CID (2)

… “Yes, madam?” the kind marriage officer was asking. The bride kept silent. The marriage witnesses were waiting. The bridegroom was sweating. Will she, nil she – read the oath in English? Pindrop silence in the room – it’s the Tis Hazari Court building in Delhi, remember? Otherwise there’s no such word as ‘pindrop’ in English, I just checked in Oxford. Neither as a noun, nor as an adjective. Must be an Indian coinage.

The electric fan did not squeak. It was a new one and whirled at half speed gently stirring the papers on the marriage officer’s desk, while the accused as well as convicted criminals, for all I know, shuffled past on the corridor outside. And then the bride spoke. She continued speaking. I don’t think the Indian marriage oath – in English – has been read in a more sexy German-Polish accent in the history of civil marriage on the subcontinent. I could have married her for that marriage oath, for that accent alone.

What does that have to do with my CID, my cultural identity?

CID or C.I.D. is the abbreviation for the Criminal Investigation Department of India – as also the title of the famous 1956 film with Dev Anand in the male lead. Since then, there’s not an Indian dead or alive who has not hummed Leke Pahela Pahela Pyar while having a pee or while NOT having a pee, not everybody having a bathroom to sing in, in India. But check the song out all over again on YouTube or wherever and you’ll realise that it’s Indian rock n’ roll at its best, it rocks, it rolls, it’s pure rhythm, it makes you dance – from the days before the bhangra beat conquered India and the West in a kind of double whammy of reverse colonialism… where was I?

There should also have been a Cultural Investigation Department of India, for example, examining the bhangrification of Bollywood film music. This CID should have had a foreign wing operating from the embassies and authenticating the cultural bona fides of NRIs and PIOs and all the other phrases and abbreviations for expats that the Indian govt. comes up with from time to time.

The cultural attaché at the embassy could issue the CIDs, for example, to people like us, stating it in percentages: thirty percent Indian, twenty percent German, ten percent illiterate and forty percent dalda instead of ghee. Or the attaché could ask one of us Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin to read an oath of cultural allegiance in our respective mother tongues, such as Oriya or Bengali or Hindi – would be almost like K. reading the marriage oath in Tis Hazari. Can I or can’t I? Read Bengali after all these years, I mean. You see, school, college and university were all in English, and it’s been German ever since. You don’t seriously expect me to read this thing – out aloud, for God’s sake! – in Bengali, do you?

I had no difficulty reading the oath – in English – at Tis Hazari. It wasn’t half as sexy as K. reading it but she seemed to like it, so who cares. And who cares that I, we, didn’t have our big fat Indian wedding. We’d submitted our papers a month earlier and pushed off to Goa for our honeymoon – before the marriage? There must be a mistake somewhere. My stepdaughter – naturally not ‘our’ stepdaughter, silly – was with us. We stayed at a ‘holiday village’. It was in the middle of the monsoon, with the eight mile beach entirely deserted and nobody venturing to set so much as a big toe in the raging Arabian Sea, with armadas of cumulus nimbus rolling in to conquer the Indian peninsula in a swift two-month campaign. I took pictures: sea and sky all in black-and-white, as if before the discovery of colour film. The colour was all on the landward side, dark green and velvet because of the monsoon.

Mira Nair should have seen it.

CID

Hankering back, hankering for the past, hankering for that which is not – that’s what the Americans call it. Used to be called nostalgia, in our days. They call it the Big Fat Greek Wedding syndrome since 2002, somebody was telling me.

Basically, let’s assume that you are one of the lucky ones who made it; you made it to the prosperous & liberal & secular & democratic White Man’s West – or maybe you didn’t even have to try, your parents made it – in any case, you’re living in the West and having a slight problem with your cultural identity, are you? Join the club.

There are two sides to that, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective, I’d say – still talking about your CID, your cultural identity, so don’t buck. Let’s say we’ve reached the stage where YOU have practically started thinking that you’re an American, or a Canadian, or even a German, or whatever, in whichever country you might have landed, or your parents might have happened to land – in all over again? Tell an Indian that English is a foreign language and see what happens viz. he goes up in smoke.

Well, landing and take-off, those are two essential operations or activities in the lives of all migrants, from bird to man. You take off, you land; and then you take off and you land again, back where you started, unless the fox has eaten you in the meanwhile.

You lay an egg or eggs, as your parents had done, on foreign soil – and watch it (or them) turn into a bird very unlike you! You feel culturally cuckooed, though it’s just nurture screwing up nature – well, be thankful you don’t feel culturally castrated, as I do at times. They took away my child without even trying. She grew up into whatever young women – out here in the West – grow up into. ‘You don’t agree?’ my wife says: ‘Didn’t you marry one?’ Who or what is she talking about? Ah, that intercultural disaster, our marriage. She was so pretty and sexy and clever and free at the time, you see, I got carried away.

So what happened to my big fat Indian wedding? You know, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. Came a full year before the Greek one, as a matter of fact. Repeat: so what happened to my big fat Indian wedding? I’ll tell you. It was in the Tis Hazari Courts Complex in New Delhi: criminal cases being heard all over the place, lawyers in black coats scurrying down corridors, the accused or the convicts being led around in handcuffs. My future wife – near future, just minutes away – my future wife wanted to have a pee. Was she nervous? Funny, I simply can’t pee when I’m nervous. Incompatibility, see?

Well, there were three scruffy and dejected looking men in handcuffs squatting in front of the closed – and padlocked – door of the toilet. So no pee for my future wife. Marriage yes, pee, no. That was her big fat Indian wedding, right in the middle of the monsoon, believe it or not! And almost twenty years before Nair made her film. She should have asked us.

And then my future wife – what future? It was all happening right then and there, in that small room in the Tis Hazari court building, with a Muslim marriage officer administering the oaths, the two parties to the marriage being a Hindu and a Christian, resp. All we needed was a Buddhist clerk and it would have been a marriage of religions to please the Pope.

And then it happened. That moment of stillness, that sudden cold shiver down the spine. The marriage officer was asking my near wife, my imminent wife, to read the oath – in English!

You see, we’d known each other for three years by then; we’d been lovers for two years and ten months; I knew she spoke German, Polish and a bit of Russian (learnt in school); we’d always spoken German with each other – but English? She’d had English in her lycium, why they chose the French word to designate a high school in Poland, I’ll never know, just as they call the tram tramway, pronounced tram bhai, which would be Brother Tram in Hindi … where was I?

What if she said, ‘Sorry, no English’ – in German? Or Polish. Or Russian. Can you imagine how long it would take to get a German or a Polish or a Russian translation of that marriage oath? We’d be old men and women by then, all our seven children born out of wedlock. That is what I was thinking.

‘Yes, madam?’ the kind marriage officer was urging…

(To be continued)