Bombay vs Delhi. No it's not the same argument that will continue here. Rather it is a perspective on how the culture and history of the two cities influence the language of the people. Having lived in Delhi for a better part of my life, coming to Bombay and getting to understand the lingo itself was a journey of intrigue and learning for me. In fact it is here that I learnt the difference between lingo and language.
I still remember that day. On the streets of Bombay, people were so civil and polite. But the language they used had violent undercurrents. Consider this: I asked someone for directions to a place I could not find after 20 minutes of going round and round in my car. And here's what I was explained very gently and in a very understanding way, I was told "Madam ...aap yeh road seedha pakaro, phir pehla signal se right kaato ...wahan pe left mein ek bada si building giregi ...uske khatam hote hi daba dena...bas aap pahunch jaooge."
Having not spent enough time in Bombay, I was a little perplexed at the lingo. Why is it that each word had a violent veneer....pakro (hold onto it), kaato (cut), giregi (will fall), daba dena (smother, throttle)...I wondered. The same directions if said in the Delhi language would have sounded polite..."Behenji...ap is road pe seedhe le lo, phir pehle signal se right jab logey to left side par ek badi si building dikhegi...us building ke ekdam baad apka pata hoga." Sure, the language would be civil but whoever would have given me those directions in Delhi would have said it in the most lewd manner for a woman driver or just even a woman and especially one who has lost her way and looks like she can do with some 'extra help'.
Why was this so? A polite sentence spoken by an uncivil tongue in one city. And a lingo sprinkled with violence delivered gently in another. One wonders if the city's historical past and cultural moorings had anything to do with this. But for the similarity of number 7 shared by the two cities, the two are like chalk and cheese in the annals of Indian history. Mumbai is an archipalego of 7 small islands and Delhi comprises of remnants of 7 ancient cities. The similarity ends here. After this, one only witnesses diametrically opposed happenings in their past.
For starters, Mumbai or Bombay has sound etymological routes. Mumbai owes its name to Mumba Devi, the revered deity of the local Kolis. And Bombay is derived from the Portuguese 'Bom Baia' which means Good Bay. Delhi or Dilli's origin is vague and conjectured to some unknown Dhillu ruler who is not known for any other achievements. Or worse it is attributed to Dhillika which has its Sanskrit route in the word 'dhili' or loose.
Delhi has seen a far more violent past than Mumbai. Delhi always remained the object of desire for its ancient rulers and dynasties. Mumbai a center for trade and prosperity. Delhi was raped and plundered as a symbol of conquest. Mumbai was used more as a center of dissemination of commerce and religion. Indeed whatever monuments we see in both cities are silent testimony to how each city was perceived by whoever ruled it.
As far back as 3rd century BC, Mumbai was under the Maurya Empire and under Emperor Ashok, the rapid spread of Hinduism and Buddhism was evident in what we know as Kanheri, Elephanta, Jogeshwari and Mahakali Caves. After the Maurya Empire, the Gupta and the Silhara dynasties left their indelible imprints in what we know today as Mahim mosque, Banganga tank and Walkeshwar temple. Much later when the Imperialists powers came to be, the city itself got its name and was given as a dowry gift to the bride of Charles II. The first Parsi, Dorabji Nanabhoy built the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence in Malabar Hills around the late 17th century. Much later the East India company built the Gateway of India to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. So many rulers. So many change of hands. But not once did the city witness any siege or plunder. Mumbai was not perceived that way by its rulers. It was a city that had an immense capacity to absorb all cultures, faith and religions. It was indeed a city that wore each new patina as a fabric of life and interestingly depended on it for sustenance. It was a city that gave to its people and people wanted to give it back...just as they would to their mothers.
Delhi on the other hand has not been so fortunate and fecund. It was always perceived as the well endowed courtesan who begged to be plundered. Indeed, it is said that Nadir Shah got so much wealth from plundering Delhi that he didn't have the wherewithall to carry it all back home. In fact, despite being plundered so many times, Delhi has had the amazing resilience to regain lost glory only to become a victim of greed yet again. All the monuments are a testimony to the many pillages it has suffered. Whether it was the barren gift to the Pandavas that transformed into a haven in Hastinapur/indraprastha, or the Mauryan Empire or even the Tomar dynasty, or even later with Prithviraj Chauhan or Qutb-ud-din Aybak of the Slave dynasty, all Delhi ever saw was a series of forts and townships that became part of the seven cities. Even Qutub Minar was built as a defense watch tower or a symbol of victory.
Even in the Mughal Empire that ruled the city for almost three centuries, built more forts, more tombs and established more townships of which old Delhi or Shahjahanabad is one. Till Nader Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali defeated the Mughals and the city came under the British Empire. So what we see of Delhi is more of the 20th century Lutyen's Delhi. There is no monument standing as silent testimony to peaceful or prosperous times. It has been a lustful thing to possess. Delhi has borne the scars of the past with stoic resistance. So how could the victim ever become vanguard?
If that is true, then why the language difference. I guess it is the lingo difference and not the language difference. Mumbai has a distinct lingo that Delhi cannot boast of. It is a delectable combination of all cultures it has embraced in the past. And how it is delivered is the real evidence of its cultural moorings. So we cannot blame the Delhiites for Delhi's historical wounds. Subliminally, the city has passed them on to its denizens. So the next time you find a Delhiite's behavior offensive, remember it is the city's past that is festering on his tongue and it only behoves a Mumbai heart to forgive them.