Prickly Pears



Long ago, at college in Nagpur, I had a friend -very smart, very stylish, very attractive and, of course, very brave. It was from her that I learnt never to have any holy cows in life but at that age I thought she carried both her profanity and irreverence towards people, situations and also social mores a bit too far.

But I also noticed that that bravado sometimes served her well and got her out of sticky situations without much of the trouble the rest of us were put to under similar circumstances. Like the time when she was walking down the hill where our college was located, on a deserted road, rather late in the evening. Obviously a Romeo with nothing to do, she was being followed by a man on a bicycle who kept offering her a ride. “Take a seat,” he would say again and again, slowly sailing past her and repeat the offer again when she came abreast and, paying no attention, walked past him non-chalantly.

But she was seething within and soon that slow bicycle chase proved too much to bear. When he asked her to ‘take a seat’ again, my friend broke into some colourful abuse. “Abey, B…dk!” she scrammed at the man at her loudest. “Jaata hai ki nahin, ya main police ko bulaon!”

I am sure it was not the threat of reporting him to the cops that had the desired effect. The man had simply fallen off his bike in sheer surprise and disbelief. So demure and petite and sophisticated seemed my friend that he did not expect to hear that choice abuse from her. “Kya zamaana aa gaya hai!” he mumbled, as he scrambled onto his bicycle again and furiously pedalled away. “Aaj kal memsaab log bhi gaaliyan deti hain!”

We couldn’t stop laughing though we did not quite know then what that word meant, only knowing that it angered our elders a lot when it was mentioned in their presence. In fact, not until ‘Delhi Belly’, did it become common currency again in our lexicon, and that too because Aamir Khan so ingenuously reversed the syllables, making it sound like a name instead of an abuse.

A classmate from those years called me up and refreshed my memories about the incident. “Say that word again and again; fast, really fast,”she said. “Now what does that remind you of?”

“the Romeo on the bike chasing ….(name concealed)?” I asked.

“Precisely! But then what Debu?”

The penny dropped. “Oh God,” I exclaimed. “He must be feeling so awful today!”

“Yes,” said this friend. “Thank God none of us thought of it then. Or else his life would have been made miserable at college.” For, Debu was purr very own DK Bose then.

However, despite the wild success of the film, I did not hear of any Bengalis complaining about the insult to one of their surnames and this could really have been objectionable had they wanted to, well, object.

So when Raj and Uddhav Thackeray demand an apology from the producers of Bigg Boss for a couple of contestants using a Maharashtrian name (P K Lele) to describe the character of a ’servant’ on the show, I wonder where there sense of humour has gone.

I know that a series of civic elections is due in Maharashtra a few months from now but the manner in which the Shiv Sena and its offshoot have been carrying on now for weeks paints such a dour picture of the Maharashtrian that it really does no service to the community.

Admittedly, Maharashtra has the funniest surnames in the country but that is because of its Bhosale kings who had a great sense of humour and also evoked an easy method of tracking their vast number of darbaris. So if someone suddenly developed a stomach ache, he and his progeny simply became ‘Potdukhe’ forever; a man with a broken nose became ‘Naktode’; a liar was ‘Khote’, ‘Khare” was a true man. One who had stopped after seven sons was always referred to as ‘Saatpute’ ever afterb (there are also Ashtaputres). And when they had no distinguisng characteristics, they were simply known as Aurangabadkar or Medhekar after the places they came from.

But it was not just a sense of humour that defined that trait of the Bhosale kings. The renomenclature was also an ideal means of masking the castes of their subjects so that the mere mention of a name did not generate the kind of prejudices that happened in those times and obliterated the differences altogether over time. Maharashtra is a unique state in that respect owing to its enlightened kings – Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar too drew his idea of affirmative action from Shahu Maharaj who drank tea openly at the stall of a Dalit and defined a quota for backward communities long before become it became constitutional in independent India). So much so that many Dalits today carry upper caste Maratha names (for example, Chavans, Pawars and Gaikwads among others could all be either Dalit or from royal lineages).

Maharashtrians pride themselves on being the most socially progressive state in the country, pioneers of their times, who have brought about lasting changes for bettering society even before the ideas were found acceptable elsewhere. No wonder they are among the most advanced and educated of Indians, in high places (for example, Vikram Pandit, the highest paid CEO in this world at a time when Raj Thackeray would want fellow Maharashtrians to take over and replace those Uttar Bharatiyas who are just taxi drivers and pheriwaalas in Bombay), and, well, going places.

So the Thackerays do tend to get tiresome with their prickliness over everything, including names, while they continue to pay scant attention to their own – it is an anglicised version of Thakre, like Tagore is of is the Bengali ‘Thakur’) and was adopted by Bal Thackeray’s father in tribute to the India-born British write William Makepeace Thackeray, whose writings he greatly admired.

Of course, many people who detest the Thackerays sometimes poke fun at the name by corrupting it to ‘Thok Re’, which I do not think makes for a very edible interpretation . But, strangely, I do not see any of the Thackerays objecting to that one. So if some innocent fun is made of one name out of so many by one contestant in the Bigg Boss house by punning on it in another language, I do not know why that should become a political issue. They should be awakened to the fact that the Maharashtrian does not really enjoy being painted such a joyless ogre. Nor does he/she enjoy life as a porcupine.

And someone please tell these tiger cubs that humour is not just poking fun at others, but also an ability to laugh at oneself too. Roaringly.

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  • Anonymous

    For the first time, I agree with Sujata totally.

    Looking at the rumours we can use little humour on Rahul Gandhi name and call him Rahul G@@ndu once in a while…all in fun.

    Also call MMS Bose DK all in fun for not being effective enough as PM…

    Advani can be called the great Ch*tiy@.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HXRDNIVF63LWYR6RQZGEX5AAWU TONI

    bull **** doesnt say earthquake.

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  • http://twitter.com/amishra77 Akhilesh Mishra

    “Any ideas on how I can pull this off, people?” – well I have advised this before too – get on social media which will act as an important primer for what is happening in real life. If interacting with relative strangers on social media is a frightening proposition to you, then surely real life would be. Conversely, if you can pull it off from the safety of web interface, it should give you the cofidence to try it in real life too !

    By the way, when Brunch launched its special edition a few weeks back, I asked the Twitter handle of Brunch whether you are on Twitter – they said that you are very much on Twitter, just that you prefer privacy. Guess time to come in public :)

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    Kushal Reply:

    Or I could be the Mystery Editor, Akhilesh. You never see her, but you can’t take your eyes off the paper she edits.

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    Akhilesh Mishra Reply:

    Incidentally I have been a TOI reader all my life. Do not get HT at home :)

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    Kushal Reply:

    To each his own.

    Kushal Reply:

    Or I could be the Mystery Editor, Akhilesh. You never see her, but you can’t take your eyes off the paper she edits.

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  • Kushal

    I knew most readers of this blog would understand if not identify, Masha. Thank you for that.

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  • Kushal

    I knew most readers of this blog would understand if not identify, Masha. Thank you for that.

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  • Kushal

    Gosh, that’s a really lengthy list, Sunila. It includes some 100-odd books I already have tottering on my bedside table that are moaning, read me, read me. And some 30-odd books I’ve spotted in bookshops that are moaning, buy me, buy me.

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  • Kushal

    Gosh, that’s a really lengthy list, Sunila. It includes some 100-odd books I already have tottering on my bedside table that are moaning, read me, read me. And some 30-odd books I’ve spotted in bookshops that are moaning, buy me, buy me.

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  • Kanika Dhupar

    The e(xc)lusive editor :)

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    Kushal Reply:

    Hahaha, that’s funny, Kanika.

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  • Anamika

    I so totally get what you’re saying. I LOVE meeting people, but I also love coming back home. To quiet, peace and my books and films. Sometimes the noise out there (or is it in my head) is so loud, that I cannot even listen to music peacefully :)

    Wishing you peace, quiet and good reading time!

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    Kushal Reply:

    Thanks, Anamika. And to you too.

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    Anamika Reply:

    Just had to share this TED talk with you. Listen to it and you’ll know why :)

    http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html

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    Kushal Reply:

    Oh, thanks Anamika.

  • Atul8

    Hi Kushal,

    As a person who has introvert ladies (thats what they claim till the time they get going with what they really like to do) in my life, one can safely say with experience that the only thing different about you folks is that you dont wear your personality on your sleeves.

    Intellectual endowment does create a certain abhorrence for inanities (as amply demonstrated by Benedict Cumberbatch in the latest Sherlock Holmes TV series) but then you would be surprised by how many of those party goers are as bored with parties as you are!! Actually, you do end up meeting some very interesting people if you crack the riddle of “what do you say after you say hello”, and no, please dont read that book!!

    And as a fanaical book / movies / music afficiando, I will send anyone to hell & back if they interrupt my reveries……. even Nero did not interrupt his fiddling while Rome burnt, did he?

    Emergencies can wait – 24/7 is a monumental fallacy imposed by garralous bosses on poor, unsuspecting responsibility laden shoulders.

    Cheers

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    Kushal Reply:

    Thank you for your support, Atul8. I shall show your comment to my bosses when they complain that no one knows what I look like. And where have you been lately? You’ve been c by your a (you’ll know what I mean if you read your Wodehouse).

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    Atul8 Reply:

    Ha Haa! True True…..

    Well, to round house Wodehouse I have had unthinkables done to my unmentionables in the last couple of months!!

    And by the way, dont be surprised if your bosses want to show this comment to their bosses in turn

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    Kushal Reply:

    Well, I hope you’re better now, Atul8.

  • Anonymous

    Vir Singhvi now you have started poking your nose into faith matters. But for health and safety’s sake you are very careful not to disturb Muslim and Sikh beliefs. However I must admit I am not surprised. Nothing surprises me regarding Vir. How is Niira Radia, Vir?

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RTBQ4JJUY6RF5DQ7BP47LWFQOU N

    There was no Jesus or Mohd. Bible was written in AD325 by Esubius. and divinity for Jesus was given by a committee that year. Go and study real history

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    Anonymous Reply:

    You may care to read my new post which is broadly sympathetic to your view, unless it too is removed.

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  • Faadisalam

    Dear All
    We all are what we are born with i am a muslim but i have no doubt born in a hindu family i would have been a hindu in a jewish family a jew.
    Did i study hinduism or jewism or any other religion apart from my own NO and yet i am expected to say that i am on the right path.
    As a child you are born with a blank hard drive and its your family which decides what kind of software they are going to run on it and than like a machine you keep on executing that software for rest of your life.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Beautifully put.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tejinderp1 Tejinder Pal

    We should be proud of journalists like “Vir”…He wrote this article so sensibly, responsibly & clearly… u r blessed brother… please keep up good work… journalism & humanity needs you…..

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  • Anonymous

    For health and safety reasons, Vir Singhvi has avoided Islam and Sikhism. When time travel becomes a reality in the future, you may discover that many of these religious beliefs are just pure myths and almost all revered religious figures were ordinary mortals with human attributes. Had Gandhi been born a thousand years earlier, he may well have been called a prophet and extraordinary myths been around him.

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  • Anonymous

    Vir avoided Islam and Sikhism. I wonder why? Safety perhaps?

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  • Indian

    This only means that better communication between our two governments and much more cultural exchange programs are very much necessary to allay each others’ fears.

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  • karthik

    Lot of analysis in media regarding indo-china war were jaundice eyed ,pointing only the Indian views and errors,but this article elaborated what actually happened on the opposite camp and other unknown amusing facts,which is very insightful and interesting

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  • xvefigjv

    looking good :)

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