These are days of freebies. A leader with near divine and immortal pretensions, and now no longer with us, introduced us Tamils to the joys of free living, ‘high’ thinking and we as a State live on gifts. The festival of ten days that the land of peacocks in our city’s heartland celebrates every year in March/April is no exception. The eighth day event is, of course, the biggest with lakhs attending. For centuries it has been customary for charitable institutions and people to set up water and light-refreshment counters all across the city on this particular day. Of late, as The Man from Madras Musings has written in earlier columns, these counters have begun to distribute food as well. With prosperity the numbers of these kiosks have increased and of late there are people who distribute savouries, biscuits and other dry food items even as they walk around in the festival.

Our well-fed populace, which is of course perpetually hungry (and may MMM add here, becoming more and more obese as well), makes a beeline to each of these counters and collects everything on offer as though there is a famine in progress. And then, these are all just cast away on the road, after a bite or two. As a consequence, all the dry and wet food gets churned underfoot by thousands of people and becomes an oatmeal like paste that sticks closer to your soles than a brother. Not all the waters of the world can wash it off. And cleaning up the place becomes a nightmare for those whose thankless task that is, the next day.

This year, the police have swung into action and said all food-stall organisers will need to seek prior permission. That should control this menace to an extent. As to how effective this curb will be needs to be seen. In Chennai, the best of laws can be diluted in implementation. As to how far this freebie epidemic had spread was made evident to MMM when he conducted a heritage walk during this festival. To assist in the clear hearing of commentary, MMM has now invested in electronic receivers that resemble cell phones in appearance, for all those who register for his walks. And this event was no different. He and his colleagues were distributing these gadgets to the participants when several others began to line up. One of them remarked to MMM that it was sad that he, MMM, was restricting the distribution of free cell phones to a few rich people who did not need them anyway. And in case you thought that the person who said it was below poverty line, let MMM assure you that this was not the case. Prosperity was writ large on his visage and Julius Caesar would have liked him for he wanted men around him that were fat. MMM’s interlocutor was no different. Clearly he had been to too many of those food stalls in his lifetime.