Sunday, June 14, 2009

तूर्तास गाभण!

तूर्तास गाभण! - Presently Pregnant

Most would construe the above as a rather crude (and very rude) way to describe the condition of a woman who is on, or in the build up phase towards, maternity leave. Most ordinary normal people - and mind you ordinary and normal are key operatives here - would be absolutely bamboozled if told that the above phrase is part of a remark - rather a rhetorical question - regarding a cup of tea! What on earth does the state of pregnancy have to do with a cup of tea? (Unless some marketing guru were to try to do an MR Coffee on some brand of tea!)

Here's what -

Many of us Indians, thanks to the Brits, have developed the habit of sipping tea with "a spot of milk". However, unlike the Brits, we have a fondness for a good deal more than just a spot of milk. Also, very very unlike the rest of the world - we Indians 'cook' tea very differently. We don't add tea leaves to a kettle full of hot water and allow it to brew. We take a vessel with some amount of water and set it on the stove and when the water warms up a bit, milk, tea-leaves and sugar are added in ample amounts and the potion is allowed to cook on a high flame. If the tea being prepared is 'special' or 'masala' chai - it may be cooked entirely in milk with generously stingy pinches of cardamom, nutmeg or such other condiments. When properly cooked, the 'tea' / chai is filtered into cups / glasses and served. If served in a cup and saucer, it is customary to pour the boiling tea into the saucer and blow it cold before sipping it from the saucer. A regular cup of tea may be about two saucerfuls. A saucer is also a handy way to share a cup of tea amongst two persons - though this sort of camaraderie is increasingly rare nowadays.

India has millions of roadside tea-shops (tea-howels, to be precise), which employ kids to run a sort of tea delivery service. The tea-kids go about with a battered olf aluminium kettle containing boiling tea in one hand, and a clutch of tea-glasses often carried in a wire tray similar to the one used for milk-bottles in the good old days. Particularly dexterous tea-kids may carry a clutch of cups and saucers instead of tea glasses.

And, so the story, or rather the 'character sketch', goes that a certain elderly gentleman was served a cup of tea, along with a bunch of acquaintances. Upon siping a bit of the chai, the said gentleman opined that the tea contained a lot less milk than a bonafide cup of tea should contain. Now, a dressing-gown clad English or brown sahib, reclining in a garden chair with a tea tray set on a tea-poy before him would, on discovering the insufficiency of milk in the tea would simply order the sepoy to pour a spot more of milk into his cup, and that would be that!

But the gentleman in question was no sahib. He merely fixed a stern beady eye upon the hapless tea-kid and queried - "रत्नंगिरिच्या समस्त म्हशीस तूर्तास गाभण काय रे झम्प्या?" - which losely translated means - "Are all the she-buffaloes in Ratnagiri presently pregnant, brat?" When asked like this, the poor brat had no reply to make.

This stereotypical, but very very apt depiction occurs in the "character sketch" titled Antu Barva (अंतू बरवा) by the renowned Marathi writer, dramatist, translator, poet, lyricist, composer, actor, orator, singer, director - basically very multi-talented artist - named P L Deshpande (पु देशपांडे)
better known to almost all Marathi speakers as PuLa. And Antu Barva is the archetypical chitpavan (चित्पावन) a community among others, that inhabits a small litoral stretch on the western coast of India known as the Konkan, (to which yours truly belongs). A community of sharp, slightly lazy, thrifty and proud folk that is known for acerbic crooked speech - like the one sampled above.

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