At a Mylapore walk

The Man from Madras Musings has been around for quite some time in this city of ours. He therefore is ideally placed to give advice on where to go and, more importantly, what to see, particularly if those spots are of the historic kind. This appears to be the understanding of many Non Resident Indians at least, and come September, MMM’s mailbox gets fairly filled up with queries from those up north and also several others from faraway lands. They plan to visit Chennai, they say in their emails, particularly in December (when the weather is better they invariably write, even if they are from the African Sahara), and would it be possible to meet up with MMM, and, even better, could MMM take them around? Yes, MMM is now one of the sights. To these queries MMM gives a patient and considered reply. Then comes the most important question, at least to these NRIs. Does MMM charge for taking people around? When they receive an answer in the affirmative, most vanish into the night, leaving the field open to others.

Not all prove so miserly; some have offered gifts in kind. But there are only so many coffee mugs and pens that MMM can use. He also cannot be swayed by chocolates from abroad and so he firmly refuses any alternative to cash. It is, therefore, only the very determined who get to see the city with MMM. You may assume that it is all sweetness and light thereafter. But that is where you make your bloomer. Retaining the attention span of the visitors is a great challenge. And in this, the general filth and squalor is a great competitor to MMM’s commentary. There he will be, declaiming in rolling periods about a certain building, and there the visitor will be, his/her attention completely diverted by a pig chasing away a dog, or two people bathing in the open, or a pile of rotting flowers and fruits from a nearby roadside shrine.

There can be other claimants to attention as well. MMM recalls a particular tour when he was taking a group of ladies across the city in a luxury bus. MMM waxed eloquent on the beach, the Fort and Mylapore but nothing really interested the participants. They kept gazing out of the window and MMM may not have even been there for all they cared. Matters continued this way till the bus happened to pass by a fairly well-known hospital and where at that precise moment, there reposed, in an advanced state of illness, one of our beloved leaders.

MMM happened to mention this in passing and there was a sudden awakening in his audience. The bus nearly capsized when all the ladies crowded on one side of the vehicle, to get a clear look from the windows. MMM asked one of them as to what they hoped to see. After all, the leader was not put on display, at least not as yet. To this he was told that you never know – you could get an accidental view as the leader was being ferried between wards (MMM did not have the heart to tell them that at leader’s level, there is no question of being ferried between wards, it is the ward that is brought to the leader’s bed,) or you could see VIPs arriving or departing, or better still, the exact moment the bus passed the hospital could coincide with the release of a health bulletin… The possibilities were endless.

Faced with such macabre tastes, MMM opted to keep silent. After all, his throat needed a break. The discussions thereafter steered away from heritage and focused solely on leaders in sickness and speculating on when DDay would be. MMM was later thanked profusely for making the tour soooooo interesting.