Friday, February 8, 2008


For once, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna got it dead right when he said while flagging off Delhi Police’s Traffic Patrol Scheme on February 07, 2008 that “North Indians feel it is a matter of pride to break the law and get away without getting penalized.”

There is little doubt that Khanna was speaking as a Punjabi who was fully aware of the loud and aggressive psyche of the proud people of Punjab and their closely related brethren of Haryana and Western UP. But look who is complaining! Not the guys he really had in mind; they remain proud of the inseparably linked manner in which they act and speak! Khanna may have well made them feel an inch taller by his statement! The politicians shouting the loudest against Khanna for uttering a home truth are from UP, Bihar and Bengal!

There was a time when it used to be acknowledged without any trace of embarrassment that the only culture in North India was agriculture! Can’t blame them because ever since Alexander paid a visit to the North well before Jesus was born, people of the region have virtually lived in what has been India’s permanent war zone where many famous and decisive battles have been fought for more than 2000 years. Things are not too different even today.

The focus for so many years has been on survival. Where was the time for people to leisurely indulge in the arts and other facets of what we call culture? Therefore, the spoken language, body language and the overall behaviour have all developed to be aggressive, even offensive. As a matter of fact if someone is not aware of the tonal nuances of some North Indian dialects that I would rather not identify, he would be perfectly justified in apprehending that a guy is about to assault a woman when in fact he is telling her that he loves her!

The malaise that Khanna has identified is not limited to ordinary individuals. Try speaking to policemen in Delhi and in the identified areas around it. They take even greater pride in showing off their power and above-the-law attitude! For outsiders used to more ‘civilized’ inter-personal interactions, the experience can actually be traumatic. In the Army too, officers joining regiments having troops from some regions of the North have to be prepared for the ‘culture shock’ that they will be exposed to when interacting with their men who need a ‘different’ approach to remain on the right side of discipline. Needless to say, their fighting abilities are naturally inborn!

Let us face it. As you travel southwards, spoken languages become softer and the behaviour of people gentler and more respectful. Fascinating facets of ancient Indian culture too begin to emerge in all their diversity, complexity and richness. South of the Vindhyas, the difference is too marked to be ignored. In most areas, there is an unmistakable tranquility and peace that is conspicuous by its absence in the loud and ‘crude’ north.

In the southern parts of the country, you also won’t find people jumping queues as matter of divine right. Strangers won’t mock at you or harass you as they do up north. In most parts, you will have a far better chance of leading your own life in relative peace without neighbours, friends and strangers intruding into your space without a care. And, of course, you can expect a refreshing politeness and respect when you speak to people and policemen!

Paradoxically, the untamed Punjabi in Lieutenant Governor Khanna keeps emerging all too frequently as he hops from one controversy to another and functions in as much an ‘above the law’ manner as almost every Punjabi loves to with unconcealed pride! He definitely knows what he has said. He also knows that he has not said it to run down someone, as hysterical reactions from some politicians will want you to believe.

I think we need to keep our ability to take criticism and laugh at ourselves intact. That is part of the real zing, the effervescence of North Indians that has enabled them to say ‘Balle Balle’ and sing and dance even in the most trying circumstances that history has thrown at them with monotonous regularity.

CNN-IBN’s motto is to get news “whatever it takes”. That about sums up the attitude of the people of the North that Khanna is talking about. They have to get ahead, whatever it takes! Any law that holds them up, be it a queue or a red light at a crossing, is theirs to break by right. Chak de!