Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gup-shup at Goks

What is about this wonderfully cheap, dirty place called Gokul that draws men like a magnet? The quarter at almost wholesale rate? The spirited air? The tear gas filled interiors? The half chicken tandoori? The dry chicken liver fry? The boiled eggs?

Or is it the comforting fact that when you ask for rum you are served the familiar old fellow and not a bat (white or reserved).

I believe it’s more than that. There’s something about the combination of all of the above that creates a unique mood for conversation. People chatter at Goks. I have seen men sitting alone and talking to a fried Surmai.

The Parsi, the Goan and the Bong were nursing their usual. The conversation was about the yearly turnover of beggars in Mumbai city. The bong had read in the morning rags (he was the only one who read the papers in the group) that it was to the tune of Rs 180 crores (post-tax, of course).

Parsi was quick to jump in as he was wont to. (They hadn’t ever discussed a topic that P did not have a first hand experience or knowledge of). “That’s absolutely realistic” said P. He informed that in 1995 he had done a research among Colaba beggars. He was stopped by G and questioned at the need driving this primary research. It was a result, the group was informed, of a bet with a journo where P was trying to prove his hypothesis that beggars were, well, umm.. poor people.

P lost an evening’s drink at the Press club. His findings showed that (11 years back) the average take in Colaba was Rs 80. What got to P more than losing the bet was that this amount translated into a monthly sum that was half his salary in his coveted advertising job.

The conversation also threw up the fact that the most famous beggar family own a flat in Virar and travel to their respective job locations as most Mumbaites do by the 7:10 Churchgate fast. P was, however, not sure if their dabbas came from home.

Last year, the group was lead to believe, when this famous (yes, famous) beggar retired and went back to his village he sold his spot on the Colaba Causeway for Rs 40,000 to a hawker. Of course, P informed, he would have retained about half of that post deductions by the authorities.

It was just an early elevenish when this round wrapped up. P was rushing to catch the bus for his office trip to Mahabaleshwar. Next week I will educate you on how to open the sealed window of a perfectly engineered AC Volvo.

That too with a bottle opener.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Close encounters of the head-butting kind

In my many years of street-corner hanging out in Calcutta I have been a close witness to lots of phites. The locale, the number of people, the hardware (during the season it would be cricket stumps) involved may have varied but these phites had a very strong common thread.

They usually involved two groups of singularly scrawny bong men, with over-the-ear-Amitabh hairdo, in bell bottom jeans pant and blue Bata hawai choti. The script would normally involve cheating-baji in an inter para cricket match or one para’s beauty queen Shampa’s dalliance with another para’s Amit, Potla, or Chandan (in some cases, with all three). These two scenarios covered almost 90% of all incidents.

However, there were minor variations to the themes. In the cricket scenario, it usually involved the umpire (the batting team in para cricket supplied the umpires; the concept of a neutral umpire was yet to be born). And the genesis of most arguments would stem from the turning down of what were seen as “plumb” lbw decisions. The other favourite was run-outs. I was once told I had dislodged the bails before catching the ball, this was when we were using bricks as wickets.

In the Shampa scenario there were two broad themes. The first, where S is a willing recipient of Potla’s amorous advances. Here the para “elders” and the other guardians of para honour had to tread carefully. Their anger would stem from the fact that a “onno” parar chele has entered their citadel and “lifted” their rose. In the other scenario, S would be receiving unwanted attention from A, P or C. She would have mentioned this to her younger brother, Bapi. B would have conveyed this to the before mentioned para honour maintenance group.

In the case of the cricket match the phite would be quite spontaneous and would probably start there and then. In the other scenario, the plotting and planning for the great revenge would go on for quite some glasses of cha. How Potla’s various bones would be dealt with and with what the next time he entered the para would be the central theme.

Whatever the build up, the phite would always resemble what we can generously call a damp squib. Two groups would face up to each other and the air would be filled with great thunderous words. Stumps would be waved and the leaders of the packs would be nose to nose held back by their groups. They would be straining forward yelling “chere de, chere de, shala ke aami..” (It’s a time honoured tradition in Calcutta that you never let go off your leader in a brawl). Soon, a peacemaker would emerge and after lot of huffing and puffing, the great phite would peter out and the gangs would return to their “rocks”.

The only really educational part of these phites was the colourful and extremely imaginative gaalis that were used. As a rule, fathers, mothers, daughters, grandfathers and grandmothers formed the root of all expletives. And though some overly sensitive participants took umbrage to some of the words, it was generally considered par for the course and never really taken to heart.

Made me wonder this Sunday night, while we all watched the tragic events unfold before us in Berlin, what might have happened if Zizou’s parents where from Bengal and not Algeria.

C’est La Vie.