Bandhs: A great Indian privilege

One of the great privileges of being Indian is that, every now and then, there is a bandh call, expected to ‘paralyse the nation’.

Ours has to be the one country where we protest by doing nothing.

When we want to prove our government’s twiddling its thumbs, irrespective of which coalition it is, we decide to sleep in. Anthropologists could see this as subverting the idea of a show of solidarity.

But people who want to understand India – especially the tourists who come here to find themselves, and end up losing their heads – must first come to terms with the cultural significance of ‘closure’ to us.

Let’s start off with the etymology of the word – ‘bandh’; noun, Hindi for ‘closed’.

The practical applications of the word are as unlimited as the reasons for which the political tool is invoked.

An argument is closed, we say, every few minutes, as we negotiate the price of a trinket by the road.

“Final price, madam,” the guy selling it says, “you look like Karishma Kapoor (or some other actress last seen on the big screen fifteen years ago) with those earrings. Only ten rupees. Argument closed.”

Baap re!” you scream (roughly translated as ‘Oh, my father!’), “that’s daylight robbery! I can pick up stones on the road and wires from the garbage bin to make these myself! TEN RUPEES! I’ll lose my livelihood!”

“Madam!” the guy protests, “See, these stones are hand-cut. The wire is hand-twisted. It’s one hundred percent original design. Nine rupees fifty paise, argument closed.”

He begins to pack it up.

You demur as you open your purse, “Eight rupees. Last price.”

He shakes his head, as he closes the packet and thrusts it at you.

You close your purse and begin to walk away.

“Madam, madam!” he runs behind you, “how can you close this off like this? Eight rupees, best price. Deal closed.”

You open your purse and he closes his palm over the coins, synchronising that with your zip closing over the earrings.

And the symbolism doesn’t end there.

“Why do you close the door immediately?” the relatives who’ve successfully carried out their mission of surprising us with a four-hour visit, right before Sunday brunch, demand, wedging a foot into the closing portal, “you don’t want to see us again?”

“What! How can you say such a thing! It’s so depressing when you’re away and we’re watching these four walls close in on us,” we remonstrate, and they are placated by our misery.

We further propitiate them by waving till their car disappears into the horizon before we close the gates, leave alone the doors.

This is why the rather prosaic word ‘bandh’ carries so much potential for drama.

The only ones who work on the day are those who must make sure no one else does – and those who are reporting this to a nation that is already aware of it.

But in a country as notorious for its hospitality as India, it is only fitting that the Opposition recognises the inconvenience such histrionics cause to government-run offices and that section of the general public that refuses to look at the brighter side.

They have been known to indulge their enemies by holding part-day bandhs.

My personal experience of this was a three-hour bandh in then-Calcutta. No one seems to remember who called it and why.

Hardly to be wondered at, as the half of the city that was awake at ten in the morning decided to have an early lunch for the duration of the bandh.

Nandini Krishnan

4 responses to “Bandhs: A great Indian privilege

  1. Sometimes bandhs are necessary when the ruling Govt do not care for its citizens and find itself helpless and indecisive agst rising prices.

  2. All these so called journalists writing all these columns are sold comedies. Most of them purchased by Congress then by Missionaries and by Muslim Oil money. But still some are who are addict to wine ,women and five stars culture. Judiciary and bureaucracy is also not listening the bows of common man. It is a awaful situation for common man and he runs here and there for some reliefs ,may be expecting from Bandhs etc.

  3. Whatever you said about Bandh is totally right. BJP does not give any impression of a party with a difference. However, is Congress not doing the same thing in states where it is in opposition? Didnt they do the same when NDA was in power? Are they promising not to call for any bandhs in future? Why all the people from media are behaving as if Congress is a matured and a responsible party?

  4. Bandhs do not affect the politicians. They break the back of the common man.
    We have a black holed economy, with crores of rupees vanishing at the macro level, and the disappearing small change at the micro level. GDP rise and inflation dips do not affect the grass root level consumer.
    According to an estimation based on a secret unpublished Report of Swiss Banking Association, out of aforesaid more than $7 Trillions, deposited in Swiss Banking System, about $2 Trillions deposits might be from India. This issue is still pending despite the G20 Summit Finance Minister’s Meeting. The IPL issues the tip of the iceberg.
    All political parties are committed to bring back this money.
    At the micro level, there is no value for the small coins. The largest denomination coin is the bottom of acceptable currency.
    Robert Clive netted £2.5 million for the East India Company and £234,000 for himself – equivalent today to a £232 million windfall for his employers and a cool £22 million success fee for himself, a cool ten per cent.

    The following Internet story is indicative of our chimerical economy.

    It is August. In a small town on the South Coast of France, holiday season is in full swing, but it is raining so there is not too much business happening. Everyone is heavily in debt.
    Luckily, a rich Russian tourist arrives in the foyer of the small local hotel. He asks for a room and puts a Euro100 note on the reception counter, takes a key and goes to inspect the room located up the stairs on the third floor.
    The hotel owner takes the banknote in hurry and rushes to his meat supplier to whom he owes E100.
    The butcher takes the money and races to his supplier to pay his debt.
    The wholesaler rushes to the farmer to pay E100 for pigs he purchased some time ago.
    The farmer triumphantly gives the E100 note to a local prostitute who gave him her services on credit.
    The prostitute goes quickly to the hotel, as she owed the hotel for her hourly room use to entertain clients.
    At that moment, the rich Russian is coming down to reception and informs the hotel owner that the proposed room is unsatisfactory and takes his E100 back and departs.
    There was no profit or income. But everyone no longer has any debt and the small town people look optimistically towards their future.
    “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office” – Aesop

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s