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Things that make India tick!

Last updated on: December 31, 2010 12:24 IST

We are like this only!

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Sanaya Dalal
In our special year-end section, Rediff.com looks at some of the quirks that make us Indians. Sanaya Dalal on why we are like this only!

We love some, we hate some but we can't do without any of them because, quite simply put, we are like that only (and as predictable as they come, 'cause we've used that same line about 100,000 times by now).

Oh, the regularity with which life in India ticks could put a grandfather clock to shame. And said grandfather clock is most likely an antique find at one of the country's many flea markets, which, well, make us tick.

All you really are is a big, fat, brown (or wheatish? Or maybe fair and lovely?), smiling face that the many hands of desi life tickle and tease as they please. They'll tweak your moustache, tussle your hair and maybe curl the wisps sticking out of your ears (no Laluji, nothing personal) and take you on an unforgettable ride for as long as you're against the idea of migrating to phoren.

It's not like any of us really need an introduction to what's coming, but we thought we'd give you a jolt anyway -- consider all these things at once and you can judge for yourself where we're all headed (to phoren? Maybe!).

1. Saas-bahu soaps

All the women go to bed completely decked out in embroidered saris and wake up without a single hair out of place.

The evil ones inevitably wear coloured contact lenses and heavy makeup, while the good ones are so meek, so downtrodden, so sacrificing that you want to pull your own hair out at their goody-two-shoes antics.

They worship their no-good, drunkard husbands and bullying in-laws and pray before the family idol each day, bathing it in their pure tears as they beseech the Almighty (who may want to keep a bucket handy, considering the diabetic tripe He's forced to hear) to bring about a change in their lives.

No matter how out of sync they are with reality or how offensive they are to modern, independent women with a shred of self-respect, we will continue to watch and enjoy saas-bahu soaps forever.

And so will those dominating wives who don't hesitate to club their hubbies over the head with a frying pan every now and again -- even they're rooting for the hapless bahus and clucking in sympathy while quiet moans emanate from a corner where someone's bid to watch cricket was once again vetoed with a vessel.


Image: A scene from the telly soap Dil Se Diya Vachan
Photographs: Kind courtesy: Dil Se Diya Vachan
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2. We love our chappals

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We're all cool billies and see nothing wrong in showing our tootsies off in a pair of traditional slippers. Plus we have flexible footwear that suits every occasion -- just one pair can do it for weddings, funerals and a trip to the market, so take that Jimmy Choo!

You ain't come close to anything as revolutionary as that just yet!

Even our politicians, those stalwarts of society, strut into Parliament and meetings with foreign dignitaries in Kolhapuri chappals to go with their crisp white kurtas and dhotis.

And why the hell not? It's our country and we make the rules.


Image: We love our chappals!
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
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3. Bullock carts in the middle of metros

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Do you bat an eyelid when you see a Mercedes pull up beside a bullock cart at a traffic light in the heart of Mumbai?

Neither do we.

Chalta hai -- after all, most of the carts are carrying oil, without which our swanky cars would probably be even slower than the patient animals nodding down the road.

Should the government ban them within city limits? By all means, for the sake of the poor harassed cattle and also to avoid the crazy jams they can cause.

But will the sight of one at a busy city junction ever surprise us? Not for the next ten generations at least!


Image: Bullock carts in the middle of metros
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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4. Desi daru

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With its seedy curtained entrance and dim red lightbulbs, the desi daru ki dukaan is an Indian fixture that gives thousands a cheap fix.

Some of them do try to give themselves an upscale air by calling themselves 'wine shops', but you're not getting any wine in there for sure!

What you will get is hardcore country liquor that will have your liver singing along with you to Sheila Ki Jawani -- except that it may not be up to giving you an encore.


Image: Hic Hic....
Photographs: Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters
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5. Getting a champi at the barber

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Massages and spas are for goddamn elitists. While our wealthy socialites enjoy sitting around in tubs of hot water poking their reconstructed noses into blooms of jasmine and lavender, the fact is that it's a luxury few can afford.

Our Mango People prefer a vigorous head and shoulder rubdown at the local hajam, who goes at it with all the enthusiasm of Zakir Hussain on the tabla for anywhere upward of Rs 30. That's the way our great-grandfathers got it done too and they didn't suffer a haemorrhage.


Image: Champi Tel Malish...
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
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6. Galli cricket

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If you didn't play galli (street) cricket as a child, what can we say? You had a deprived childhood.

Every Indian kid, girl, boy, toddler, teenager has to play galli cricket -- it's practically desi tradition. You choose the narrowest street in your neighbourhood where the grouchiest senior citizens reside and get cracking.

They get mad when the ball hits their cars or breaks their windowpanes, they refuse to return it and disrupt the game, then the little ones shout obscenities that would make their parents' ears burn -- aah, it's all so heartwarming! Are you tearing up yet?

If you played at your parents' excl-oos-ive club under the training of a coach, you're a weenie. Ask your Amriki friends what that means.


Image: Sachin, here I come
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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7. Item songs

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Our country thrives on item songs and the -- er -- 'items' that feature in them.

All the curvy Munnis and Sheilas of the film fraternity are enough to have any hot-blooded male on edge in theatres.

And let's face it, while we keep talking about the degradation of 'Western' culture, we're all perfectly aware of erotica in Indian history, right from the Kama Sutra to the comely courtesans who were at the beck and call of royalty in centuries gone by.

We enjoy all the songs that make up half of most B-Town movies, but they're so much more enjoyable when they're item numbers!


Image: The nation slurps over the Munnis and Sheilas
Photographs: A scene from Dabangg
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8. Bridges under construction

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When Simon and Garfunkel sang about a bridge over troubled water, even they didn't know that they were singing to every developing and developed Indian city in existence.

We'll never catch up -- supply will never meet demand. By the time one is finally up and operative, the number of cars on the road has trebled and it's back to square one.

And every now and then a girder or supporting beam will come crashing down to remind us that the contract is still in a politico's nephew's pocket and kickbacks don't allow room for quality.

Hey, we have roads caving in, what's a bridge? Let's just hope it's not the one over water or we'll really be in trouble!


Image: Bridges: Supply will never meet demand
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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9. Paanwalas

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The paanwala is an honourable Indian institution. And of course, they don't just sell paan -- you'll find they have everything from little toys to tea, magazines and bubblegum.

It's an adda, a hangout for men of all ages, where they convene at various times through the day. At any given point you'll see at least three males hanging about, enjoying a cigarette before heading to work, buying a few mints after lunch or tucking into a paan outside the office.

And our friendly paanwalas take on the role of fleeting confidante that bartenders have abroad. They have an idea of what's going on in most customers' lives, always know the latest gossip and will be able to tell you the address of every person in the neighbourhood.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, why women are not flocking to them in droves just yet? Maybe after reading this they will!


Image: The paanwalla, an Indian institution
Photographs: Reinhard Krause/Reuters
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10. Not minding our own business

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In most other countries across the world, people keep to themselves so much that most don't even know their neighbour's first names.

Here, not only does Mrs Sinha from two doors down know your first name, she knows your great-grandfather's. She also knows where you're headed for dinner tonight and that your maid is having a clandestine affair with the driver of Mrs Mehta from the second floor in the 'B' wing.

Sigh. No, we can't mind our own business. Even if we happen to notice two random people arguing at a street corner, a crowd slowly gathers to find out what it's all about. And it's not like we'll stop at that.

While the argument is still underway, discussions and opinions will fly freely across as those gathered take sides. And do the two parties directly involved take offense to all this unwarranted interest? Hardly. It's a given!

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh


Image: Nosy neighbours, sigh...

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11. Street food

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Vada pao, sev puri, momos, dosas -- slurrrp!

Hygiene be damned -- we love our street food and some of us actually prefer it to fancy meals in posh restaurants.

Forget the fact that most of the plates we eat in are merely dipped in a bucket of repeatedly used water by way of washing, or that we find the odd hair in our food now and then. It's worth it!

Not only do we enjoy street food -- we go so far as to consider it therapeutic. How often have you heard statements like, 'Do you know, Aarti refuses to let Rehaan eat ice gola with the other kids because she says it's unhygienic. How stupid, na -- how will the child's immunity increase if she mollycoddles him like this?'

Yup, Rehaan is going to grow up to be a weenie. In India, food never causes trouble -- only the law of averages does!


Image: In India, food never causes trouble
Photographs: Dominic Xavier
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12. Bargains

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Sure, we rave about our state-of-the-art malls and their plush offerings, but the truth is that it's more fun doing rasta-shopping.

Before the term gets you thinking of Bob Marley, you wannabe Amriki, let us clarify that we mean street bargains at roadside stalls and flea markets.

Bargaining runs in our blood. And when someone compliments a purchase, even five years down the line, we remember to say, "You know, he was not coming down only from Rs 500. But finally I got it for Rs 300 what a bargain, isn't it?"

We may be sacrificing air-conditioned comfort to sweat it out in the hot sun and walk till our knees knock in search of hot bargains, but it's an addiction we're born with. Even our most hoity-toity, Louis Vuitton-toting ladies are sometimes seen rasta-shopping!


Image: Bargaining runs in our blood
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
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13. Stray dogs

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Some folks treat them like pets and others consider them pet peeves, but an India without its Kalias and Ranis and Motus wouldn't be, well, India.

From the collared long-hair who's made his home outside a high-rise and knows how to cross the road by himself, to the skinny spotted stray that feeds off village scraps, every corner of the country is brimming over with them.

Some are downright annoying and others are like the dog you never had. And most are content to live off the kindness of passersby.

The government is perpetually talking of bringing the canine population under control, but they haven't even succeeded with the human population yet, so animal-lovers can rejoice.


Image: An India without its Kalias and Ranis and Motus wouldn't be, well, India
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera
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14. Unpredictable weather

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Well, our Met Department can't predict it at any rate.

Light showers mean a downpour and heavy rains mean a light shower. Anticipated cyclones never hit and unforeseen ones strike without a whisper of warning.

But fear not -- we've worked out a system of predicting the weather.

Listen carefully to the Met Department's issues and be prepared for just the opposite -- you can't go wrong.


Image: Fear not: We've worked out a system of predicting the weather
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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15. Pepsies that are not manufactured by, well, Pepsi

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Remember what we said about you being a weenie if you didn't play galli cricket or try ice gola?

We're willing to take that back (well -- half of it anyway), if you haven't been deprived of pepsies as a kid. No, not the aerated drink; the little ice candies that come in an assortment of flavours like orange, pineapple and kala khatta, which you have to suck out of plastic covers.

So India had pepsies long before Pepsi came along -- and in case you didn't know (because you live in a hole in the wall?), even that's run by an Indian and a woman to boot. Take a bow Indra Nooyi.


Image: India had pepsies long before Pepsi came along
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters
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16. Our complete lack of civic sense

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Think about it. If a day passed without you seeing a single paan-stain, something wouldn't feel right. It would actually bother you. Mainly because we're a nation with no civic sense whatsoever.

Spitting up everywhere, littering the streets with everything imaginable, blowing our noses without handkerchiefs, peeing on any sidewalk we please -- it paints an ugly picture, but we are like that -- you know how it goes by now.

And nowhere in the world are men as obsessed with their privates as here. You'll see them push their hands into their pants in full public view to scratch themselves and nobody will give them a second look. Because, (yech), it's normal.

And somewhere, a polished old British gentleman who's just read this is being brought around with smelling salts.


Image: A nation with no civic sense whatsoever

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17. Shaking our heads even when in agreement

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"I couldn't agree with you more." Shake shake shake.

"Yes, it's absolutely the right course of action." Shake shake shake.

"Of course you should!" Shake shake shake.

See, we desis are simply not programmed to nod along. Instead, we shake our heads.

Even our clairvoyant cows know enough to nod a 'yes' and shake a 'no' when they're asked questions, but we don't. It's sad but true, you know. Shake shake shake.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh


Image: Shake shake shake

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18. The big fat Indian wedding

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At least five hundred people, four separate functions, ten outfits each for the bride and groom, enough food to feed an army and so much jewellery that the family budget is stretched just short of lifelong debt.

That's an average Indian wedding. Which makes it as big and fat as they come, if you consider how other couples across the world marry.

The foreign press carries blazing headlines about the extravagant weddings of their celebrities, which run into millions of dollars and take place in exotic locales.

Pshaw! During wedding season, at least ten Indian business tycoons/jewellers/builders each week have a wedding in the family that costs just as much as Posh and Becks' or Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes' did -- if not more.

See, our celebrities don't have extravagant weddings -- they dance at them!


Image: 500 people, 4 events, 10 outfit each...
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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19. 'Godmen'

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It's hardly surprising that men who claim to be God-realised make millions off the unsuspecting public. Unsuspecting not because we don't know, but because we'd rather not know! We're all scared stiff of Divine retribution.

So while some 'monks' drive around in luxury sedans, surround themselves with pretty women and even go so far as to lure them into less-than-divine relations, we keep their coffers overflowing with gold.

Bhagwan se kisko panga lena hai, bhai?


Image: Venerable sadhus at the Kumbh Mela, a clear contrast to 'Godmen'
Photographs: Reuben N V
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20. Melas

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Now, where can we combine most of the above into one great smorgasbord of enjoyment?

Street food, market bargains, the latest item numbers blaring on speakers, stray dogs loitering around, traffic jams and litter that's going to keep municipal authorities busy for a whole week or so after -- welcome to the Indian mela!

They happen several times a year, in the tiniest villages and the largest cities and the cacophony is enough to drive a sane person nuts, but most of us end up going anyway.

Why? No prizes for guessing!


Image: Welcome to the Indian mela!
Photographs: Rediff.com
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