Jan 12, 2012

(V)ada paavi !!

Foreword: This post is about a sticky situation I experienced in a North Indian city. To be precise, the city is Pune and I recently understood that people there tend to feel bad when some Southie calls them ‘North’ Indians. Well, please remember what Einstein had to say: ‘It’s all relative, brother’. I am a Hindi-illiterate South Indian whose Hindi knowledge is limited to a few movie names (courtesy: The Khans); ‘Keval ek run milega’ sort of cricket commentaries (courtesy: Doordarshan); some swear words (courtesy: Virat Kohli and Harbhajan Singh) and the ABCD stuff like ‘Thumara naam kya hai? Mera nam blah blah blah hai’ (courtesy: Margoschis Matriculation School , upto 7th standard). Apart from the poor farmer who lives in that famous Hindi village – some Tamilians say his name is Ragu Thatha – I have no acquaintances either in the Hindi speaking land.

You might have read a few open letters in the blogosphere before and my introduction would have already created the urge in you to grab the nearest available Vel Kambu or lathi -depending on your location-  to prepare for battle. If that be the case, I kindly request you to drop them immediately and focus your mind instead on a degree kaapi or dhai lassi – again depending on your location – and then read on. This post is about a Vada paav and an Appavi (roughly translated to a poor innocent man in Tamil) based on a small language problem. If you still refuse to embrace ahimsa, read my epilogue, make sure you forget my name and immediately close this page.  

Once upon a time in the recent past, I got an opportunity to visit Pune for the first time in my life. The northern most place in India I had ever visited prior to that was Bangalore.  The city threw the usual surprises at me as any new place would do for a first timer. Only Pune seemed to have a unique style and flavour of its own to do so – the paan! It was omnipotent, like God. While I could see paan stains everywhere, I also witnessed another feature of the Almighty through my mobile phone. Just like God, my mobile service provider’s network signal also teased me in that big city. It would never show itself to me and just when I start to lose heart and contemplate atheism, it would give me a fleeting vision and then disappear. There was no network coverage even in the city’s main locations. Even if every friend is important to me, this restricted me from calling any of my friends when I am in dire need of location or translation assistance.

I was mostly on my own while roaming the city. Surprisingly the roads were very clean and I could not see a spot of paan on the road though they were practically everywhere else. While I was confused about this irony, I saw a vada paav shop on the roadside and I immediately remembered what Harsha bhogle said and what my grandmother said. Harsha Bhogle had said great things about Vada Paav and its taste whenever cricket meets Mumbai or Pune. My grandmother said this once in my childhood to me, “When in doubt, eat!”. I was already walking towards Vada paav.

Photo from Pari_VR's stream

I had some cash on me and the ATM card. There was no ATM in the vicinity but I thought there would not be a need for it. I counted the money in my wallet. Forty five rupees and seventy five paise exactly. How much would a plate or two of Vada paav cost? I asked the shop owner in English. My instinct was right. He did not know English and gave me only a paan spit in reply. Now I am cornered. I had to summon the Hindi that I know and pray for the Hindi that I need and hope that he knows Hindi too since I had heard that in Pune, even Hindi does not work in some places.

‘Kitna hai?’ I enquired, boasting with the happiness of finding the right words after a while. His reply was quick and I could not understand it. Was it Hindi? Was it Marathi? I tried again , this time speaking my two words very slowly and gesturing him to return the favour to me. “K..i..t..n..a...... H..a...i...?”

He seemed to understand it. Success! I picked up a few words from what he spoke and amidst them was “Bees”.  Exactly what I wanted to hear; because somewhere in the back of my mind I was afraid that he would mention a number above fifty. Not because I was short of money but because I know only upto fifty numbers in Hindi. So, everything from 51 to 99 is the same to me and then I will reach the safe zone from Ek sou ek to Ek sou pachaas. A vicious cycle this is!

I ordered a plate of Vada paav. True. Bhogle was right. It was delicious and I have not tasted anything like that before. I was tempted to go for another plate (Chill it will only be forty totally. You have that cash). The shopkeeper picked me up from my face and gestured to me if I want one more plate. I nodded positively. “Ispeshal?” he asked with a smile at the corner of his eyes. I went with the flow and said yes. This time there were a few other ingredients in the mix but it tasted quite the same – delicious! First plate or second plate, both of them seemed very very ispeshal to me.

After eating, I gave him forty rupees. He looked at me puzzlingly and gestured for more. “ispeshal... ispeshal” he said repeatedly. I somehow figured it out. The second plate was costlier. “Kitna?” I asked. Again fearing he should not exceed fifty. On second thought, fearing he should not exceed forty five rupees and seventy five paise. He made me escape my first fear but put me into my worst fear. “Ek sou bees”. What ?!!? A hundred rupees extra for that ‘ispeshal’ ? I knew something fishy was going on.

While it is tough for me to even converse, imagine me arguing in Hindi. I was trying to explain to him that he should have told me the price before I ordered it and I was ready to give whatever money I was having. He was very adamant and would not give up on his demand. The argument got hotter and hotter and it was strangely funny too because he was going all guns blazing and I was trying desperately to pick up a word here and a word there from what he said and my reply attempts were going alarmingly on the downhill.

Photo from tommie73's stream

Here are a few excerpts from the predominantly one sided argument (with my mind voice in Italics):

“Ispeshal .............blah blah blah....... Hota hai na ? (Ngoth... Yaar ta enna pesure?)......Are bhayee ...... dhek dhek .... (Thekku dan da.. adicha enna ave theriyuma?) .............Ek sou bees . Final. .....Behench... (Ya I know this.. ngoyyale thitran da).... Samja ? .... Blah blah blah .. bar bar bar ....Ek sou bees final .”

This is not going to work. There is no way I am going to win this argument in the same fashion. My mind was rapidly doing the calculations. It is time to use the same weapon against him. If I can not argue fast in Hindi, he will not be able to argue fast in Tamil! (Manohara style ... Poruthadhu podhum. Pongi ezhu)... (roughly translated to ‘enough of patience. Start action’)

“Adingoyyale ... Niruthu da.. Vitta overa pesite iruke? Engalukum kanaku theriyum . Nangalum oorukkulla rowdy dan theriyumla... Enga ooruku vandhu paaru da.. Veliyoorkaaran na ematha paapiya nee? Ketta varthai ellam pesure ? Mavane ... Nan pesattuma? Un kudumbame damage agidum. Paravayilliya? Edho pavam irukiradha kuduthutu polam nu patha ... romba thullure...............................................................................................................................................................................Mariyadhaiya kudukiradha vangitu odi poidu.. Nan unna emathanum nu nenakala. Nee enna emathanum nu nenacha uruppadave maate da... Uruppadave maate. (with increasing vigour for each repetition) Uruppadave maate. Uruppadave maate. Uruppadave maate. Uruppadave maate. Uruppadave maate.”

For non-Tamilians, here is the rough translation of my argument in Tamil:
‘Stop it you dumbo .... Don’t you dare to cheat on me. I also know maths. I also know business. I also know Vada paav. I am also rowdy da! Come to my town and face me if you really have guts da. Outside person means you will cheat as you wisha? Speaking bad words and all.... Bloody rascal. Shall I speak da? I am regional champion you know? If I start means your total family damage only. Even if I think ‘poor fellow.. let’s give him something extra’ means you are jumping too high? ..................................................................................................................................................................................Take what I give and end it here. I am not trying to cheat you. If you try to cheat me, you will not live good at all. You will not live good at all. (with increasing vigour for every repition) You will not live good at all. You will not live good at all. You will not live good at all. You will not live good at all.”

My approach seemed to have an effect on him. Especially when I was repeating the same phrase with increasing vigour towards then end, God knows what he interpreted it to be! He seemed to go on the defensive when I raised my voice above his. I should really thank the customer care of my mobile service provider at this moment for teaching me this tactic. At the end, he sported a very broad grin and replied to me, “Are bhayee.... aaraam se aaraam se. Thum Thamil hai na? Mereko Tamil bahuth pasandh hai. Why this kolaveri? Aaraam se... Pachaas rupiyaa dhe dho”

“Forty five rupees. Siraf Painthaalees” I did not let my guard down.

“Bahuth acha. Dhe dho”

There ended my (V)ada paavi story !

Epilogue: If you sported a few smiles along the way, thanks at first! Please do not look this post as a South vs North fight. If you are a north Indian who feels that this post is offending in any means, just put yourself in my shoes and think of this situation as when you had to tackle a Chennai autowala. Or even better, think of yourself as an Indian who faces the same problem in some tough to pronounce Russian city like Zhnkajiskalov. You will make sense out of this incident. Cheers.


PS : This post is also my entry to the 'fiery grilled' blogging contest of KFC organized by Indiblogger. Support me there too if you like this post :-)


  1. I am unsure how i managed to read on still at the floor laughing so hard that my guts almost burst out. Even though the epilogue might have been very important for some kind of people, for me, the laugh matters the most and you made it pretty awesome. thank you for the wonderful post. Loved it. kuidos..

  2. haha :)
    wonderful read bro :)
    eisntein's quote is well utilized..
    I had a similar situation, when i was in Pune one elderly man asked me for route he almost spoke for 1 minute and i replied " Mujhe Hindi nahi maalum hai"

    He went with a devil look :P :P

  3. @Samik and Deepak .. thanks brothers :-) Very glad that my post tickled your laughter cells ... Even more glad to have you visit my blog for the first time .. Cheers

  4. I dint know you blogged in English too. And thangawd for that! Hilarious post!!

  5. thanks AI. This blog is not frequently updated as my other one but yeah it exists :-) gotta pay more attention to it .

  6. Awesome.. Now plz.. don't abandon this blog for the other.. Make some regular posts here...

  7. Thanks anand .. Will definitely not let this blog go unnoticed :-)

  8. Superb story..cant even control my laugh....