In Chennai that was Madras, there are we know only three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest. Of late, The Man from Madras Musings notices that there is a deplorable tendency to celebrate the hot season as winter, with many people going around in shawls, monkey caps and earmuffs. But to each one’s own and who is MMM to comment on people’s preferences? However, no matter what the pro-winter lobby thinks, the seasons hardly change all that much in our Garden of Eden, except for the rainy season when as we all know, the garden lies at the bottom of our three rivers. And because the seasons hardly change, our trees don’t shed leaves. And the leaves don’t change colour either. They remain a uniform dull grey, which in Chennai passes off for green.
Our Government, which as we all know is one that works, and delivers, has evidently decided to take matters in hand. If the trees will not change colour, then the Government has decided to colour them. Came a day when MMM, driving along, found all tree trunks on both sides of the road painted in bands – a central band of yellow flanked by an upper and lower band of light green. And what was even more puzzling, it had all been done in the dead watches of the night. One evening the city went to sleep with the tree trunks all brown and the next morning everyone woke up to find the same trunks covered in colours. It all reminded MMM of the great verse that celebrates how morning in the bowl of night had flung the stone that put the stars to flight. What was even more mysterious was that no leader or minister or bureaucrat had taken credit for it. There was no flagging off the tree-painting drive (even by video conferencing), no photo opps and certainly no press statement. All very strange and contrary to standard operating procedure. Was this perhaps a central government initiative and hence the dead silence? But if so, there would have surely been much chest-thumping over it in distant Delhi? That too had not happened.
The choice of colour too has put everyone into speculative gear. Chennai has for long rejoiced in the red and the black. We have been through several other phases – pater familias liked yellow while mater dei was all for green. Could these bands of yellow and green then be an attempt to show that all is peace and amity with the Montagues and Capulets of Tamil Nadu politics united at last in the great beyond? MMM being more prosaic feels that someone in babudom must have seen tonnes of yellow and green paint left over from the times when we were a mom-and-pop show and must have decided to put them to good use.
There has been one other disturbing thought – the colours are the same as those of Chennai Metrorail Limited. And as we know, practically the whole of the city is now in the beginning stages of one vast dig that will hopefully culminate in a magnificent public transport system that we can be truly proud of. Could it be that these trees are all in the way of that pathway to progress and so are earmarked for being uprooted? There are two reasons for this negative view – the painted trees are all on the main thoroughfares of the city, and secondly, not all the trees are painted – those that are a little away from the roadside have been left as they are.
But then, MMM is probably being unnecessarily pessimistic. The paint is luminescent, and it is probably meant to warn those who drive about in the dark, often with fully lit interiors owing to spiritually uplifting refreshment. That Chennai, once known for toppers, is now known for topers is a fact, and the police, quite understandably since the outbreak of Covid are reluctant to ask suspects to subject themselves to breathalysers. Perhaps painting the trees green is a good way to save the lives of those painting the town red.