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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Three Young Man

Amitava Kumar writes "Three young men from Bihar, all of them students at Delhi University, are having dinner at Khyber Restaurant. A loud and abusive group of youth is at the next table, a couple of pink-turbaned Sikhs among them sitting like trussed-up bulls. Among the Biharis, the talk turns to abuse. One of them asks, “Why are Punjabis like this?” The query is a little strange because the questioner’s own speech is littered with vivid expletives, but it also makes sense because, as far as the Biharis are concerned, the abuses popular in Delhi are often novel and startlingly perverse.

Sitting at the restaurant, one of the Biharis begins to sketch out a history lesson. He tells his dinner companions, “This is a part of a country that has suffered many invasions. The speech here reflects that long history of violence. You and I have only come here to study, but think of those who are Delhi’s most recent settlers. People who were fleeing Pakistan. They had witnessed the riots and the looting. The rapes.”

What I have recounted above for you is a scene from my recently published novel Home Products. This was writing done with minimal research, drawing from the well of my memories. I had been a student in Delhi. It occurred to me that readers in the nation’s capital might find it surprising that Biharis think of them as vulgar. Isn’t this the kind of judgement that is always supposed to flow in the opposite direction?

But one of the tasks I had set myself was to document the recent migrant’s experience in the metropolis and to put down on the page the fact that such a person even has a half-baked theory to support his prejudice. As the young man says at dinner that night, “The people in Delhi are very rough. Their language is crude. But that is because they have had the sword of history repeatedly thrust up their backsides.”

Of course, it isn’t in Delhi alone that so-called outsiders offer, in the course of a daily conversation, a sense of their own position in the big city. Contemporary modernity is marked by the global movement of bodies and goods. A lot of current fiction that I have read is an attempt to take stock of the newly reconfigured world. Writers are exploring this theme in cities as different from each other as London and Lagos.

When I was working on Home Products, and taking a close look at the life of a Bihari film star in Bollywood, I paid attention to those migrant bodies that presented the grittiness of a different, darker world. Consider another scene from my novel. We are on the set of a film being made at Mumbai’s Film City. A street dog is going to be used in the film, and it has been chained to a metal chair. A security guard standing close to the dog says to the novel’s protagonist, “Every dog has his day. This one will be an actor now.”

I had spoken to several such guards while doing research for my book. They told me of their experiences providing security for Bollywood stars. In Home Products, the details of the guard’s physical appearance were based on the interviews I had conducted in Mumbai. “He was a bhaiyya from a small town like Darbhanga or Jaunpur, probably employed by a private agency that had supplied him his grey uniform and hat and a black pin-on cotton tie.”

But while writing that scene about Film City, a few more words began to take shape in my mind. The imagination had taken over where research had stopped. As I kept typing, I found the guard again jokingly addressing the dog at his feet: “Hero, if you act well today, in the next birth you will come back as a human being…

But if you fail and the film flops, in your next life you will be a security guard.”
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Posted by Ajay :: 10:04 AM :: 0 comments

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