Years ago, the Man from Madras Musings, when he was a Cherubic Child of Calcutta, read a story in the Arabian Nights of a man who slept on a palm seed and his body warmth made it germinate. When he awoke, he found he was several feet above the ground. And he decided to stay there, for he was assured of food and drink from the tree. The story was however quite silent on what he did for relieving himself. Presumably others had to worry about it. Talk about serendipity.

Chennai that was Madras is now in congratulatory mood in rather similar circumstances. Apparently, the city, which ranked last year 235th on the cleanliness or to give it its official name – Swacchatha- index, has zoomed to 100th position this year. Government babus are congratulating each other. It is party time at Ripon Buildings and the Tweedledum-Tweedledee combine that is in power is claiming all credit for it and attributing it all to the blessings of late lamented mommy dearest. Not so happy is perpetual prince in waiting aka eternally youthful leader who owes allegiance to daddy dearest. But that is understandable.

The public, and that includes MMM, is puzzled as to what has really caused this sudden improvement in ranking. Last year’s pathetic marks were on account of “poor performance in waste collection, lack of scientific solid waste processing, delay in construction of toilets and poor communication to bring about behaviour change.” In what way has all this changed in the past one year? Have we improved markedly on waste collection, have we evolved a scientific method to process solid waste, have we speeded up construction of toilets or is there a change in the way we are communicating to bring about behaviour change? MMM does not think so. And his views are shared by much of the ever-growing population of the city. All over the place people are wandering about with puzzled looks, wanting to find symptoms of better performance in waste collection and the rest.

Having debated on the matter in his venerable mind, as the Father of the Nation often said, and what is good for he (Father of Nation) is good for him MMM, he, MMM has come to some conclusions on how we improved in ranking. The first is of course the simplest – we remained the same while other cities slid rapidly down the scale. Perhaps there was an epidemic of defecation in the open in the rest of the country. That could explain why we suddenly found ourselves 100th. The other reason, which is more plausible, was found by MMM deep within the celebratory bureaucratese on this improvement. Last year, the Babus who sit in judgement over such rankings had cast Chennai down to the 235th chiefly because we failed to submit documents on time. This error was rectified this year and the Babus were pleased. They gave us high marks and we zoomed ahead. In short, it is all in the paperwork.

Now that is something our bureaucrats are very good at. After all up north it was always believed that we Tamils are best when it comes to filling forms. And so MMM expects our ranking on Swacchatha to only improve. Soon, like Abou Ben Adham we will awake from a dream of peace to find our name leads all the rest. As to all that ground work on waste collection and the rest why bother? We can go a long way on paper.