Friday, March 26, 2010

Saddi Dilli And Aamchi Mumbai

Every time I open my mouth to say I grew up in Delhi, most Mumbaikars exclaim with horror, "But isn't that an awful city to live in?" That  question is generally followed by," Didn't you feel horribly unsafe there?"  then, " Were you ever, you know, molested on the roads?" And then, "Aren't you glad you stay in Mumbai now?" And of course the icing on the cake," So which city do you think is better?"

 I used to answer them pretty honestly once. No. I didn't find the city awful, in fact I loved it. Yes I did, but very rarely.  No I did not have my butt pinched or anything like that every time I went out.(It did happen once in a bus, but I pinched back. Hard) Yes I am glad I stay in Mumbai. And well, to the last one, that question is so stupid it does not even deserve an answer.

For some reason, people tend to think that you can not love two cities equally. That you must prefer one over the other. That the preference better be Mumbai because no sane person will ever prefer a city known for the Punjabi culture of over the top display of show-sha  and name dropping. And what about the danger lurking at every corner? A testosterone laden Jat male just might grab you, rape you and then leave you to die. It is pathetic that some of the people I know, all well educated, well read and fairly well balanced, tend to be so biased. Earlier I used to get angry. Now I just laugh.

Because there is humour to be found in every corner of both these Indian cities. When I came to Mumbai as a young bride in the early nineties, the city's breakneck pace amazed me. No one had time for anything superfluous. When I went for veggie shopping, I invariably asked the wrong question. What's more, I took too long to ask it. Now of course I have become wise. "Bhai-saab, pyaaz kya bhao de rahen hain?" has been replaced by " Kanda kitne ka?" Short and crisp. And you get the same answer. Amazing.

It took me some time to get used to the city's brash language. I used to cringe every time I heard the Bombaiyya version of Hindi. Once, while selecting some footwear from a particular hawker at Linking Road, I was told, " Leneka hai toh loh nahi to jao, khali-peeli apunka bheja mat kharab karo. Apun ke paas itna time nahi". Coming from the land of the traders who always said, "Dekh lijiye behenji, dekhne ka koi paisa nahi lagta," it was a rude culture shock. My traumatised self almost needed therapy to go back to Linking Road. Now when I venture out there, I make my purchases and quickly get away. Honestly, who really has the patience to deal with fussy customers?

Of course shopping in Delhi could be equally mind numbing, specially for those lost souls who are not used to the North Indian twang. Like my husband. He was more at home in Mumbai, where the strictly vegetarian Gujarati shopkeepers did not stock anything even remotely connected to animals, except milk. He was used to asking the grocers whether they kept eggs. He did the same in Delhi once. " Kya aap ande dete hain?"  The grocer without blinking said " Sirji main toh nahi deta par murgi deti hain. Aapko chahiye?" He was speechless but he bravely went ahead and chose what he had to buy. While making the payment, the grocer said " Aap ji chaliye, saaman ghar bhijwata hoon. Bas yehi kafi hain ki aapke ghar mein kuch whore bhi bhejoon?" This time it was my husband who needed the therapy.

Now, you tell me, when they ask me which city I love more, what do I reply? Both cities have made me what I am today. Delhi is beautiful, gracious, old world charm and wide open spaces. Mumbai is spunky, funky, glitzy and modern. In both cities I have a home. And I love both of them unconditionally. It is unfair when people compare these two cities and find one lacking.

So when I am asked which team I am cheering for this IPL, I say unabashedly the Kolkata Knight Riders. Because sadly, some people, even those who are well educated, well read and fairly well balanced, tend to be biased about their home state.

 Disgraceful, isn't it?

I did not translate the Hindi sentences into English as I thought the humour would  perhaps be lost in translation. If some one wants it translated, I will do it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dude, Have You Seen My Humour?

My precious cousin let me know over a cup of coffee and a computer screen that she was missing my funny posts. I thought she wanted to say that I was a silly, intellectually superficial, ditzy female and I had no business writing on grave matters and that I totally sucked at serious writing. Big time. But I guess she chose to be diplomatic. Our family is rather big on 'Respect- your- elders- and- hold- your- wayward- tongue' stuff. So there.

She was not the only one. Some of you had subtly let me know the same thing. So since then I'd been searching for my long lost sense of humour. I have actually forgotten when I saw it last. Probably it was when I inadvertently caught a few scenes of Rahul Dulhaniya Blah Blah Blah. But later I realized the show had actually made me angry. Or perhaps it was when I watched the Parliament in action and some goons tore the papers and tried to uproot the mics in the Rajya Sabha. It was straight out of a badly written hilarious soap opera but wait, it was more disgusting than funny. Was it when my 14 year old daughter let me know that she wanted to have a tattoo? Uh-huh. That time I was trying to save myself from a cardiac arrest and some trauma to the  brain. Who cared about the elusive sense of humour? Wait,  I got it. I saw it last just two nights back. It was  when my husband brought home a friend for dinner and let me know our guest would be staying the night. Wasn't the situation outrageously funny? Here I was, dashing around the house trying to clean it up, changing the sheets and cleaning the pot, making dinner, helping my daughter prepare for her Hindi exam the next day (God help) and teaching the other one some much needed table manners. The situation decidedly smacked of hilarity. But then I lost it.

I really valued my sense of humour. It was one of the few things my father gave me. Apart from a good education of course. He gave my brother his house and his car, he gave my mother happiness and exasperation and he gave me his sense of humour. A fair man, my dad. So you see, my humour is practically a family heirloom. In the good old days of no television, my family would sit in one room and my father would crack us up with his pathetic puns. We did not have much money, but we had a lot of fun. Of course my daughters these days enjoy the fun as well as the money...sigh, what can I say, the world is foolish at times. 

But currently I am desperate. So desperate that I have started reading romance novels and watching a serial named  Bidai- babul -ke ghar -se- tere -ghar- tak- par -pyar- to- ho- gaya- kam-do-hanso-ke jode- mein. Or whatever. I am yet to figure out who is getting married to whom and what do the men do in the serial but I know I will eventually solve all the mysteries. And in the process find my  humour again. About the serial, I have already figured out the more outlandish the bindi, the more chances of the female to be the vamp. Now I just have to figure out where my funny bone disappeared.

So, if any of you happen to find my humour wandering about on the streets of Mumbai, hold on to it tight and inform me immediately. If not for mine than for my friends' and cousin's sake.

 I think they need my father's gift more than  than I do.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What Price Freedom?

When my elder daughter was in class VI, the school had organized a seminar on Mythology for the students. She was asked to submit a painting of any Hindu god. My daughter had painstakingly drawn a huge portrait of Lord Shiva. She had spent hours on the painting, doing it a little by little. She, who never cared for drawing; sketched, rubbed and sketched again to draw a God we were so familiar with. She had experimented with colours to get the best effect. Embellished the final art work with gold and silver paint. Done the detailing with the finest of brushes. Her blood, tears, toil and sweat. The painting had them all. The day of the submission, an angry and spiteful classmate, for no reason, poured water all over the painting, stamped on it and tore a corner.

This needless act of violence devastated my daughter. She was angry, hurt and shocked. She did not understand why a boy would deliberately try to destroy a painting that she had so carefully and diligently drawn. She was inconsolable. The others in the class had rallied around her.They tried to salvage the painting by re-doing portions of it. They taped the torn corner with utmost care and went with her to the class teacher to complain against the bully. The class teacher dismissed their complaint with a " Boys will be boys and just get on with your lives" admonition. She was told not to be so "juvenile" and to learn how to deal with bullies. Though I did not really agree with the teacher at that time, I thought she indeed needed to learn how never to let the bullies win.

My daughter was no M.F Hussein.Though the people who destroyed his precious paintings and drove him out of the country were exactly like my daughter's classmate. Bull headed and prejudiced. And I can't help thinking that by choosing to accept the citizenship of Qatar, Mr. Hussein just gave in to the bullies.

Hussein has decided to be a citizen of a country which is not exactly known for freedom of expressions. We may have our share of fanatics and fundamentalists,we may still have a flawed system, but we definitely have a better track record than the Arab world. Specially when it comes to 'artistic freedom'. He of course would  have the freedom to draw as many nude figures of Hindu gods and goddesses, if that was what Hussein meant by the term.

In India, his homeland, he was considered a living legend, a hero, a national treasure.  In a country of one billion people, which struggles to produce a true icon, he was the free spirited, flamboyant artist many considered a role model. A struggler who made it big. A dreamer who found the rainbow. An inspiration to many. To leave now, at the age of 95, to another place for artistic freedom, just does not make any sense to me.

M.F. Hussein says that 90% of the people in this country love him and want him. And at the same time he claims his country rejected him. I would like to know his interpretation of rejection, just as I would like to know his interpretation of freedom. I do know however that by not staying here and taking on the bullies, he did a great disservice to the people of his own country who admired him. By fighting for his right to express himself here, on his home turf, he could have become a greater hero in my eyes.

Violence and vandalism have no place in a civilized country. Specially when that vandalism is directed towards art. But neither does hurting other people's religious sentiments have any place in a secular nation. We all have our views and we all have the right to express ourselves. In a civilized world, that expression also comes with a price.

At the age of 95, by settling down in a nation not really famous for respecting the fundamental rights, away from home, from family, away from the city that nurtured him...I wonder what price Mr. Hussein paid for his freedom.