Gandhi

I was playing table tennis in my hostel at IIT with a friend who came from North India. At some point during a rally, the ball hit the edge of the table on his side, and moved far away, giving me the point. I apologised (when you normally do when you win a point by fluke), and said “Gandhi”. He didn’t understand what that meant.

It was then that I realised that using the word “Gandhi” as a euphemism for “fluke” is mostly a Bangalore thing. Back when I played table tennis during my school days, a let was called “Gandhi”, as was a ball hitting the edge of the table. It was the same case with comparable sports such as badminton or tennis or even volleyball. A basket that went in by fluke in basketball was also “Gandhi”.

Now, it might be hard for people to reconcile flukes with MK Gandhi, who was assassinated sixty eight years ago. Some people might also find it repugnant – that the great Mahatma’s name might be used to describe flukes. Looking at it as a fluke, however, is a shallow interpretation.

While it is hard to compare¬†Gandhi (the person) with flukes, it is not hard at all to look at him as a figure of benevolence. He was known for his non-violent methods, and for turning the proverbial “other cheek”. He pioneered the use of non-cooperation as a method of protest (which has unfortunately far outlived its utility) and showed that you could win by being extremely nice. This was channelled in a movie a decade ago which spoke about “Gandhigiri” as a strategy for world domination.

So when the table tennis ball hits the edge of the table and flies off, invoking Gandhi’s name is a sign of benevolence by the person who has lost the point, who implicitly says “you, bugger, didn’t deserve to win this point. But I’ll be benevolent like Gandhi and allow you to take it”. It is similar in other sporting contexts, such as a let or a freak basket.

The invocation of Gandhi’s name as a sign of benevolence is common in other fields as well. In 1991, my cousin had to miss her second standard annual exams as she had to fly to Bangalore on account of the death of the grandfather we shared. Her school, in an act of benevolence, promoted her anyway, an act that was described by other relatives in Bangalore as “Gandhi pass”.

If there is a Gandhi pass, there is a Gandhi class also (again I was surprised to know it’s not a thing in North India). Another of Gandhi’s defining characteristics was the simplicity of his life. Though he could afford to travel better, he would always travel third class, which had the cheapest ticket. As a consequence, the cheapest ticket came to be known as the “Gandhi class”.

The term (Gandhi class) is now most commonly used in the context of cinemas, referring to the front few rows for which tickets are the cheapest. Even though multiplexes have larger blocks nowadays, which means front row tickets are no cheaper than those a few rows behind, the nomenclature sticks. If you are unlucky enough to only get a seat in the first couple of rows, you proudly say you are in “Gandhi class”.

That his name has come to be associated with so many everyday occurrences, mostly in irreverence, illustrates the impact Gandhi has had. Some people might outrage (as the fashion is nowadays) about the irreverence, and “reduction” of Gandhi to these concepts.

I’m still surprised, though, that things like “Gandhi class”, “Gandhi pass” and “Gandhi” as a euphemism for fluke weren’t that prevalent in North India fifteen years ago.

A Comparative Study of Marwari and Kannadiga Brahmin Weddings

On Saturday I was at a Marwari wedding. Actually it was a Marwari Hindu marrying a Gujarati Jain (it was arranged scissors, if you’re curious about that), but the ceremony took place according to Hindu rites. As Gandhi and Khushboo were getting married, I was reminded of my own wedding a little over a year back, and I started mentally comparing the two ceremonies. Here I attempt to put those mental notes “on paper”.

I must mention upfront that I have only one data point (this particular wedding) for Marwari weddings. Also, while the wedding ceremony was still on, I was invited for lunch (in a curious twist, bride’s relatives and friends ate out of a buffet while the groom’s relatives and friends were served a multi-course meal on a silver platter. The food for both was the same, though). So I do not have the complete picture, though the lunch was in the same hall so I managed to observe some stuff as I ate. Also, since the groom in this case was Jain, there is a possibility of some Jain rituals having crept in to the ceremony, so my one data point may not actually be representative. For the Kannadiga Brahmin wedding, I use my own wedding as a data point (again not necessarily accurate, since the wife is technically Gult).

The general impression about North Indian weddings is that they are “action packed”, and a lot of fun. There is known to be much singing and dancing, while South Indian Brahmin weddings are generally solemn religious affairs. There was a fair share of fun at the Gandhi-Khushboo wedding. The previous evening there was a Sangeet where relatives of the bride and groom put up dance performances, which was followed by a general free-for-all dance party, and even a Garba session (and also a Marwari Karaoke session). The cars that were transporting us to the wedding stopped 100m away from the venue, where the groom ascended a mare and there was a brass band and we all danced around to the actual venue. I didn’t attend the reception but I’m sure that had its fun components, too.

However, I noticed that when it came to the ceremony itself, my wedding was much more action-packed and “fun” than this wedding. Yes, at my wedding, the rituals took much longer (started at 11am and ended at 5pm, while here it lasted two hours), but at no point of time was either me or the wife just sitting there doing nothing, which was the case for large sections of this wedding. Most of the time when I looked at the stage, the bride and groom were solemnly sitting in their seats (they had a low bench to sit on, unlike us who sat cross-legged on a low wooden board) doing nothing, as the priests chanted mantras into the microphone. On the other hand, we were constantly doing something. There were “fun” elements like throwing rice on each other’s heads, bargaining for an elephant, getting surrounded by a rope that was spun around by relatives around us, tying the thaaLi, the “Challenge Gopalakrishna moment”, etc.

This is a recent inclusion in both ceremonies, I think, but both weddings involved a phase where the bride and groom are lifted by their respective relatives and friends as they try to get the upper hand (literally) in the muhurtham. In my wedding, the muhurtham involved throwing cumin seeds and jaggery on each other’s heads. Legend is that whoever throws first has the upper hand in the marriage. Here, it was the bride trying to garland the groom and he trying to escape it. At my wedding, the large crowd meant that at that critical moment I was unable to locate my big friends, and had to get lifted by two or three relatives. I resorted to jumping to gain the upper hand (Priyanka had a bunch of big cousins ready to hoist her). It was the opposite story at Gandhi’s wedding. The groom’s party was small, and his brother had told us to be ready to lift him, so we used our “matki phod” skills to good effect to hoist him high.

In both ceremonies, it was the bride’s maternal uncle who performed the “kanyaadaanam” (literally “donation of the virgin”) and brought the bride for the muhurtham. Tradition has it that the uncle should carry the niece, and Khushboo arrived that way. Priyanka’s maternal uncle has a bad back so he simply escorted her to the stage. Then, in both ceremonies, there is the “installation” of bride and groom as Lakshmi and Narayana, and their supposedly divine status for the duration of the wedding. The groom’s shalya (upper cloth) is knotted with the bride’s sari, though since Gandhi was wearing a sherwani, he wore a sash over it for this purpose. Our installation as Lakshmi and Narayana had a fun element as the priest described us as (for example) “Venkataramana Shastri’s great-grandson, Suryanarayana Rao’s grandson, Shashidhar’s son Karthik” which was similar to the refrain in Challenge Gopalakrishna where Gopalakrishna’s father addresses him as “Justice Gopalakrishna’s greatgandson … ” (watch from 7:55 in this video).

The other major point of difference I noticed was in the revolution around the fire after throwing puffed rice in it (it’s a common ceremony in both). At my wedding, I led the way around the fire, but here it was the bride who led the way. I wonder what accounts for this difference, or if it is a minor thing that was missed by the priests.

Overall, I had a fantastic two days in Indore, getting pampered and having sweets thrust into my mouth, catching up with old friends and overall having loads of fun. And not to mention, getting fodder for this double-length blog post.

Boxer’s fist

That’s the “disease” that I’ve been diagnosed with, following my rendezvous with a cow last Saturday. Before you begin to get ideas, let me explain. On day six of the Royal Enfield Tour of Rajasthan, I was speeding at about 70-80 kmph on a Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana road between Devikot and Shetrawa in Western Rajasthan on my Royal Enfield Classic 500. I was day-dreaming I think, but when I “woke up”, I realized there was a huge herd of cows ahead on the road. I panicked, and instead of applying the brakes, revved up and tried going around the herd. Unfortunately for me, one of the cows too decided to strafe to the right. I had no choice but to hit her.

The next thing I know, my shoulder has already hit the ground and my helmet is hitting the ground. My camera that was around my neck has been thrown off, and the part that connects the camera to the lens has been broken. I’m dazed, my bike is flat on the ground with petrol oozing out of the tank and I can see major scratch marks on my visor. And my right little finger and left thumb hurt. Manju, who has just overtaken the herd, sees my fall in the rearview mirror and comes to my aid. The Shimoga boys soon materialize and pull up my bike. Then, the Enfield support team arrives and puts both me and my bike back on track in 20 minutes. My hand still hurts, though.

An X-ray the following day reveals a fracture in my fifth metacarpal. The resident at MG Hospital in Jodhpur (a Sarkari institution) wants to put a cast, but I want to ride on and finish the tour and I resist. Anti-inflammatory drugs, a crepe bandage and a promise to get a cast as soon as I return to Bangalore form a compromise solution. I take off the bandage every morning to put on my riding gloves, and ride on. With a minor adjustment in riding style, I completely forget the injury. I get back “into form”, ride the way I used to in the first half of the tour, have another (less serious) accident, complete the trip, go to Indore for Gandhi’s wedding and return to Bangalore.

I go to see my uncle who is an orthopedic surgeon. Taking a look at the X-ray, he asks me if I’ve been punching walls while drunk. I’m suffering from a “boxer’s fist“, he says, and adds that there is little that can be done to “cure” it. My hand will heal on its own in a month, but when it does, my fourth knuckle would have disappeared, he says. “Then you will go to a pub, and hold a mug of beer, and people around you will see that you don’t have a fourth knuckle. And they will assume that on some drunken night you were punching walls, and have thus ended up with a boxer’s fist. Then, you can tell them that you injured yourself thus when you had a riding accident with a cow”.

The injury was due to impact. Because I panicked when I saw that cows, I held on to the bike’s handlebars too tight, and when I hit the cow, the handlebar jammed against the side of my hand, thus breaking my fifth metacarpal. Protective riding gear meant that the actual fall itself left me unscathed despite my head hitting the ground. My helmet needed a new visor (who would’ve thunk that the extra visor I carried in my luggage would come useful?), my riding jacket has been torn at the shoulder and the protective padding on the back of the hand of my riding gloves has been badly dented. When my bike arrives in Bangalore, it’ll be sent to “hospital” to cure a few dents. It still runs well, though.

Art as a celebration of life

On a long leisurely walk towards Gandhi Bazaar yesterday evening, we ventured into this pretty-looking ancient house which said “Bimba, the Art Ashram”. We turned out to be the only visitors in the place. There were some four “shopkeepers”, led by this guy with a funny beard called Deepak. Deepak was to lecture us for the next half hour about how art is a “celebration of life” and that is what his shop sought to “celebrate”. At the end of it we were so minidfucked that we went out without really looking closely at any of the pieces on display.

While we were walking out, we realized why the store had so few visitors – we’re sure it doesn’t get any “repeat customers”. People would have had their brains bored out so badly on their first visit to the store by Deepak’s lectures that I doubt if anyone would dare to return. And I doubt if the store does much sales also, given that Deepak’s lectures don’t even give visitors an opportunity to check out the stuff properly.

Another Lemma – in a store that claims noble intentions of some sort, you are likely to get less value for your money than you would at a store being run for pure commercial purposes. I leave the proof as an exercise to the reader.

MLTR

This has nothing to do with any pop group, or any Michael or anyone learning to rock. It’s about this awesome easy-to-miss long undiscovered eatery in Gandhi Bazaar. You should definitely eat at Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room.

Situated on DVG road between Gandhi Bazaar main road and North Road it’s an old-style sit down restaurants. Small marble-topped tables with benches. Communal seating where strangers can share your table. An ancient cupboard displaying “cool drinks”. Blue walls. Waiters in dhotis. A small section cordoned off with the sign “families only”.

And divine food. Really awesome masala dosa (real masala dosa, not the species served at Vidyarthi Bhavan). Soft and oil-free khali dosas (yeah the restaurant is so old; they call it khali dosa and not set dosa). And strong coffee. And all served quicker than you could look around and take stock of the place.

I had been walking past the place for several years but it was only when Priyanka noticed it when we walked past it last April that I actually ate there. We had shared a masala dosa and a coffee then. And were so impressed that we left a 33% tip.

And it so happened that the same waiter Raju was there when we went last weekend. Again quick and efficient service. Awesome dosas. I think they make to stock the khali dosas – for they arrived within half a minute of our ordering.

Oh, and they have a weekly off on Saturdays.

Antakshari

So while we were walking back from dinner tonight my wife and I decided to play Antakshari. And each time she started singing, I would instinctively stop listening and fast-forward the song in my head, trying to double guess where she would stop, and what letter that would imply, and search my mental database for songs starting with that letter.

Back when I was in 8th standard, I had challenged four of my female cousins at Antakshari, and had beaten them fairly soundly. Back then, Antakshari was considered to be a women’s game, so I was quite proud of my achievement (of course, I should admit that these cousins were younger to me) .

When I was in college, I would get into inter-hostel Antakshari teams even though my knowledge of Hindi film songs was quite limited compared to what some of the other guys knew. That was because the first written round of most intra-college and inter-college competitions was effectively a Bollywood quiz, and so I’d get taken for my relative expertise in that.

And then I remember this train journey in rural England (someplace in Kent to London Waterloo). Us three hardcore South Indian boys (Sathya, Gandhi and I; Gandhi despite being Gujju qualifies as South Indian having grown up in Bangalore) had thulped hollow hardcore North Indian girls (for the record – Bansal, Sikka and Shuchi). Playing Hindi film Antakshari! Must say I felt quite proud that day.

Thinking back, I wonder how much of an impact playing antakshari had on my Hindi vocabulary, though I would guess that hte answer is not much considering I never really got any of the lyrics. The problem persists. I still don’t “get” any lyrics, irrespective of language of the song.

o!!!

o!!! (super) is indeed a super movie. It is so awesome in so many different dimensions, that it’s hard to capture it all in one post. I guess in this post I’ll simply stick to the economic aspect of the movie.

So basically the premise is that in 2030 India is the most powerful country in the world. Bangalore is clean and green, with whites working as chauffeurs and sweepers, with 70 pounds to the rupee, and so forth. The movie is a fairly elaborate nested story about how this transformation is brought about.  (rest of post under the fold. spoilers are there)

Continue reading “o!!!”