The Delhi that I visited recently is vastly different to the Delhi that I had lived in between 1980 and 1983. It is but natural, but one of the most cherished meetings that I had during my recent visit was to my old colleague and friend Jagdish. I actually took over from Jagdish as Regional Manager for North India and Jagdish stayed on in Delhi in a different position and was of great help to me professionally and in my personal life.
Jagdish can be recognised anywhere for his ready wit and sense of humour and great laughter. He and his equally delightful wife Asha had visited me in Pune last year and my readers can understand the bonds that tie the two of us despite the fact that I left the employment in that organisation in 1990 and Jagdish retired from it a few years later.
This story involves Jagdish and will give you a chuckle or two. During our meeting at Delhi, both Jagdish and Asha remembered this particular incident with great relish. Jagdish and Asha are real names and I do not have to hide their identity for the purpose of this post.
Our business was in the hands of some very old established firms of Delhi who were wholesalers. Almost all of them had migrated to Delhi from Peshawar which is now in Pakistan, at the time of partition and all of them had struggled hard to create a new life in India having lost everything that they had in Peshawar.
The Peshawari culture is characterised by its flowery language with great emphasis on politeness. Some of the phrases used are music to the ears of people who understand Urdu / Punjabi, which fortunately I do. Some typical phrases are peculiar to the Indian subcontinent where non blood relationships mean a great deal and a form of talking about them is almost poetic.
This story revolves around that kind of prose, which translated into English loses much of its charm but the humour will come across alright. I hope.
One of the Peshawari Sardars, insisted on giving a farewell cum welcome party at his home for Jagdish and me and we were commanded to bring our wives along. Jagdish informed me that this was something that I should not deny to maintain the good relations that he had so assiduously built with the Sardar over his long stint as Regional Manager there, and I agreed.
When we arrived at the venue, which was the Sardar’s home, it was to enter an old fashioned home with a front room directly opening on to the street, but on crossing which, one entered a courtyard with all four sides built up with rooms. As we entered, the Patriarch and his good lady welcomed the four of us in the anteroom with garlands and escorted us to the court yard where two rows of young Sardars and Sardarnis were lined up facing each other. At the foot of the lines three tables laden with fruits, dry fruits and a variety of snacks and one with the finest spirits and beer were invitingly arranged.
The Sardar indicated that they were his children, their spouses and grand children and then turned to Jagdish to invite him to introduce me to all the family. The subtle message being conveyed to me was that Jagdish was like a family member who knew all members of the family and that it was expected that I too would integrate myself with them in due course.
The beauty of the request was in the language used.
Sardar : Jagdish Saheb, please introduce the family to Rajgopaulji. (With a typical gesture with a flourish.)
Jagdish : Sardarji, they are your children, you introduce them.
Sardar : They are your children too. You do the honours.
Jagdish : Okay, if you insist, I shall do the honours.
Jagdish then took me by my arm and led me to each of the men standing there and without faltering even once, introduced me to each of them. Asha in the meanwhile was doing exactly the same thing with Urmeela among the womenfolk. This was and in many parts of India, still is the norm and it is only after a certain informality is established that the men are introduced to the womenfolk.
The Sardar proudly walked behind Jagdish and me and was very happy with Jagdish’s performance. At the end of the line, we were led to the three tables with the Sardar insisting on fixing the first drinks himself, and the women folk retired to their side of the house. As soon as I found myself alone with Jagdish, I asked him in all earnestness if this was part of the perks of being the Regional Manager, Delhi and Jagdish readily agreed that it was, but this was special as the Sardar and a few others will be happy to see the back of him and wish to celebrate his departure rather than a regular feature.
It was after the party was over and the four of us were in the car returning to our residences that Jagdish remarked that we would have a few more such parties to attend, one offering things better than the other. I again asked Jagdish about the perks when he finally got the joke after Asha the sharp one, got the nuance and explained in Punjabi to jagdish.