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Mall Road

Bus Addey, Maal Rode, Camp, Madal Toun, Ajadpur, Shalimaar...

Are you from Bulandshahar?

The inimitable Omar Sharief
pix from Pakistan Link

Ajay is from Saharanpur and is taking the civil services examination this month. He would travel to a coaching centre everyday, and on his way back he would invariably find himself in the same DTC 'Mudrika' bus at 4 PM.

So he became pally with the bus conductor who had an uncanny resemblance with Omar Sharief, the Pakistani stage comedian of Bakra Kishtoun Mein fame (not to be confused with the Egypt-born Omar Sharif of Dr Zhivago). Having seen entire mohallas in Lucknow watching his plays on pirated CD's, I can tell you that Sharief is Pakistan's greatest cultural export to India.

One afternoon Ajay asked the conductor, "Are you from Bulandshahar?"

Yes, said the conductor, but how did you guess?

"In Bulandshahar are you from the village Mirpur?"

Yes, he said even more anxiously, but how on earth did you know?

Ajay continued: "Do you know that Omar Sharif is also from Mirpur?"

Achcha, really? For a moment the conductor didn't know how to respond. I know he looks like me, he said.

Ajay had guessed from the conductor's looks and features and lehza (dialect) that he was from Omar Sharief's clan. Sharief, said Ajay, had migrated to Pakistan in the Partition. "He must be a distant relative of yours," Ajay said with the confidence of a know-all spy.

The conductor got philosophical: yes, yes, he said, Pakistanis are just like us, we are the same people, what can one do if politicians divide us to create vote banks?

In Delhi everyone is 'from' somewhere; migration is like the weather: a boring fact. Delhi is a sea of humanity, represented for me by the ever-flowing traffic on the Ring Road and the crowds that move in and move out of buses all day. In this sea I like to think I have complete anonymity. But the 'Where Are You From?' question destroys it all: my identity hinges on a city I do not live in anymore.

One day an autowallah didn't ask me where I was 'from'. He just said: "Are you from Lucknow?"

I was stunned.

Aapko kaisay pata laga? I asked embarassedly. How did you know?

Aapki boli se, he said, from the way you speak.

Update: Sadly, Ajay read this posst and informed me that he is not sure if Mirpur is the name of the village. This incident in the bus happened a couple of years ago, and Ajay no longer remembers the exact name of the village Omar Sharief was born in. Ajay says that Sharief had mentioned the village's name in an interview, but does not remember it anymore. So if anyone does, do let me know!

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-- Blogger Anand, 5/06/2005 08:06:00 pm

in delhi migration may be a fact but belonging isn't.
one day an autowallah asked me
- where are you from?
and with all the confidence of one who has lived here for neraly seven years now and would be hard pressed to be at home anywhere else i said,
- i'm from delhi.
- you can't be, he said.
- why?
- you're too polite to be from delhi...    

-- Blogger shaun, 5/06/2005 09:59:00 pm

Yeah, belonging isn't, because of the fact of migration: since everyone's an outsider, how dare you claim to be insider?

Delhi is much like a crowded bus or train: you try to get in and the passengers resist: where's the space for you, they ask.

And once you are in, you do the same to those trying to hop on to the bus.

Forgive me if my ramblings don't make sense.    

-- Blogger shaun, 5/06/2005 10:02:00 pm

In a follow-up email, Anand said:

where are you from is not about your birth, but about the percieved 'values/culture you bring with you... or leave behind...

Yup, and to add to that: 'where you are from' in Delhi is also about class and economic status as much as it is about values.

Thanks Anand,

-- Blogger thalassa_mikra, 5/08/2005 02:56:00 am

Omar Sharief is from Bulandshahar? Bingo! No wonder he sounds like Meerut, Aligarh and Delhi all rolled into one. I always felt that the lahja (j not z by the way) didn't quite belong to Pakistan, and now I know why.

He sounds even more Bulandshahri in the second play, Buddha Ghar Pe Hai.    

-- Blogger thalassa_mikra, 5/08/2005 03:08:00 am

But then, who gets to decide what are the qualities that define Dilliwallahs? And as someone who was born and grew up in Delhi, I refuse to think of myself as an outsider and know that most of my generation in Delhi wouldn't as well. For me belonging is a fact, that perhaps separates me from my parents for whom immigrant is the eternal condition.

I think Delhi has suffered in being at the centre of the vortex of political intrigue and patronage that has defined it in post-Independence India. Perhaps a lot of the scorn, a lot of the negative attributes attached to the city are simply a way of criticizing indifference of the Central government.    

-- Blogger shaun, 5/08/2005 07:35:00 am

Oops, may be you are right. Just that everyoe in Delhi is for me a migrant because there are migrants all around me. I ssaw your blog and noticed that you have migrated to the US anyway!

And no, I don't buy your argument about the Central government's role in the scorn that the city gets.    

-- Blogger thalassa_mikra, 5/08/2005 03:42:00 pm

I don't like to think of myself as a migrant, merely an academic/global gypsy (Amartya Sen came up with that one first).

And I really do not have any reasonable ways to explain the scorn the city gets from many in India. I mean granted most of our metros are dismal, so why single out Delhi?    

-- Blogger Niti Bhan, 5/15/2005 04:09:00 am

I'll hazard a guess, having lived in/worked in/educated in Calcutta, New Delhi, Purani Dilli (your blog title btw, Shivam, sent me back to my 6 months in Miranda House Hostel before I dropped out), Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Madras, I've singled out Delhi as the worst metro myself.

1. Eve teasing - Delhi is the heart of the cowbelt of Haryana, UP and Punjab. Izzat is over rated and in your face, unlike the Southern cities.

2. No real culture, or sense of it, unlike even Bangalore and or course Calcutta

3. Very political - of course - and thus, everything is dependent on "pull". Wenger's servers won't even look at you if stand in the sweetshop and you're not obviously dressed up.

I could go on... but I won't :)    

-- Blogger Suhail, 5/15/2005 05:47:00 am

Good one..somewhere deep down I too felt ..that he must belong somewhere in the Hindustani lang. belt. Anyways that time I was not particularly concerned abt unravelling those mysteries.

Maybe he is frm Lalookhet(?) Any ideas ? He keeps making jokes on Lalookhet. I wonder if that's a place for real.
yr posts reminds me of his Gulaabo jokes :) Thanks.

Do watch "yes sir eid, no sir eid" too...I dont really remember whether that play is by Omar Sharif. But it's too good. I wonder if all those CDs are still easily available ?

Regarding identity, I have been confused ever since I moved out of Bombay. You see, in Bombay no one "belongs" to Bbay (except for Parsis, kolis), and yet ppl will hardly ask this question, "Where from?". We all just exist. In that sense I find it a "true" cosmo city. However reality had to be dealt with when I moved to Bglore where on meeting someone, this is the first question they ask. And immediately after hearing my answer(Bbay) the person slots you as a "chapati-eater-saambhaar-hater-pubgoer-N.Indian" - a neat little stereotype which they have created to deal with you. I am never quite sure how to deal with it. And if you carry a Muslim surname like Kazi, God save you. Double-trouble (Pak-links kicks in here ;-) )

Cheers !    

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