Civic or otherwise?

Campaigning is on for the forthcoming elections to the Chennai Corporation, known to all of us as the civic body that governs the day-to-day in our lives. The Man from Madras Musings has been watching the way several of the candidates are canvassing public support and this activity has kept him hugely entertained.

True, this election lacks the hustle and bustle that accompanies those concerning the State Legislature or the Lok Sabha but it is nevertheless a good enough microcosmic representation. Thus all candidates move around accompanied by a large retinue of hangers-on, factotums and sycophants. They also have enormous vehicles in which they go round their ward trying to muster support. And needless to add, the big ones are those affiliated to political parties. It is interesting to see that those of the latter variety prefer to have mega photographs of the party leader on posters, handouts and other material. Their own pictures, they keep to the size of a postage stamp.

MMM had supposed that an electoral campaign for a civic body would focus on problems of daily life in the city. In a way, the candidates have largely substantiated this view, by adding to these problems while campaigning thereby bringing them more sharply into focus. Take for instance the noise pollution (on which learned judges have written columns in this publication) and the traffic (on which just about everyone writes and contributes to). Most candidates travel round their wards in large open trucks, followed by a convoy of smaller vehicles. These rounds are done in the evenings when the traffic is at its worst. They stop at every junction, unmindful of the fact that the traffic to their rear has also been forced to stop and is building up steadily towards a gridlock. But then is not the ability to stop traffic an attribute of the powerful? As for noise, all these vehicles have loudspeakers fitted on them and they blare songs, political messages and speeches of higher-ups in the respective party echelons.

Most of the candidates have printed handbills that their followers distribute to those who have the (mis)fortune to be on the roads when these campaigning sessions are on. Almost all those who get a copy, toss the papers away after a cursory glance. These litter the streets and add to our garbage. And at the end of the day MMM noticed that those handbills that had not been distributed were simply left on the roadsides or better still, dumped in the vicinity of (but not in) dustbins.

Campaigning is tough work MMM observed, demanding frequent refreshments of the liquid variety by which MMM meant coffee and tea (oh how could you think otherwise?) And these are served in paper cups to the leader and the led, who are also in a way the feeder and the fed. What about us fed-ups? MMM did not see what the leader did with his empty cup but as for the led, they simply threw theirs on to the road! And as for the other refreshment- namely tobacco and betel leaf, the less said the better. The faithful followers did manage to paint a few walls red. Those that did not chew tobacco merely expectorated. An excess of tea and coffee also meant that bladders needed to be emptied and what better spots for these than the rear sides of electric junction boxes, corners of public/private properties and trees?

As for posters, the less said the better. Anyone would think that a municipal body poll would mean candidates would be mindful of private walls and overall appearance of the city. But not they! Every wall and available space has been pasted over. MMM could not help reflecting that several out of these hopefuls will get elected and once in, will debate, deliberate and pass laws on traffic control, waste management, cleanliness in public places, protection of private properties, public hygiene and noise pollution.

The booming Navaratri

Elsewhere in the world there is gloom and doom. Countries are defaulting on commitments and everyone is predicting a meltdown of the economy at a pace that exceeds the polar icecaps. But if you went around taking note as the Man from Madras Musings did, of the way the festival of nine nights was celebrated, you would think that this was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Take for instance the sale of clay dolls. The term brisk would be an understatement. Everyone and his wife drove up in cars, cursed the traffic, which only others were contributing to and bought dolls by the dozen, each bigger and gaudier. The floor-price at several of the makeshift outlets was Rs 500 and you could get nothing below that. MMM wonders as to where is the space for displaying such monstrous idols considering that most flats are today only 950 sq ft (but with 3BHK, gym, swimming pool and gated). And where are they stored after the kolu?

And then there was the party spirit if you visited the homes where the traditional kolu was on display. You had theme kolus and if that is old hat, you had colour coded ones too where every guest was expected to arrive only in a particular shade of raiment. Invitation cards just got bigger and if you are one of those kinds that simply sends out invites on pre-printed post cards, chances are no one will even deign to come to your place. And as for gifts…there was a time when they were in plastic, hideously ugly and practically useless. But they were all small. Now, they are still all in plastic, hideously ugly and completely useless but they are all so big that you just don’t know what to do with them. And they cost a bomb. No wonder the Chinese, as MMM observed, have smelt an opportunity and are here. MMM wont be surprised if soon heads of states of several tottering economies arrive in our city, sign trade agreements and go back to initiate doll-and-useless-gift-making-factories in their own countries. There will be fights for Most Favoured Nation status too. Business schools will write case studies on the Navaratri Model and the Prince of Wales will invite our doll makers as and when there is a wedding in his family next.

In the ultimate analysis, we are a world power at least when it comes to celebrating.