By Jackie Thakkar Feb. 27, 2018
In most of Mumbai, speaking basic-level Marathi is considered social currency. We rudimentary Marathi speakers are adept at doing “jhol” and possess an expertise in facilitating “mandavalee” with cops.
I grew up in a half Gujarati, half Marathi, and entirely English-speaking household. Needless to add, after a quarter century of identity crisis, my proficiency in both Gujarati and Marathi remains average at best. And while I’m grateful that I don’t have to subject unsuspecting bhais and bens to my sub-par Gujarati on a regular basis, I can’t say the same about Marathi. Speaking the language is a necessarily evil.
This was due in part because I grew up in Vile Parle, where my building was nestled between a misal pav dukaan and a Shiv Sena shakha. Most of my building friends studied at Maharashtrian Central or Parle Tilak Vidyalaya. Parla, as fellow manooses prefer to call it, is the mecca of everything Maharashtrian. Testament to this is an ungodly number of eating establishments with set menus comprising vada-thali peeth-bhajia, and kaande pohe. For variety, you go to Shiv Sagar because apparently, that’s what Madhuri Dixit did while she was studying at the nearby Sathaye College. If at least one person does not tell you, “Tula maahiti aahey na? Madhuri ikde pav bhaji khaayela yet hoti,” you’ve landed at the Jogeshwari Shiv Sagar.
It doesn’t take long for Maharashtrians to glue themselves to the achievements of other successful Maharashtrians. A normal Tendulkar fan is rabid enough; but a Maharashtrian who might have at one point spent two hours at Shivaji Park will make it a point to brag about how Achrekar Sir and Tendlya are his distant relatives.
Much like breathing the same air as Sachin, in most of Mumbai, speaking basic-level Marathi is also considered social currency (unless you’re in Bandra or SoBo, where your social media following will immediately take a hit). In your friend circle, if you’re the guy that can speak Marathi, you’re the first one they look to when they need bailing out. No, I mean that literally. Rudimentary Marathi speakers are adept at doing “jhol” and possess an expertise in facilitating “mandavalee” (negotiations) with cops. While it’s no big deal to most locals, some of my North Indian friends have expressed astonishment at me not having put it on my résumé yet. I always laugh it off, but I’d be lying if I’d say I hadn’t considered it. If MS Word can be a skill set, so can mandavalee.
Blurting out a “Kaka, mala zaau dya na?” with a sorry face is a reflex action to get out of even regular Marathi conversations that I’m dragged into.
I capitalise on this skill inadvertently: Blurting out a “Kaka, mala zaau dya na? (Kaka, please let me go)” with a sorry face is a reflex action to get out of even regular Marathi conversations that I’m dragged into. It stems from a decade-long career of being apprehended by cops at stop signals and then having to present my carefully rehearsed, verbose pleas of “Kaka, maazhi pocket tight aahey, please hey shambhar ghya ani mala jaau dya. Lahaan bhau samjhun maaf kara.” (Kaka, I am broke. Please take this ₹100 and let me go? Think of me as your younger brother.) Works like a charm!
Cops are not the only ones at the receiving end of annoying Marathi pleas. Domestic help, IMO, are most ruthlessly exploited by us pseudo-Marathi speakers. An entire generation of bais have been emotionally manipulated by their maalkins: “Tumhaala udya pagaar chaalel na? (It’s okay if I pay you your salary tomorrow, right?)” and “Maagchya ravivari daandi marleli tumhi, mi kahi bolali kaa? (Did I say anything when you took last Sunday off?)”
Closeted Marathi mavens come into their true element when dealing with pesky BMC karamcharis. After all, fast-tracking their housing society verification depends on how well they articulate a simple, “Tumchya chai-paani saathi pan aapan kahi adjustment karu ya na? (We can figure out a way to take care of your chai-paani.)”
But since today is Marathi Language Day, in pockets of Western Suburbs and SoBo, we’re met with declarations of “Aamchi Mumbai besht!” and “Mi Marathi!”. And a lot of legitimate Marathi speakers are looking at this as reason to celebrate since they assume everyone is gushing over their mother tongue.
Why doesn’t the Marathi Manoos realise that it’s all a ruse? Mumbai residents that are not Marathi speakers brush up on a few phrases to save themselves a beating. And the ones that learnt it as a compulsory third language during their sub-par SSC education, use it to peddle corruption, sweet-talk officials, and manipulate their domestic help.
For all the spiel about “Marathi Manoos Jagaa Ho”, we are really just a naive, oft-exploited people. A few compliments about our food and spirit and a day dedicated to our local language is all the gratification we need. That, and the occassional chai-paani, of course.