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Shuddh Shakahari Desi - "My Lah Lah Land"

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"Shudhh Shakahari Desi" is all about you and me: my exposure and experiences with your culture, your food, your language, your music blended in a humor curry of my own hopeless attempts to become you and my struggle to evolve as the sole epitome of National Integration, as I grew up and cultivated my own self embracing all of my nation in over 15 states in India. Am hoping you will find some of yourself with a bit of me strewn in here...

 

Episode 13

My Lah Lah Land

"An-an-yaaa Mukherjee? Sister of Rani Mukherjee? Your name sound like banana, so many n and a lah! So, you study in overseas ah, your English so ang mo! No? So how mah? Where in India are you from? Bollywood?"

That's how I was inducted into the red dot in 2003. No, my parents did not think of a fruit when they christened me; not all Mukherjees are related, and convent schools in India actually offer great education. We know our "Whwaats" and "Dyorings" thanks to amazing teachers in school, and our Wren & Martin lives through all the dust and spite of grammar lessons. Also, India has many more cities than Chennai and Bollywood (Bollywood by the way is no city with a pin code). It took me a while, actually a little over 10 years to understand that “khar phaak” meant carpark, “can can” had nothing to do with Coke or Fanta and was an affirmative as sure as “Can do” and that “no have” was not a distorted theory in Marxism but simply implied “I don’t have it”. Also, call it a fallacy of my upbringing in a secular democratic nation, it took me a good many years to register and respond to seemingly inane questions like “Are you a foreigner? How your skin so white, ah?” With time, I realized it was not a racist remark, no one was trying to make a judgment on my skin, but a simple lack of general knowledge classes in elementary school made India limited to the Deccan. For my creed, the North Indians, another lesson you learnt when you stepped offshores, and it had nothing to do with Agastya was that India was divided into two halves-North and South. In the South, everyone was a Tamil and Chennai was the most happening of Indian cities; the North was Bollywood and everyone was part of a Suraj Barjatiya flick dancing in a lavish family wedding in a farm house somewhere in the world.

My daughter, of course was a quicker learner than me. Having started her Kindergarten here, she not only spoke Mandarin, ate Chicken Rice but also befriended the locals like twins separated at birth or the proverbial kumbh ka mela. Her best friends in Kindergarten were Ching Wei and Goh Ching Wei. My foodie Bong soul, very conveniently and much to her disapproval registered them as salivating Bong delectables --Chingri and Golda Chingri (prawns and tiger prawns). Her friends were not seafood on a platter, she told me categorically and she hated the distortion but it helped me memorize names that sounded like references to sauces in my kitchen cabinet. I was also told Fish Head Curry was India’s National Dish! I freaked out at the sight of big fish eyes floating in a red curry looking straight up at me when I was offered it the first time. But with time, I learnt to say “Sorry fish, I love what I am eating. You are dead anyway” and ruthlessly learnt to avoid the “gaze” and savour the curry. Then, of course, fellow native Indians told me how the locals were the coldest, most distant, uncooperative inhospitable population in the world. No one smiled, no one even bothered if you were dead or alive. No one even romanced! The government was at several points pushing campaigns called Romancing Singapore, Smile Campaigns and Kindness movement to encourage people to live, love and laugh! However, all this was hearsay and interpretations of individual perspectives.

Let me share two anecdotes with you today. If you have ever visited or lived in Singapore, you would know that there are only two seasons here-rains and more rains. It was in one of those evenings with a torrential downpour when I came out of office and helplessly searched my bag only to realize that I had forgotten my umbrella. Now, that’s a taboo in this island. You can leave home without your spouse but never without your umbrella. That is unpardonable. However, I had already committed the grave mistake of forgetting my umbrella and the rain was too heavy to give me a Mandakini shower in Singapore’s bustling Central Business District. It was also very windy, like a cyclone swirling up the island in twists and turns. I stood under a little shaft for a little over 20 minutes, hopelessly praying that it would stop at some time and I would make my way to the nearest tube station just across the road, when out of the blue I saw a very young Chinese executive braving the lashing rains and crossing the street. He had a huge umbrella in his hand which he very chivalrously offered to me. We crossed the road; I said thank you. He smiled and left without a word. A very simple act but I was reminded of an adage I had learnt a long time ago-- “There are always good people around.”

In another instance, my four inches heels gave away at a rather awkward moment. I was formally dressed in a business suit rushing to a meeting and running down a staircase to catch a cab. The darn left heel just dumped the sole. So here I was in a black business suit, looking oh- so-propah but inclined at a 72 degree angle, stranded helplessly like a damsel in utter distress in the heart of the city not knowing whether I should break the other heel too or walk bare feet into a client meeting as if I were on a pilgrimage! I don’t know if it was the sheer vulnerability of my expression or the benevolence of the young lady who came again right from nowhere to offer me a pair of slippers she apparently had in her hand bag. Her exact words were, “I just came from the gym. I have a pair of slippers that you can use. I can’t see you like this.” I stood transfixed at the stranger’s generosity, unable to respond, thanked her profusely and asked how I could return the slippers. “Don’t bother,” she smiled and left me speechless. In hindsight, from that day, be it a conspiracy of fate or a providential coincidence, I would think Singapore became home.

From there till now, as the old Chinese security guard holds my condominium's gate for me as a daily ritual and hails..."The most beautiful lady in Floravale...", the smiles we exchange as I beam "Thank you, Uncle" somewhat embarrassed, somewhat flattered, to the cabbie who smiled from ear to ear and said " Gong Xi Fa Cai. Bless your family," this morning, to Emily, my tea lady in office who tells me every day like a guardian health monitor if I look bright or dull or "face so thin" and "eyes so lovely", to the salesgirl who serves me Gelato and does not take an order because she knows my flavour, to the lady at the counter at Guardian who by the medicines I buy knows I am unwell and enquires about my health like an old friend, to the spirit of the red and gold, to all things and people that make me feel at home in this tiny red dot! And yes, in case you are still wondering what mystery lies behind that lah….it simply means, love! Gong Xi Fa Cai! May the lunar new year bring you peace, good health and prosperity!

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About the Author : Ananya Mukherjee, former editor of HRM Asia, is an acclaimed writer and journalist with more than 1000 publications to her credit. Her journalistic acumen in print and television covers a whole gamut of subjects including politics, lifestyle and business. She is a passionate short story writer, columnist, avid reader, keen traveller, blogger, theatre artiste and a trained dancer. Ananya currently lives in Singapore and spearheads Internal Communications in a Multi-national Company.

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What a lively post! Thank God

What a lively post! Thank God for the goodness of people. Somehow, I would not expect this in Singapore.

You have just redeemed this city for me. Having said that I am really not qualified to judge, having visited for a short vacation twice in the Seventies and an equal number of times in 2006. I did meet Shahrukh Khan at the airport, along with his body guard, just the two of them.

To be honest, I had still not seen any of his movies ( true!) and changed that soon after. The impetus to watch his movie came from a chivalrous act of kindness he performed for me, which I should write about separately.

My outstanding memories include a DOSA being made on a street food card in Tanjong Pagar, where I did some shopping. It was then a predominantly Singaporean CHINESE area, the other memory is off a saree shop on High? Street and a white hotel around there. I can bring these up in my minds eye clearly, even today.

Now I can also see a young CHINESE man with a wide umbrella, a woman in active wear flushed from working out in the gym and of course you daily encounter with the doorman!

Thanks for sharing, and don't forget the umbrella! Stay dry.

Warm regards
Veenu Banga

What a lovely feedback

Thank you veenu. You took me with you down your memories and am glad I could present my lovely lah lah land in its true colours to you. Do visit us again...
Ananya

Loved it!

Loved your column ! Totally related to it as I was in Singapore briefly in 2001 when I was newly married , homesick and craving chicken corn soup ! I remember fainting in horror when the chicken soup I ordered came with a whole chicken feet !
Of course the "can can" used to crack me up too!

Thank you for bringing back warm memories !

thanks tonnes

smiling still at your sight of a chicken feet ....ditto!

. I was also told Fish Head

. I was also told Fish Head Curry was India’s National Dish! I freaked out at the sight of big fish eyes floating in a red curry looking straight up at me when I was offered it the first time. But with time, I learnt to say “Sorry fish, I love what I am eating. You are dead anyway” and ruthlessly learnt to avoid the “gaze” and savour the curry.- HAHA I laughed my head off! Loved this piece.

Preeti

thank you

Thank you so much Preeti. Laughing aloud and together is such a stress buster!

Brilliant writing. I am an

Brilliant writing. I am an immigrant too and I can totally relate to your piece.
Swati.c

thanks

Thanks Swati.
Regards
Ananya

Brilliant!

Ananya, I am still laughing - a few minutes after I finished treading your piece! Keep that humor coming. Love your Shudh Shakahari Desi column.

Many thanks

your positive feedback keeps me going. Many thanks
Ananya

God Bless You

Ananya, Today was a specially boring and dull day at work and while i was looking for something to cheer me online (including eshopping websites), chanced upon your writting and i am so glad i did. It brightened my day. The ease and flow with which you write is incredible. I am sure these words are oft repeated for you and you have heard them too many times.

I know about you through Pritha (No, i dont know her personally, only through Facebook). And i chanced upon your writing through her (from her comments on your post). I love what both of you write (cant claim that i understand everything) but still it brings a smile.

God bless you.

Thanks a ton!

So humbled by your remark.
Thank you.
Ananya