to a mayoral statute of not a year’s vintage that expressly forbade the defacing of walls with posters on certain important roads of which the airport road was also one? Leaving that aside, the sight of the two ‘to’s in those posters tickled MMM pink for here he realised was the next column served to him on a platter. But he does wonder as to what the foreign visitor thought about our civic sense. Very little probably, for she must have also heard the incessant honking, tooting and blaring of horns, the absence of lane discipline and the general mayhem that our roads comprise.

As to what the lady did during her visit apart from shaking hands, witnessing dances and giving a speech that was probably tailor-made to suit just about any occasion, MMM cannot tell you. But the visit was a great success to judge by the rash of posters that has since broken out, thanking her for several things that are too small in type for MMM to make out. And almost all of them have her name as Hillaari, in Tamil.

MMM wonders if “thousands lined the streets to welcome the overseas visitor” as he believes the general expression used by newspapers is. These days there are thousands lining the streets on any day anyway, given our population. But not many would have looked up to see our Hillaari making her way through the city. They would get to see her on the telly anyway or on the posters.

And MMM supposes that these days it is not de rigueur to hire crowds to line the streets and cheer the visitor on. On that line of thought, MMM remembers a time in Delhi when Mikhail Gorbachev was visiting. College students were given the day off and asked to line the streets. So were thousands of villagers brought over from the rural hinterland in special buses. These were simple rustic folk and had hardly any idea as to why they had come, who was visiting and whom they had to cheer. They were all asked to shout out the name of the visitor as the cavalcade passed. Some managed “Gobar Chor” which meant stealer of cow dung, much to their own amusement. Others thought his name was Karva Chout, a ritual that women in the North observe for marital bliss. And so they shouted whatever they felt and laughed raucously, vastly amused at their own creativity. The visitor, had he chosen to lower a glass pane and look out, would have been puzzled but happy to see such cheer, as would our Hilllaari at the peculiarly worded but plentiful signs of welcome.

On the same subject, MMM, now deep into anecdotage (always a sign of dotage) remembers a wonderful book by a man largely unknown for his wit – Lord Curzon to boot. The imperious and forbidding exterior obviously hid a fun-loving man for he devoted an entire chapter to the way Indians welcome foreign visitors. He noted that at one place an arch to welcome him did not have the requisite space for a long slogan and so it read – A warm WC for Lord C. Another one, also suffering from shortage of space and handicapped by the fact that the original message was probably an undecipherable scrawl read – Welcome, horrible lout!

Things haven’t changed all that much have they?

The new/old/new Assembly

Madras Week is coming along, with plenty in its wake, hey! Jingle Bells.. Oops sorry! Wrong song and all that. But this time the Man from Madras Musings notices a grim resolution on the part of the heritage conservationists to mount a public campaign for a Heritage Act. They gird their loins (with MMM also doing his bit) even as the Chief urges everyone “once more into the breach.” But there is cause for cheer. Thus far everyone has only talked about how the number of heritage buildings in the city have been coming down. MMM would like to point out that the count has increased in the last one year by a grand total of one – the new/old/new Assembly building to boot. Now our city, always known for several records, also holds a new record for it possesses probably the world’s most expensive but the most short-lived Assembly building ever in human history. And judging by its architecture it is a sign of Indo-Germanic ties lasting several years. With a Kaiser-like helmet to top it off, its oil-tank like exterior is symbolic of the bombing of Madras by the German ship Emden, which after all hit only the oil tanks and added a new word to the Tamil lexicon. That it was built by Hindi-speaking natives of our country only adds to the possibilities. Can it not be converted into a World Classical Institute for German/Hindi/Tamil Studies?

On a more serious note, considering that it stands close to the MRTS, will soon have the Metro passing by and is just abaft a bus stop, can it not become the headquarters for the Integrated Transport facility that our Governments and babus are so fond of talking about but do little to implement. It has a grandiose and ugly building (always a prerequisite it would appear for our railways after independence to go by the MRTS stations) after all. And plenty of space. What more do you want?

Honouring heritage

The Man from Madras Musings notices the steady march of the new signboards for road-names. They are cropping up at all spots and MMM welcomes them for when it comes to readability, they are among the best. And it is also then that MMM notices several street names that he did not know even existed. Our Chief, MMM notes, has a road named after him – Muthiah Street, just off Cathedral Road. And what more do you need by way of an indication of the Government’s interest in heritage? And on that happy note, see you around at the Madras Week celebrations.