Growing up in a metropolis like Bangalore can be a rich experience. It can be a devastating experience too, like when you are told that Bangalore is not a Metro as per the Income Tax Department and hence you will get only Rs. 500/- as HRA for a 40K 1BHK hovel. Or when my dad discovered that he can claim only Rs 100/- as school fees per child which made him mad because even the local government school charges Rs 150/-. He tried to get an appointment with Mr. Chidambaram and but was turned down by his secretary when he explained the purpose of the meeting as “To get a list of schools in India that charge Rs 100/ pm as school fees.” Ok, that last line was off topic. Please ignore after you have shaken your head in agreement.
As I was saying, growing up in a metropolis can be an interesting experience. Especially when the people you grow up with (i.e. your friends, not family silly), are like you but their parents are from a different state than yours. Though they are as sterilized as you are from any regional cultural contamination, we all are fed massive doses of parental regional culture in a desperate attempt to keep us within the community fold. A losing battle if I may say so. But his kind of selective culturalization has its humorous moments. You don’t laugh when it happens, but after a point of time when you have cooled down from the ignonimity of it all, you manage to smile or at least pretend to find it humorous.
Like my friend whose parents were from Bengal. Bengali gal, lets called her Pinku (bongs are as bad as mallus in naming conventions), was convinced by her parents that she was a Bengali. Poor girl had no choice. Her parents spoke Bengali, they ate what she thought was Bengali food and couldn’t understand why she had to travel every year to some god forsaken village in West Bengal, when there were perfectly good vacations spots here in south India.
But her mom had bought her up well…to our dismay. Though she was as Bengali as I am a Punjabi, whatever she had learned she implemented patriotically, over us!!!! And that hurt….real bad.
During the time she spent in our school (one year to be precise) she drove us 'bongs' (as we liked to refer it today between shudders of pure terror).
Pinku had a thing about wasting salt. Apparently her mom had convinced her that ‘salt’ was a mineral with supernatural powers and hence to be respected. So every time anyone spilt salt, Pinku would insist we say “Dasarath”. This was exasperating… very exasperating, especially at lunch time:
Girl 1: I bought fish biryani today. Damn! “Dasarath”.
Girl 2: And I bought…f$%# err I mean “Dasarath”.
The rest of the school thought we were crazy. We continued Dasarath’ing” away merrily for half an academic year, till somebody had the brilliant brain wave of not bringing salt to school. Pinku who was mortally afraid that some god or goddess would hurt us a real bad heaved a sigh of relief.
Bangaloreans will remember the glorious era of road side temples and chapels when you would be periodically startled out of your skin and onto the main road at rush hour by the sudden clanging of a temple bell as you walked down a footpath. And by the time you collected your wits, you would find your forehead smeared with copious amounts of sandalwood paste/kumkum/other and married to a blushing groom/your head tonsured/or on your way to Palani with a strange head gear on your head. Some people have ended up in Kasi and Kailash too I heard, though this piece of information is not verified.
Now Pinku was a very pious soul. And to make things worse, she was fed a lot of Do’s and Don’ts about places of worship whether it was a church or a temple, by her folks. One day on the way to the movies, she went into one of those roadside temples to pay homage to the deity presiding over the temple from atop a Blenders Pride carton. We waited outside chatting and keeping a vary eye for those massive Bangalore cows that look so cute but before you can say “cho chweeeet” will chew up your, kurta/dupatta/hand bag/ notebook etc thoughtfully like a food connoisseur critically tasting gourmet fare. Bangalore is called the air-conditioned city not only for its weather, but for the huge holes your clothes develop without your knowledge if you stand on the footpath/road/market etc. for more than five minutes.
Suddenly Pinku rushes out and drags us away from the temple. She looked angry and scared. “You will get the corses (curses) of the gods” she hissed as though the gods would hear her. “You mustn’t stand with your back to the temple!” she hissed again. It was getting irritating, this hissing. It was so loud that we felt tempted to tell her to pipe down. But wiser counsel prevailed. After the movie, she took us home and burnt some dried red chillies and made us spit in all directions. This would ward off the ill effects of our “transgression” she said. We were too busy coughing, choking and gagging at the burnt chilly smoke to bother. The gods, I am sure were rolling on the heavenly floor laughing their heavenly a**es off at our plight.
After this we were very careful. We had no intention of inhaling chilly smoke again. But you cannot avoid the various temples, both official and the non-official footpath ones. If you faced one temple you were turning your back to another. Our footpath walks became very interesting….we walked like rolling dervishes to our destination. When we could not take the spinning anymore, we decided to bring this madness to a halt. We decided to do “katti” (breaking friendship) with Pinku. And we did. Monday morning when she came to school, we walked up to her and showed our little pinkies to convey that we were no more friends.
By lunchtime, Pinku had managed to revoke the ‘katti’ decision and we were back to being friends again. But not for very long. We sat down for lunch and Pinku fought hard to ignore the salt being liberally spilt onto the ground. After we had finished lunch, we saw Pinku looking perplexed. She had some curry left in the tiffin and as the curry was a ‘prasad’ (offering to god) she could not throw it away. Nor could she take it back or her mother would scold her for wasting food.
After we had choked down the vegetable curry, tears streaming down our faces because it was so pungent, we decided to tell her politely but firmly that she could peddle her superstitions elsewhere.
But Pinku was too busy scrubbing her tiffin with soap, because we had eaten from it and it had therefore become ‘jhoota’ (dirty) and as per her belief’s a “jhoota’ tiffin couldn’t be taken home without washing it thoroughly.
Mercifully the term came to an end soon after this incident and Pinku left the shores of Bangalore leaving behind a bunch of extremely nervous and jumpy girls who took a long time to recover from their ordeal.