Thursday, 20 November 2008

Woo-Man-ly pursuits

Bangalore Mirror, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why, at 8:45 am, is an attractive, young girl in ill-fitting mens’ trousers, short, braided hair and a purposeful smile, strutting bare-footed by the central reserve on the high-speed airport road, chatting up rather eager truck-drivers?

Hmmm… quite.

So why did I not stop watching this gaucherie? Because Britney Spears slithering ‘Toxic’ out of the radio could not have added more masala to this highway drama unfolding before me. There were 112 more seconds on the traffic lights countdown. There was nothing else to do. And I would give this intriguing little interplay, my absolute and unadulterated attention, anyway.

In the past, I have adhered to repeated warnings by well-wishers, to be wary of ‘sidey’ attractions along these parts, but this brazen encounter was too enticing not to give audience to.

For goodness' sake! This was early morning, on a working day where fleets of school busses ferrying less than happy kids, plied at that very moment, past this very scene. My presence was indispensable.

98…97…96… she didn’t have much more time and I had to know where this was going. Oblivious to everyone outside the ‘tiransport diriver’ demographic, this charmer gesticulated, animated and pouted. There was not much scope for imagination and yet nothing prepared me for what actually was.

73…72…71…she swaggered away as white teeth flashed through dark weather-beaten, leathery smiles in rear view mirrors. And she touted. 43…42…something quickened. Time was slipping by. Her eyes darted vehicle to vehicle and she flitted between the four trucks, spending less and less time at each.

19…18…17…16…a hand reached out. What an outrage! This was not a no-go area, it was a traffic stop at a main road on a busy highway that respectable people commute on!

Currency exchanged hands and I gaped, beside myself with disbelief.

This show was not just haemorrhaging my eyeballs, it also had the perfect twist in the script. My dilating pupils beheld a substantial garland of jasmines being thrown into the driver’s side and a burst of laughter. A thumb wagged in mockery and like lightening, she meted out the same embarrassment to the others before skipping away with a basket of flowers whisked out of nowhere!

5…4…I sat, immobile. Sheepish looks reflected in rear views ahead, fellow commuters shook their head in amusement and engines started rumbling.

Amber…green…the day's trade comple, this victorious flower vendor was laughing on the other side of the road.

Incredulity or even plain and simple curiosity compelled me to follow her. I took a U-turn and slowed down on the service road. She set down her flower basket on a bicycle parked a little way ahead, ruffled her hair loose, pulled something off from under her shirt and straightened herself.

The lackadaisical throw of leg over the seat and the even more masculine gait while pedaling, rendered my hair on end. This couldn’t be happening.

As this boy turned off to the main road, I noticed that the last remnants of feminine profile lay in a blue heap, in the flower basket behind him.

He was still laughing.


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www.bangaloremirror.com>> Bangalore Talking >> blog talk >> Woo-man-ly pursuits

Monday, 3 November 2008

‘Left’ enlightened.

Since being back in Bangalore, it would have been my third or fourth solo drive in my dad’s car, in the city’s rather exuberant traffic. This time, however, I had with me a wholly participating witness to yet another Bangalore Bombaatness* (as I have come to lovingly call my experiences here).

Scene I:
RT Nagar traffic junction just after the Hebbal flyover. I was among the first line of vehicles. Having just caught up with my friend for the first time since I last visited, I was relying on the movement of other motorists around me instead of paying attention to the traffic lights ahead.

As engines started to rev, I pushed the pedal and inched forward before noticing that the green light was still off. A good few vehicles had sped past and I hesitated, though way ahead of the stop line.

As a driver new to these reformed and ill-marked roads, my confusion was mounting to near panic. My friend had gone completely quiet and I was solo again.

Never to be beaten, this is what ensued between me and the policeman who sprung up from nowhere.

Me: (pointing to the lights) ‘not working?’
The policeman was now by the side of my car. I lowered the window.
Me: Sorry sir, lights out of order?
PC: (Huffing and all worked up, yet thoroughly pleasant) No madam! This no America. You not go to straight.

From the corner of my eye I see my friend turning maroon. I continued earnestly, though for the life of me I have still not figured out why I felt the need to level my English with this man’s.

Me: Sorry sir. I was looking for green light (pointing up ahead). No red light also. Other people all going.
PC: (still panting) No. No. This no America! Here you not look front! All here. You look LEFT !

America? Left?!! My confusion was beyond gauge. My car was almost at the centre of the crossroads. My friend was bursting at the ears, her eyes fixed ahead and lips dangerously stretched. This had to end fast!

My resolve turned to steel. After attaining a driver’s license despite relentless trials and inexplicable agony at the hands of the notoriously stringent licensing authority of London, I was not about to leave this country with a police entry just because a traffic light can’t be kept functional at one of the busiest junctions of Bangalore!

I persisted with this enthusiastic English-speaking police constable, who was simply too amusing to offend and, I insist, too nice to try.

Hoping to strike a comfortable chord, in my now (very slightly but nonetheless uncomfortably) anglicised Kannada, I perservered.

Me: But Sir… I no… naanu America hogilla. Leftalli enidhe? Traffic lights mundhgade idhe, alla. (I haven't been to America. What's on the left? The traffic lights are ahead, right?)
PC: Iyaaa! Light no work! You look LEFT!

Again! Left?!

Me: (Beyond confused now and struggling with the ever-so-composed stance). Sir, leftalli en idhe? (What's on the left?)
PC: I madam! I on left!

Silence... My friend is really worrying me now. Just how stupid could I get! What was I thinking looking for the traffic lights ahead to guide me, when I should have been peering LEFT, trying to locate the friendly policeman directing traffic from some invisible gap between crowds of people constantly moving under the shade of trees lining the pavement! Preposterous.

Me: (dumbfounded) Ah! Aithu aithu. Thumba thanks Sir. Hogla? (Ah! I see. Many thanks, Sir. May I go ?)
PC: (In Kannada! Finally! And as pleasant and as breathless) hogi, hogi. (Please go)

We drove off, and my friend lifted her shaking frame, every pore, the darkest shade of red I’ve seen on any human. Had my charming tete-a-tete carried on a sentence further, we most certainly would have been booked, albeit for a different offence.

Relieved at being let off, incredulous laughter burst forth and tears streamed down flushed cheeks. But just how close were we really?

The malfunctioning traffic lights (if the constable is to be believed, 3 months is inexcusable) were relegated to the miscellaneous as we somehow got embroiled in an intense discussion on how today, more than ever, proficiency in a particular language, defines a person’s self-worth.

To me, as a domicile of the state, being conversant in Kannada, is paramount to my sense of belonging – specially now, that the lack of practice shows.

To the aspiring policeman, speaking in English with me was his moment of prestige. I am not sure what lead to his (flawed) assumption that I was accustomed to American ways, as I was turned out just as casually cosmopolitan as any other Bangalorean of my background. Also, I had not spoken a word to him until then, to give away my accented Kannada – my English, thankfully, bears no British influence.

Whatever it was, he slighted my valiant attempts at claiming my rights to the vernacular, while he flourished his modest linguistic prowess over a (imported, essentially) language he clearly looks up to. I dread to imagine his plight, had this been Mumbai and my guffawing friend was local lingo autocrat marathi manoos Raj Thakaray!

To turn my learning completely on its head, I soon got to encounter a language enthusiast from the other end of spectrum. On the eve of Rajyotsava (entirely incidental), we happened to visit the temple at Chamundi hills, Mysore. Far from the comedic embarrassment fresh in my mind, this one was rather petty.

Scene II:
Waiting patiently in the ‘queue’ at the ticket counter for a direct darshan, I was superceded by another customer. I smirked all-too-knowingly and let him be. In a second, another man came up and stuck in at the counter, hovering over the other guy. Patience lost, I tersely pointed out that they had come in out of turn. While the first person promptly stepped back to give me way, the second man sheepishly mumbled.

Man: Ticket bekaadre, takolbeku. Summge queue alli nithkolodhalla. (For a tickets, you must go and take it, not simply stand in the queue, waiting)
Me: (now enraged, I snapped) Thapaithu. Queue ge illi artha illa antha gothaithu. (My mistake. Queues have no meaning here, I now understand)
Man: (obviously not expecting a Kannadiga and trying to save face. Still mumbling) Kannada gothidhre yake Englishalli mathadodhu? (If you know Kannada, why speak in English?)
Me: (I glared back) Innomme, thanpaithu. (Once again, my mistake)

Whaaaat?!! please enlighten me, was the exact connection between my speaking in English and his cutting the queue to then inanely justify his stand? And the events did not even happen in that order!

Maybe it was the Rajyotsava spirit, but Kannada fervour was his weapon then – luckily for once, so was mine.

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* Bombaat : Colloquial Kannada - super