Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pu. La. Deshpande : Punekar

Disclaimer: This is a translation of  the Punekar part of the essay, 'Mumbaikar, Punekar and Nagpurkar' by Gaurav Sabnis. This essay was originally written by the celebrated Marathi author Purushottam Laxman Deshpande, popularly known as PuLa.

Here is the link to the original post. Kudos to the author for the translation. I love it!

Ok, so now... do you want to become a Punekar? Go ahead. We have no objections. But our advice is... think again. Do you really want to? OK, if you insist then your preparation needs to be thorough. And once you are fully prepared, then being a Punekar is as enjoyable an experience as any.

Firstly, do not nurse the notion that you are inferior to anyone in any aspect of life. You are not. You are a superior being. Secondly, learn to express dissent on every issue possible. I mean seriously, stop thinking about minor things like who you are, how educated or uneducated you are, what your achievements are..... don't think about any of these things and just express a contradictory opinion. Whatever the topic under discussion, your opinion needs to be strongly voiced, and it has to be contrarian. Even if the topic under discussion is "How to get the American economic machine back on track", and you are just an employee of the Pune Municipal Corporation's Rat Extermination Department, don't let it stop you from holding forth.

At least once every few hours you need to cluck your tongue, shake your head and say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be." There are no age-related requirements for saying this. In Pune doddering geriatrics and school-going striplings say "Pune just isn't the way it used to be" with matching conviction. So you will get to hear this statement with comforting regularity in offices, colleges, tekdis, temples, markets and even kindergartens.

Marathi, or in general any language, exists in several forms in Pune. Public Speaking Puneri, Shopkeeper's Puneri, Domestic Puneri.... are all various dialects with little in common with each other. Let me demonstrate the difference between the language used in private conversation and the language used for public speaking, with an example.

Imagine that a Prof. Bhamburdekar is talking about a Prof. Yelkuntkar with his wife - "What nonsense! Yelkuntkar is being felicitated? Utter nonsense. Actually he should be thrashed with his own shoes. What is he being felicitated for? Translating the rigved? More like transmutating the rigved. But still he gets government grants, thousands of rupees."
Note- One of the typical ways for a Punekar to vent his anger about someone else is to rant about the money he is making.
"Yes, you fool! Live it up! Embezzle that money! Live the big life! Eat banana pudding and peas curry everyday!"
The most superlative form of living the big life for a Punekar stops at thse humble heights - eating banana pudding and peas curry everyday.

Now let me show you the transformation of this sample of private Puneri language into public Puneri language. Imagine, the same Prof. Bhamburdekar at the felicitation, giving a speech about Prof. Yelkuntkar.

"Felicitating Guruvarya Prof Yelkuntkar is like felicitating in person the Sun God of Scholarliness. Friends, today's date will be carved with gold in the annals of Pune's cultural history. This great teacher of mine.... I mean I have always considered him my teacher.... I am not sure if he considers me his student..."
At this point the audience laughs a little. According to Puneri Public Speaking rules, if you don't make the audience laugh after your third sentence, it is counted as a foul. So all aspiring Punekars preparing for the daunting task should keep this in mind.
"Now of course, in a way I am his student. Because when he was a teacher in the municipality schools, I was his student in Class 1"
See how cleverly he slipped in the information that Prof. Yelkuntkar was once just a school teacher in a rundown municipality school.
"His father was an employee of the nutritional department in the palace of the Sardar Panchapatlikar"
Another masterstroke.... the good professor's father was just a cook!
"Having spent his childhood in extreme poverty, Professor must be feeling great contentment living in his spacious bungalow in Aranyeshwar Colony"
i.e notice how he's embezzled all this money under the garb of education.
"Prof Yelkuntkar and our Honourable Education Minister have been friends right from their school days"
i.e now you know why he gets all those government grants he doesn't deserve.

So you see, unless you are Marc Antony, you will have to prepare a lot before your public speaking skills can match up to Puneri standards.

Now when it comes to Puneri language to be used in day to day life, the standards are pretty stringent too. Let me illustrate with another example. All over the world, the convention is that when you answer the phone it should be with a polite "Hello?". Not in Pune.

In Pune when you answer the phone, your voice must take on that natural irritable brusqueness that descends when someone wakes you up from an afternoon nap, and you must yell "WHO'S THIS??". It helps to pretend that it costs you money not just to make a call, but also to receive a call.
Now if the caller responds with "Err...could you please get Mr. Gokhale to the phone?", then his non-Punekar status will be blindingly obvious even to a child. A true Punekar will respond testily "CALL GOKHALE TO THE PHONE".



To be a true Punekar, you have to have a burning pride for something. Not just normal pride. Normal pride can be felt by anyone. It has to be fierce burning pride. It is not necessary to feel this pride just about major things like the life of Shivaji or Tilak. It could be something as flippant as the rank of your lane's Ganpati statue during the Ganpati immersion procession or even peanuts from the rural regions of Pune district. But no matter how flippant the issue is, the pride must be fierce and burning.

This burning pride is very helpful when you have to make dissenting arguments. So then, on the day of Tilak's Death Anniversary, you could tap into burning pride for Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. On the day of a cricket test match, you could tap into burning pride for kabaddi.

Expressing your dissent merely in private conversations is not enough to get you the Punekar tag. You need to frequently write in your dissenting opinion to the 'Letters to the editor' column. It does not even have to make sense. For instance, this letter appeared in one of Pune's leading newspapers a few years back -

This year the monsoons have been particularly fierce. The roads are in a horrid condition and crops have been washed out. May I ask the good people at the Meterological Department, who draw their fat salaries from our taxes, what they are doing to stop this deluge?"

Dissent is of primary importance. Logic is secondary.

Now another art you need to perfect, and that too in a specialised Puneri way, is driving a bike. Just sitting on a bike and going all around town on it does not qualify you as a bike rider in Pune. The verb "driving" when it comes to bikes in Pune, is used in the same sense as "driving an axe into a block of wood" or "driving hordes towards revolution".

A bike in Pune is viewed, not as a means of transport, but something to sit on when you meet for chit-chat with a group of friends in the middle of the road. It really helps in training new traffic policemen. It also helps in making access to any building virtually impossible for pesky salesmen. Managing to cluster bikes together to construct such a barricade is as crucial as being able to extricate your own bike from the cluster without toppling others.

Bikes should not be driven alone in Pune. There should be at keast 3 bikes together going parallel to each other in the middle of the road, at a leisurely speed while talking to each other. Your eyes should not be on the road, but on the walking-and-talking attractive scenery on the road. Having unnecessary accoutrements like horns, mirrors, lights, indicators is a sign of cowardice on the streets of Pune.

In this way, as you are crossing various levels in the game "How to be a Punekar", you should also parallely keep up efforts to beome an office bearer in some social or cultural organisation or a Rotary Club. Holding a hollow post in a useless organisation is central to the completeness of the Punekar's existence.

It is also necessary to attend as many lectures, talks and seminars as possible on topics as diverse and vacuous as "Bajirao the Second's Handwriting" or "The Fungus on Bajra crop". And after the lecture, it is imperative to catch hold of the speaker, and in full view of at least half a dozen people say to him with an earnest expression on your face "I would like to discuss this topic in more depth with you some time."

All this preparation should be enough to make you a normal Punekar. But if you want to operate a shop in Pune, you need more lessons. You especially need lessons on language. Only then will you be able to heap maximum insults on your customer in minimum possible words. Because in Pune, the verb "operating" a shop is used in the same sense as "operating a bull dozer" or "operating a machine gun". The most negligible entity in a shop in Pune, is the customer.

A shop operated in this way can realistically make money only for 7-8 years until all the customers desert it. Once that happens, you can sell your shop to a Sindhi or a Marwari. The price of land must have appreciated enough to get you a hefty bank balance to last you for the remainder of your life. And you are free to conduct seminars and panel discussions on the topic "Why are Maharashtrians unsuccessful in business?" in the Tilak Smarak Mandir.

Summing it up, to become a Punekar, every action of yours should be aimed at ensuring a felicitation ceremony for you some years down the line.

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