Multinationals in Chennai, so The Man from Madras Musings is given to understand, are a confused lot. They had all along assumed, at least from reading the local newspapers, that religion in the city had only two colours – saffron and non-saffron. But it is only on being enticed from across the globe and then having invested that they come to know of several other colours in existence. They are now resigned to the fact that their employees can turn up all of a sudden in certain colourful outfits, sporting beaded necklaces as an added attraction. And far from being haute couture, this outfit, comprising usually of a faded dhoti, a crumpled shirt and a dirty scarf, can be of any garish colour – red, blue, black, ochre, green, yellow and even salmon pink. One other aspect completes this garb – the absence of footwear and the complete giving up of shaving.

A foreigner who has been here for a few years informs MMM that he has even come to accept the strange dresses, but he is unable to come to terms with the stubble – he has done a study and has concluded that the 3rd, 8th, 19th and 21st days of the growth of facial hair are the most unbearable for him and not the cultivator of the beard.

For those who do not know, MMM is obliged to explain that these sensational outfits, the abandoning of footwear and the growing of beards are all part of religious observances, usually culminating in a pilgrimage after which life returns to normal. During the observance, the devotees are considered to be embodiments of the deity being propitiated, and are addressed as such. Swearing at them is taboo, for that would be tantamount to insulting the deity, which could then retaliate with thunderbolts. Maddeningly, or so the foreign exec informs MMM, these para-deities do even less work than usual during these periods and the temptation to swear at them rises in proportion to the growth of the beard.

MMM understands that most companies have now begun to take a tough line on this matter. Braving the thunderbolts, they have said in no uncertain terms that religion is a matter of private practice and has no space in offices. People have been asked to conform but some, so MMM learns, have opted to resign on these grounds.

Knowing the readership of this column, MMM can see a considerable percentage of it fuming and wanting to ask if MMM or these foreign companies would be so bold if these observances were from a mi­no­­­rity community. That is where they make their bloo­mer. The blues, the greens and the salmon pink are all minority rites, and of recent origin. The companies have decided to clamp down on all of them, irrespective of majority, ­mino­rity, colour, creed and sex. It appears that at last we are well on our way to becoming a secular nation, something that was promised in 1950.