Big shit + no chief = Brexit

And we’re not talking about a certain resident of 10 Downing Street who’ll probably be able to buy up the place for a song when property prices tumble in London.

Otherwise you can’t expect a self-respecting blogger cum sit-down comedian like me to let an opportunity like this pass – when Chief Loud Blast That Tears the Skies (vide ‘Rule, Britannia!’) is suffering from constipation & the braves go to a paleface medicine man by the name of Cameron instead of to the shaman Farage for advice & succour. “Big chief, no shit,” the braves report.

Strangely enough, Cameron prescribes the same medicine that the shaman has been calling for since the beginning of the buffalo season viz. a referendum, which is duly held with the result that the flags are now flying at half mast in Brussels after they brought the sad news from Aix to Ghent: “Big shit, no chief!” Naturally everyone thought of Cameron and Cameron obliged them by announcing in the course of the day that he’d be taking his hat in around three months, leaving it to his successor to tell Brussels that they were being dumped – shame, as if he couldn’t have done it via SMS. And now look at Angela crying her eyes out.

As a European of non-European descent, I do not know whether to be happy or to be be sad, whether to laugh or to cry. People suffering from anxiety are said to assume the foetal or prenatal position and here we have Britannia trying to go back to the days of ‘splendid isolation’ as in the late 19th century, when Britain was trying to keep its involvement in European affairs to a minimum. Brought them two world wars in rapid succession as a reward, but that is neither here nor there.

In the country that I come from people still wish that Britain had held a referendum of a similar sort on or before the 31st of December, 1600, when John Company was founded. They’d have had no need for Paki bashing and could have had Southhall and Brick Lane all to themselves had they held that referendum… Just imagine, the country that founded the Commonwealth – which was called the British Commonwealth of Nations till 1947 – is leaving the European Union now. Alas, the British European Union is history. Another star gone from the silly little flag of the EU, as if for a children’s birthday party at McSoandso’s. And when Scotland and Northern Ireland go, there will be another two jewels (though no Koh-i-Noor) missing from the British crown – the Queen will soon have nothing to wear and Prince Charles will have only the Maoris to rub noses with, if it goes on like this. Ultimately, Prince George will be King of London & the Suburbs.

Will the European Union miss Little Britain or Disunited Kingdom or whatever the new entity is to be called? Will there be no more English hooligans fighting the Russian ones in Marseille every time there’s an European football championship? Does anyone realise that Euro 2016 has been free of acts of terrorism mainly because of the ‘hools’? Terrorists turning up to do mischief find the battle already in progress on the streets of whichever unfortunate town is hosting a match involving ‘Hool, Britannia’. It was only after reading Spike Milligan’s war memoirs that I realised that in the olden days, half the British populace only got to set foot on the Continent when there was a war. Doesn’t have to be a war, football championships will do nicely, thank you. My last thought on this count: can you imagine people in any of the erstwhile British colonies agonising over the fact that the British are leaving? Hallelujah.

And there is a last question that we have to answer: what was – or is – Britain’s malady? I’ll tell you. It is anxiety neurosis, angst for the future, angst of the future, angst in view of the subliminal penetration of German words like angst into the English language – almost as bad as the droogs speaking nadsat in Clockwork Orange. The British, who were naming every second warship of theirs Intrepid till the other day, have finally angst that reverse colonisation, the retribution for all their sins over nearly five centuries, will finally catch up with them and overwhelm them. Before England is a battlefield, English will be the battlefield, with mutilated grammar and slaughtered syntax and the unkindest cut of all – that Polish accent on top of the Indian one! – there’s this mixed couple I know…

Don’t worry, it’s just me and the wifey. And we live in the EU.

‘Good English, bad German’

 No, we’re not talking of the war comics and the war films of yore, we are talking about what I call the Subcontinental Syndrome – one could call it the Colonial Syndrome as well. It means the ability to spend half-a-lifetime or more in a non-English-speaking foreign country without learning, really learning, earnestly learning the language of that country – but relying on our baboo-to-brown-sahib Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi English to see us through and salvage our honour.

Take Germany. Like as not you will meet the one or the other of these long-haired, dreamy-eyed, willowy young men just arrived from Mumbai or Delhi to join his German lady love who – the young man – will evince Bertie Wooster’s mentality in all its parochialism and insularity: why are the Germans such asses, Jeeves, why can’t they speak English? The original Bertie was musing about Frenchmen, of course.

My Bertie simply couldn’t accept the fact that the Germans still insisted on speaking German in the Twenty-First Century – despite Windows & Word & Google & Facebook & YouTube & Twitter. Didn’t they lose the war? Yes, but they did not lose their language. And my Bertie will have to learn it if he intends to find (i) meaningful occupation and (ii) social acceptance in this German-speaking country.

And then my Bertie will complain about how pop songs sound so funny in German. ‘To your ears,’ I tell Bertie, to stop his giggling. ‘Look,’ I tell him, ‘would you like the Germans to laugh when they see our Ambassadors & Marutis simply because they’ve got their Audis & BMWs & Volkswagen & Mercedes?’ ‘Do they?’ Bertie was on the warpath at once. ‘No, they sell you their Audis etc., right down to Porsches,’ I told the young man – I think Audi had just held a road show with camels and elephants all the way from Rajasthan to New Delhi at around that time but I might be mistaken. You’ll have to ask Bertie.

And so it will go on. I will have to explain to this perfectly sane and well-educated young man from India that even Angshu Jain was addressing the shareholders of the Deutsche Bank in German towards the end. The Germans like English as we Indians like our chutneys and our pickles – to spice things up and to show that they are on the up and up, that they are knowledgeable, that they are cosmopolitan, that they’ve been holidaying in English-speaking countries ever since they were this high ironing out all misunderstandings with their Deutschmarks and their Euros.

Talk English to them, by all means – especially to your girlfriend, it’s how she fell in love with you, remember? – but don’t tax their patience – I tell Bertie. There will be a point beyond which they will stop listening and start smiling that hard, polite German smile of theirs which says, ‘I’ve got more patience than this fool’. Which will make you come out with your latest acquirement in German, how you can say Guten Tag and Auf Wiesbaden, that’s Good Day and See You, isn’t it? Then why are they all laughing? ‘It’s Auf Wiedersehen, Schatz’ – Treasure or Darling – his German girlfriend will tell Bertie, ‘Wiesbaden is the town we went to, remember?’

Bertie will have to remember for the next thirty years of his life – as I had to – that they speak German in Germany as they speak Chinese in China, Japanese in Japan, Polish in Poland and Finnish in – forget it. Bertie will not listen to a battle-scarred language veteran like me but join the language-impaired, language-disabled, language-challenged of the world and become a permanent member of our Good English, Bad German club.

Met Bertie’s five-year-old son the other day – perfect German, as was only to be expected, but what about his father tongue, which is supposed to be Hindi? The way the little angel spoke the rashtrabhasha, his own nani, that’s the grandmother, wouldn’t have recognised it, neither on the mother’s side nor on the father’s side.

Heads you win, tails I lose – as I was telling Bertie…

Between Staying and Going away

The fundamental problem with the modern world is that we are all getting more and more mobile as the world turns into a global village and people are constantly being confronted with the choice of either staying or going away – a choice not exactly unknown in the olden days but not half so acute or frequent as today, as you can well imagine.

People used to go abroad for higher studies and return in due course to the country of their origin to take up teaching posts and other posts of responsibility and importance. Something about their dress and their manners revealed to the end of their days that they’d been abroad. They were not quite Indians, Bengalis or Kolkatans any more. Maybe the pipe that they smoked; maybe the foreign car held on to until it disintegrated; maybe the foreign wife turning roly-poly like a Bengali masima (aunt) because of all the rich food – but that was about all. It was like eating curry and rice with a fork and a knife off china plates from a ‘proper’ dining table – remember that we Bengalis learnt how to eat the blighty way long before the sahibs learnt how to eat a mango anywhere other than in the bathtub with a bib around their necks and a towel around their midriffs.

What I mean is: (a) you went away – abroad; (b) you returned from the queen mother country to your native land; (c) you cherished the memories of Oxbridge and Charing Cross and the Inner Temple but were not necessarily unhappy or dissatisfied that you had returned to your ‘roots’.

The difference between those who go away and those who stay is as old as time. The moment you have a human settlement, it puts the sons of that settlement in the age-old quandary: do I stay or do I go away? The daughters of the settlement might get married within the settlement or away from it, creating other kinds of tension and other kinds of agony or distress. And then: what about those sons and daughters who were only too happy to get away – I mean to go away? Centripetal and centrifugal, see? The same forces at work.

When I was with the State Bank of India in the ’seventies, I used to get sent to various mofussil, that’s suburban towns on training. The first thing that I noticed when I turned up at the ‘Treasury’ in Purulia or Jalpaiguri was the subtle difference between the clerks who would or could remain posted to that branch till they retired, while the officers were liable to get transferred to some other branch or maybe to the headquarters after a stint of two to three years.

The clerks stay while the officers go away. They have to. They have no choice. I’ve seen head cashiers with ten times more influence than the ineffective branch manager simply because the head cashier was a local – potentate, almost. People feared him more than they loved him, but the entire cloth business of that place would have come to a stop without that head cashier. I was lucky. Bidhan-da decided to treat me, a greenhorn probationary officer on training, as a kind of wayward nephew from the moment I arrived.

I was going to stay at the Huchukparah mess with the clerks, I informed the Branch Manager. An officer, even a P.O., staying with the clerks? the BM frowned. It was my first turn away from home and I’d be damned if I was going to stay alone or in a hotel, I told him. So he had to agree.

A mess is a chummery, of sorts. Ours boasted some of the most colourful characters I have ever met in my earthly existence: Subhash with the unforgettable comment, for instance, that long hair was like a coconut tree on the bank of a pond, tall but with little soil at the roots, no wonder that they fell off! Satya used to slow cycle around our wooden cots when he had nothing better to do, winding in and out of the rooms on his Raleigh – otherwise he used to sing devotional songs to Goddess Kali in his spare time.

Mornings that unbelievably tall and lissom and jet-black and pretty Santhal girl used to turn up at crow-crow and cry out in her melodious voice: ‘Need dried cowdung cakes?’ As fuel for the kitchen fire, not for eating, of course. We’d still be lying in our cots, unmarried young men with the unfulfilled sexual energy of ten King Kongs – but polite as hell!

‘How much for you together with the cowdung cakes?’ we intoned unisono, making her laugh, I’m a fool not to have married her. I went away, you see.

(To be contd.)