[Note: This is the unedited version of my column published 15 Sept, 2012 in The Deccan Chronicle & Asian Age newspapers]
Not a day goes by without someone being offended by something that was said or done. What exactly is going on? Is the number of offensive people on the rise? I put the blame squarely on our education system. For years, parents and teachers have taught kids to be honest and upright—and look where that has got us! Even our moral science stories are misguided. Take, for example, the story of the king and his new clothes. A vain king is deceived by two weavers who have apparently woven a cloth so fabulous that only a wise person can see it. As the king parades around the city in his Bittoo banian and underwear, the people stay quiet for fear of being seen as stupid. But then an obnoxious kid points out that the emperor is not actually wearing anything. Now, for years, we have told children that the moral of this story is to be honest and brave. But surely, that’s beside the point! There are is a more important lesson to learn from this story. Namely, don’t be an obnoxious little twit. Don’t stand up and say things that others, especially emperors, don’t want to hear. Even if it’s the truth. Especially if it’s the truth—you never know how that might offend someone.
As I pondered these serious issues, I realised that I had never exercised my constitutional right to be offended, unlike so many of my fellow citizens. I had never been responsible for a ban on a book, a movie or even a cartoon. Ashamed at not having done my national duty, I thumbed through the newspaper looking for things that offended me. I immediately found Justice Bhaktavatsala. As someone who believes in equal rights for women, I was very offended by his ruling that a Davangere Benne Dosa was the solution to all marital woes. Surely, more is expected of an honourable judge. Doesn’t he know that is the Madras Rocket Dosa that is the glistening hero when it comes to domestic violence issues? One taste of that papery goodness, and even he would be ready to move into the maximum security prison and “adjust” to life with a thug. But just as I was gearing up for the good fight, I saw something even more offensive. It was an ad for a new apartment. “Vajra Wispy Willows”, the advertisement said, “Oasis in the metropolis! Sit back and relax in the sylvan surrounds of Ecchumipalya.” The ad had a picture of rolling English meadows with people in hats. I turned to the next page. “Introducing Shikha Sherwood Forest! Answer the call of nature just 5km from Bangalore city centre”. This one had a picture of three Scandinavian kids with bad haircuts.
To say I was offended would be an understatement. The ugliness of these names was the ultimate insult to our glorious Indian culture. It also brought back painful memories. See, we had once lived in this apartment called Hema Buttermere, and I still carry the scars from phone conversations like this one:
Me: “I’m in Flat 106, Hema Buttermere”
Caller:”Hema what? Baadam-ear?”
Caller: “Ah, got it! Hema Buttermeter! ”
The family had been initially excited about living in a posh-sounding flat, but even their enthusiasm was dampened when they heard the full address: 106, Hema Buttermere, Opposite Esteem Raja Men’s Saloon, Elandapazhamnagar 1st Stage. Our only consolation was that the flat above the saloon was called Hampton Court.
What makes this issue worse is that the developers are unashamed. When asked about the fanciful English names, one developer is supposed to have said, “It’s like naming your child. You are naming a dream. My child is called Sheetal but she is little violent type. So what? Same way with Bhishma Bayview. Is there bay in Bangalore? Of course not! But madam, the dream is there!” Another one said, “Buying a home is like seeing a bride. Everyone is wanting modern outlook but with traditional values. So only English names, European gardens on the outside, and full Fabindia-type furnishing inside.”
Even as you read this, I have finished preparing my case for this insult to Indian culture. I am seeking an immediate ban on all apartment names with foreign words in them. And fear not, dear reader, I am not alone in this fight. My fellow residents of Buckingham Palace are right behind me.