This is that season of the year when many of our city’s residents return home, having completed their grandparently duties in lands far away. This breed can be easily identified chiefly by their new walking shoes, and T-shirts with strange and rather unsuitable messages. The Man from Madras Musings has seen elderly men walking around proudly sporting emblazoned messages such as “I am hot”, “Big boys play at night” and, most memorably, “Balls of fire”! MMM has followed with glee several of these newly returned people and eavesdropped on their conversation. Most of them talk about how life was extremely restricted out there during weekdays and as to how when they did get around on weekends the first thing that struck them was the broadness of the sidewalks and the ease with which they could walk. In terms of pedestrian comfort, the general verdict appeared to be that Madras was no comparison to Massachusetts or wherever else it was.
MMM often wondered if these migratory birds ever noticed another aspect of walking around abroad – the tendency to greet perfect strangers with a smile, a nod and a good morning or good evening or good-whatever-time-of-day-it-was. That is a habit that Chennai-ites in MMM’s opinion would do well to cultivate. The current tendency is to view everyone else on the road with suspicion if not open hostility. You have to just compare and contrast: in foreign countries people keep their eyes focused on the road till they come up close and then make eye contact and greet you. In India, and in Chennai in particular, people keep staring at you till you come up close whereupon they look deep down at their shoes and move on.
A couple of weeks ago MMM decided that he would wish all random passersby a good morning as he went on a walk. This was not done with a view to make friends but chiefly to study the reactions of those greeted. The women invariably sprang six inches in the air and if sari clad wrapped it tightly around their shoulders as though expecting MMM to do a Jack The Ripper on them. Those that were in other raiments just walked off rapidly probably mentally making a note to avoid Lotharios like MMM.
The men were no different. Some scowled in response while others grunted grudgingly. A few looked at MMM with a kind of look that implied that if MMM was greeting them with a view to asking them of a loan then MMM was quite mistaken and would be well advised to try his luck elsewhere. Clearly all of them were familiar with Polonius’ speech to Laertes. The matter did not end with that. MMM noticed that from the next day most walkers cleared the street the moment they saw MMM in the distance. They hid behind trees till MMM had passed or lurked in dark corners. Some did an about turn and walked off hoping to have shaken MMM off. MMM, not to be outdone, speeded up, caught up with them and wished them nevertheless. But after a while he gave this up, chiefly to prevent the more elderly from getting apoplectic attacks.
MMM later related his experience to his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. She, in the manner of most wives, laid the fault squarely at MMM’s doorstep. It was her considered view that MMM must have bared his teeth while greeting people and that must have scared them off, the lower row in particular being in her view barely endurable. MMM has now decided to try greeting people with his mouth closed but for that he needs to learn ventriloquism and carry a stuffed doll with him as well. It is perhaps best MMM drops this habit of greeting people. In Chennai, a scowl or better still, a masterly ignore appears to be the winning habit.