A subject that seems to seep into the slush pile of small talk – once the niceties about your name, job and item girl preference have been dispensed with – is your “native place”, or the place where your family lived, before coming to Bombay to fulfil their dream of living in a cupboard and spending half their waking hours riding the Armpit Express.
Let’s face it – as much as the loonies would like to take credit for this diamond-studded gutter that we call home, Bombay was built by immigrants (except the buildings that actually look good – the Brits did those) So most of us have extended families in small-town India, defined as ‘a place where it’s impossible to find basic amenities, such as kababs or hookers, at 3 a.m.’ It is in these quaint and homely small towns that we Mumbaikars turn into champion snobs.
When in small-town India, we’re like those annoying NRIs who, when they’re in Bombay, wrinkle their noses at sights that are dear to us, such as a man peeing opposite Amitabh Bachchan’s swank bungalow (always a rebel, that Amar Singh)
The transformation happens before you realise it. One minute you’re sitting at the shiny airport bar, and the next you’re staring at the rickety little plane that will either take you to your small-town destination, or disintegrate in mid-air if the pilot sneezes. (I went to Indore recently on a Jet Konnect flight. It was the first time I’d flown *in* a model airplane.)
I’ve spent a good amount of time in small towns. As a kid, I summered with my extended family in exotic locales like Ghaziabad, U.P. (If you want more information about Ghaziabad, simply turn on India TV and after the mandatory reports about aliens feeding on Rakhi Sawant’s breast milk, there will be a story about some dude in some place who was chopped up in a wheat thresher because it was a Saturday night and his friends had nothing better to do. That is the place I’m talking about.)
Now it’s important to turn off the snob switch, especially when you’re visiting family, because it’s offensive, plus they may revoke your inheritance (I’m really looking forward to getting some cows) This is easier said than done, especially if you have conversations like these every time:
Me: Hey man, let’s go hang out somewhere. Cousin: Now? No no, it’s too late. Everything’s shut. Me: Dude. It’s 8 p.m. Cousin: (contemplates throwing me into a wheat thresher)
Of course, things are changing now, with a plethora of malls and multiplexes making their way to smaller towns, thus giving locals a chance to do what big city folk do – complain about how all these malls and multiplexes have ruined the original character of their city.
I can’t blame them, given how the favourite mall activity still involves Pappu, Babloo, Champu and Tinku, their 57 aunts, 43 uncles, 64 cousins and their dog Tuffy, trying to board an escalator all at once, even as local hotties walk around in their low-waist “jean-pant”, hoping to be recruited for Emotional Atyachaar.
Once back in Bombay, the snobbery wears off soon enough. After all, there’s no question of turning up your nose when it’s nicely embedded in the Armpit Express.
(Note: This is my HT column, dated 2nd Jan 2011)
(P.S. Do you have any weird/funny/interesting stories about your experiences in small-town India? Feel free to share in the comments section)