Clipboard01   Farrukh Dhondi

 

11.

I remember my first Christmas in England where I had gone to study. I was twenty years old and so confident of my world-wisdom that I hadn’t reckoned that Cambridge University and environs would turn into a ghost town come Christmas, two months after first setting foot in it — and everyone I knew would go home. Those were the days when Jet didn’t fly non-stop to Mumbai. No airline did. They all stopped in Frankfurt, Rome, the Middle East and then made a hop to Bombay. And though the fare may compare, in numerical terms, favourably with what one pays now, it was quite beyond the means of a scholarship lad and his family. One was in for the three years and nostalgia came with the package deal.
How I spent that Christmas is another story and a different one from the one I choose to tell today. I am in Delhi doing a project for a month and have been lodged in the guest house of the media company for which I am writing scripts. It’s very comfortable and a young man comes to look after my few material needs, making tea and coffee for the work team that turns up, running down to Khan market to fetch this or Xerox that and advising on the take-away food. He sleeps in his own room two storeys down in the building. I haven’t seen his room but imagine it’s suitably bleak.
This evening as I was going out for a drink and a meal I told him he could have an early night or watch TV in the flat if he cared to. I caught him cooking chappatis. He was making them puff over a naked gas flame. They looked alluring. I asked him what else he’d made for himself and he proudly showed me a vegetable concoction in a kadahi. I said I didn’t know he could cook.
In fact over the few days I had been here he didn’t know much about me and I less about him – he knew which toothpaste I used and how much sugar I took in coffee and what my travelling wardrobe looked like, but I knew only his name and that he came from Uttarakhand. I had exchanged pleasantries about that State saying I had visited Dehradun and had a couple of years ago spent time in Ranikheth. He didn’t know either town. I told him I had visited the temple of one Golu Deva, but he didn’t worship that Devta – the Gods change frequently in the hills.
To my query as to his cooking he said if I wanted he would cook me something and that he used to be a chef.
“So why did you pack that in?” I asked.
“I had to work for two years without any leave,” he said, “And then when I wanted to go home to see my parents they said they’d give me a week off and if I wasn’t back by then I needn’t bother to come back. I told them I wouldn’t be back in a week and when I did return the job was gone.”
He found this particular job because Delhi seemed to be his only access to a wage. But Delhi hadn’t given him access to holidays.
Coming down from the north, encouraged by a distant relative, he had started his working life in Mumbai at a very young age and in his first two years he was an apprentice in a series of caravans that sold Chinese food for a very fat master. He swept and slept in the caravan and was an expert at Chop Suey. He saw very little daylight. And he certainly got no leave. He sent all his money home when he was paid, every rupee he didn’t immediately need and saved on food by eating Chop Suey and egg fried rice with chillies in it. Then some other sweated workers in the caravan kitchens kicked up a fuss about leave because they wanted leave on a particular religious holiday and were told they couldn’t have it. Chop Suey sold well on religious holidays.
The proles didn’t take that religious holiday but complained about their employment to a militant political organisation which called in an inspection of sorts from a government body with the powers to take the employer to court. The government official and the fat employer couldn’t agree on an appropriate bribe so the employer forced all the employees, my friend included, to take a three week holiday. That would put his book straight and put him beyond the reach of the blackmailing law.
My man didn’t want a holiday. He had no money to travel home and needed the Chop Suey caravan for a place to sleep. The owner was being threatened by the political gang and he in turn threatened my man who was well and truly expelled and took to sleeping as a vagrant.
It’s a hard story and makes one realise that the tradition of religious holidays and the insistence on having Christmas and Easter off must have come from the Tiny Tims and the Cratchitts of this world rather than from the Scrooges. I believe employment legislation is in place in India to ensure that even domestic workers get their day off – but then I bet there is also legislation to say one mustn’t urinate on the streets.

 


12.

Max Mosley, the head of the Formula One motor racing body is suing the News of the World newspaper for alleging that he indulged in Sado-Masochistic sex sessions with five women who were paid for their participation. The News of the World did more than ‘allege’ that Mr Mosley participated in sado-masochistic sex. They paid one of the women to record a session secretly on video and published the results. The news, because of the popularity of Formula One racing, was published internationally and  Mr. Mosley had to appear before the Board of the Formula One Association to answer charges of bringing the game into disrepute.
Mosley paid these whippers and snappers £500 each for the sessions and he sometimes took the whole S&M circus on his trips abroad. The women, who can’t for technical legal reasons be called ‘prostitutes’, told a very straight-faced Justice Eady that the games entailed dressing up in mock prison-guard uniforms and whipping and spanking.
They also involved Mosley or the women, who took turns at being victims and perpetrators, speaking in mock German accents and saying things like “Ja! Ve get zem to do vat we vant.. Zay need more of ze punishment I zink”
The News of the World characterised this as a mock-Nazi orgy. The 67 year-old Mosley has brought the libel action against the paper admitting that he paid for and participated in these follies but denying that they had a Nazi or fascist theme. His assertion is that his sexual preferences and activities are a personal matter and have nothing to do with Formula One racing.
While accepting that there is an argument for the private foibles of the citizen to remain private, the defendants contend that Formula One is a consultant to governments on transport issues of public importance and that justifies public scrutiny of their leadership’s morals.
Mosley, caught bang to rights on the videos, denies the racist, anti-semitic and Nazi connotations of these private perversions.
The trial has particular poignancy because Mosley is the son of Oswald Mosley, the founder and leader of the British Fascist party of the 1930s which allied itself with Hitler and tried to bring Nazism to Britain. Mosley and his wife, Oswald’s mother, were detained, tried and jailed for treason.
The court will not decide on Mosley’s motives, but the expiation of his parents’ memory and nasty public legacy must almost certainly have inclined him to this expensive and, to most of us, puzzling sexual recreation.
Once in a second class sleeper compartment in India, the sort where you share your packed rotis with fellow-passengers on the 24 or 36-hour journey and get into conversation after the initial, ritual enquiry of where you are from, I confessed to living in Britain and drew a crowd of moderately curious interrogators.
One of them tentatively asked me, prefacing his question with the hope that I would not be ‘naaraz’ on hearing it, that someone had told him that in England the government pays a salary to people who don’t do any work. I took some trouble to explain the system of social security and unemployment dole to my puzzled and eager audience.
“Farrukh sahab, how does one get to England?” was the universal response.
And then, when the one or two women in the audience had retired and a sporting young gentleman was offering the rest of us pegs of rum, another point of curiosity emerged.
“Farrukh sahab tell me, I have heard that in England people pay you to whip and abuse them?”
I tried my best to explain that S&M was a rather esoteric activity and a perversion restricted to a small number within the population.  I don’t think I succeeded in demystifying it, because one burly fellow said “I don’t mind the ignominy, if someone pays me to whip them I’m ready now.”

 


 

13.

The British press doesn’t give much credence to Indian politics, Indian films or to anything else Indian. If one mentions Sonia Gandhi, the average Brit will probably  think she’s a new contestant on Big Brother, that Shahi Korma is a Bollywood actor and Elkay Advani is some new Italian pasta.
The doings of Indian Parliament are as regularly and enthusiastically reported as the affairs of the Libyan or Puerto Rican legislators are in the Indian media.
So it was refreshing to see the British media paying attention to the crisis in India over the Indo-US nuclear deal. The newspapers concentrated on the ‘horse-trading’ in the Indian parliament, describing BJP members waving wads of money that they had been offered as bribes. There were tallies of statistics in the papers about how the vote had been won and the commentators, Indian journalists in the main, bemoaned the fact that a matter of importance had been decided by the ‘horse-trading’ in the smoke-filled backrooms of Indian politics.
I have never owned and consequently never traded a horse in my life. On consideration, I can’t quite see why, if I did own such a creature and decided to trade it that it would be anyone else’s business.
You may say “Hah! OK with your own horse, but not with parliamentary votes on which the destiny of a nation hangs!”
If you did say any such thing I would agree that the cases of my personal nag and the votes of parliamentary faction were somewhat different cases but would beg to point out that there is something in the democratic principle and process that seems to bring them together.
Allow me to explain through a small detour: Recently in the British House of Commons the Labour Government of Gordon Brown brought in a bill to extend the time that a terrorist suspect can be held and interrogated without being charged, from 28 to 42 days. This was seen by the parliamentary opposition as a matter of the civil liberties of British citizens and they opposed the measure. Very many Labour Members of Parliament, from the government’s Party agreed with them and resolved to switch sides and oppose the bill. The government anticipated defeat and decided it couldn’t politically afford it.
The Party whips launched a campaign of persuasion and threat within their Labour ranks and the Prime Minister started calling in the minority parties such as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland and offering them millions if not billions of pounds for their pet projects if they would switch sides and back him. It worked. The bill was passed with the DUP’s nine votes accounting for the victory.
Some Labour MPs, it is alleged, were promised money for projects in their constituencies and others were offered knighthoods and peerages at some safe date.
Horse-trading is the name of the parliamentary game. It isn’t the shame of politics but rather the exercise of bargaining for the self-interest of minorities who would have no power at all if governments with clear and large majorities took on dictatorial stances because of the mandate they won at a single point in the political cycle.
Trading horses, buying allegiance is the name of the parliamentary game and the same BJP members who waved wads of notes at the Speaker should consider what their Party would have done had it been in government. Would they not have, as their leader L.K Advani advocated some time ago, supported the nuclear deal? Isn’t their party playing politics because they sense advantage at an early national election? Of course it is, but that’s the game. It may not be a game of Polo, but a bit of horse-trading is perfectly acceptable. This column is very influential and if Mr Manmohan Singh (or anyone else with a wad of a few million rupees) needs any support in the press in the future……

 


 

14.

I have checked with a British lawyer: you can slaughter a calf or a lamb providing the correct hygienic conditions are observed. It also lawful to kill a horse and eat it. If you cut up a dog you can be prosecuted for cruelty to animals. Eating it is a different matter – there isn’t a law against it. there is as yet no such dish as ‘Hound ‘n Chips’, or ‘Poodle and French Fries.
So it as with some alarm that I heard the BBC food critic, a woman of otherwise wide and guiding tastes, admitting on radio that she had eaten dog-meat in China. I switched the radio off and probably missed the bit when she boasted about eating a live monkey’s brains after its skull had been clamped under a hole in a table and conveniently sectioned to form an aesthetic skull-bowl.
Perhaps my horror is hypocritical. I am, to date, a dedicated non-vegetarian and have in France and Poland tried horse steaks. In Australia I ate kangaroos and the smaller wallabies; in South Africa I voluntarily ate crocodile steak and ostrich. I could describe the taste and texture of each of these meats as it was done deliberately to make comparisons and retain a memory of the esoteric, but won’t reproduce my findings here out of a genuine concern for the revulsion felt by vegetarian or squeamish readers. I shall that all the above delicacies  can disappear forever from my menu without my feeling the least sense of regret, the sort of regret I would feel if foot and mouth disease or some other consideration inhibited me from eating goat’s trotters, paya, ever again.
There were other meats one ate as a boy. A friend of mine, one Rashid Rashid (delightfully double-named with echoes of Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert and the writer Jerome Jerome)lived in a bungalow with a vast tract of forest and scrubland behind. We called it Rashid’s jungle and spent a lot of time fighting our way through the thickets and bushes and cutting forked pieces of wood from the trees to make catapults and oppress the birds that came and went from the thicket.
For a reason I have never worked out, Rashid’s father allowed or paid a man called ‘Khadewag’ to live in a corner of this several-acre jungle. Khadewag spoke a strange sort of Marathi and it was reputed that he was a man from a hill tribe who lived in voluntary exile in this jungle in the heart of town. He was the real catapult-maker and expert, a sort of Arjun of the bicycle-tube-rubber-powered weapon. He could identify and bring down a bird on a branch at fifty or maybe a hundred yards with just one pebble. He would skin and cook the creatures he toppled from trees and clubbed to death with stones when they fell.
The most memorable dish he ever served up from his smokey camp-fire cooking range was a pair of flying foxes, the brown rodents that are half-way between mice and black bats. Khadewag considered them a delicacy.
On the eve of the Beijing Olympics the Chinese have banned butchers’ displays of dog-meat, not because they are giving up the practice of eating dogs, but out of respect for the gentler sensibilities of people who only eat other animals.
I marvel at the fact that no Indian entrepreneur has thought of doing a trade in captured street dogs from Mumbai, say, and shipping them off to China and Korea, as Africans do with elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns. The municipalities of Indian cities could tax the export and rid themselves of the ‘dog nuisance’ (not my perception, I love any mutts) at a stroke. And now that the world is complaining that Chinese consumption has pushed up the price of food grains, a few tons of dog a day might even bring down world cereal prices.

 


 

15.

Being part of a minority has its advantages. I have been part of several. The minority status one achieves as, say, a record-breaking runner is different from that which one is born into. Being a Parsi in India and indeed in the world and as an Asian immigrant to Britain, minority status is second nature to me. I don’t revel in it.
Parsis have been completely accepted, having been Indians longer in India than the Normans, for instance, have been in Britain. Yet there persists a celebrated aloofness which we and our flatterers adopt which naturally contributes to the perception of us as a ‘minority’.
Minorityism is a matter of natural numbers but it is also a mentality and in the case of the Parsis a dogged one.
On the other minor front, being an immigrant in Britain used to pose problems: one would find it difficult to rent a room, get a job or use certain pubs. The fear and loathing were palpable in certain parts of town. Athings of the past. Despite the whining of determined minorists about being singled out, the legal framework and the alterations in the broad social mindset don’t make one feel a ’minority’ any more.
Britain has adopted the ‘multicultural’ formula of distinct but equal, recently adding the idea of being loyally and  dutifully British. This, after some young men, educated, housed and molly-coddled at the British tax-payer’s expense, enjoying the British freedom of thought, speech and movement, have fallen into murderously abusing it. Under the ideological influence of preachers, who again reap the benefits of British hospitality, they have taken to abusing Britain, to making bombs and killing their innocent fellow-citizens. In India they would be called ‘namak haram’.
Their actions are those of people resolved to remain a minority and perpetuate a victim status.
In India a section of the Parsis remain a determined minority, albeit a self-consciously privileged one. Our numbers are dwindling and for a century and more there has been a great debate in the community about whether to accept the children of Parsi men by non-Parsi women into the fold. With the drift of Parsis to the USA and Canada, Parsi mothers with non-Parsi husbands have begun to ask the same question about their children. While patrilineal descent has been accepted by ‘liberal Parsis, women passing on the lineage has not. The community hasn’t caught up with the fact of 24 chromosomes from each gender.
So it was with interest that I recently read about a great debate earlier this year between the traditionalists who want to lock and bar all entrances into the religion except that of the Parsi mother’s womb fertilised by a Parsi father and the ‘liberals’ who are for the conversion of true believers.
This debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. The salient fact I gathered from it was the assertion by a traditionalist priest called Rooyintan Peer that Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Dalits in the early twentieth century, before he converted to Buddhism had applied to become a Zoroastrian. He was refused.
It may have been the greatest mistake that the Parsis, after taking on the Spartan 300 at Thermopylae, have ever made. The conversion of Ambedkar would have meant that millions of Dalits, instead of becoming Buddhists would have become Zoroastrians. This would have presumably included Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh and all her following. It could have meant that in the next parliament of India Zoroastrians would hold the controlling vote and would have transformed themselves from a minority into one of the dynamos of India’s future.
I know what the muttering Parsis in Mumbai and Pune would have to say about it, but I would urge them to rethink. Could the country and the world have resisted the combination of old Parsi money, culture and dynamism and the new Dalit-Zoroastrian numbers and energies?


 

16.
Not being American, I don’t have a vote in the Most Important Election in the World (or as the Indian newspapers would have it: MIEITW, abbreviated in Indian conversations to ‘Me Too’) — that of the American President. As citizens of the world we should be able to vote for the man or woman who takes our world in and out of wars and recessions.
My campaign to change American law so that every adult citizen of the world can vote in this American election will not succeed just yet. When we are all eventually States of America, the campaign for Franchised Universal Citizens Of Federated Freemarkets (FUCOFF) may come true.
Until then, the best I can do is to offer some good electoral advice, drawn from my own limited experience  to the candidate I favour, the Democratic Party’s Barack Obama.
In fairness I have to point out that I have only stood for elections once in my short and happy life. It was in my first year of college in Pune (which Obama may still refer to as ‘Poona’, that is if he knows of the place at all, as it hasn’t been in any recent American wars). It was our first term as a class of 150 Pre-degree Science students. The election was for a ‘Social Committee’ of the college, the whole process being initiated by the staff to introduce students to the democratic process.
In our town, in the ‘60s there wasn’t much student democratic or political activity evident. We heard or read about the campuses of Allahabad and Kanpur where students joined national parties and attacked each other. Their student organisations were led by professional ‘students’ in their thirties and forties, men with beards and families who were probably qualified to eventually obtain a degree in ‘goondagiri’. There were reports of elections from these killing fields of strikes, riots and deaths during their ‘student agitations’.
Our election of a social committee was a milder affair. Inevitably there were stories of corruption which circulated round the college. The final boss of the Committee, the Joint General Secretary (JGS) would control the social funds of the college and it was alleged that in collusion with certain lecturers a substantial portion of these were siphoned of in bribes and backhanders.
Each candidate was required to make a speech to the class presumably putting forward a programme. I was urged to stand by a coterie of friends and was the fourth nominee. My speech drew plenty of laughs from the class and I and my supporters went away satisfied that the programme of ending gender apartheid in the ladies’ hostels, free contraceptives for all and regular beauty contests for boys and girls and the lifting of restrictions on gambling on chess games behind the sports pavilion, went down very well. One of the other candidates gave no speech – only  his name and  a stuttered plea for votes.
Oh! we celebrated that night, with kilos of bhajias and bottles of country liquor, which was in the days of prohibition the only booze available.
I woke up on election day at noon with a massive hangover and struggled to college that evening to hear the results of the ballot.
They were published on the notice board. Out of a 150 possible votes, I got 3. The man who had smugly given his name, a good traditional Maharashtrian Brahmin name, got 79 and was duly elected.
There are indeed many lessons that Barack can take away from this experience, but I will in all modesty, point to just three:
Firstly, no country liquor before election day or your supporters won’t turn out. Confidence comes before a fall. Secondly, your audiences may not be laughing with you, they may be laughing at you. And thirdly, it’s not what you stand for in an election, it’s who you stand for.


 

17.

I was twelve years old and was standing with a group of my friends on ‘Main Street’ in Pune (Poona, then) when a group of hijras crossed the road clapping with open palms and singing. One of them came up to me, kissed me on the forehead, caressed my cheeks and, smiling trough paan-stained teeth said “Kya cheez hein? Salim hein Salim!”
Then his entourage moved on and he did too, blowing kisses in my direction.
For a few days after I was referred to as ‘Salim’. Traumatic! What did the creature intend? In fact what was the creature? At twelve I knew something about sex and gender but none of my friends could quite explain whom or what we had encountered. Someone said they were half-man, half woman, but the mechanics of such a state were left to the imagination.
A teacher, professing to discuss sex in a ‘GK’ (General Knowledge) class displayed a mystifying ignorance when asked the question and sarcastically urged me to find out by paying one some money and asking him to raise his saree. The class was more amused than curious and the moment passed.
An older fellow of our circle who prided himself on having a vast vocabulary announced that these were ‘hermaphrodites’, a challenge to go to the nearest dictionary. Not terribly enlightening.
Then, as one’s acquaintance with Indian history and Western culture grew, I read about ‘eunuchs’ in the courts and in the choirs of the western nobility and I was clear then that these were young boys, castratti, whose testicles had been removed to ensue that ther voices remained shrill. The function of men without testicles in harems seemed clear – they couldn’t sample the commodities they were in charge of – and yet the question of whether men without testicles could have childless sex lingered.
On coming to the West I noticed, amongst other things of course, that there were no hijras. Was it a condition peculiar to Indian genes?
These memories and thoughts are occasioned by the panels of photographs of hijras in a current exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery of 150 years of ‘Indian’ photography. Among the Maharajas, the tombs and palaces, fauna, flora and street scenes, there are the obligatory photographs of hijras. Come to think of it, I have never seen an anthology of Indian photographs without portraits of Indian prostitutes with the hardened features that are supposedly symptoms of their trade, or of hijras. These would seem to be photographic obsessions.
The labelling of hijras in the present exhibition has been updated from ‘eunuchs’, ‘hermaphrodites’ and ‘transvestites’ to ‘lady-boys’, the word for male prostitutes of the Far East who dress and make-up as women.
Years ago, fuelled or haunted by the residual curiosity of the ‘Salim’ encounter, I asked a surgeon friend about the anatomy of hijras. He told me that they should technically be called ‘cryptorchids’. They are in fact born as males with a penis and a scrotum for testicles, but owing to a quirk of bone structure or some error of handling, their testicles are confined to within their bones and don’t fall through to the sac. This goes unnoticed by mothers and carers who are ignorant or negligent. The nascent testicles get crushed within the bone frame as the boy grows and at puberty when the body begins to generate hormones a confusion sets in. The cryptorchid’s body produces both female and male chemicals resulting in the growth of secondary sexual features of both genders. So the hijra grows breasts, wide hips and also has facial hair, a gruff voice and other male features. The penis remains that of a child.
In the West, with more develop health services, the parents, midwives or doctors notice the abnormality which can be dealt with easily in childhood and the testicles freed to result in ordinary male growth.
Our hijras should stop being a matter of photographic interest or pride and should be seen, not in their individual selves, but as a phenomenon, as the shame or shortcoming of our community development.


 

18.

Despite having worked in television for years, I confess I am a sporadic TV watcher. In hotel rooms in unfamiliar cities I prefer to stare out of the window rather than surf the screen looking for an English channel. When in India I have, out of curiosity and professional duty watched soap operas. In the Mumbai flat in which I am allowed to live, Ganesh, my Nepali Man Friday, watches cricket whenever it’s on and even when it’s not (?)

I am not uninterested, but am easily bored. Having produced, commissioning and written for TV, something I shall continue to do, I take a professional interest in what’s up and what’s down and pride myself in being able, after long experience of doing it for a living in England, having a feel for what works with which audiences.

Normally, TV execs follow statistics and try and detect trends in order to copy them. That’s why there is so much imitation, so many failed attempts at crowd pleasing, so many copy-catted and idiotically adapted formats from the West and no genuine innovation. For that you need either an insightful analytical approach to the relationship between viewers and the idiot-box or you need an inspired writer’s reckless instinct about a story or idea whose time has come.

In this context I read in the papers that TV execs in India are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the saas-bahu story is on its way out and the ‘social reform’ soap is in, popular and the new formula to replicate. In the, I bet, all TV channels will sit on the fence and attempt to run both and see which works best. Then the one will be axed – prematurely as a rival channel’s attempt to do the same will succeed. Heads will role. The experiment will cost money.

The British small screen has and has had for umpteen decades, two long-running soaps East Enders on the Beeb and Coronation Street on the Indie channel. These two are prime examples of the opposition between the ‘issues’ formula and the human drama format.

On East Enders the writers and producers flaunt issue after issue: paedophilia, domestic violence, divorce, knifings or shootings in the playground etc. As the serial proceeds week after week and year after year it catalogues the substance of newspaper headlines. When Gary Glitter, pop singer convicted of paedophilia in Vietnam returns to Britain and is given police protection, East Enders will feature an episode in which vigilantes chase the paedophile settler in the neighbourhood and are dissuaded by a righteous citizen who is against taking the law into public hands.

On Corry (Coronation Street) set in Manchester, the characters come and go as in any soap and reflect the community as a whole, but they don’t follow headlines. All human drama can be represented as such: ‘Son, prompted by ghost, suspects mother of murdering dad’; ‘Cousins go to war in land and honour dispute’.

Still, Corrie doesn’t do issue that attract the attention of self-styled reformers and NGOS. It may refer to a lover solving his situation by joining the army and being sent to Afghanistan, but that wouldn’t be inspired by the anti-war lobby.

For my money Corrie is better written. Writers who hit on issues have their eye on the intellectual spin of the ball rather than its emotional impact. On that principle I would say that the saas-bahu business isn’t quite finished. It just needs to get real writers who observe life and morals as they are in reality. The Americans invented their own saas-bahu format; remember The Graduate in which Dustin Hoffman is seduced by his girlfriend’s mum? Now that’s not strictly saas-bahu but it brings in the mother-in-law to be and ice-hockey to Sarah Palin is still ‘hockey’. So here’s to you Mrs and Miss Robinson….. TV loves you more than you will know…

 


 

19.

“U doo uwan thing! U make deffinissun and blog it up on intrrrnayt. Than aam junta r simply calling it diksniry. Awesome, bro’, gimme five — a humungous leap in respec’ mutha’ fukka….etc.“
I’m sorry if none of the above makes any sense. I was attempting to construct the English of the future which,  is threatened with multiple scourges bigger than a linguistic tsunami, more destructive of values than the crash of global banking. Several predictions and trends, the latest of these the launch of an on-line ‘democratic’ dictionary attractively named (not!) ‘Wordia.com’, have brought on my slough of linguistic despond.
The first prediction, which I must admit shook my grumpy old consciousness as the news of melting ice-caps must shake the inhabitants of low-lying islands, came from a pair of Cambridge (UK, not the pretend one in Massachusetts) lexicographers, who said that in twenty years the world would be speaking Indian English because the sheer numbers of speakers, call-centre operatives, exported technical workers, underpaid college lecturers and pretentious ‘novelists’ would overwhelm the free-market of English usage with their product. My incredulous response at the time was: “Is it?”
Then I got to wondering why I, an Indian, brought up with characteristic Indian mispronunciation, idiomatic adaptations, calling goat ‘mutton’, asking people to ‘close the lights’, should object. The world in my own image? Awesome, honey!
Alas, no. While significant numbers of us will still ask people their ‘good’ name or begin an exhortation with “You do oo-one thing..”; whereas ‘simply’ will continue to mean exceedingly; new abbreviations such as KLPD (never found out what it meant, but have heard Indian women use it for the peremptory dismissal of admirers) and Hindified or Urduvised adjectives will continue to be invented, new and pernicious global influences have crept into Indian English.
Not the least of these are the ugly inventions of mobile telephone texting, or Essemessing as some call it. Parallel to this fungus is the misspelling encouraged by the spread of that vanity-medium, the blog.
Linguistic predictors and persuaders publicly argue for the defeatist, though undoubtedly correct, idea that usage must determine, finally, the correctness of spelling. They never tire of pointing out that Shakespeare’s name was, in his day, spelt in fifty five different ways, or that color is sometimes spelt without the ‘u’. There are even those, I tell you, who would spell ‘Bombay’ as ‘Mumbai’!
Globalisation of Indian English has had another nasty effect. One finds pretentious teenagers and older fools in the supposedly articulate professions, picking up and often misusing the argot of the American ghetto. This in aid of a ‘cool’ pose. The sad thing is that this “Yow bro’ “ and ‘booty’ idiom loses its meaning away from its social context – a simple example would is the word for a female dog, bantered about as part of the argot of Gangstas from the ‘hood, but foul and unacceptable in the salons of Mumbai or Delhi, even from the mouths of babes whose parents paid vast sums to school them in the USA.
Now the perpetrators of Wordia.com have opened their ‘dictionary’ to anyone to define any word in the way they choose. This has led to a bloggish entry of words that may or may not survive, having their origins in the custom of restricted slang.
Adding your own jargon to a dictionary is an obviously attractive pastime for adolescent and the idle. There was a time when I may have responded to such an invitation by submitting the definitions of Pune college and street slang – words such as ‘ghaag’ and phrases such as ‘bus-kya?’ but I wouldn’t have imagined, even then, that they would gain any general currency. Context and swagger were all.
Here’s hoping that the free-spellers, the unedited blogging contributors to of ill-conceived dictionaries and the sad, pretentious ‘novelists’ of India perish in the course of linguistic evolution. Context? Good! Imitation American swagger? Very bad!


 

20.

Mumbai is in the throes of a disturbance when I get here from London to launch my latest book. It seems some local warlord has proclaimed that employment in Mumbai should be reserved for ‘Marathi manoos’ or natives of Maharashtra. This causes followers of the warlord to assault candidates who have arrived in the city to sit an exam which qualifies them for employment in the Indian railways. A photograph of one of these hapless candidates being beaten is featured in several newspapers.

I am told that it is best to postpone any journeys within the city as everyone else has done. I am in one sense grateful as it prevents my Mumbai creditors immediately beating a rickshaw-ride to my door.

A defender of the warlord, in this very newspaper, says that there are many Marathi manoos registered with the government employment agencies as unemployed. They need job prospects and who can disagree? But no stretch of even the most elastic imagination will provide the notion that beating up exam candidates from other Indian states will provide such employment. It will only antagonise the population of the rest of India and make, for instance, Punjabi, Bihari or Malyali manoos contend that Marathi manoos, even those not of the opinions of the warlord, are fair game. This would be an unfortunate conclusion for all Marathi manoos and would only benefit wannabe warlords in other states.

Pointing out that the railways belong to the nation as a whole and not simply to the terminuses of teeming Mumbai doesn’t do much good. History teaches us that warlords are not strong on logic or its dissemination. Already two lives have been lost in this meaningless agitation. Neither can the nation stop Mahrashtra using its trains. There was no hulla on the streets the second day. I confidently ride out early in a rickshaw looking for the Macdonalds on Linking Road in Bandra — where I have a tryst with destiny.

It takes me some time to find this eatery. I succeed in the end, but I have lost a day and am late on the next one.

Being of fertile mind, I am resolved to turn adversity to advantage. I have three recommendations for the powers that be, wherever they keep their counsel. Firstly, if the examinations for appointment to the railways were moved from Mumbai and situated in, say Patna, a move quite within the Railway Ministry’s brief, it would be the Marathi manoos candidates who would have to travel, live in hotels or hostels for the duration and sit the examination. The good people of Patna would demonstrate their renowned Bihari hospitality by welcoming them with open arms and greeting them with marigolds as fellow-Indians. This might take the wind out of the sails of the manoosing warlord.

The other reform I would urge upon the city is the replacement of all the opaque canvas canopies of rickshaws with flexible, rainproof ones. That way the passengers would be able to see the buildings on either side of the roads they were traversing without bending over and straining their spines and neck muscles. This would entail a certain amount of expenditure but it would save over all on orthopaedic bills.

Thirdly, I would recommend to any Indian ‘educationist’ entrepreneur the starting up of an Indian academy of “How to Give Directions”. Just as people do Chinese exercises in parks in the early morning, the academy’s courses would teach students the difference between left and right, arms waving in the wind. And instead of telling some hapless person like myself who asks directions to go “straight, straight, straight, straight” while twisting one’s extended hand like a hooked fish in agony to indicate change of vaunted direction, they would exude better geographical directions than a satellite navigation system. It would win friends and influence people.


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