Those who follow the writings of The Man from Madras Musings know that he lives in a neighbourhood that is not out of the ordinary for Chennai – you get the picture – encroached sidewalks, overflowing garbage, mixed zoning, noise pollution, haphazard parking, potholed roads and an indifferent administration. But MMM awoke one recent night rather in the manner of Abou Ben Adhem to find not one angel but several at work. The garbage tip fronting MMM’s neighbour’s house and which they had unsuccessfully been trying for decades to shift to front chez MMM had vanished. The haphazardly parked vehicles which no Corporation official or policeman could shift, even when the road was being tarred, resulting in a patchwork design, had all been moved. The footpath was cleared of the drunk, the destitute and the delinquent (the 3Ds) and its loose stones had been fixed. The road had been tarred overnight and, what’s more, had a median marked in white paint. The borders were all covered with floral patterns made with some white powder. A police patrol vehicle, hitherto gathering dust in front of MMM’s home, was going to and fro, siren blaring with an officer on a megaphone shouting at people to behave.
It was almost as though MMM had reached wonderland. Enquiries revealed that a road renaming ceremony was to take place further south and the road on which MMM lived was en route to it. The accumulated work of centuries was done in minutes. Even Metrowater, which had long ceased giving MMM his daily supply, delivered bountifully. In short, the lark was on the wing, the snail on the thorn, God in his heaven and all was right with the world.
Came afternoon, and a convoy whizzed past, scarcely noticing the welcoming hoardings and banners, all put up in commemoration of the State Visit. And that was that. The parked vehicles came back, and so did the 3Ds. The State-run bar further north opened for business and the rubbish came back with it. The wedding hall a little abaft began playing raucous music and, rather in the manner of a mythical film, the garbage tip waddled back and settled with a contented sigh in front of MMM’s neighbour’s house. By nightfall, the banners had all been removed, but the footpath had become the worse for wear, the affixing of wooden poles having loosened its stones even further. Metrowater, which had been available on tap, was turned off at the main. Even the white markings for the median appeared somewhat faded. It was almost as though nothing had happened in the interim.
What beats MMM is the alacrity with which officialdom moves when it has to and the lethargy with which it exists for the rest of the time. If only they could be as energetic for the sake of us common folk.