Pride and Prejudice
One of the foremost Marathi writers, Pu La Deshpande is an all time favourite and one came across this piece which he had presented on AIR (All India Radio). He was a writer, actor, musician and a mathcless performer. Basically someone like a Sobers of the Marathi stage. The speech does involve cricket and in the current MNS/ Shiv Sena campaign of 'Mumbai for Maharshtrians', this piece becomes quite relevant as well. One point to note - it was written some 30 years back so some content may be dated. Enjoy!
"You Maharashtrians are so quarrelsome!" a non-Maharshtrian friend of mine said to me when I had just finished a conversation on the telephone.
"What makes you think so?"
"Now look here, I have been listening to you for the last fifteen minutes. I do not understand your language but can't you people be a little more polite?"
"But I was polite!"
"Please don't tell me that." He threw up his hands in utter despair.
But I wasn't telling him that. I was complimenting an actor friend of mine on his excellent performance on stage.
"Is that how you compliment a person in Marathi?"
How else does one compliment? I was telling him that he is one of the most sensitive actors on the modern Marathi stage.
"Say that to me in your language again."
I repeated the performance of giving compliments in Marathi. My friend sat with his eyes closed, as if he was listening to some stormy musical piece. "Fantastic!" he said. "If this is how you sound when you give compliments, would you kindly give me a demonstration of a good healthy quarrel?"
I obliged him with one.
"Hardly any difference between the two!"
With due deference to my friend's ignorance of my language, which incidently is described by one of our Marathi saints as one 'that wouldput the divine nectar to shame in its sweetness', I am prepared to concede that we Maharashtrians stand firm on our vocal chords. This vibrant pedestal has its advantages and disadvantages. Our tremendous love for the theatre and classical music has its roots in our strong language. We shout when we should whisper and grunt when we should shut up. Marathi when spoken softly sounds fake, unnatural and even hypocritical. The only way to silence us is to allow us to talk till we are left alone. We are quickest not on our toes but on our tongues. There is a saying in Marathi- paradoxical enough for the genius of the language and its users - that a thundering cloud never bursts. We Maharashtrians have thundered and have burst also!
Cold calculation is something alien to the Marathi nature and spirit. Our reactions to anything that happens around us are quick and vocal. We are a rather impatient race.
History fascinates us more than the present. The present always bores us. We either look forward or backwards but rarely around! We are in a great hurry to convert the present into the past and start loving it.
Strangely enough, there is something very common between the Marathas and the British. Like the Britishers we are also a bundle of contradictions. Love for the past is a common trait. As a race we are conservative but we have a curious admiration for the non-conformist. Maharashtra was once described as a beehive of social, political and educational reformers. A very apt description! A beehive indeed with both the honey and the sting!
Coming back to the comparison with the British I could make another point. Our love for the theatre. Like the English theatre we too have our old quiet dramatists and the new angry men thriving side by side. The old hero has to sing atleast fifty songs to convince his beloved of his bonafides. The modern one has no such pretensions. He hates music like he hates one of his future in-laws. But we Maharashtrians bless both of them. We love the first one for his strongmusical voice and the other one for his strong hatred of music. Theatre forms part of our life. Send two Maharashtrians to the North Pole and they will start a Marathi Dramatic Society, which after the first performance will dwindle into two! America boasts of having one car per four persons. We maharashtrians could say the same thingabout dramatic societies. A Marathi town can easily dispense with a dispensary but not a dramatic society.
Like the English we love cricket. An average Marathi child played with a sword in the good old days of Shivaji, when diplomatic relations were established by sharper methods. The British offered the cricket bat as an alternative. We Maharashtrians gripped the new weapon with the same historical enthusiasm. Football did not interest us so much as cricket. Kicking is not a martial pastime - we prefer a hit and a throw. Even here losing non-Maharashtrians must have noticed that many a wicket has fallen through a strong Marathi appeal from the wicket-keeper's end than the google wiles of the bowler. A full throated appeal from eleven Marathi voices for an lbw has sent quite a number of umpires' fingers in the air through the sheer vocal impact.
That is why even music when it springs from a full-throated Marathi singer or a songster, doesnot give up its martial trait! Unless a 'baithak' or a concert ends with a free style fight with the tabla pounder, it fails to please the discerning Marathi ear. Softer forms of art like the delicate Manipuri dance where the dancers quiver like a bunch of gladioluses, has hardly any effect on us. The aggressive Kathak attracts us more. However we have left the more aggressive Kathakali to our southern neighbours. It is not that the aggressiveness frightens us. Perhaps the expensive costumes have made us write off this fantastic dance from our minds. It may also be true that classical music fascinates us more because it cuts down unnecessary expense on the orchestra. One tanpura and tabla with one good voice can do the trick.
We are, as everyone in this country knows, a poor people. Our soil has given birth to a number of patriots, warriors, musicians and even poets - some evn of an exceptionally softer variety. A half-straved Marathi economistworrying about the national food problem is not an uncommon sight in Poona or Bombay. A Sanskrit pandit forgetting his meal over a grammatical error in Kalidas can still be seen burning the midnight oil. The Marathi soil has retained such pre-historic qualities, I wish, however that the soil had restricted itself to giving a little more grain which is its primary function. Our mouths give out much more than what they can take in.
In the field of business, we have satisfied ourselves by remaining retail purchasers rather than wholesale dealers. A Marathi shopkeeper is a pathetic sight. A Marathi contractor is looked down upon as someone who through his sheer inability to sing, act or deliver a speech is following the humble profession of making money. He builds houses to make us live in them. And we Maharashtrians live in them disagreeing most of the time with almost everyone worth disagreeing with and making use of that wonderful gift of nature - our vocal chords.
But come to think of it, what better gift could nature give us in these days of democracy, after our swords were sheathed? From ancient Wars of the Roses we have come to the wars of the phrases and my Marathi language has many such phrases to put enough warmth into modern cold wars.
From the self appointed keepers of Marathi pride we come across the keepers of Telugu pride. By asking the Deccan Chargers to boycott IPL because they moved the opening ceremony from Hyderabad to Mumbai, the state's sports minister has scaled new peaks. Sports and politics do literally mix in this country and the mixture is extremely potent and hazardous.