Last evening, Swaroopa and I were getting back home, from Besant Nagar, via an MTC bus. At peak hours, these buses are bound to be crowded. People yell and pull from all sides, and irritation levels are on the high.
This gang of boys tumbles in. They are typical examples of what we colloquially call ‘local boys’. The road side romeos. When you see these characters alone, they are harmless. Say there was a pretty girl walking by; and one of these is on his own, he would hang his head and sneak-peek at her from the corner of his eye. But when he is with his jing-bang gang, the girl is in trouble. They would hoot whistle at her, follow her wherever she is headed to and make her wish she was never born a woman.
So Swaroopa and I are sitting in the last row of the bus, and there this nice lady is sitting in front of us. She did not appear Tamil; we assumed she was from somewhere North or West of the country. The bus started to fill, and yes, our romeos were in quite a mood, too. Every time the bus halted at a stop, they would get off. When it started to move, they would give it a head start of five seconds, and scramble into the running bus. So this nice lady had her arm resting on the window, and in the rush to get in, one of the boys accidentally clung on to her arm, thinking it was one of the window’s bars. She pulled her arm in, and started yelling at the entire gang, in the only language that India understands as a country- English. Like I said, had the accused been alone, he would have slunk away. But no- he had four more boys backing him. So he yelled back, ‘What is your problem?’. His knowledge of the language ended there. After that exchange, whatever the lady yelled at them, the gang mimicked it back at her, amidst loud guffaws. Trust me, it was humiliating to watch. What was more humiliating was that nobody raised a voice against the abusers. I did not too, I am ashamed to admit. They certainly looked scary. If that is excuse enough. But were so many men around too, and they were all sniggering at the scene. It was painful to watch. The lady got off the bus at the next stop. I’m certain this episode would torment her for as long as she lived.
I have many friends from all parts of India, though they are all Chennaiites- Born and brought up in the city. Recently, I met someone who is working in Chennai, but is originally from Delhi, and we had this conversation on how the city treats anybody who cannot speak Tamil. After that, I have been extra receptive to such incidents, the fore said account being the most recent. If that lady had been my mother, she would have yelled at the boys with carefully chosen Tamil words. The other ladies would have joined in, and the conductor would have had to intervene. But no; she was, as my Punjabi bhaiya from Delhi says, a lonely person in an alien city, where it is madness to seek help from strangers- fellow countrymen, who would rush to help American ladies in distress, but oh, not others.
I had never heard a non- South Indian’s views on the city prior to this. It made me sick. Auto men who charge Rs 600 from Central station to Loyola College when they hear your English with the Northie twang. Helplessness- you look around for help and nobody gives a shit about you, feigning lack of knowledge of English. Oh, but of course, if it was a Tourist asking for directions, the English would flow. When you tell your family that you are placed in Chennai, the news is welcomed with horror akin to being asked to live with crocodiles; ‘How will you survive there?’ From the way it looks, we are living in a mean, cold hearted city. Athithi dhevo bhava- to the dogs.
Yes, the rest of the country gives us ‘Madrasis’ the same treatment, true. We look like a fairness fixated, oil-doused-haired, bunch of people who are out to get the top positions, everywhere. And we try to pull our clan up in all possible ways. And earn the wrath of the rest of the nation. Jeez, it really sounds cold! But somewhere, it needs to stop, right? Because you and I are educated, civilized, and beyond acting biased with people we meet based on where their home town is or what their mother tongue is. Where did all the patriotism and the ‘India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters’ feeling evaporate?
Whoa- That sounded like a pre-independence era unification speech, didn’t it? grin**
One thing for certain, National Integration has no place inside the country. But it makes its presence felt outside the nation- in the US of A, UK and Australia. That will be my consolation, for now.