Water Tankers in Chennai, pic courtesy Raja Pandiyan & Madras Musings

The Man from Madras Musings looks out via the window even as he types this. In the sky above, there is not a cloud and yet this was the date that the weathermen/women had given out for the arrival of the monsoon. The rains have tricked the Met Office twice over – the first time in mid October when the combination of two cyclones, one on the east coast and the other on the west was cited as enough reason for an early onset of the monsoon, and the second being this glorious sunshine-filled day at end October. Now, so MMM learns from a news release, the weather people are saying the rains are just five days away.

Chennai residents are understandably worried. Last fortnight’s water-tanker strike showed what havoc shortage of water can cause to high-rises and IT Parks, all of which are striking proofs of our city being well on its way to becoming Chenngapore. But then not everyone is concerned. The Chennai Metrowater and Sewerage Board is delighted for it has just embarked on what promises to be a rather long and leisurely dig all around the city. Everywhere you go you find mysterious bags filled with soil lining the footpaths even as gangs of workmen crush the concrete, asphalt and whatever else that goes into defining that narrow sliver of space that is allotted to the pedestrians. Closer enquiry reveals that these are for improving the stormwater drains so that as and when (and if and when as well) it rains, we ought to be ready for a swift clearing away of the surface water.

Ask any of the supervisors as to why the great dig had to begin just when the monsoons are (hopefully) around the corner and you have them flummoxed. They blush, they twiddle their thumbs and admit that you have a point there. But what can be done, they go on to ask, for such is the tendering process and the speed at which it is gone through that work can begin only when the rains are just arriving.

The curse came upon MMM a fortnight or so ago, when gangs of workmen and women arrived at his doorstep and began breaking the footpath. The work would be completed in three days flat, they said, even as they went about their task. These toilers move around en-famille and so the children made themselves comfortable in MMM‘s front garden. Hammocks were suspended from tree branches and babies were rocked to sleep – all very domestic and a scene that MMM did not complain about. But he did have second thoughts when the workers, and babies used the garden as an open toilet as well. In these days of Swacch Bharath, MMM can only hope the women found some toilet to use. The offer to use a servant’s toilet in the house did not meet with encouraging response. These are people who prefer the wide open spaces.

At the end of the day, three huge craters had opened up, all of which made entry and exit from chez MMM quite a challenge. On day two, when according to the supervisor, the stormwater channels were to be laid, there was deathly silence, with not a worker in sight, even as sewage filled the pits. The workers are yet to come back as this column goes to press. But the stagnant water in the caverns is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

MMM now realises that the workers, when they said they needed three days to complete the task, did not mean three consecutive days. What they had meant were three working days interspersed with several long breaks. MMM is now left wondering if an early onset of monsoon is such a good thing after all.