"You have become such a Dilliwaali," my friend grumbled, when I visited him in Calcutta last month. How so? Because, he said, my sense of humour had become "north Indian" and I’d started laughing at "Punjabi jokes". "Now," he continued grumbling, "Soon, you will want to get married to one of those North Indian Males."
What — or who — are North Indian Males? Oh, the men who inhabit Delhi, he said airily: matter-over-mind, bullies, no brains, all brawn, driving rashly, listening to bhangra music, vulgar show-offs, etc etc.
"But north India has so many states," I protested, trying to recall my Class IV geography lessons. "Delhi is the final frontier," he stated firmly. "Or, the last straw: take your pick."
"Aren't Bengali men worse?" I countered, suddenly protective of North Indian Males. "They are all supposed to be wimps and mama’s boys."
"Nonsense," my friend’s wife spluttered. Then, she changed her tone. "Babu here," she cooed, fondly petting her husband’s lustrous crop of hair, "is not his mother’s baby; he’s my baby." "By the way," said Bengali Male, a trifle embarrassed by all that love and fondling, "You too are becoming a show-off."
I plead guilty on that count. Ever since the low-cost revolution took off in India, I’ve started taking "flights" from Delhi. My Great Escape is invariably Calcutta. And I phone home and tell my folks "My flight will land..." instead of "My train will arrive at..." There is something undeniably distinctive about that. So, yes, I admit I have become a show-off.
While coming back to Delhi once, on a no-frills flight, I found myself seated next to someone who — I now know — qualified as a ‘North Indian Male’. He fished out an iPod from his jacket pocket and started fiddling with it. "Sir, please," piped up a flight attendant, flashing a toothy smile, "You can’t do that here: no cellphones on the flight."
"This is not..." began North Indian Male, but, by then, the hostess had swished down the aisle. "I think she was trying to hit on me," he declared smugly. Then, it was my turn. The conversation was interminable. This was his first trip to Calcutta. He loved it. But Delhi was Delhi: karmabhoomi. He usually travelled by Jet, but this trip was hurried and someone botched up his bookings. And so on.
At 35,000 feet, he announced he had motion sickness. But he never throws up, he assured me when he saw the look of alarm on my face: he only sees stars - and that too on long-haul flights. "Like French Kiss?" I asked. "You mean lip-lock?" he said enthusiastically. "No, I mean the Meg Ryan movie… Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha was the Hindi rehash." "Oh, that," his voice tapered off, his enthusiasm suddenly punctured.
At the end of two hours, there was a crowded sky over IGI airport; we spent half-an-hour circling. North Indian Male complained that he had started seeing stars. And I suddenly saw the light.
A few months ago, I’d spoken to a ‘cabin crew training institute’ faculty member who told me that one reason why the airline training sector, like everything else in India, was booming was because a record number of women want to become flight attendants. Their parents hope they meet Fat Catches on board.
The flight was touching down. "Er, maybe you were right," I looked at my new friend. "The air hostess was probably hitting on you."
"No way," growled the now-grounded North Indian Male. "She didn’t even realise that I own an iPod: she thought it was a cellphone."
So perhaps, on balance, my friend in Calcutta was right about North Indian Males.