You know what it is like to get off at an unearthly early hour at the Central Station after a terrible all-night train journey and then having to face the auto drivers all of whom imagine that you have been created only for one purpose – paying them what they demand. The Man from Madras Musings is what you may call a frequent traveller, though MMM must admit that if he were of the flying variety he would have been a privileged, pampered passenger (PPP) of some airline or the other by now. The Railways, of course, could not care less and MMM remains a mere TTT – Tormented, Troubled Traveller.

MMM is not so sure about all of you, but he follows a fairly time-tested practice when he alights at Central. Keeping his head down and not making eye contact with any of the soliciting autorickshaw drivers, he makes his way straight to the prepaid queue. There, too, he does not lift his head till he reaches the counter, for, the autorickshaw men are a hopeful lot and keep badgering you to board their vehicle. This goes on until you have handed over the prepaid fare at the counter and they realise it is too late. Then, having cursed you briefly they move on to whoever else their trained eye tells them is a classic mug.

So it was this time too. A week ago, MMM found himself, after a night of terror in the company of a mouse and several cockroaches, deposited on the platform at Central at a time when milkmen had not yet begun making their rounds and the cockerels of Korukupet and other surrounding areas had not yet crowed. He collected his bags and bearings and was walking towards the prepaid counter when he overheard an autorickshaw driver telling a prospect that the facility was now a thing of the past as far as Central Station was concerned. It would be no exaggeration to state that MMM’s heart sank into his boots. But he chose to disbelieve what he had heard and walked on. This came in for some frank derision from the savari hopefuls who at once labelled MMM a ‘customer of death’ and referred to him in other local terms of endearment.

MMM trudged along bearing his luggage rather like the old man who bore amidst snow and ice the strange device Excelsior. Conceive his shock and horror when on reaching the prepaid counter spot he found no such counter. It had folded its tent like the proverbial Arab and had vanished into the silent watches of the night. The throng of autorickshaw men who had followed MMM belted out a collective “We told you” kind of laugh. One of the elders among the tribe then explained to MMM that with the metrorail work in progress, the railways had decided to axe whatever it felt was not essential to its functioning in order to make space.

MMM looked around. Clearly the railways felt that the ornamental palm tree some of whose lights worked was more important than the prepaid auto counter. It was still there and flourished. So too did the lawn on which a whole lot of vagrants spent the nights. Also doing very well was the miniature Rialto bridge that hindered rather than helped passenger movement between the various bays in the drop-off area. Several tiny shrines were pictures of health as though the powerful ones controlling them had been fed on energy drinks that helped them grow by the hour. None of these could be done away with and so the prepaid auto counter had to go.

MMM could do only one thing – surrender to the autorickshaw drivers, meekly accept whatever fare they demanded and go home. Ruminating on this experience later at home in the company of his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, MMM searched for a single word that could sum up the whole experience. Tamil was the winner and the mot juste was Ayyo!