“If you can’t answer a man’s arguments, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names.”
- Elbert Hubbard (American editor, publisher and writer, 1856-1915)
What is it with Indians and belligerence? The local populace seems to nurse an innate pugnacity – why else would people flare up at the drop of a hat and go to great lengths to assert their egos over the other?
We are a nosy bunch, we are. We like to jump in and join the fight when the issue is of no concern to us at all. Any little altercation on the road, for instance, becomes something of a roadside circus act, where all and sundry are invited for a ringside view. Then everybody takes sides (after first ascertaining that they are in the majority, of course) and a shouting match ensues. Pull out all stops, every aspect of your “opponent” in question can be insulted and degraded. The sidekicks will nod their heads vigorously and chorus, “Ah! Ah!”
One such debacle sparked off on a bus that Ducky and I once boarded from Bangalore to Kundapur, near Mangalore. A passenger wanted to recline his seat to catch a nap and the person behind him objected. Why design a bus with reclining seats, or more importantly, why board a bus with reclining seats if you’re going get so sore about it? Anyhow, logic does not go down well with natural crabbiness.
An argument ensued, which slowly boiled over into a clash of communities. As luck would have it, the two contesting parties were from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – arch rivals of South India. Each side yelled about how their state was better than the other. I was trying to catch a wink and was getting increasingly annoyed with the cacophony. “How about I stand up and yell that I can spit in their primary water source and they wouldn’t even know it?” I mumbled. Not that I have… or will… or even plan to… but I COULD. (For the lesser informed, Coorg, from where I hail, is the birth place of the Cauvery river, which feeds both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.)
As the voices became more raised, more and more curious necks craned over their seats for a better view. Our neighbor, seated at the front of the bus, finally decided that he would lay down the law – even if he wasn’t in the least way connected to either of the parties. In fact, I suspect, he did not even have a clue about what they were arguing about.
In any case, loudest and most enduring foghorn wins – that is a given. Also, he silenced both parties by yelling in Tulu – a language local to the Mangalore coast and quite foreign to both Kannada and Tamil-speaking debaters. However, he had some stiff competition. After a series of “Ah! Ah!” indicating agreement, another neighbor stood up and yelled in Tulu. Then to completely drive home the point, he roared in Kannada and Tamil. I was quite flummoxed as to who exactly he was challenging. Nonetheless, his polyglottous show of strength silenced all opponents. All except our neighbor, who added another “Ah!” and a head waggle for good measure.
Suitably silenced, all parties sank down in their seats – reclining or not is anybody’s guess.