Monday, April 18, 2011

Delhi and Mumbai : a tale of two cities (2)

To continue my earlier blog on the same subject...

The traffic of the two cities are also quite different. In fact, both the cities have left hand drive is just about the only thing that seem to be common. 

Mumbai (or Bombay; I still prefer the old name) has a highly organised and disciplined traffic. At least it honestly tries to be. It has a strict lane discipline imposed on it and over the years, the same has largely been internalized by the drivers. Cutting a lane, is, therefore, considered a greater sin that cutting a throat (in certain parts of the city, the latter is likely to win you kudos and cheers). While this is quite an appreciable achievement, the effectiveness of this is often subdued by lack of adequate street signs and directions. One is, thus, often stuck in the right most lane and is forced to take a right turn despite it being the wrong turn (right is sometimes wrong, you see). It is impossible for someone to guess where the correct right turn is from a distance unless one has spent good part of his formative years munching "vada-pav" in that particular area.  

Delhi has been wrongly accused of having no traffic rules or sense. This is, of course, purposefully maligning the city which has developed a completely unique traffic sense. Best is to list them down :
1) The bigger car has the right of the way.
2) Left is the overtaking lane and is also the fastest lane.
3) Right is definitely the slowest lane. 
4) Being on a lane does not mean you have to follow it all the time.
5) It is a perfectly acceptable practice to drive between two lanes. In certain parts of the city, this is the only way.
6) If you need to cut the lane, do so boldly and blindly. Close your eyes, take your favorite god's name and just do it!! You would momentarily feel like passing through hyper space or like the Star-Trek opening lines " boldly go where no man has gone before"
7) You can commit the gravest of the mistakes and then smile sweetly and get away by saying "Kindly adjust ("adjust" to be pronounced as "edjust") . If you can prefix the same with an "Oye Paaji", you have really done it. Balle balle to you and whoever is in the car with you.

As you would realize, this peculiar school of driving can only succeed if people possess a certain outlook towards life. You need a kind of benign forgiveness and a smiling pool of complacency to take this in your stride. No wonder people of Delhi are generally more happy-go-lucky and likely to crack some inane jokes at the first instance. If you constantly live in a world which seems like a Govinda movie, you tend to push yourself into a rarefied stratosphere where commonplace things like a dent on the right fender or a scratch on the left rear wheelcap has little or no significance.   

This brings up another aspect of life - humour. Mumbai, in general, is a humourless city. People are non-interfering and detached and usually maintain a self-complete (or should I call it self-sufficient) cheerfulness within them. It is not unusual to find people walking the malls, completely alone but not feeling lonely at all. Compared to this, Delhi has an all-embracing sense of humour, which, in its all putrid form, is forced upon you. It is impossible to ignore this, impossible to appreciate this and yet impossible to get angry with these simplistic people who belt out such mawkish jokes at the drop of a hat. 

To give you an example :
I went to a small general purpose shop looking for a bottle of jam for my daughter. This shop was devoid of this. The shopkeeper, instead of saying that he doesn't have it, quipped "Jam nehi hay sahab, lekin Jams hay" (Jams - in case you are still wondering, refers to the Cadbury Gems which is popular amongst children).  In case you are wondering - no I didn't reach for my Kalashnikov and make a clean job of the shop keeper. I just smiled and moved on.

So, most of the bollywood humours are, in fact, more suitable in Delhi than Mumbai and so are the bollywood dialogs. Thus, the "Virar ka chokra" brand of humour is more a "Janakpuri Ishtyle" than a Bombaiya brand. It also tends to grow on you and after a while, you start enjoying the utter ridiculousness and the existentialistic absurdity of the same. 

All Izzz Well for the time being. And yours truly shall be back with another round of introspection after a while. Till then, Sionara!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Statutory Warning about the movie "Born Free"

Statutory Warning : It is dangerous to allow children below 8 years to watch the legendary movie “Born Free”. Watching this movie causes certain behavioural changes in the child which could be stressful to the parents, especially for the father. A synopsis of the same is attached below:

Symptom 1 : Roaming around the house with the tongue hanging out and panting continuously. This creates an illusion of having a 4 legged beast in the house which, unless one is really brave and couldn’t-care-less kind of a guy, is rather un-nerving. It also leads to your neighbour avoiding you fearing that your child suffers from hydro-phobia (this, in retrospect, is not such a bad thing sometimes).

Symptom 2 : Occasionally pouncing on the unsuspecting parent (usually the father) with a catlike flexibility and ferocity. The suddenness causes the parent spring into an active position from a reclining posture and consequently leads to excruciating pains in the lumber region and/or lower spine. Possibilities of a cardiac arrest or a near-permanent damage to the spinal column or both cannot be entirely ruled out.

Symptom 3 : Having achieved the desired result with Symptom 2, the child also might lick your face – something, which is definitely bad for the child’s alimentary system and disastrous for the parent’s mental framework. Especially if the father had just tried a new after shave and is feeling particularly nice about it.

Symptom 4 : Instead of Symptom 3, the child might also follow up symptom 2 with a long hysterical guffaw with associated hand gestures which are, to put it mildly, extremely insulting and infuriating. This can force the lifelong pacifist father to reach out for a hard and blunt instrument – an act which, in the court of law, would be ruled as child abuse due to the ignorance of the judges about the ill effects of this movie.

Symptom 5 : Will insist on clutching to his/her “lion soft toy” (which was neglected all these years) all the time. Normally this is bearable except when the child insists on feeding this contraption with dust-laden mare and complains that his/her ‘Elsa’ is refusing to eat. Pretending to act deaf will not yield the desired result as the child also develops a compulsive mental dis-order and will not let you go till you have also tried feeding ‘Elsa’.

Symptom 6 : Will threaten his/her mother that he/she will go away and then “mama” will cry. To make matters worse, she will also threaten that she will come back with three kids like Elsa did. At this point of time, you will be kicked out of your leisurely reverie and will be rendered speechless.

The above is, by no means, a complete analysis as the period of study/ evaluation was in-sufficient. Added to this is the fact that the observer, who also is the father, could not maintain the mandatory clinical detachment necessary for a scientific study. Not only were the aforementioned symptoms nerve-wrecking, it was compounded by the firm assertion by the mother of the child that things have gone so far due to indulgent treatment of the observer/ parent. Such blatantly unjust and malicious allegations also might cause the father to brood, sulk or generally become regressively philosophical about life.

Please spread this link to as many parents as possible. Let them not suffer like I have. I am trying to tie up with FB/ Twitter that for every 100 clicks, they will donate 1 $ which will be used to burn all prints of the blasted movie and make the world a better place for all parents.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Delhi and Mumbai : A tale of two cities (1)

Now that I have spent 8 months in Delhi and have actually started liking the place, it might no longer be such a major crime to draw parallels with my erstwhile home Mumbai, the city where I had spent the past eight years of my life.

Mumbai is a vibrant city with a strong sense of detachment. In a way, it is truly metropolitan as this detachment allows it to give similar treatment to it's own “Marathi Manoos” as well as the outsiders. It is, thus, a city in Maharashtra yet not a Maharashtrian city - just like Paris is an aberration to the traditional French culture. There is little that Mumbai can boast as “truly Maharashtrian” – even the “Pao Bhaji” and “Vada Pao”, the signature street food of Mumbai are not quite Maharashtrian.

Added to this, Mumbai has a strong “process orientation” about following a set of standard rules. Something like "the rules of the game" I am not talking only about the legal rules but also of certain commonly used practices. Quite like the GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – a set of universal accounting principles which are followed by most of the farms world-wide), Mumbai seem to have its own unwritten GALP (Generally Accepted Livelyhood Practices) which everybody seem to follow. Thus the apparently maddening Mumbai locals also have some set rules and codes (including codes about how you should board the train at which station; the technique followed at Andheri Station will be vastly different from the technique followed at Virar Station). Once a person masters this GALP, he is as comfortable in Mumbai as any seasoned Mumbaikar.

The main principle of Mumbai is “live and let live” – a clinical isolation from ones surroundings. One lives truly like an island, with boats and bridges built strictly according to ones own rules. Added to this is a sense of urgency in one’s thought and action, a constant throbbing of pulse, rapid heart beat about getting the things done “asap” and getting over with it!! Mumbaikars like to work hard and play harder. They would work till 8 in office - then travel for an hour to attend a party lasting till the midnight and yet be in office at 8 am in the morning. It really makes you burn the candle at both ends but it certainly gives a lovely light and thus Mumbai, for most outsiders, is a “love at first sight”.

Delhi, in contrast, is a city which will not show its face to you on the first glance. A “Wham, bam, thank you, Mam” approach is not for Delhi – you need to court this old lady with rose petals,fragrances and poetries (or is it "shayeri"?) and all the tools of the trade. And then you would realizethe “pull” this city seem to exert on you and its vast and intricate web of connectivity.

Delhi is essentially “result oriented” and therefore somewhat dis-organised. When you approach a Delhi-ite to get a job done, you will be well advised to explain the person why you want this job to be done in excruciating details. Instructions / hierarchy / SOP have no relevance to a Delhi-ite. The focus is strictly on “why this should be done” instead of “how this should be done”. To give you an example, if you ask a banker in Delhi, how much cash can be withdrawn in a single transaction, you will usually get a counter-question “How much do you want?”. If you answer this question openly instead of considering it to be a personal affront, most of the times you will get what you want. If you approach this in a typical Mumbaikar way and insist that you want to know the “rule” and “how much am I entitled to” and “why should I tell you how much I want”, you will face a virtual stonewall stronger than the real one in China.

Another tradition of Delhi is it’s absolute adherence to the traditional Indian way of “Satyam Badet, Priyam Badet..” Even under the worst emergency, a Delhi-ite will invariably greet you politely, ask about your health, your wife's toothache, daughter's education and the wellbeing of the society in general before actually getting down to business. A lot of things will be left to “thik hai, dekh lenge” till the very end. Trying to put this into a highly organised structure is sheer foolishness as it will be going against the grain of the people. Added to this, Delhi also follows the principle of “still water runs deep”. Activities under crisis also would appear very normal at the superficial level. The code of civility will be maintained, the pace would appear to be the same and it is virtually impossible to push things externally. Yet the job will invariably “somehow” get done within the strictest deadline. You may imagine that this is a one-off case but when you see that this is happening in every time, you will have to appreciate that they seem to have an entirely different way of handling things.

Delhi is inherently laid back and encourages you to take life a little easily. It encourages a better quality of life where people can pursue their other interests. No wonder Delhi has a far greater number of book shops, fantastically stocked DVD shops, regular art exhibitions and other performing arts compared to Mumbai. And please, let us not even talk about the much revered “Kala Ghoda festival” of Mumbai compared to what one gets to see in Delhi. This, probably allows people to have better connectivity with each other. This strict code of civility and bonhomie forces a community feeling to be inbred amongst a Delhi-ite. It is practically impossible to maintain a stoic detachment from your surroundings, the outside society in general will invade into your life at a much deeper level than it would in Mumbai.

To conclude, Mumbai focuses on "being alive and staying alive" while Delhi emphasizes on the subtle difference between living and staying alive. It is not for me to give a fatwa about which is a better way and in any case, there cannot be any last word when we are comparing two parallel cultures. I, however, intend to put in some more observation on this subject (thus the mysterious 1 within the parenthesis in the title) in my forthcoming blogs. So quits for today and will be back soon (hopefully). Till then, cheerio!!