The Queen (of England, that is), we are told, operates out of red boxes. The Man from Madras Musings wonders as to what Indian leaders use for their confidential documents. The Chief, MMM knows, works out of a small grey diary into which he periodically enters profound thoughts in a handwriting that only he can decipher, and that too only on a sunny day. Our beloved city, of course, works out of blue boxes, the gifts that our governing fathers have bestowed on us.

These boxes have been placed in all strategic street corners. In shape and size they resemble the large containers that carry industrial output from one country to another, on ships. The idea was that these commodious containers would be used as receptacles of the rubbish that would be collected from all the houses in the neighbourhood. Handcarts, it was rather grandiosely declared, would do that task of collecting the rubbish and transporting it to the blue box. The garbage collection vehicle (the big green one that is motorised and stops all traffic and which is not to be confused with the battered grey handcart) would then stop at each of the big blues and collect what is in them and carry them away to God Knows Where – namely the landfills about which nobody is as yet bothered except for those who have the misfortune to live in their vicinity.

That at least is the plan on paper and like all good things of Chennai, it looks good on paper only. In reality, the handcarts do not collect the rubbish. It is brought by householders to various bins provided by our Corporation. But, and here is where the householders differ from those in other countries – nobody puts the garbage into the bins. They strew their rubbish all around it. The motorised vehicle comes once or twice a day and collects whatever it can from the bins and from around it and departs. The task of emptying the bins is made easier by foraging cows that tilt them over in the process of reaching for some juicy plastic bags.

What of the big, blue and roomy boxes? They remain empty. Several have begun to collapse and present a sandbagged appearance. Some have been converted into cow pens and makeshift residences for rag pickers. One or two are convenient spots for a tipple or two after sunset, especially if a TASMAC outlet is nearby. The corrugated sheets are, of course, most suited for pasting posters. What is worse is that, as MMM notices, these blue bins have occupied what little there is left of pedestrian space on many thoroughfares. In short, they are among the most useless creations of our civic body. It is high time these are dismantled and the sheets put to good use, such as backdrops for hoardings, supports for cut-outs, and stands for posters. But then MMM forgets that that is exactly what they are used for even now.