Sunday, November 19, 2006

maximum-prejudice dept.

The book Maximum City by Suketu Mehta is a classic example of how amplified stereotypes and a healthy dose of prurience can sell like hot cakes. Suketu Mehta does a good job of caricaturing himself in the opening few pages. He is a non-resident Gujarati, returning to Mumbai to write a bestseller. He is surrounded by wealthy traders, who live in a ghetto-like apartment complex. For his subject matter, he targets either the grotesque, or the glamorous (sometimes, both at the same time). Right from the outset, his clear motive is to find the most senational, scandalous material and write a cheap paperback that’ll sell millions.

But here’s what really riled me up (apart form the fact that he’s a milllionare): Marathi to him, in his own words, is a language that sounds like beating a tin drum. Traditionally, this would get outfits like the Shiv-Sena and the Sambhaji Brigade to go on the rampage, attacking brokerage houses and over-turning Dhoklas and Gujarati Thalis. However, after I read about the Sena’s new approach, I decided to resort to a coherent, logical counter-argument to disprove Mr.Suketu’s** parochial notions about Maharashtrians and Marathi.

**(I thought of calling him Mr.Mehta, but that would just be a lot of noise to Google’s indexing engine. Besides, I didn’t want to confuse you into thinking this was an article on some stock-market scam. Also, I felt that ‘Mr.Suketu’ really brings out that sinister, diabolical, villainish aspect of him that I really want to highlight here)

The basis of my argument is this thesis: the sound of any language is best represented by its poetry. Here, at the poet’s disposal, lies the entire vocabulary of the language, and all the permutations within its complete syntactic, semantic and phonetic space. Clearly, conclusions we draw by reading some representative poems aloud would be based on a far more scientific base, than relying on the wholly unsubstantiated claims that Mr. Suketu makes .

So, here are a few lines from some Popular Modern*** Marathi poems. If you can read devanagri, just recite these lines aloud a few times, and don’t leave out the poets’ names either:

***(Popular Modern Marathi literature is anything published after 1857. Anything published after 1947 is Post-Modern. Beyond 1987, Marathi writing is rumored to exist but is possibly so avant-garde that it has not been published for the greater common good. The ‘Modern’ tag has to be applied selectively, though. For instance, any Marathi literature after 1857 that is actually read by Maharashtrians is just Popular Literature).

खादाड असे माझी भूक
चतकोराने मला न सूख
कूपांतील मी नच मंडूक
- कृष्णाजी केशव दामले (केशवसुत)

ऐल तटावर पैल तटावर हिरवाळी घेउन
निळासावळा झरा वाहतो बेटाबेटांतुन.
- त्र्यंबक बापूजी ठोंबरे (बालकवी)

पिपात मेले ओल्या उंदीर
माना पडल्या मुरगळल्याविण
- बाळ सिताराम मर्ढेकर

अंगणात गमले मजला, संपले बालपण माझे
खिडकीवर धुरकट तेंव्हा, कंदील एकटा होता
- माणिक गोडघाटे (ग्रेस)

झुक्-झुक्-झुक्-झुक् आगीन-गाडी, धुरांच्या रेषा हवेत काढी
पळती झाडे पाहुया, मामाच्या गावाला जाऊया…
- Unknown

Clearly, this sound is hardly anything as underwhelming as a tin drum. For me, its more evocative of the rolling thunder, an avalanche, Shivaji’s horsemen riding out of the Sahayadris or perhaps a fast local pulling out of Boribunder station. These judgments are subjective, of course, but surely no one will agree with Mr.Suketu’s wholly unsubstantiated claims.

This is another instance of outsiders getting the better of Maharashtrians, taking advantage of their generous and tolerant nature. Clearly the Marathi community has to up the ante a bit, and make its voice heard. Only then will other Indians take notice, and go: “Its a plane! Its a storm! Its a train! Naah, its just those Marathis talking…”

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