Im no poet
And I know it
But rhyming is easy
When I’m not busy
Words strung together at random
Do not poetry make
Rhymes are passe
But metres at stake
He was an eager young rookie, in his early twenties, barely out of college, finding his way around the maze of the public sector corporate world.
He was attending his debut budget meeting, where performances are analysed, targets set, and strategy debated, postings decided; at least that is what he thought.
A new branch office had been recently opened in the heart of the capital, and our young hero was sent to man it till a suitable head is decided upon.
Full of enthusiasm, our greenhorn had bustled about and won a number of new accounts; the crowning glory of which came when he reached an agreement with an equally young and enthusiastic IAS officer and acquired a new business of what was a princely sum in those days. It was a big breakthrough for the region. He therefore was brimming with confidence and excited over his virgin evaluation by the exalted regional head, a veteran Sikh gentleman.
The meeting seemed to be carried out entirely in Punjabi, which was the language most of his colleagues spoke. The other Branch heads were all battle scarred veteran salespeople, more than twice our hero’s age. The venue was the company guesthouse, a spacious bungalow in a posh neighbourhood. No business was discussed, but whiskey and jokes flowed unchecked, and a good time was being had by all, including our rookie. Undaunted by the occasion, he too imbibed merrily, and shared witticisms in his pidgin Punjabi.
Finally, the big boss summoned him. But to his puzzlement, he was led out into the backyard with a friendly arm around his shoulder, glass in hand.
There, the venerable regional chief proceeded to give the young hero the best advice he could get, much like Lord Krishna’s discourse to the nervous Partha.
Although this Geeta saar was delivered in Punjabiised Hindi, I shall translate it into English for the uninitiated reader. Those savvy can retranslate in their mind for the full flavour.
“Listen son, I want to tell you something important. I am speaking with a whisky glass in hand, so I am speaking the truth.
We made you a Branch in charge, but you did not show any gratitude. We therefore had decided to remove you after this meeting. You however, managed to pull this coup, and even the corporate office is impressed. Thus, you are safe. If you continue to perform like this, we can’t touch a hair of your head, despite your arrogance and lack of proper deference and gratitude.
Remember this, to survive in the company; you can do one of two things. Be of service to your superiors, do Seva, or you can perform. If you do both, no one can match you, you too even become a General Manager, or even Chairman. But you have to do at least one. Out of the two, serving your superiors, or seva, is the best. Then, multitudes of faults are overlooked and mistakes excused. In performance, you may survive with your impudence as long as you keep up a super track record, but we will be watching you. The first mistake and you are toast.”
The young man ruminated over these gems of wisdom. It has stood the test of time. He has seen many colleagues practice the first and prosper. He has seen a few try the second and be ruined. He has seen even fewer try the golden combo and blossom. He himself, thanks to his contrary nature, stuck to the second, at a great cost, suffered some serious setbacks, but undaunted, continued to strive bull headedly, continued to reach new milestones, and marked out a niche for himself. He was fortunate later in his career to encounter professional bosses who appreciated his work ethic and style, He ultimately did almost reach the dizzying ranks promised by his first boss as a reward for achieving the golden double, but did so on his own terms.
He continues to appreciate the truth in the valuable lesson learnt from this initial guru.
My first Punju Wedding (as an invited guest)
Bollywood has brought the Punjabi wedding into everyone’s drawing rooms, and nowadays most weddings in India have become Punjabi in some degree at least. It is THE Big Fat Indian Wedding, and plenty of celebrities from all over the world come to India to get married Punjabi style.
Punjabis are a boisterous ebullient lot, and everything about them is larger than life; none more so than the greatest spectacle of their lives, the Big Fat Punjabi Wedding.
During our impecunious University days, I had attended many Punjabi weddings, including one of our Deans daughters’, but not with the knowledge and consent of the hosts. The technique involved was walking in just behind the Baratis, or grooms party, clad in borrowed blazers, looking happy and confident. Being sozzled helped, as you could totally blend in. To allay any suspicion whatsoever, you could enquire after Pappu, a ubiquitous Punjabi name, and there were enough people by that name to avoid mishap, everyone assuming you were another Pappu’s guest.
As fate dictated, I married a Punjaban myself, but this too was without the knowledge or consent of my in-laws or parents. Thus, though an impromptu bacchanal happened, there was nothing Punjabi about it. It did have one thing common with a BFPW though, in that there was nary a sober guest after the party, except the bride.
So, post marriage, the first wedding invitation I received from a BFPW, it being the nuptials of a cousin or something, I was excited. Coincidentally, the groom was called Pappu.
Let me explain how the wedding works. If a Sikh wedding, it will be in the daytime. The grooms party assemble somewhere close to the venue, and proceed in a boisterous procession to the brides place, the groom on horseback, a posse of cars following, and the guests performing a wild jig on the road, accompanied by drummers, a brass band, blaring music and roaring encouragements, all simultaneously, while being liberally plied with whisky, from a mobile bar at the back of a van.
On reaching the venue, there is a sort of dance off, a final exuberant battle, and then the exhausted guests troop in, to an incredible repast, washed down with more liquor. The bride and the by now almost comatose groom are whisked off to a neighbourhood Gurdwara for a brief religious ceremony, while the party continues unabated.
This is probably a throwback on ancient times when a raiding party assembled, did battle and defeated the enemy, read in laws, and carried away the bride. The groom does carry a sword still, but the presence of the ladies, who are by far the better dancers, and who down their liquor disguised in cokes and juices, distinguish the procession from a war party.
Anyway, we joined the procession, and though itching to join in, I kept walking sedately, grinning inanely at everyone, the strange alien son in-law.
Finally, someone staggered up and asked me, with gestures and winks,
“Sir, do you take it?”
“Of course!”I retorted, relieved.
He promptly appeared with the necessary pick me up, and soon I was sufficiently primed to join the revellers in leaping around to the beat.
“Then you take non veg too?” Not that there is any cause effect link between the two, as I know plenty of sudh sakahari tipplers, but this was not the time to quibble.
“I take nothing else”, I clarified
Fried chicken legs appeared by magic, and the party went on.
“We thought that you Madrassis are total veg, don’t enjoy anything at all, but you seem all right”
This was no time to explain that
a) I was not a Madrassi, but a Bengali.
b) Bengalis are hard core non vegetarians
c) There is no such thing as a Madrassi, there being four southern states plus Maharashtra south of the Vindiyas, and Orissa in the East
d) Most of these people are hard core non vegetarians
e) That most denizens of the Deep South will match a Punjabi peg for peg in liquor consumption.
f) Enjoyment has nothing to do with eating flesh or getting intoxicated.
But this was not the time or place for such philosophical discourse. I merely enjoyed the lavish hospitality and was relieved at being admitted as an acceptable in law to these spirited Punjabis.
The first meal offered to the guests is, believe it or not, breakfast. But it is a breakfast of… let’s say Punjabi proportions. There are pyramids of boiled eggs, plateaus of fried fish, and mountains of chicken legs….. I did not get a chance of looking at the groaning tables at the vegetarian counters.
Barely had the tables been cleared when lunch was announced.
Punjabi wedding feasts are always buffet, never sit down. Once dinner is announced, a mad rush ensues. Seeing so many suits gallop down to attack the dishes, one may assume that food is about to run out, or the guests have been starving for long. Actually, the food is abundant, and the guests well fed, having just gorged on breakfast. The secret probably is that they being a martial race, and the fighting spirit not finding sufficient outlet in these peaceable times, battling over the food gives vent to the native instinct. The same spirit is visible when a Punjabi is behind the wheels.
By now I had proved my credentials by being partial to booze and chicken and not averse to dancing; or actually leaping around to deafening drumming while emitting war cries. Having accepted me, my generous and exuberant hosts kept plying me with food and drink.
My plate looked like a battleground after a vicious carnage. I looked around for a place to ditch the debris. Seeing my dilemma, a fellow guest kindly showed me the correct method of disposal. The venue being a covered field, all one has to do is move to a corner, and hurl the carcasses over your shoulder, making space for more on your plate.
I dared not try to find out how to make space in my stomach, to match the appetites of my fellow guests.
Since then I have attended many such feasts, strongly reminiscent of the last panel in an Asterix comic book, including occasionally the cheerful brawls and the shut out Cacofonix, and blend in perfectly.
Oh! Not quite, I have yet to master the ancient art form only exhibited during such celebrations; the all male Naagin Dance. But more of that later.
Dance. Chapter 13 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright(c) Soumya Mukherjee
Boy grew up in the East, where leaping about and making a spectacle of your self was abhorrent to the Bhadralok ethos. He studied in a catholic boys’ school where this vertical expression of horizontal intentions was severely frowned upon. The seventies Kolkata had a happening club life, and Boy had seen older cousins jive to Elvis the pelvis in mixed company, with awe and envy, but was never included in such bacchanals. The only dance the Bhadralok was exposed to be ladies in white swaying to Tagore’s tunes in his Rabindrik ballets.
Therefore on relocating to the capital, which is an extension of the sunheri sarson ke khet wale pind of the land of five rivers, Boy was taken aback by the tendency of the populace of breaking into a jig at the first opportunity.
Marriage processions had ladies in finery and venerable grandmas jiving in the streets in full view of the hoi polloi, and folk music performances had men in suits prancing around the auditorium, scenes which would give the Bhadralok a heart attack. People who danced in streets did so before the Durga idols immersion procession and constituted solely of the neighbourhood lumpen elements. Of course, much water has flown under the Howrah Bridge since those days, and ladies lead the immersion procession now, dancing with far greater finesse, and have even crashed the singlet clad male bastion of the Dhunuchi nach, but those days were different.
Recently, at a Bhoomi concert, The writer saw the fans of this popular Bangla Band, largely middle class bhadralok of both sexes from small towns, dance with vim matching any full blooded Punjabi. A local wag commented that after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for the first time someone has made the Bengalis dance.
On relocating to Mumbai the writer discovered that our Gujjubens and Marathi mulgis are no mean twinkle toes themselves, and tend to spice up social events with frenetic twirling.
Now Bollywood and Punjabi cultural hegemony has taught the nation to let loose and cut the rug, and even staid Bong weddings have wild dances, and Boy too leaps in and shakes a limb at the slightest opportunity, but in those days the idea was enough to petrify him.
In college Boy came across the institution of the ‘social’ where a special dinner and dance was organised, and you could invite guests of the opposite sex, and the neighbouring girls college student hostellers were invited en masse.
The idea thrilled him to the core, but on the D Day, Boy froze, and could not gather around enough gumption to ask these strange enchanting beings to partner him for a dance. He watched in agonising envy, his smarter mates inviting these giggling beauties to the floor, and dreading the scurrilous boastings he would have to endure afterwards.
Finally, to induce bravado, Boy decided to fortify himself with the spirit that enervates, but acquiring it, imbibing it, with due secrecy took time, and by the time thus emboldened, Boy and his equally shy cronies returned to the venue, the undergrad girls hostel curfew time was nigh, and the sweet little things were herded back to shelter, protected by the tall walls from hormone charged adolescents. The few ladies left were all graduate students, who seemed like aunties to these just out of school teenagers, and no liquor was strong enough to make Boy approach them for a dance. So Boy leapt about at a distance, imagining that he was dancing with that distant grand dame he could see through a mob of his seniors.
In time, Boy too acquired friends of a different gender, and won the Holy Grail, an invitation to the girls’ college hostel social. He ventured forth basking in his less fortunate class fellows’ envy, but it was a sham. Boy’s hostess was from his hometown, a leftist intellectual like one he professed to be, and spent the time discussing Camus and Kafka while sharing a moody cigarette, they deplored the frivolity of their comrades gyrating lasciviously to throbbing music, while pining away to lose enough inhibition to do the same.
Another year came around. Boy managed to wrangle another invitation from another great buddy in another hostel, who had invited him to hassle her boyfriend. She was an ebullient soul, and insisted on dragging Boy to the dance floor, claiming she had not wasted good money on the guest coupon just to be a wallflower. She promised to teach Boy the moves, and had fortified him with some smuggled spirit to give him Dutch courage, but Boy still couldn’t move. Till the band started a cover version of some classic rock and roll, and finally he gave in.
Oh what liberation that was. Flashing strobes, thumping music, bumping bodies, smell of sweat, liquor, cigarettes, perfume, and adrenaline, grasping a woman, even a friends girlfriend, heart racing, hormones raging, it completely blew him to another plane.
Boy hasn’t looked back since. However incompetently he does it, he starts leaping around at the sound of any music, and has done the immersion procession dance, the lorry dance, the dhunuchi dance, (remember Devdas? Dola? That’s the one.) The bollywood, the disco, the garba, the hip hop, the rap, the waltz, the ragtime, the conga line, even the lungi dance. The dance floor holds no terrors for him. Can’t say the same for his hapless partners or fellow revellers, as his skills have not kept pace with my enthusiasm.
But Boy does not care. He could have danced all night……