The desi angrezi

Sweet and sour

To emphasise something we repeat the same word twice, eg: to say something is very hot we say hot, hot (garma, garm). Very common is to add the word ‘only’ at the end of a sentence, eg: when asked “Where are you from?” The reply is “I am from Delhi only.” The chief exponent of this khichree lingo is Moni Mohsin of Lahore.

Her pieces from ‘The Diary of a Social Butterfly’ appeared occasionally in ‘The Indian Express’ and now regularly in ‘The Mail’. They are great fun to read. She was recently in Delhi for the launch of her second book ‘Tender Hooks’ (Random House). I had described her earlier publication as ‘hilarious’ this one is hilarity unbound, for hours it takes to read. The theme is about the search of a suitable bride for a young bachelor. She must be (khandani), from a good family, good-looking (khoobsurat) and bring a big dowry (dahej). Most of the story is told through a dialogue between women of the boy’s family. I reproduce the first chapter as a sample of what you will get. It will keep you laughing to the last page.

“You know Jonkers, na? Oho baba, what’s happened to you? Everything you are forgetting. I think so you must have got sterile dementia. Like poor old Uncle Cock-up. All right, I’ll tell you again, but only this one time. Next time you ask I’m not telling, kay? Jonkers is my cousin. He’s my aunty Pussy’s one and only child. Her sun and air. Who is Aunty Pussy? Honestly! I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Next you’ll be asking me your own name. Aunty Pussy is Mummy’s cousin from her mother’s side. Their mummies were sisters. If I was English I’d say Jonkers was my first cousin once removed. As if cousins were bikini lines, once removed, twice removed, hundred times removed, but still there. And Uncle Cock-up is his father.

Haan, so where was I? Yes, Jonkers. It was his 37th birthday last night and Aunty Pussy took us all — Mummy, me, her, and Jonkers also — to Cuckoo’s restaurant for dinner in the Old City next to the Badhshahi Mosque. I like Cuckoo’s because everyone says it’s tabahi. Foreigners tau just love coming here. Or they did before the suicide bombs started in Lahore also. It’s a bit bore that Cuckoo’s is in the Old City, with its bad toilet smells and all its crumbly-crumbly, old-old houses, but at least all those prostitutes who used to live nearby in the Diamond Market have gone off to Defence Housing Society to live in little kotis, their politicians and feudal boyfriends have bought them. So no chance, thanks God, of bumping into bad charactered types. Unless it’s suicide bombers, of course. But then tau you can bump into anywhere, thanks to the army which has given jihadis safe heavens all over Pakistan.

“And also it’s a bit bore that you have to climb 55,000 steps to get on top of Cuckoo but view from there is fab. You can look right inside the coat yard of the mosque. But we couldn’t, because there was so much of smog. Lahore has three problems — smog, traffic, and terrorists. Otherwise tau it’s just fab.

Anyways, Aunty Pussy had also invited Janoo (He’s my husband, in case you’ve forgotten that also now) but Janoo was in his bore village, Sharkpur. Okay, okay, I suppose it’s our village because I’m his wife but thanks God, I’m not from there and I haven’t been there for three years. Janoo spends half his time there, na, sewing his crops and looking after his mango and orange and kinno orchids, sorry sorry I meant orchards. But because I don’t sew the crops, and I only spend the money we get from the crops, it’s best for me to live in Lahore where the shops are. Aunty Pussy also invited Kulchoo but he said he was doing homework. His GCSEs are on top of his head but I think so he was reading Facebook. Such a little bookworm my baby is.”

Mohsin writes regularly for ‘Friday Times’, published from Lahore. Her novel ‘The End of Innocence’ won her an award. The family now lives in London.

Our postal services
A few weeks ago a Mrs P V Rao who lives in Bhubaneswar wanted to say something about what I had written, but did not have my address. So after my name she wrote ‘Man in the bulb’ with an address of her own making: ‘AB to SJ Avenue, New Delhi-110029.’ Someone in our postal services cut out her fabricated address and wrote my correct address and I got her letter. I was most impressed by their efficiency.
20 years ago I did not know anyone who had the same name as mine. Now there are a few in the telephone directory. Occasionally, I get letters not meant for me. I toss them in the waste paper basket. Now I do get some letters with only New Delhi as the address. I feel flattered and admiration for our postal services increases. The greatest compliment they paid me was the time when Bhindranwale was on the rampage in Punjab. It was from one of his admirers in Canada. The contents were in Gurmukhi and full of earthy abuses for me. The address was in English: ‘Bastard Khushwant Singh, India’. Someone in our postal department put my correct address and the letter was delivered to me. My admiration for our postal services went up sky high.

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