There were some snakes in the hole.
If this seems an unusual way to start this column today, consider what a strange way to end a birthday party. Yet I know for a fact that the hole is actually where the average Gujarati kid’s birthday ends towards evening – eating snakes in the hole and sipping a fizzy lime.
It could have been worse and was. Prior to this, the father had been vigorously raping a dole, one of those imported from the decadent but glitzy West. It was called the Barbie Doll, and as he inspected, it was brutally raped in pretty cotton-candy pink wrapping paper.
No matter how long I’ve lived in Mumbai, I can’t claim to own its tongue, but I’ve listened closely enough to 5-star cocktail parties and suburban train conversations to know that the difference between shrill and hoarse Mumbaikars create such a cacophony that it seems a miracle anyone understands it.
It’s a bloody miracle, if you ask me, that anything gets done at all.
Take the Marathi idiom Gheeon Tak. For decades, maybe more, I’ve been listening to Ghoon Tak and today I’m completely captivated by it. I often bubble this to myself while walking from Kala Ghoda towards Pandit Paluskar Marg. Ghun taak, ghun taak, ghiota ghoot ghuntak, I beat again, and my feet march to its beat. I soon feel like an advancing allied army.
What do you think staring, barking in an authoritative manner might mean? Village, take it! Perhaps, in a local transliteration of Gloucestershire English? Since no one has a theory, here’s mine: It’s the sound of the wheels of speeding Mumbai local trains.
Moving at an equally terrifying pace is the realm of popular music. There was a reassuring time when one could say ‘music’ and be sure that definitions were shared between speaker and speaker. All bets are off today. It’s essential to specify the genre of music you have in mind – and there seem to be at least three of them running rampant in Mumbai.
There is a category called papal music – which is characterized not by a papal air, but by its parched sentiments. In second place appears to be something more specific but is actually more obscure than ever – dangerous hip-hop music. Hip-hop has taken over Dandiya, made it instantly trendy, and has invaded taxis, barbershops and every mall to name a few. Today it’s eyeing Udupi restaurants, where we can expect hip-hop dosa to emerge soon.
Then—dare I say it?—rape is music. I don’t claim to understand it although my kids do. But you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what it is – the song was released in a hurry before they’d even added music to it, and riled up vulnerable people without informed consent.
Kya … Mane Joy Chhe? If you’re sharp, you’ll hear it pretty often everywhere. I myself heard it for the first time as a child on 7th September 1979 at around 11 am from a Maniben in the ration queue. I immediately wanted to know who was Joey? New kid on the block, maybe? Joseph is JOY for short? But what happened to the woman standing in the ration line? Was it Joy? To this day, no one has been able to tell me who Joey is and why, decades later, he is still part of the question.
Terrible word is fakt bhi. I first encountered it – cautiously, I promise – at an ad agency that sold washing powder that rhymed with ‘turf’. Let’s say it was called Surf. The copy became ‘just surf’, meaning that only surf would do.
The Marathi translation was ‘fakat surf’ – a clear instruction which, if misheard but followed carefully, would take the product a flying farce from the consumer’s mind. In Mumbai, it seems, everything is just.
Sooner or later the question of commerce comes before you, especially in the commercial capital of the country. Things have to be bought, payments have to be made – and if you don’t have a satisfying job, sometimes you find yourself a little short. But the Mumbai shopkeeper is nothing if not kind at heart. “Terrified of what?” the friendly Rodrigues asked me at the provision store.
“Take the summons now, the money is to be given later.”
This was the first time I was exposed to this aspect of Mumbai’s money: where does the money come from? Taken seriously, it is almost a question of spiritual implications. Over that? From springtime? Out of pocket? from crypto? from the bank?
None of these. Peche is where commerce begins and ends in Mumbai.
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.