Lunch hour at Perth office is a time for a short walk along Hay Street and a choice of various food types from among the hundreds of tiny, not-so-tiny and not-tiny-at-all places. I usually hunt for Indian, vegetarian game. Maya Masala downstairs has been shut down (their food was not good anyways), Kebabs and NYC have been visited over the week, so it was time for a stroll down the street towards other veg-game places. The Great Indian Curries (no worries!!) was closed even before I left Perth eight months ago. There are various other Indian places on the street close by but those can be classified under high-end-game areas, so it was a walk to the Hay St Mall food court, to Thali.
Walking down the street I made my usual one minute stop at the Elizabeth’s second hand bookshop. A table outside the door carries two dollars and 4.95 dollars collection. It used to be one dollar and two dollars a year ago. This, to me, is the only place with affordable books in Perth. If your mind works with a conversion to Indian rupees calculator whenever you buy something, you can’t buy a 30-40 dollar book which it costs here on average. And mine works just like that. No luck today with the books and I move on.
Perth is one of the cities, an example of the now growing trend, where Chinese outnumber Indians. Chinese are competing Indians in the global race of ruling the foreign cities. Perth it seems has over a million of them infact if your nose works fine you will smell the Chinese all around, I mean the food. Lots of Chinese places and their usual variants which I as a general rule stay away from, they don’t believe in veg-game it seems. There is no shortage of junk food here in Perth as well. The McDonalds and KFCs along with their many brothers and sisters (Red Roosters, Hungary Jacks, Burger Kings, and various other names that one doesn’t care to remember) rule the streets. On a thought I decide it’s been a long time since I had had some junk-game and to get some today. Baku hardly affords such options so I steer myself to the junk section of the jungle and go looking for some junk-veg-game. One of the places has a veg burger.
The line at the junk-game-places is usually longer than the others. I get in one. To me it is such an easy place to order anything. All you have to say is this-combo-please or that-combo-please, yet all these Chinese folk in front can make it a special affair. I think on principal they can’t do anything without making it an occasion. After all the Chinese people are satisfied with what they want it’s my turn. I say one veg combo, medium, no ice (please) and ‘Navi’ relays the order into microphone and I let the next person place his order (guess he was Chinese as well). Amid my attention on all the Chinese around and following Navi’s movements on the other side of the counter I forget to get the receipt (only remember it when I am back inside the office), so these ten dollars which I am entitled to claim from company will have to be made up in some Indian way, some sacrifice observing hindi-chini kinship.
One thing that very rarely happens in this place is someone asking for a veg burger or at least that’s what I think after nearly ten minutes when I am still waiting and by now getting tired of staring at Navi. Even she is restless by a sardar staring at her (so shamelessly I must add). I am trying to make out the name. It could be Navdeep or Navpreet or Navleen or Navjot or any of the other Nav+++’s. But it definitely is a Punjabi name. When finally a veg burger is ready the guy on next counter picks that up and hands to the only other veg-game-hunter around who incidentally has just placed his order. Navi nearly has a heart attack and tells the fella in no mean terms that I have been waiting (and staring at her) for ten minutes. The other guy is Punjabi as well and Navi’s message in Punjabi confirms my assumption in the guess-a-name game. Maybe it’s just Navi. But Navi Kaur sounds funny. Anyways the next burger makes an appearance much quicker and with an apologetic smile (and a thank God countenance) Navi hands me the meal and I find myself a place.
“Main Hindi bol lete hoon” someone shouts in the background. I turn my head around to see a sardarji sitting with a girl. It was the girl who was speaking, a little too loudly. After a short interval she continues “old movies are good. I like. I like Hindi movies. Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachan.” “Meena Kumari” sardarji adds. “Yes, my mom also likes Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachan, Meena Kumari.” Then it is quite for a while. Now the ears are all trained onto the direction of conversation, waiting for the next act. She says something on Punjabi that wasn’t very audible but it gets sardarji started. “Very proud of our people, very proud of our culture, very proud of our lands, very proud of our language, very proud of our religion, very proud of our country”. There must have been few more very prouds and some repetitions as well. Finally, he takes a breather. But there he is back again, “Manmohan Singh, you know? Prime Minister is a Sikh as well.” There are few lines which he says in a little lower volume which are more on the lines of “Manmohan Singh is the best economist ever”. Then he rests his case.
There was a long gap after that, which I used for a good effect to bite through the pile of chips and burger. After a while I had to turn my head to check if my lunch time story was still around. They were. The girl was writing something on paper. A little while later the voices were back in action. “Aap bolenge wo jis Punjab nahi dekheya…” A pause and then she remembered it, “jis Punjab nahi dekheya wo paida nahi hua. In Punjabi, please say it”. The gentleman was happy, it seems, to have aroused some Punjabi spirit. He obliged. “Jis Punjab nahi vekheya oh jameyah nahi”.
It was with few friends in Bombay that I went to see this play at Prithvi. The pimary object was to visit Prithvi, sit there for a while and if possible catch a play. We were on time for the play and in luck with the tickets so watched which I could surely say was a very good performance. The story of a women left behind in Lahore in a huge ancestral haveli during partition, found there by the new owners after they move in, the old lady adamant on staying there, slowly but surely loved and liked by the family and neighbours and mohalla, there were the usual hardcore fundamentalists villains but in the end, as in most of our tales, good always win over the evil. The play was well directed, acted and presented. Jis Lahore nahi vekhya, oh jameya nahi.
It’s time for the walk back to office. I throw the trash into bin. Sardarji is gone and the girl is also next to the trash bin. Some things can’t be helped and with me it’s more of a case very many times. I have to feed this urge of spreading the gyan. “I could not help but overhear your conversation. It’s not jis-Punjab-nahi-vekhya, it is jis-Lahore-nahi-vekhya, oh-jameya-nahi”. And suddenly it dawned on her and she goes, “Ohh yes, now I remember it”. I am not sure of the origins of the proverb but have a feeling that it talks of the glory days of Lahore (and Punjab). It refers to Lahore when it was the center of the true Punjab, the land of five rivers when it had five flowing through it. So I did defend the Sardarji by putting forward the Punjab and Lahore case. And then I was on my way.
As I stepped out I heard the lady call “You from Lahore?” I let her catch up and replied, “No the other side of the border, from Punjab in India”. Apparently she wants to clear few things and as we walk to the crossing she goes on, “I lived in Lahore for ten years when I was young and just now I remembered where I picked up this saying.” I again apologised for butting in but told her that she was shouting in there in her attempt to speak Hindi and I could not help but overhear. “The old man had hearing problem” she said, “that’s why I had to shout plus I was writing on paper as well to talk to him”. So that explains both the shouting and the occasional silences.
It was red lights at the crossing. She didn’t look Indian and her English was anything but Australian and she didn’t seem Australian either. “Where are you from?” “Afghanistan”. The pedestrian lights went green and with the flow of humans I turned right as she turned left.
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