February 29, 2020
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Curmudgeonly By Nature

"The truth is," he went on, "ever since the Punjabis came, the city has gone to the dogs." Take the language spoken on the roads and across the city...

Curmudgeonly By Nature

Among my many eccentric Pahari relatives was a bachelor uncle, who worked with a newspaper and wrote nasty articles about the decline and fall of Delhi. He lived all his life in a barsati in Jorbagh and watched the world with increasing disgust from his terrace. On Sundays, you were welcome to share a drink with him but all visitors were turfed out at 9pm, when the old curmudgeon had his dinner to the accompaniment of the television news.

When I came to Delhi in the 1990s, he sent word that I was to come and see him. I realised that more than any affectionate regard for my late father, the old man wanted to know what our long stint in the Punjab had done to our Pahari blood. At this point, I have to tell you that every sentence he spoke was prefaced with a dismissive noise that sounded like ‘Pish-pish’.

We were late and I apologised for this by blaming the Delhi traffic. "Pish-pish," he replied, "it’s getting out of hand. That’s why I don’t go out any more." "The truth is," he went on, "ever since the Punjabis came, the city has gone to the dogs." As time went on, I realised this was his favourite refrain, so if you said it was getting much warmer (or colder) than it should, he would start off pish-pishing and tell you how it was the Punjabis who had changed the weather. You talked of the decline in civic amenities and it was pish-pish and Punjabis again.

We laughed among ourselves and even imitated his pish-pish but now that he is no more, or perhaps because I’m getting older, I reflect on his pish-pish philosophy.

Take the language spoken on the roads and across the city: pish-pish again. Not only is it grating and crude but the familiar forms of address have been subsumed into a larger lingua franca that is pure Punjabi. So, you can be asked, "Aap kaise ho?" instead of "Aap kaise hain?" I find I have started saying, "Oi," when I want to catch someone’s attention and "Hain?" when I should say, "Excuse me?" or "Kya kaha?" And how I wish I had the courage to wear a nightie draped with a dupatta when I have to just pop down to the Mother Dairy booth to pick up the milk and veggies in the morning!

Religious rituals, particularly weddings, have become pish-pish across the city. Instead of the delicate flavours of a Bengali traditional wedding feast or a walima, it is the same-to-same pish-pish spread at wedding after wedding in Delhi. All brides look like each other and all have the mandatory Ladies Sangeet and frenzied bhangra-ing baraatis. We have all been pish-pish, colonised: our names, our clothes, our food and our modes of communication have been pish-pished out of shape and we have tamely surrendered our individual cultures to the larger identity of a pan-Delhi persona that is, well, pish-pish.

This piece originally appeared in the second sample issue of Delhi City Limits

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