The Insiders

MG Road, B’luru, Image Credit: Jayaprakash

‘Enough ma’, I said. It was Ugadi and even though it was a holiday, I was working on a report that had a tight deadline. So I didn’t want to overeat and sleep through the afternoon. But Ma would never acknowledge the first ‘enough’, so I always said it while I was still in the mood for another helping of rice. It was sort of an artificial buffer. Like the one my client had given me.

During an earlier briefing he had forwarded me a mail in which the original day of the event was clearly indicated. Later in a separate mail, he asked me to hand it to him within the “next two days”, one of them being our New Year’s Day. He obviously had not read the entire chain and thought I had no idea of the actual date of the event. I promised to meet the deadline. So now I had to work through my holiday afternoon while my brother and Dad watched the match. Dad worked in a bank and never carried work home. He said work had its place. I reminded him that a bank’s work was more of routine implying that it was possible to plan it out. He reminded me that my tongue was getting longer.

Deepak, my brother, felt that it was my North Indian boss who had no respect for local holidays let alone tradition. My brother had completed his degree but nowadays spent most of his time immersed in books, chiefly Kannada literature. He said he needed time to make up his mind. Besides dad loved having him home and relished Deepak’s constant quoting of lines from H.S Shivprakash’s plays or recitals of Kuvempu, Tagore and D. R. Bendre. Mum watched in amusement. She was a school teacher and since this was summer, she had a two-week break, after which she would work only for a couple of hours a day till school finally re-opened in June.

I had begun wondering whether my brother’s constant cynicism towards and criticism of North Indians was something to worry about. He would always say, ‘I don’t have anything against them in particular. Just that they should take a little more effort in trying to know a bit about us. Like the language, our customs and they should also stop dissing our movies’. He didn’t like it at all that whenever people who weren’t from the South saw a movie poster of Shiva Rajkumar, they laughed and said he didn’t look like a hero at all. In fact those conversations even ended up with them saying that all South Indian heroes didn’t look great. Though not particularly a fan of Shivanna, my brother would get furious and say that that was the ‘look’ we preferred. Men with moustaches and tremendous confidence (on-screen confidence I suppose). He would retort, ‘And after all what was this ‘look’ of a hero that you are referring to? Why should a hero have a certain look?’ It was fairly amusing to me that the stereotyper-in-chief did not like this hero ‘mould’.

He called them “Northies”. He had a label for every group whose behaviour he often generalised. Some were already in use, while others were coined by him. ‘BHUPAS’ was the term he used to refer to immigrants from Bihar, UP and Assam. If they were here for long then they would cease to be Bhupas and become Northies. If a Northie spoke Kannada then he had earned my brother’s respect. Anybody who didn’t speak Kannada in general was a ‘tourist’ if he wasn’t already a ‘northie’, ‘Bhupa’, ‘honeysingh’, ‘guddu’ or ‘noidu’. All these were in the male form of the gender and the last two were specific to ‘wealthy laddus from Gudgaon and Noida’. His comments never bordered on hate or vicious intolerance. They seemed to be bred from general annoyance. The kind of annoyance we experience when we arrive at a beach and notice the garbage left behind by other tourists, even as we begin unpacking our own eatables.

Of late I had begun to get worried. Today this was talk, what if it became practice tomorrow? My brother was extremely lazy, and it was unlikely he would get out in the sun and create any kind of upheaval in the normal order of things. What I worried about more was social media. If he took to it and posted some of these comments, they would certainly strike a chord amongst the rational and fanatical as well. A little adulation and soon it would snowball into a full-blown jingoistic page. It occurred to me that he was unaware that many of his comments had an undercurrent and they were all bound by a common irritation with migrants. I could clearly see a pattern and probably mum did too. But Dad hardly noticed and even if he did, he didn’t seem to mind. ‘Deepak is right’, he would say. ‘The garbage problem is because ‘these’ people don’t think this is their house. They litter because they feel they are here for just as long as it takes to make some money and return to settle in their land.’ I would counter saying what about those who have bought houses and are living here with their families? ‘They weren’t trained well by their parents, that’s all’. That’s how most of those conversations ended.

The underlying assumption was clear. Our city would have been a much better place had it been just left to us. I found that hard to swallow. Part of me knew that unlike in many cities from other states it was easier to buy land and make a living in Bangalore. We had been more welcoming of migrants and didn’t mind them flourishing in trade, infrastructure, real estate and even the arts. But what else was there to do? Agreed the city would get more crowded, tougher to live in and definitely more costlier. But this was the same with every big metropolis. Mumbai, London, New York perhaps even Tokyo. We just had to accept that it was a melting pot and one day it would have a mix of cultures and no ‘local’ culture other than what was prevalent at that time. Local customs and traditions could be preserved in villages, towns and smaller cities. But the big ones, the metros, would just be huge soup bowls with no scope for making one’s own little island.

But that was me speaking and in my brother’s opinion I was an expat. And according to my brother the only contribution expats made to the Kannadigas was occasionally contributing to a Kannada film which was looking to crowd source funds. ‘You still have hope’, he would say. Start hiring more Kannadigas and speak in Kannada all the time. He was losing touch with reality sitting at home. He needed to go out and work and perhaps he would notice that there weren’t enough Kannadigas to go around to run this huge juggernaut that Bangalore had become. We can’t go back. Even if we could, we could not have changed this? Could we have prevented immigrants? Could we have different laws for them? Could we have done well in every field? Could we have influenced a different outcome? Maybe we could have, but we didn’t and no matter how bitter, all of us whether responsible or not, would bear the future that results from a lazy past. My parents and their generation were so busy doing their jobs to have realised that something was amiss, that perhaps had they been more vocal, something may have changed. Still, only a probability.

I never discussed this with my brother. He probably had an answer for all of these questions and I don’t think I would have agreed with any of them.

He felt it was all one big loop. Fewer people, lesser garbage, lighter traffic, more time for locals to plan out their life. That was simplistic. That was not a solution, that was wishful thinking. I realised the appeal this kind of thinking had for people like my Dad and brother. It was the same feeling that cinema gave us. A momentary respite from reality. But it was never going to happen and the way forward had to be something else. What if that was what I should begin working towards? Would that make me patriotic or more in tune with my roots? What if I could convince my brother to work with me?

‘See, the problem with Bhupas is that they think this is their ‘middle-east’. So they just hang around here cursing sambar and the language. For example does any Mallu try learning Arabic? He knows he’s just there visiting. Even if it is for 20 years. That’s what a Bhupa is doing here. Visiting. We need to tell them that even if you’re visiting there are rules. Like when we go to Europe’. I remind him that he hasn’t been to Europe. But he just rolls his eyes implying ‘you do get the point, right?’

I was silent for a couple of minutes and then I said, ‘Why don’t we start putting down a manual for ‘living in a metro’? It can begin by explaining what kind of beast a metro becomes, inevitably. On how it alienates so many of us, on how things can get a bit too materialistic here and that there is a way to make the most of life, even in this beast. We can draw from what others have written about such metros across the world. It will take some time and quite a bit of work, but with the right dose of information, storytelling and humour this could become a guide that influences a lot of people. Especially distraught people. What do you think? ‘And how will it address these tourists? I’m saying life sucks because of them and you’re planning to write a ‘Bangalore for Dummies’. I don’t think they care about making it better. The only way they can be of any help is by taking a one-way ticket back to Gorakhpur or wherever they come from.’

‘You can’t say stuff like that. It’s equally their place as well.’ I pleaded.

‘Aww. Don’t start on that. Course this whole country is everybody’s. But there is my house and your house and their house and our house. There are territories within territories and mini rules within rules. So this is our place and that is their place. We get to visit each other’s place, but we need to play by the rules of that place. You get it?’

Course I got it. He wasn’t being ambiguous about it. Did I agree with it? I don’t know anymore. I was just uncomfortable with the feeling it left. How could we feel so threatened that we started marking more and more boundaries around us, eventually closing ourselves in? That way, we’d only find peace and security in one of Mr. Stanley’s 6 X 3 boxes. I tried squatting in my brother’s head for a while. Was he merely experiencing the feeling akin to the one we get when we’re bunched in a train coach that seems so suffocating for the moment that our mind is driven to the wild thought of either jumping out or pushing everyone else out? It was the perennial claustrophobia of the metropolis. It was the pathetic helplessness that one experienced every day. The only way to ‘move on’ was by blaming someone for all of this. The migrants were responsible for the overcrowding in the ‘coach’ because they came later. But was everything well-planned before? Was it Utopia before? It was. Or that is what my brother had started believing. Every generation felt that things were better in the old times. So too my Dad and his little anecdotes of the dream-like past had a lasting impression on my brother. I believed things were always running in circles. Things were good or bad depending on how you saw it and ‘when’ you saw it. History is replete with wars and the misdoings of the powerful. So how can the past have ‘always’ been better?

Neither was the future a piece of cake to swallow. These were real problems that were sitting right in front of our face every time we opened our eyes. They wouldn’t leave and neither was my brother going to change his views for a while. It would take the next decade and things could go either way for him. He’d either become someone who walked with the crowd cursing a bit, working a bit, struggling a bit and rejoicing a bit or he would become cynical and distance himself from the crowd. You can’t change a metropolis with one stroke. You can’t isolate the ingredients of a soup. You can work to make it a ‘better metropolis’ or you can work to make it worse. Most of my dad and mum’s life was spent fretting over our well-being. But ours was going to be a long sweat of learning to deal with ourselves. We had to make it in the metro without losing our minds. We had to remain insiders.

The End


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