Disclaimer: Hindi ahead. Read with caution. Translations ahead. Read with patience.
I recently travelled to the Delhi-NCR region on work. It was to be the ultimate experience. I was finally moving way out of my comfort zone. My cushy, cosmopolitan, Bangalorean lifestyle would strongly be threatened, I knew. I had every reason to dread and fear the trip, not the least because I knew there were no Cosmopolitans to be had no matter what the provocation. I coached myself about unity – India India bhai bhai; schooled myself about tolerance; and set out to Noida. I had resolved that I would be amused and not annoyed by meetings that were predominantly in Hindi, and/or any other Delhi-NCR experience that would come my way. I was determined that I would keep my sense of being a Bangalorean intact and when I landed I would have won a war with myself; emerge inspired, happy, creative; no longer intolerant towards Ooper Bharath.
All South Indians regard North Indians askance and with barely any tolerance. It cuts both ways. The North-South is a great divide. Posts are written about it, blood is often shed on paper. For those South Indians who have made the North a home or those North Indians for whom a Southern city is haven, assimilation is not without angst. These confused OBs or SIs have birthed many poignant posts of diasporic writing. What do you do when you are a Punjabi who is only satisfied with a masala dosa at the end of the day? Or when you are a thayirparantha?
Now dear reader, you begin to appreciate how this trip was seminal.
Sitting in Bangalore one gets very complacent. Assertiveness is not our strong-point, much less aggression. If someone running to get into the Metro Station crashes into us from behind while we are strolling down M G Road, we say, ‘O so sorry.’ Our motto has always been ‘swalpa adjust maadi’. Kindly adjust. We do that. In good faith. Our lives are peaceable. We solve Sudoku in traffic jams, make friends in buses, and exchange our telephone numbers and news with automen. It’s a very Bangalorean trait to just not bother. Except to mildly gossip, or severely brag compulsorily at family functions.
Up North, life is not so easy. It must be all the blood historically shed in that place; it could be the weather which is so extreme, but in Ooper Bharath life is a struggle. Naturally enough being the seat of India’s power, life in the Delhi-NCR region is all about power. Fresh OBs in Bangalore tend to display the power and aggression till a mellow breeze from Bangalore cools them down or till our South Indian food, our ‘sambur’ and our ‘idli’ and our ‘dosha’ renders them sluggish and disinterested just like us.
Generally, people in Bangalore speak to you in whatever tongue you first address them in. Here, everyone is proficient in or at least has a working understanding of, at least three South Indian languages, Hindi, and English.
Sir, one sandwich kodi; Ek sandwich dena; Oru sandwich. Boss, sandwich. One sandwich, please.
All these will get you what you want. Namely, sandwich. One numbers.
No drama. No questions asked.
Not so in the Delhi-NCR region.
‘Umm… one samosa, please?’
And Samosaman will stare at you glassily. He will threateningly lift the tea sauce pan. So you will get flustered and forget you are in the North and slip into ondu, oru, une, or whatever language that you first remember.
Samosaman will smirk and smugly raise one thick, bushy, salt and pepper Punjabi/Jat eyebrow at you, till you mumble, ‘Bhaiyya, ek samosa dejiye.’
Then, and only then, will he slam a hot samosa on the table and stare at your face sternly expecting to be paid.
Then you try and ask for sauce/ketchup. Never mind that both of you know that it is your first time in the shop, he will still bark at you and say, ‘wahan hai.’ And not even point towards the wahan.
Hence only the brave attempt this. I would applaud your nerve if you said, ‘chutney kyun nahin hain?’ Of course, it has never been known to happen.
As a city, Bangalore is easy-going.
A fool of an arse overtakes an auto on the road from the wrong side and the automan will say, ‘O let him be, paapa, who knows what kashta he has in his life’, on good days. And on bad days, he will let forth a stream of choice invective and complain to you till you reach your destination and then forget about it.
Not so in the Delhi-NCR region.
An auto honked when you were trying to take a U on the road?
Quickly reverse and bang into the madarchod who dared to honk. Then remain unmoving.
Saala, behenchod, carwallah rams into the automan? The automan won’t move. He will wait patiently till the carwallah decides to take his U-turn. Now the automan will quickly accelerate and stand between him and a smooth turn blocking the road and creating traffic.
Now the automan will tell you, ‘Abhi dikhata hoon sala behenchod ko. Aap bhaito,’ and then will proceed to get off the auto and fight. Use of fists is allowed.
Don’t dare get off the auto while this is going on. Don’t even think of staying put in the auto while this is happening. Like that.
Booking a taxi in Bangalore is effortless. Taxi drivers in Bangalore are efficient, punctual, and helpful. They will lift your 20 kg suitcase for you, and with the other hand, reach to take away your laptop bag from you while saying, ‘Madam, neevu hogi koothkoli, naan tharthini.’ So you go sit in the car and wait for him to bring your luggage to you as instructed. If you need to make a detour to the office, he will breezily say, ‘Okay, Madam, no problem, Madam’, and wait till you come out of the office at exactly the spot agreed upon. At the airport, he will drop you off at the entrance, help you locate your Airline counter from the outside, raise his hands in a benevolent farewell as he walks out of your life for good.
Not so in the Delhi-NCR region.
Taxiwallah will survey your luggage. ‘Itna bada suitcase fit nahin hoga.’
And you will be all flustered and tense and say, ‘What? Kya? Par kyun? Aapka gaadi, taxi hi hain na?’
Then he will idly scratch his head and speak to you slowly in an attempt to make you understand, ‘Lekin, yeh toh bada suitcase hain.’
So now, the terrified Bangalorean who doesn’t want to miss her flight will smile winningly, beg, and say, ‘Bhaiyya, please, kuch keejiye na, hummein der ho raha hain.’ But prepare to be subjected to very overt gazes through the overhead mirror till the end of the journey as a Hindi song plays on the radio.
So after you have learnt the hard way about what’s in store when you act pleading and kind; you will say very sternly, ‘Kya bakwaaz bol rahe ho, chalo saaman gaadi mein dalo. Hummeinderhorahahain. Chalo bhaiyya, jaldi karo.’ And neatly, go sit in the car. Taxiwallah will figure that he was talking rubbish, put your luggage in the car, understand that you are getting late and hurry up. But prepare for a harrowing drive till your destination is reached as he tries to shake your equilibrium and make you feel very sorry for being high-handed.
Now try suggesting he has to make a detour to the office, wait for half-an-hour, and pick you up and then take you to the airport as instructed when you booked the cab. He will now call his supervisor. Bitch about you. Then the supervisor will ask to speak to you.
Madamji, ye nahin hoga. Aapko abhi dosra cab book karna padega.
Abhi? Ab kahaan se naya cab book karenge?
Woh toh hummein nahin maaloom, Madam, aapko toh book karna padega.
As a Bangalorean, now is when you are tempted to burst into tears; call your friends at work (even that man you met for just five minutes in a meeting the last day); ask them to bail you out of this mess while praying to all the South Indian Gods in the pantheon to ensure you make it to your flight back home. You throw in rash promises of coconuts and cold baths for good measure.
Or you can just say, ‘Suniye, aap ne confirm kaise kiya? Request mein toh sab saaf likhata ki hummein cab kitne time ke liye chahiye or kis liye.’
He will pipe in and say with a loud voice, ‘Madamji, aap samajh nahin rahein hein…’
So you interrupt him in the loudest voice you can sustain without sounding like a squealing kid and say, ‘Jee nahin, ab hum kuch nahin sunenge. Aap suniye hamari baath; agar booking mein kuch problem tha, toh aapko pehele bathana chahiyetha. Yeh car toh hum jahan kahenge wahan tak jayeega. Aur hum kuch nahin sunenge. Aapko aapka taxi chaar ghante ke baad milege. Samjhe aap?’
Then he will whimper, say, ‘Madamji, sabhi condition aap khud hi de rahin hein, hum kya kahen.’
So you say, ‘Theek’, hang-up, and instruct the now cowering taxiwallah to wait in that parking place there.
On the way back to Bangalore, strapped into my economy seat, I mulled over my Ooper Bharath experience.
Amusement? Not too bad.
Survived the trip? And that’s when it hit me. With awful chagrin.
I have become an aggressive Ooper Bharath to end all aggressive Ooper Bharaths.
Bhai bhai – Brother, Brother
Thayirparantha – A play on thayirsaadam (curd rice), a derogatory term that refers to Brahmins in Tamil Nadu.
Swalpa – Little
Maadi – Do
Kodi – Give
Kya? Par kyun? Aapka gaadi, taxi hi hain na?’ – What? But why? Your vehicle, is a taxi, no?
Madamji, ye nahin hoga. Aapko abhi dosra cab book karna padega. – Madam, this is not possible. You will have to book another cab.
Abhi? Ab kahaan se naya cab book karenge? – Now? How will I book another cab now?
Woh toh hummein nahin maaloom, Madam, aapko toh book karna padega. – That I don’t know, Madam, but you will have to book another cab.
Suniye, aap ne confirm kaise kiya? Request mein toh sab saaf likhata ki hummein cab kitne time ke liye chahiye or kis liye. – Listen, how did you confirm then? It was all clearly stated in the request – how long we needed the cab and for what purpose we were using it.
Madamji, aap samajh nahin rahein hein… - Madam, you don’t understand…
Jee nahin, ab hum kuch nahin sunenge. Aap suniye hamari baath; agar booking mein kuch problem tha, toh aapko pehele bathana chahiyetha. Yeh car toh hum jahan kahenge wahan tak jayeega. Aur hum kuch nahin sunenge. Aapko aapka taxi chaar ghante ke baad milege. Samjhe aap? – No, now I will not listen to anything. You listen to me. If there was a problem in the booking, then you should have let me know before. This car will have to go where I want it to go. I will not listen to anything anymore. You will get your taxi back in four hours, do you understand?
Madamji, sabhi condition aap khud hi de rahin hein, hum kya kahen. – Madamji, what is this you are giving all the conditions yourself, what can I say now?
Theek – Correct