Archive | October, 2008

Of Sleeping Dogs & Lies

12 Oct

Sometimes, one can only approach one’s history from some paces away, and prod it gingerly with a stick, turning it over ever so gently, and not go any closer for fear that it will wake up and turn rabid.

Linguistically Speaking

10 Oct

So the language hydra has reared its head again. One more beautiful construct that we as a species have contorted into ugly power games, but that’s not the point of this post. (Be warned: there may be none at all.) A phenomenon that I had observed on my numerous visits to Pune last year, and commented on to friends, has crept into Bombay recently. Over the past month, I have noticed that most storefronts, hitherto announcing their names in English only, have added Marathi counterparts to their banners. So the Ratan Tata Institute, an oasis of jam tarts, chicken rolls and other Parsi goodies, is now also the “Aar Tee Ai” in bright red devnagari script next to the entrance. Aarti Stores, where the Gujarati housewives of Walkeshwar flock to when guests drop in unannounced, now has its Indian name written in an Indian language. And the NCPA, where no non-English-speaking person sets foot, staff included, has a seemingly unnecessary little plaque outside its hallowed gates. Whether reluctantly, resignedly or compliantly, businesses and store fronts have moved toward bilingualism quickly and noiselessly, changing the city in insidious, permanent ways.

While some reference Raj Thackeray’s indulgence in petty politics for the “ghati” vote, others express dismay at the loss of the city’s much-mentioned cosmopolitanism. (You see, we in Bombay knew the word a long time before Sarah Jessica Parker came along to popularize the drink.) Still others (or maybe just an unsure I) believe this sort of inclusionism may actually help the city’s linguistically marginalized population, namely, the non-English speakers, feel more a part of it. Or will it? Is this move really about people at all? We know the answer to that.

If the masses of Bombay are so alien to the English language, I can’t help wondering why a majority of our movie posters are in English, a majority of our working class sends text messages in local languages using Roman script, and whether those who can now magically read signs all over the city will be able to afford entry into the places that were hitherto monetarily inaccessible.

I’m partial to languages, I’ll admit it up front. Yes, some more than others, but languages and their usage fascinate me and my radar may be a little more sensitive than most. So I wonder how many people all over Bombay have noticed this makeover of their city and whether they have given a thought to the nature of change and how it affects a city’s identity. Does it reverse the increasingly international flavor of an aspiring-to-be-global city? Does localism take a back seat in this race to be citizens of the world? In typical Mumbaikar get-on-and-make-money fashion, we’ve done the deed and moved on, but will our city take to the change as readily as we have?

There’s something clearly primal about language and its use/ disuse that raises hackles. Is it because our earliest memories are associated with certain semantic structures? Is it because it prompts a feeling of belonging to a group? Or is it because it’s a comfort zone we are reluctant to step out of? I don’t claim knowledge of all the answers, but I suspect it’s a combination of these factors, among still others, and can’t help wondering what comes next in these attempts to create linguistic insularity, because this certainly isn’t the last we’ve seen of it. Any thoughts?

Why Casanova Could Never Be Indian

9 Oct
  • Because his mother will call bang in the middle of sex.
  • Because naan just can’t replace rosemary foccacia.
  • Because ‘having a drink’ equals to chugging beers (and having a belly to prove it)
  • Because legs like those are best hidden under a veshti.
  • Because his idea of furniture is a rumpled-sheeted coir mattress.
  • Because he’s hard-wired to dribble over Amma’s cooking (never mind Appa’s 2 bypasses).
  • Because the only vacations he truly enjoys are guilt trips about being a dutiful son.
  • Because as soon as he leaves home, it will turn into a decrepit den of decay, abandonment and geriatric isolation.
  • Because he’ll scout around for garlic-free meals in Tuscany.
  • Because his mother will call bang in the middle of: a) cooking, b) shopping, c) driving, d) dancing, e) sneezing, f) showering, g) eating, h) napping….. and yes, sex.

Romantique, Très

7 Oct

a.k.a. Because We’re Fools for Love.

OJ: I wonder if we’ll ever stop cuddling in elevators.

The Boy: As long as there are elevators…..

Polishing the Pedestal

6 Oct

We eulogize love too much. Snip it, paint it in sunshine colors, frame it and hang it on our walls, because all the world loves LoveArt. But of all the things in the world that can go horribly wrong, Love must rank # 1. Nothing I have known has been more imperfect, more fallible, more dysfunctional than the Love construct. And more often than not, it’s because it comes pre-attached to some relationships, like a default setting with an inbuilt virus, a syrupy cross to bear, never mind that the multiple sticky leaks drive us to insanity and keep us there.


4 Oct

“Have some faith,” he offers, extending a marigold basket,

Is it round and white and spongy? I ask

“And sticky and drips from trees.”

Is it brittle and lined and aged? I ask

“And soaked in delta waters.”

Is it gnarled and craven and smiling? I ask

“And gurgles on its deathbed.”

Is it close and warm and vicious? I ask

“And lives in your childhood dreams.”

The Smart Tart

2 Oct

a.k.a. Love is Blind

OJ , texting a girlfriend: Oh no! He’s picking me up in 20 minutes and I have a moochh!

Girlfriend, texting back: Just flash your boobs, men don’t notice moochhes anyway.

Adios Unwillingly

1 Oct

You slipped out quietly this year. None of your usual bluff and bluster. And certainly no encores.

Without as much as a by-your-leave, you were gone, the door shut firmly and the sound of a taxi in the distance. Did you feel ignored? Abandoned? Snubbed by the throngs worshipping other deities? Chasing elephant heads, fasting by day and feasting by night, they nudged you off centre-stage and chose other distractions instead.

And now the ingrates miss you, how you soak their beloved city, how she sparkles in borrowed droplets, how she lounges in silver-laced foam.

But you’re gone and we look skyward, blinded by a gathering sun, and sadly store our umbrellas away, until you glower darkly at us again.