An elegy for Egmore Station

The Man from Madras Musings has always had a soft corner for Egmore Station. MMM remembers a time when he was young (and, may he add, cherubic), and when this stately edifice was to him almost akin to a cathedral. Silence was its dominant feature. Its vast interiors were sparsely populated and almost the only sounds were the steady tramping of feet on the wooden stairs of the over-bridges. Every once in a while, a voice with a respectful intonation as though at a state funeral would announce the arrival and departure of trains. There used to be a drive-in platform where you could simply drive up, drop off your guests and their luggage and drive off. MMM had heard of the wonders of the station’s refreshment rooms, all stained glass, polished cutlery and liveried bearers, with the best of Butler Cuisine to match. The Chief, MMM has noticed, often gets sentimentally maudlin about repasts enjoyed in the past in that hostelry. Sadly, MMM has to record, all this has gone forever.

MMM accepts that noise has to increase with the vastly increased population. He also understands that the number of trains that come to and leave from Egmore has gone up exponentially. The bass voice reminiscent of newscasters at the AIR must have long retired, for MMM overheard a shrill electronic version, probably played out of a computer. That too MMM accepts. He also realises with a pang that wooden stairs are not permanent and wear and tear is a part of life (after all, MMM is no longer the young troubadour that the Chief roped in so many years ago. If he could have frayed somewhat at the edges, what of stairs?). All these are signs of the times and the station has to live with it.

But what he cannot accept is the filth that has come to define this station. The sheer volume of it, for which both the railway conservancy staff and the passengers need to take equal blame, was mindboggling. And the plethora of posters and the copious graffiti inscribed on every wall surface by the railway unions left MMM with equally copious tears in his eyes. Most railways across the world have unions, but none of them thinks it necessary to paint slogans and paste posters in this fashion. It speaks volumes of the attitude that these people have towards the very institution that feeds them.

There was one character in particular who, it appeared from a distance, had achieved something remarkable, for every poster had his face on it. Had he patented some new method of locomotion, MMM wondered. Or had he single-handedly saved several passengers from a burning train? No, it transpired. He had won an election in one of the several unions that exist within the Southern Railway. That was all. And he had a set of demands which, to MMM at least, appeared that, if met, the Railways would need to close down once and for all.

MMM was part of a large group and several were reminiscing about the glorious days of Egmore. And then someone pointed out that the first accessible platform was No 4. What of the first three, they wondered. MMM had no answer. It was only while climbing an over-bridge that MMM located the missing three. They were all on one side, and perhaps now accommodating only suburban or goods trains. But that should not mean water had to stagnate in a greenish pool beside the tracks, rats had to be scurrying around, and garbage had to be piled up. MMM wonders if anyone in authority ever visits these places.

Several passengers were throwing litter on these platforms with complete lack of concern. Used plastic bottles were being collected by urchins. Some of the secluded corners and the platform edges were used as spittoons and also makeshift urinals. It was then that the simple truth hit MMM. We get the cleanliness we deserve.

Sad state of a college

It was also last fortnight that The Man from Madras Musings was invited to visit an educational institution that could be considered the grand sire of our city’s university. It is now a deemed university, though doomed would be a better adjective, given the recent activities around it. It is, to give it due credit, housed in a handsome domed building the city should be proud of, but, sad to say, its occupants are doing damn little about keeping it clean. Perhaps it all has to do with the valueless education that we appear to be specialising in. We the people have more or less done the college in.

MMM and an expert who had gone with him were asked to give their opinion on the building. All that could be said was that the structure was in solid condition and could pull on practically forever. But the maintenance was abysmal. Perhaps the genius that built the edifice had anticipated this and planned for its survival despite the greatest of odds. But what even he could not have really anticipated was the accumulation of muck. Broken chairs and tables were stored in all corners, no doubt in anticipation of a conflagration sometime, in keeping with Chennai’s heritage history. Persons who ought to know better had dumped used paper plates, paper cups, plastic cutlery, scraps of paper and Lord knows what else under the wooden platforms in the lecture halls. Priceless prints and old photographs lay under layers of grime. The garden, of which there is plenty, had not been weeded in years and some of the places in it were practically inaccessible.

What puzzled MMM and the Chief to whom the findings were duly reported was that surely this institution must be having NCC, NSS and other such disciplined service units. What these cadres do is not very clear, but surely they could be requested to do shramadan and clear the muck, wipe the pictures clean and weed the garden REGULARLY. If this institution set an example, others would very likely follow it.

If only college students displayed the same enthusiasm for maintaining their campuses as they do in observing Bus Day! And if only campuses were a little cleaner, perhaps students would turn automatically towards academics and less towards what is keeping them in the headlines.

Historic blunder

If by that heading you think The Man from Madras Musings is referring to the founding of Chennai, you are not even near. MMM was thinking of a recent article in one of the city’s leading newspapers. This was on the 18th Century dubash Pachaiyappa Mudaliar who left much of his wealth for good purposes. The paper claimed that his fortune was initially built on selling plastic goods! Perhaps he paid for his purchases using plastic money as well? Truly, he must have been a pioneer in plastics, this Pachaiyappa!