Chowking the North South Divide – By H. Nambiar



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I am a jehadi Bombaiyya whenever I argue with a die hard Delhiwala. If the truth be confessed, I enjoy both the cities equally, whenever I am there. But, since I live in Bombay, I must perforce enjoy Bombay more. Of course, when there is a good Bombay-Delhi fight I love the idea of pulverising the idea of Delhi that a Delhiwala tries to sell.


The Bombay-Delhi fight is as good a timepass as any other. Especially, a good form of rediscovering youthful energy when old friends come down from the Capital, fuelled by a few drinks. The good naturedness of the fight is always intact.


I am dwelling on this recurrent timepass for many urbanites of India’s two important cities to underscore another point. The arguments about the differences over the cities and their unique cultures invariably take us to a wider debate about the North South divide of the Indian sub continent.


Cut the parochialism out and there are still characteristics that are distinctly different in a man/woman from the North and his/her counterpart from the South. This is of course a broad generalisation, but as sturdy as any good generalisation.


Let’s put this in some kind of order. The North Indian is usually an intense person when it comes to relationships. In the sense that when you meet a stranger Aggarwal/Gupta/Singh in the Ferozepur Express, there are two ways you are likely to part. As his friend, or as his enemy. Okay, not enemy, but definitely a non-friend.


Meet a similar situation in the Chennai Express and we meet a Kalyanasundaram/ Reddy/Pai, chances are the two will exchange pleasantries that are conducted in the synthetic warmth of a banking transaction. When you part, there is no memorable experience, but also not a regrettable one.


The people in the North of India definitely score very high on family values. In the sense that they always live, die and kill only for their family. Therefore a constant promotion of friendship into family ties is always ” aap to hamare bhai jaise hain.” Or ” Yeh to hamare gharwalein hain.”


In the South it’s the other way round. Family values there are practised like religion in secular democracies, without fear or favour but definitely within the house. The best promotion a friend or acquaintance can expect is “He is a good friend of mine.” If you want a double promotion, wait for sixteen years and Mr Meenakshisundaram will tell another man “He is a very good/close friend of mine.”


There is always a degree of detachment even in personal dealings in the south. There is an amazing degree of intensity among the northerners. Even in urban families in Bombay or Delhi, you will find visiting friends greeting boisterously, hugging and slapping.


Cut into the living room of a third generation Swamy in Matunga or Wadala, and even a long lost friend is welcomed with “Oh, when did you come.” Or “So, now you are now US returned.” A banal greeting that instantly squeezes out all moisture of intimacy from a reunion.


The divide is less pronounced in the non-urban areas. In the villages of UP, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan the people are warm and inviting. In the villages and towns in south India, people are hesitant about being openly hospitable. But the hospitality is the same, once the ice is broken.


This kind of difference perhaps explains why the south keeps throwing up chess prodigies, infotech czars and spinners and an occasional erudite president. Of course, the spearheads of Indian bowling both Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad are from the peninsula. That also explains why most matches India wins are with the bat. The only exception that proves the rule was Prasad’s famous fracas with Aamir Sohail in Bangalore.


The North meanwhile produces charismatic prime ministers, flashy fastbowlers, old economy entrepreneurs, and student leaders who have an option of becoming celebrities in the media or politicians.


The reason I thought of this was the sheer amount of unfixed matches between those who post responses to the various articles on Chowk. There are those who are all passion and fury, others who are all erudition and restraint, there are yet others whose responses tell you that this guy/girl is one of those provoked into a vituperative due to constant harping of the first lot, but otherwise capable of calm conversation. Then there are those who are the allrounders of the team. Mixing aggression with restraint and giving as good as it gets, in the tenor of the respondent.


I always detect a mixing of memory with desire in all the debates on Kashmir. My feeling is that the subject has become hopelessly mired in a slow killing colloidal mixture of propaganda and truth. And practically nobody has posted anything fresh or radical, unless it is funny or sarcastic.


The memory and desire is natural because the Pakistanis and the Indians have treated Kashmir as a cricket match. It is also evident that a lot of passion and energy is natural because the fight is often between two hot blooded North Indians.


I do not seek to insult or belittle those who feel strongly about Kashmir, from either side of the border. But after all, those in the North have had warriorhood thrust upon them by both geography and history. And many have had the legacy of partition that cannot be forgotten.


But is there anybody who can make it a little like our North-South debate, or the Bombay-Delhi fight. In the sense that fights apart, I like Delhi when I am there. Can we think of some way I can enjoy Kashmir, experience the famed Kashmiriyat.


I do not have any thought out opinion on Kashmir, other than may the best team win, actually may whatever is right happen, and ideally happen quickly. The pain and misery of those in that God forsaken land, since God and Tourism have moved home to Kerala, should end. That’s of course a lazy liberalism at play, but having been buffeted by the arguments of both sides, I am pretty sure both are half wrong.


I also feel that if there were more people writing out their personal experiences about the issue, it would be better understood by people who have not had a chance, or have not been sufficiently motivated, to study and weigh the issue of Kashmir. Besides it being a bonus for Kashmir underliterates, it has the best chance of sounding like a human problem of immense misery than a bone of contention between bitterly opposed nations. Carrying the bone of contention metaphor a little further, it makes readers feel that men, women and children being killed by the Indian security forces or the Pakistani inspired freedom fighters are all ants crawling on the bone. That’s a humiliation of human lives that should be unaffordable to anyone.


This is a plea to humanise the problem. It means stop mouthing what each government is saying, and quoting statistics. Share stories without comment, those who know of experiences of Kashmiries or have memories. This dry business of regurgitating what in essense remains either nationalistic, or at the most pedantically “make peace stop fighting” kinds, is getting too nauseating.


If we have more anecdotal experiences of the Kashmir problem being shared on Chowk, we can also probably wash a little bit of our guilt of being English speaking minorities of the Indian sub-continent. After all, what all Chowkwallahs share is English. A language that is native to neither country, but guarantees that none who know it will starve in our respective countries.

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