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.