The Man from Madras Musings often chuckles at the thought that water supply and sewage are combined in most Indian cities. Chennai is no exception and these onerous twin responsibilities are handled by the organisation that rejoices in the name of CMWSSB – Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board. Every once in a while, this organisation reminds us humble denizens that it takes care of both these liquid forms by mixing them up. And so it came about that early one morning MMM had just stepped into his bath along with his pet duck and other important accessories when he realised that all was not well with the bathwater. In simple words, it stank to the high heavens.

MMM and family then made enquiries among the neighbours, many of whom replied rather unconcernedly that they too had smelt the odour but what could be done? These were difficult times, said a couple of them, and we need to accept it. Not so, felt members of MMM’s household, and off went a couple of the more energetic ones to lodge a complaint. The concerned official, or, since we are referring to the Government here, shall we say appropriate authority (AA), was not in his seat and so the registering process took quite a while. But when it happened, the AA was not in the least perturbed. Such occurrences, the AA implied by his demeanour, were commonplace and scarcely merited a notice. If he had been Marcus Aurelius he may have added that the befalling of such an aught was a good thing and was meant to make us more spiritual. But to do him credit, he did not temporise but promised action. He also informed the complainant that the mixing of the water and the sewage had happened three days earlier and had since been detected and stopped.

Back home all this led to much emptying of water tank and sump and then the cleaning of both before (presumably) fresh and (supposedly) clean water was let in. A couple of relatives from abroad who call daily thanks to the proliferation of free channels of communication wanted to know if MMM could sue. The least that the AA could have done, they opined, was to inform all the residents of the locality as soon as the contamination occurred so that they could have taken suitable precautions. A good lawyer, they felt, could bring in a claim for substantial amounts on the grounds that MMM and neighbourhood had been exposed to the risk of cholera, typhoid and jaundice, not to mention glandular botts and a whole host of other illnesses.

MMM was tempted for a moment. Then he reflected on the number of years it may take for a judgement to be given and decided to abandon the idea.