Thursday, May 15, 2008


People often talk about getting their life’s shock after coming to Delhi. Not only foreigners, but Indians too -- from east, west, south and central -- whoever has to visit this city, gets an initial jolt.

But what happens when the table is turned? When a migrant like me gives a Delhiite his life’s shock which the latter will take time to forget? Hear out my story….

Many years back… I was a newcomer to this city, a bachelor who was going to lose his bachelorhood very soon. I came to work in the city and was put up at our office-provided mess, somewhere in west Delhi, which was (and still is) a predominantly Punjabi-infested locality.

Let us walk back into time to one of those days. My hesitant steps were taking me towards the local market. To Sahib Tailors, to be precise. These people are really good -- I got a suit and a couple of trousers stitched there and have been impressed with the outcome each time. This day, however, I was going there with an altogether different purpose. My would-be in-laws have asked for some information which only Sahib Tailors can provide me.

However reluctant my steps were, they finally reached the doorsteps of Sahib Tailors and I entered the air-conditioned insides of the shop. I and the young Punjabi owner of the shop exchanged smiles exuding familiarity and extreme bonhomie.

“Tell me sir, what you want us to do for you this time”.

“Nothing of much import, I am afraid”, I disclosed, “Just a little information”.

Aap mera punjabi ka maap de sakte hain? -- I somehow managed to blurt it out.

The look on the face of the owner was not very helpful. He looked perplexed a great deal. “Punjabi ka maap? Punjabi ko maap? I cannot really get you”. His mind must have been reeling… he was trying to fathom what this blighter Bong was trying to convey by expressing his wish to forgive a full-blooded Punjabi!

I was at my wit’s end, too. After having our fifty-three seconds of mutual perplexed-look break, I tried to communicate through the time-tested and guaranteed-for-failure sign language. Did not help, of course. Suddenly the eyes of the owner shone with a new light -- a light that usually shines in the eyes of Hercule Poirot. He beckoned his Master-cutter, who was a Bihari fellow, and told him to deal with my case. The owner must have reckoned that by the virtue of our being from neighbouring states, his Master-cutter and I will be in a much better position to communicate. I repeated my requirement to this new guy. Luckily this time, nothing I was telling seemed Hebrew to him. An understanding smile spread over his face.

Yeh saab to kurta ke naaf mang rahe hain!” (For those who did not understand a thing, the word “punjabi” in Bengali means kurta and “maap” means measurement.)

The mystery was solved… I came out with my measurements and that is the end of the story.

Punjabis talk a lot about punjabification of India -- in terms of salwar kameez, bhangra, butter chicken. But have they ever imagined that the Bengali bhadralok was adorning their upper torso with THEM for quite a length of time already?

What we call it? Shock and awe?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nipped in The Bud!!

This time I go further down the memory lane. To my childhood, to be precise.

We (I and my elder sister) were very young then. Mother always encouraged the creative spirit in us, so she gave us, among many things, also a couple of exercise books to write and draw. These books were more than diaries – we wrote in them our daily experiences, created stories, poems, drew sketches of trees and dogs and human faces -- anything that came to mind. Needless to say we filled up those books as soon as they were handed to us, and the pile of exercise books that built up is still safely kept in the mother’s trunk which I fondly flip through whenever I visit our ‘home’.

Those diaries were written in Bengali and I remember making a great distinction between ‘Kahini’ (story, fictitious) and ‘Ghatana’ (true narrative). I shall give an example. A stroll through a desolate pine forest (in Shillong) on one cool summer morning excited me so much – I don’t remember now what I was my object of excitement – I rushed back to home, got hold of my pencil and diary and jotted down these starting lines: “Today I am going to describe a Ghatana, not a Kahini, something as true as the Ramayan or Mahabharat you enjoy to read so much”. I wonder what Karunanidhi’s take will be on that!

Among our many friends, Bapu was a very bright one who was closest to both of us and also literarily inclined. He was one year older than me and one year younger than my sister. We shared story books and excitedly talked about the new stories we read in the latest Puja (Durga Puja) editions of children’s books that mushroomed during the puja time. We even invented games drawn from those stories. Playing detective was one such game where the ‘criminal’ was to commit a crime (steal a paper or something) and hide the stolen item, but before that he was supposed to leave ‘clues’ for the ‘detective’ to find out!

When we reached the age around ten, we decided to take out a monthly magazine. Hand-written, on foolscap sheets stitched in the middle. I wrote an adventure story set in the dangerous backdrop of Africa, a comic strip, some jokes, a poem; Bapu wrote a ghost story with lots of dead-man-coming-to-life strewn everywhere and with even a tragic undertone in it, a crossword, some more jokes, definitely a few poems (he sill writes poetry and attends kavi-sammelans at odd places when he gets time out of his high profile job). All pieces ended with a ‘to be contd.’ note, making our intention clear that we were not going to be finished with the first issue, we were for the long haul.

I cannot remember what didi’s contribution was in the magazine, but with the sure knowledge that she is not going to read this blog I can tell that it was negligible. But to be fair to her, I must say that she made the maximum number of copies. We made about fifteen copies, priced fifty paise apiece if I am not wrong.

The biggest mistake we made was we did not keep it hush-hush. So when we were giving the final touch to our baby (probably naming it), Ratan, a friend who was older than all of us and never known remotely for anything that went with a pencil and paper, declared smugly that he had written a long poem some time back and might agree to part with it if we badly needed it for our magazine.

Strangely, Ratan still took a couple of days to deliver us his poem. It was a very long poem, even after substantial pruning it underwent at the hands of its author. Its name was, as I vividly remember to this day, “Patni-Laabh”. We were mystified at the strange name, and our bewilderment was heightened when we read the whole thing. It simply carried no meaning! How could we sell this thing to our parents (who were our obvious target customers)?

Now don’t blink if I tell that I was not as dumb then! I smelled a rat, and I knew where to find it. Probably reading so many detective stories helped. It was so a work of a few minutes for me to rush to our attic, gather the complete works of Rabindranath Tagore (Rabindra Rachanabali), pick up the third volume (Poetry) and browse through the chapter called ‘Katha O Kahini’ (containing sagas – poems depicting a story). It was not long before I found a poem named “Pati-Laabh”! In a nutshell, Tagore’s poem narrated how a young woman who just lost her husband was preparing to jump into the funeral pyre of her dead husband when a saint appeared in the scene and taught her that Lord Krishna was the universal sweetheart and that she was not to sacrifice her life but to divert her love to that eternal ‘Pati’ henceforth.

Now, Ratan was not a fool – he cleverly made a few changes here and there. Krishnadas was made Ramdas, the widow was turned into a widower (I mean all ‘Pati’s were changed to ‘Patni’s and “Patni’s to ‘Pati’s wherever they appeared), the name of the river was changed from Jahnavi to probably that of our local river, and the horror of horrors, about thirty-three percent of the stanzas were mercilessly removed to reduce its size! You can well imagine the outcome!!

Nothing much was left to us as the way forward. We were too timid to be able to say No to Ratan who was at least three years older than the eledest of the lot, my sister, and also muscularly built; moreover, he was our playmate – something which is so supreme to children of that age. Refusing to publish Ratan’s poem was not an option at all.

We gave our unborn magazine a decent burial… do not remember how we explained the change of events to our parents and most importantly, to Ratan. Anyway, take it that our magazine never saw the light of the day. And my ambition of turning into a writer was nipped in the bud…

I do not find the remnants of it in my mother’s trunk. Were the sheets damaged in the subsequent floods?

This is a true story, as true as the Ramayan or the Mahabharat ……..