That is how it is, here


A brother from the north of the Vindhyas stood frowning over the meagre display of fish at our local shop on Ugadi day. And, as we’ve come to expect from our northern brethren, he disclosed his views in a frank and voluble fashion. Quite unlike the reticent south Indian. Arrey, if you think something you say it, na? Why feel shy? After all it is the truth only. “Why are there so few fish today?” he grumbled in Hindi. “Much less than usual. No variety at all. There’s nothing I can buy.” The young fishmonger gently explained, “It is a festival. Here, most people do not eat non-veg today.”

Actually it was uncommon for the shop to be open at all. “You’re closed on Saturday, right?” I had asked the seller two days earlier to confirm what I thought I already knew. The answer perplexed me. In the almost two decades that I’d patronised S.A. Standard Fish Stall (the S.A. standing for its proprietor Syed Afroze), I didn’t recall it doing business in the thick of major festivals. Whenever fruits, flowers and foliage began to sprout along the narrow road thronging with pedestrians and scooters, the fishmonger would down his shutters. To those who’ve lived in this city long enough, there’s nothing extraordinary about this practice. Syed Afroze, like any ordinary Kannadiga, believes in good neighbourliness. But he’d been missing for the past few months, I mused. Probably retired, leaving his shop in the hands of relatives and employees who didn’t know — no, that wasn’t the reason why the shop was open. It could be because the street was empty on Ugadi morning; people had milled around on the evening of the eve, and the stall had been closed then. Besides, Ugadi was not so much a holy festival as a cultural one, I reasoned. No worship involved, like in Ayudha Pooja or Gowri-Ganesha, and no ‘pooja items’ sold, only neem flowers, mango leaves, marigolds and chrysanthemums. (If I’m wrong you’ll have to excuse me; some of us atheists and agnostics are not that well up on rituals and folklore.)

Our northern brother hadn’t finished his argument. “But you should think of your customers. Most of your customers will want to eat non-veg.” The young man cocked an eye in my direction as he replied with a smile, “On a day when the next-door people don’t eat non-veg, we also don’t eat non-veg. That is how it is, here.” That is how it is, here. Such comforting words. I couldn’t help nodding my head slowly and appreciatively as if I were listening to a raga. But our brother wouldn’t let go. “What about tomorrow? Tomorrow also you are going to tell me it is Ugadi.” Grinning at me conspiratorially, the young man answered, “Tomorrow everyone will eat non-veg.” It was true. After just one day of abstinence, many people behave as if they’ve been meat-deprived for an entire year and make a mad dash for the butcher’s the following morning.

That is how it is, here. Here amidst our wonderful khichdi of cultures and mishmash of tongues. That is how it is, especially in my neighbourhood. When one moves in to a ‘halli’ or a ‘palya’, where there’s a pre-existing local community with well-established social connections and boundaries, it is very different from moving into an apartment block in the wilderness, where your ‘service-providers’ arrive only after you do. In the former instance, it’s a bit like being the new girl in school: a few moments of awkwardness and then you’re part of the group. In no time we had grown accustomed to the faces of those who ran the innumerable small businesses: the cobblers, tailors, and vegetable vendors, the owners of bakeries, pharmacies, beauty parlours, eating joints, and stores that sell provisions, stationery, hardware, footwear and fancy items.

In 21 years I’ve witnessed no jingoism or major conflict. That is how it is, here in my neighbourhood. The residents live as ordinary Indians have lived for centuries, sensitive to one another’s ways and norms. Syed Afroze once informed me that “people usually don’t buy fish during Shraavana”, and I hesitated to confess that I didn’t know which month that was. “No bananas today,” Hidayath said to me one day. He and his brothers run the kirana shop opposite us. “Why?” I asked. “Vara Mahalakshmi is coming up.” I had no idea. During a Ganesha season, a bunch of boys had come to the shop to seek donations for the local celebrations. Mustafa told them sternly, “Have you seen the way they have decorated Ganesha in [he named a neighbouring locality]? They have done it so grandly. You must also do it the same way with the money you collect.”

That is how it is, here. We live right opposite a mosque and I’ve often boasted to friends that I hear the sweetest azaans in all of Bengaluru. There were three muezzins who sang like Hindustani musicians. As they aged, their places were taken by other men. One day there arrived a veritable Cacophonix. I wailed to Hidayath, “Who is this new man who calls the azaan? He sounds awful.” He commiserated with me. The voice was “thoda kharaab”, he agreed. No offence taken at all. That is how it is, here in my neighbourhood.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 9:35:38 AM |

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