All the characters here are entirely real, and resemblance to anyone you know is not a coincidence at all – of course, with the rider that there are honorable exceptions to every stereotype … Most entrances to homes greet you with a ‘Welcome’ mat, or maybe a pair of plaster hands in Numuste pose, or even a sticker proclaiming “Guest is God”. The Maharashtrian's front door, however, will greet you with the terse suggestion: “Slippers here” … (Note the economy of words – Lesser mortals would have wordily said: “Kindly remove your slippers here”). Other such injunctions include: “Ring the bell, and WAIT” or (of course in Pune) “Salespeople and hawkers will be handed over to the police”.
Once you’ve run that gauntlet, and been allowed entry – but only after a good, long 2-mins inspection from the peep-hole – chances are that you’ll be left to find a place to sit, while the family disappears inside to wear shirts and pull on trousers over their banyans and striped boxer shorts – the “Kulkarni Bermudas”. That done, it is not unusual for them to announce, “We just had tea”. And that is that. Don’t take it personally. We are like that only. If you had visions of chai and pakodas, you're in the wrong part of India. The Rest of India may waste time and money on hospitality. We have better things to do.
The Maharashtrian shopkeeper extends this rather dim view of visitors to his customers too. Just because circumstances have placed him in a position to have to soil his hands with the degrading task of selling things, that doesn't mean you take undue advantage of him, enter his shop, and rub it in, by actually asking for merchandise and service, dammit. They've got their strategy worked out. While one may greet you with a “We don't stock it”, another may helpfully point you towards some more enterprising shopkeeper (who is dismissively referred to as ‘non-Maharashtrian’) where you can take your custom. And if you still foolishly insist on being told the price of something in his shop, he'll put you in your place by saying: “It’s expensive”. While the other crass and shameless pursuers of business open up yards of cloth and waterfalls of saris for you to choose from, the Maharashtrian shopkeeper will indicate a tightly packed stack and ask you to make your choice quickly. No “Aiye bhenji, kya piyengi?” obsequiousness from him. If it was legal and didn't cost money, he'd hire someone to stand there with a big stick so that you don't annoy him by entering in the first place. Many shops carry a stern warning on a little blackboard right at the threshold: “No pointless ("phaltu") enquiries”. This includes asking for directions or for change for a hundred rupees, asking what time it is, asking for water to drink or for the price of anything in the shop.
But here's the thing: We’ve had women doctors and writers and thinkers for over two centuries now. We’re big on education and reform. We’ll change trains, take buses and walk to lectures on the most esoteric of topics. We’ll come out in full strength, ages ranging from 9 to 90, to fill the classical music halls to capacity, delighting musicians from all over the country with our discerning ear.
Quite contrary to the rest of our famously brittle, black-or-white character, we Maharashtrians are sensitive and responsive music listeners. We may not like everything we hear, but we will rarely reject anyone outright. We attend music programmes round the year in gratifyingly large numbers, to listen to the rising stars as well as to applaud setting suns.
For decades now, Maharashtra's Hindustani music listeners have been a performer’s delight. Many a singer/player has said that it is always rewarding to perform here. And if not rewarding, it is highly revealing, because the audience usually has a discerning ear, which has heard a lot of music, and will make its pleasure and displeasure known, gently...