“Ughich Kashala?” The Two Words That Kill All Maharashtrian Dreams


“Ughich Kashala?” The Two Words That Kill All Maharashtrian Dreams

Illustration: Sushant Ahire/Arré

As a seven-year-old on a family vacation in Rohtang, I proposed to build a small snowman. “Ughich kashala,” my mother asked me. I didn’t realise it then but it was a profound question that has stayed, not just with me, but with my entire Marathi community.

In the eternal Battle of My Community is Better than Yours, everyone has enough arsenal to use against the other. Punjabis grow up with weddings that don’t end. Marwaris grow up with families that don’t end. Maharashtrians grow up with a measured cynicism that doesn’t end. It’s expressed in two simple words: Ughich kashala?

“Ughich kashala?” is a response that every Maharashtrian grows up receiving; every Maharashtrian grows old giving it. There is no Maharashtrian alive who hasn’t heard this at some point in his/her life. Literally translated, it means “needlessly why”? But at a broader level, it exemplifies the attitude of my community in general.  

Maharashtrians are famous for being diabolically lazy and spectacularly unambitious, and it may all boil down to the existence of this phrase. My people use “ughich kashala?” like a casual tugging of the leash, as if to gently remind you that you are not that free, you don’t have that much time to spare, or that there is no need in the first place. And Maharashtrians tug the leash very liberally.

You don’t have to announce your candidature for the Mars Mission to hear it. It is thrown as a response to questions as simple as: Can I climb a tree? Ughich kashala? It is used to quell ambition: I was thinking I should start a business. Ughich kashala? It is used to put you in place. I was thinking I’ll go to Japan for a vacation. Ughich kashala? It is used to give you a reality check. I was planning to make ice cream at home. Ughich kashala?

Ughich kashala is the reason there aren’t enough great Maharashtrian businessmen out there. It is the reason we aren’t known for our entrepreneurial streak. It is the reason we don’t try different things. You’ll never hear of a Kesari tour to Siberia. Or a Marathi couple honeymooning in Mongolia. You’ll not meet too many Marathi artists at Kochi Biennale. Because, you know, ughich kashala?

There is nothing better than the dry, disinterested, borderline judgmental “ughich kashala?” to apply as an acid test to endeavours not worthy of effort.

Before I get attacked by the Sena, let me quickly add that Maharashtrians make for the best employees. We are the best people to hire: We are punctual, sincere, and god-fearing. We don’t have it in us to quit. If Mahatma Phule had said ughich kashala to Savitribai, women probably wouldn’t be studying today.

Maharashtrians have their set of Tendulkars, Gaitondes, Shivajis, and Kirloskars. But herein comes another gem that the community takes pride in. We have a famous saying, “Shivaji janamla pahije, pan shejari (Shivaji should be born, but to the neighbours).” Because Maharashtrians understand the singular fact that it is difficult to be parents to pioneers and risk-takers. The risks of success are palpable. Success comes with sacrifice. It is fraught with danger. Our community loves an achiever, applauds one, even names things after one, but it’s just more comfortable if pioneers are born to the neighbour. Borrowed glory is always safer and easier than having to suffer to get there. Being born to a neighbour gives you the licence to boast without the trouble of hosting the hero.

Success depends on what you’re willing to give up and my community has figured it out very early on that no matter what one does, there can only be one Einstein or Zuckerberg or Tendulkar or Gaitonde or whoever else. So, instead of finding out after all the years of back-breaking work that you aren’t the one, why bother starting. Ughich kashala?

With time, I’ve come to realise that there is infinite wisdom in this way of thinking. If everyone burned with ambition, who would work to sell insurance? This theory that everyone is extraordinary is paradoxical and Maharashtrians have recognised it early on. If everyone is extraordinary, by implication, nobody is. And if you need to be ordinary, why bother trying? Why end up ordinary when you can start there? Why work hard toward being something you naturally are?

Maharashtrians, in that sense, are almost Zen. This way of thinking is very cosmic, in one sense. It helps you realise that you are an insignificant someone, an insignificant blue dot in this colossal universe. It helps you admit the fact that no matter what you do, in the larger sense, it is futile.

I didn’t make that snowman. Just as I didn’t do many things in life thereafter. There is nothing better than the dry, disinterested, borderline judgmental “ughich kashala?” to apply as an acid test to endeavours not worthy of effort. And now as the time comes to attach this essay to be sent, I ask myself the same question. Ughich kashala?

The answer is: Because I have now written it, what do I do with it? Not sending it would be a waste of effort. Creating for the sake of creating is a rich man’s game. First they ask, “Why create?” If you do, they say, “Why didn’t you use it? Ughich kashala?”