And so the City celebrated …

“You will be away! You will miss it all,” said a colleague half enviously to The Man from Madras Musings. He was referring to MMM having to travel on the day when the ‘powerful’ (Ouch! Not a good word in these days of extended power cuts) of the city would celebrate the birthday of THE power. MMM and colleague were discussing the likely disruptions in traffic, the disfiguring of walls with posters, the proliferation of digital hoardings, and the general increase in noise that would be a part of the celebrations. Though, to give THE power due credit, enough and more indications had emanated from that source that all celebrations were unnecessary and could everyone please go about their work.

But what other work do the faithful have than singing the glories of the source of all their well being? ‘Creation by Brahma, Protection by …’ went one poster as though setting the trend. And with that you could say the revelries had begun. Mind you, it did appear that the admonitions of the power-source had had some kind of an effect. The festivities were nowhere near what they used to be in years past. There were no public meetings to deafen the ears and stall the traffic, at least in the most important city of the universe (it has to be, for, judging by the posters, this is the seat of the highest among creation). But there was plenty of everything else.

Gone with the wind was the legislation that declared some roads to be poster-free. Walls were covered top to bottom, left to right with portraits, all of them with headers and footers of the most slavish sycophancy. As for digital hoardings, they covered enormous stretches and formed walls by themselves. They blocked footpaths (those that survive that is), traffic lights (those that work that is) and buildings (those that are worth looking at that is). A colleague counted 200 of them just between Tiruvanmiyur and Siruseri. And overhead were festoons, all plastic-coated pennants strung across roads at the greatest risk to those who did the stringing and those who chose to drive along at that moment.

As for firecrackers, the less said the better. On the ECR, so MMM was told, traffic was halted whenever the urge to say with fireworks got the better of the faithful. There was no option, as trying to defy these stoppages meant inviting the ire of the devotees who could suddenly turn from being ardent worshippers to those who believed in human sacrifice. The police, of course, turned a blind eye. It would appear that they do not like such ‘encounters’.

And so yet another birthday went by. Returning a couple of days later, MMM could see that the city had chosen to celebrate in style, whether willingly or not being another matter. The fallen hoardings, the peeling posters and the strewn-about buntings spoke of a Chennai that had celebrated too well, if not all that wisely.

Forever amber

There are three traffic lights that The Man from Madras Musings has to cross whenever the Chief summons him. In the past, this meant a drive of 15 minutes. The secret, of course, lay in crossing the first signal, after which, thanks to the lights being coordinated, MMM did not have to wait at the other two. All this was till a couple of months ago. That was when the three traffic lights, which had all along operated like the Magi, suddenly fell out with each other. Now they had become Gorgon-like, each making you stop in your tracks and pay obeisance, all being a few seconds out of sync with each other. As a consequence, MMM was invariably late in arriving at chez Chief, causing the boss to gnash his teeth and bound to and fro in his lair, rather like a tiger in the zoo whose lunch is late in arriving. MMM had to therefore increase estimated travel time to twenty minutes.

After a couple of weeks, matters worsened. The first light worked while the second had passed on into complete darkness, while the third was clearly sickening. There were days when the last one would flicker while red, be blank while amber and turn a shade of pink when green. It was up to the public to understand what needed to be done. Recourse was taken to the timers which continued working in both the second and third lights. In the case of the second, each time the timer came to zero, one stream of traffic automatically took the responsibility of going ahead while the others halted. More often than not, all the streams decided to move ahead and the chaos and the noise had to be seen to be believed.

Then there came a day when all three lights went on the blink, now being permanently set to amber and all the timers went off too, the only indication of any life being a couple of – signs that still flickered. Surprisingly, the traffic flowed on without a hitch. Everyone took turns. MMM reached the Chief in less than 10 minutes.

It now makes MMM wonder if we are a city that is clearly above such mundane systems as traffic lights. What impressed MMM even more was that not one policeman ever bothered with all this malfunctioning over the entire two months. Clearly they like to be left alone.

MMM now notices that most traffic lights in the city are on the blink. The other day he encountered (no, not that way) a policeman and on enquiry it transpired that the law is having problems with the agency that is supposed to take care of these signals. The latter had apparently not submitted its quote in triplicate or forgotten to swear allegiance in front of a notary public or failed to fulfil some equally important life-saving procedure. Till this is rectified, said the policeman to MMM, the traffic lights will not work. The public, continued the policeman, will have to lump it.