The Man from Madras Musings is aware that it is ­customary for most well-established periodicals and dailies to have prepared obituaries for celebrities, often written by other celebrities. These are kept aside with the view that they can be immediately churned out for print as and when the subject matter of the obituary departs for the great beyond. Some of these tributes can be masterpieces, in their style, construction, analysis of the person and also usage of subtle humour. In this our land, and particularly our city, obituaries are usually hagiographies – woe betide the person who writes anything negative about someone who has just had a tryst with a bucket.

The joy that manifests at someone else’s passing

That said, Indians in general and more so those residing in our city simply rejoice in deaths. It is a great social occasion when everyone meets up with everyone else, drinks coffee, makes nasty comments on its quality and then departs for home, after a cursory word or two about the dear departed and a gloomy shake of the head. The Chennai idea of page 3 is the obituary column of the newspaper. Sometimes we also jump the gun – the person concerned may just be somewhat ill, but we give full rein to our imagination and speculate that death has occurred.

Such was the case last week with a master scientist who resides in our city. Someone else who shares the same name passed away and his relatives put up a news item. A media channel, as is usual with entities of its kind, deciding that it must be the master scientist who had passed on, immediately put out an obituary without any verification (known in Chennai as verivification), no doubt to satisfy that perpetual urge for breaking news. That got social media going and tributes began to be posted. It was quite a while before the media channel took down the offending post (no apologies mind you). The social media posts still remain. And some of them showed MMM how obituaries are often attempts at glorification of the living at the expense of the dead. 

“Oh what a great man,” said one. “He waved to me when I sat in a pew behind him at an event around seven years ago.” Another, and there were several others of the same kind, expressed ‘shock’ at the passing. Now MMM may sound callous but it is his firm belief that you cannot be shocked, stunned or taken unawares when a nonagenarian passes. If people don’t plug it in their nineties then when do you expect them to go? But then this is Chennai. There were others who praised themselves – “He was such a humble man despite his achievements that he immediately recognized my talents, praised me and predicted a bright future for my work.” It made MMM wonder as to who had really passed on. 

Anyway, master scientist is happily with us and long may he guide us. MMM wonders if he read the tributes and if so, what he thought about them.

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