Vantage point

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Mumbaikar and Punekar

Produced below is my humble attempt to translate into English Pu La Deshpande's famous marathi essay "Punekar, Mumbaikar, Nagpurkar". I have only translated the parts about Mumbai and Pune. By the time I reached the part about Nagpur, my Stats homework questions were making ominous noises and attempting to bite their way out of my bag. So if some proud Nagpurkar is enthu enough, he/she can translate that part and send it to me and I'll add it with due credit.

This essay was written by Pu La sometime in the early 60s. 45 years later, most of it is still relevant. I have made a few additions and a few deletions wherever I thought appropriate. The full hilarity of the essay obviously can not survive translation. But I do hope a significant part of it is retained, due to the sheer incisiveness of Pu La's observant eye. If people like this, I will try my hand at some other essays of his.

Ever since Maharashtra became United Maharashtra, we have started feeling even more divided than before. Nowadays it doesn't suffice just to say that you are Marathi. You need to specify whether you are a Punekar, a Mumbaikar or a Nagpurkar. So the Maharashtrian of today is faced with an identity crisis of sorts. Being just a Maharashtrian in Maharashtra is like being without an identity. There are only 3 identities that matter - Punekar, Mumbaikar and Nagpurkar. Actually there are hundreds of towns in Maharashtra, but these are the only three that deserve the suffix "kar" after them.

So do you want to be a Mumbaikar? If you do, then it is very important that you should be born in Mumbai. Letting the one who gives birth to you also give you a roof over your head is the easiest way to solve the thorny issue of a residence in Mumbai. Otherwise you need to be prepared for another crisis. Just imagine, these days you need to pay in thousands even if you want to sleep on the pavement at night. So unless you are actually born in Mumbai, perish the thought of becoming a Mumbaikar. Be happy where you are. You don't always get what you want in life, do you? Think of this as one of those things.

Of course, if an aunt living in some chawl or apartment in Mumbai is willing to adopt you, then the prospects look bright. That's the easiest way to be born again. Or you could always become a "ghar jamai". In Mumbai, the definition of a "ghar jamai" is someone whom you have to give your daughter as well as your house.

However if you do manage to take care of the housing issue, then there are few joys in the world as unmitigated as being a Mumbaikar, believe me.

"Mumbai is too crowded" is a complaint which you are more likely to hear from outsiders than from true blue Mumbaikars. If someone cribs about Mumbai's air, heat, crowds, mosquitoes, let him. Because it is not mandatory for you to be proud of everything about Mumbai. In fact pride is not a pre-condition to being a Mumbaikar at all. That's a pre-condition for Pune. You've got to have oodles of pride in Pune to be a Punekar.

In fact if someone calls Mumbai rotten, you should agree with them whole-heartedly. There is no better way to dodge guests and potential immigrants who might drive real estate prices even higher. In Mumbai, dodging out-of-town guests is an exercise you have to carry out like guerilla warfare. Luckily, Mumbai is continuously plagued with epidemics. To top it all there are political epidemics like bandhs. Those poor misunderstood political parties. Every year each of them has to demonstrate "success" in their respective bandhs, or no one will take them seriously. What can they do about it?

So if some relatives of yours plan to visit you in Mumbai, don't forbid them from coming. Write to them, "Yes yes, please grace us with your presence. But please remember to take vaccinations against cholera, typhoid, malaria, chikungunya, leptospirosis. There were 214 deaths last month, but don't mind that. By the way, hepatitis is making rounds again. But don't let such minor irritants bother you. Do come."

This should take care of most of your relatives. But there are some stout-hearted relatives who will still want to visit. Assure them you will be there at the railway station, and then don't turn up. In fact, call up the Taxi Driver's Association, ask them when their next strike is scheduled, and tell your relatives to come on that day. If the relative is coming to Mumbai for the first time, then there's more scope for guerilla tactics. If you live in Colaba, tell your relatives, "It will be better if you get down at Thane".

The only pain of living in Mumbai is avoiding these unwanted relatives from taking up valuable space in your tiny homes. Apart from that, there is no city like Mumbai, believe me. If you want to live in Mumbai, you need to learn Mumbai's marathi and Mumbai's hindi. Every sentence should have at least 3-4 english words. In fact while speaking any language in Mumbai, you should remember that past tense has no significance in this city. The way Mumbai has only two seasons - Summer and Monsoons, it has only two tenses - present and future.

Mumbai, poor thing, doesn't have much of a past. She cares only about today and tomorrow. The Mumbaikar cares less about how fast Shivaji's horse galloped, and more about when the next fast local train is scheduled. It is only after you come to Mumbai that you realise that the minute hand in your watch is also of great significance. In any other city, you can go through life just paying attention to the hour hand. But not in Mumbai. Because in Mumbai your watch is tied not just to your wrist, but to your fate.

Mumbai might not have a rich history like Pune. But the only time a Mumbaikar feels passionate about the past is when he is talking about that special topic. You guessed it. Cricket. Cricket is the only sport that Mumbai knows. In other places, cricket is played on grounds and in fields. But in Mumbai, even corridors play host to legendary test matches.

And please do not dwell under the misconception that to know about cricket you need to have handled a bat and a ball in your life. Not at all. Remember, cricket is more about talking and less about playing. However you need to be well-versed with the history of cricket. You need not know any other history. In fact a true blue Mumbaikar is very likely to pose the question "You know that Battle of Panipat....where exactly in Pune did that happen?" to a Punekar, causing him to have apoplectic fits on the spot. But ask a Mumbaikar anything about cricket, and you'll never find him wanting.

The way a Punekar can wax eloquent about his pantheon of "Bajirao, Nanasaheb, Narayanrao...", a Mumbaikar will launch into the exploits of "P Balu, CK Nayudu, Vijay Merchant...." right upto Gavaskar, Vengsarkar and Tendulkar.

The true blue Mumbaikar always had a special connection with the Brits. You see, Mumbai was never ruled by Mughals or Marathas. In fact Mumbai did not exist until the Brits built it. The Brits came and built Mumbai from scratch. So the first and last Kings of Mumbai were the Brits. Outsiders like Tilak and Gandhi needlessly came and stirred up trouble between the Mumbaikar and the Brit Saahib. Even today, the true Mumbaikar wells up with emotion when he looks at the old buildings in Fort and misses the Brits. So even though Pune retained its stoicness even after the extinction of the peshwas and the horse carts, the Mumbaikar still misses the brits and the good old trams.

Ok, so now... do you want to become a Punekar? Go ahead. We have no objections. But our advice is... think again. Do you really want to? OK, if you insist then your preparation needs to be thorough. And once you are fully prepared, then being a Punekar is as enjoyable an experience as any.

Firstly, do not nurse the notion that you are inferior to anyone in any aspect of life. You are not. You are a superior being. Secondly, learn to express dissent on every issue possible. I mean seriously, stop thinking about minor things like who you are, how educated or uneducated you are, what your achievements are..... don't think about any of these things and just express a contradictory opinion. Whatever the topic under discussion, your opinion needs to be strongly voiced, and it has to be contrarian. Even if the topic under discussion is "How to get the American economic machine back on track", and you are just an employee of the Pune Municipal Corporation's Rat Extermination Department, don't let it stop you from holding forth.

At least once every few hours you need to cluck your tongue, shake your head and say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be." There are no age-related requirements for saying this. In Pune doddering geriatrics and school-going striplings say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be" with matching conviction. So you will get to hear this statement with comforting regularity in offices, colleges, tekdis, temples, markets and even kindergartens.

Marathi, or in general any language, exists in several forms in Pune. Public Speaking Puneri, Shopkeeper's Puneri, Domestic Puneri.... are all various dialects with little in common with each other. Let me demonstrate the difference between the language used in private conversation and the language used for public speaking, with an example.

Imagine that a Prof. Bhamburdekar is talking about a Prof. Yelkuntkar with his wife - "What nonsense! Yelkuntkar is being felicitated? Utter nonsense. Actually he should be thrashed with his own shoes. What is he being felicitated for? Translating the rigved? More like transmutating the rigved. But still he gets government grants, thousands of rupees."
Note- One of the typical ways for a Punekar to vent his anger about someone else is to rant about the money he is making.
"Yes, you fool! Live it up! Embezzle that money! Live the big life! Eat banana pudding and peas curry everyday!"
The most superlative form of living the big life for a Punekar stops at thse humble heights - eating banana pudding and peas curry everyday.

Now let me show you the transformation of this sample of private Puneri language into public Puneri language. Imagine, the same Prof. Bhamburdekar at the felicitation, giving a speech about Prof. Yelkuntkar.

"Felicitating Guruvarya Prof Yelkuntkar is like felicitating in person the Sun God of Scholarliness. Friends, today's date will be carved with gold in the annals of Pune's cultural history. This great teacher of mine.... I mean I have always considered him my teacher.... I am not sure if he considers me his student..."
At this point the audience laughs a little. According to Puneri Public Speaking rules, if you don't make the audience laugh after your third sentence, it is counted as a foul. So all aspiring Punekars preparing for the daunting task should keep this in mind.
"Now of course, in a way I am his student. Because when he was a teacher in the municipality schools, I was his student in Class 1"
See how cleverly he slipped in the information that Prof. Yelkuntkar was once just a school teacher in a rundown municipality school.
"His father was an employee of the nutritional department in the palace of the Sardar Panchapatlikar"
Another masterstroke.... the good professor's father was just a cook!
"Having spent his childhood in extreme poverty, Professor must be feeling great contentment living in his spacious bungalow in Aranyeshwar Colony"
i.e notice how he's embezzled all this money under the garb of education.
"Prof Yelkuntkar and our Honourable Education Minister have been friends right from their school days"
i.e now you know why he gets all those government grants he doesn't deserve.

So you see, unless you are Marc Antony, you will have to prepare a lot before your public speaking skills can match up to Puneri standards.

Now when it comes to Puneri language to be used in day to day life, the standards are pretty stringent too. Let me illustrate with another example. All over the world, the convention is that when you answer the phone it should be with a polite "Hello?". Not in Pune.

In Pune when you answer the phone, your voice must take on that natural irritable brusqueness that descends when someone wakes you up from an afternoon nap, and you must yell "WHO'S THIS??". It helps to pretend that it costs you money not just to make a call, but also to receive a call.
Now if the caller responds with "Err...could you please get Mr. Gokhale to the phone?", then his non-Punekar status will be blindingly obvious even to a child. A true Punekar will respond testily "CALL GOKHALE TO THE PHONE".



To be a true Punekar, you have to have a burning pride for something. Not just normal pride. Normal pride can be felt by anyone. It has to be fierce burning pride. It is not necessary to feel this pride just about major things like the life of Shivaji or Tilak. It could be something as flippant as the rank of your lane's Ganpati statue during the Ganpati immersion procession or even peanuts from the rural regions of Pune district. But no matter how flippant the issue is, the pride must be fierce and burning.

This burning pride is very helpful when you have to make dissenting arguments. So then, on the day of Tilak's Death Anniversary, you could tap into burning pride for Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. On the day of a cricket test match, you could tap into burning pride for kabaddi.

Expressing your dissent merely in private conversations is not enough to get you the Punekar tag. You need to frequently write in your dissenting opinion to the 'Letters to the editor' column. It does not even have to make sense. For instance, this letter appeared in one of Pune's leading newspapers a few years back -

This year the monsoons have been particularly fierce. The roads are in a horrid condition and crops have been washed out. May I ask the good people at the Meterological Department, who draw their fat salaries from our taxes, what they are doing to stop this deluge?"

Dissent is of primary importance. Logic is secondary.

Now another art you need to perfect, and that too in a specialised Puneri way, is driving a bike. Just sitting on a bike and going all around town on it does not qualify you as a bike rider in Pune. The verb "driving" when it comes to bikes in Pune, is used in the same sense as "driving an axe into a block of wood" or "driving hordes towards revolution".

A bike in Pune is viewed, not as a means of transport, but something to sit on when you meet for chit-chat with a group of friends in the middle of the road. It really helps in training new traffic policemen. It also helps in making access to any building virtually impossible for pesky salesmen. Managing to cluster bikes together to construct such a barricade is as crucial as being able to extricate your own bike from the cluster without toppling others.

Bikes should not be driven alone in Pune. There should be at keast 3 bikes together going parallel to each other in the middle of the road, at a leisurely speed while talking to each other. Your eyes should not be on the road, but on the walking-and-talking attractive scenery on the road. Having unnecessary accoutrements like horns, mirrors, lights, indicators is a sign of cowardice on the streets of Pune.

In this way, as you are crossing various levels in the game "How to be a Punekar", you should also parallely keep up efforts to beome an office bearer in some social or cultural organisation or a Rotary Club. Holding a hollow post in a useless organisation is central to the completeness of the Punekar's existence.

It is also necessary to attend as many lectures, talks and seminars as possible on topics as diverse and vacuous as "Bajirao the Second's Handwriting" or "The Fungus on Bajra crop". And after the lecture, it is imperative to catch hold of the speaker, and in full view of at least half a dozen people say to him with an earnest expression on your face "I would like to discuss this topic in more depth with you some time."

All this preparation should be enough to make you a normal Punekar. But if you want to operate a shop in Pune, you need more lessons. You especially need lessons on language. Only then will you be able to heap maximum insults on your customer in minimum possible words. Because in Pune, the verb "operating" a shop is used in the same sense as "operating a bull dozer" or "operating a machine gun". The most negligible entity in a shop in Pune, is the customer.

A shop operated in this way can realistically make money only for 7-8 years until all the customers desert it. Once that happens, you can sell your shop to a Sindhi or a Marwari. The price of land must have appreciated enough to get you a hefty bank balance to last you for the remainder of your life. And you are free to conduct seminars and panel discussions on the topic "Why are Maharashtrians unsuccessful in business?" in the Tilak Smarak Mandir.

Summing it up, to become a Punekar, every action of yours should be aimed at ensuring a felicitation ceremony for you some years down the line.