Shormishtha Panja teaches at the University of Delhi. She writes books on critical theory, gender studies and visual culture. She loves being a mom and enjoys travelling to new countries. She is borderline obsessive about food and Renaissance art and guards her collection of children’s fiction fiercely.
India's capital and its unique 'Koi Baat Nahi' culture
Posted on: 01:49 PM IST Jan 21, 2013 IST
All of us must have heard this phrase at one time or another: Koi baat nahi! Its rough translation would be "No problem!" or "No worries!" (if you are Australian) "Du rien" (if you are French,) and so on. When do we say "No problem!" or "No worries!"? In most cultures it is uttered by the injured party as a graceful means of letting the other person off the hook. Your friend has come 30 minutes late for a lunch meeting. Even though you are dying of hunger and all the good tables in the restaurant have gone, you smile gamely and say, "No problem!" when she pours out a flood of apologies and explanations about the traffic and her watch running late and that last minute landline phone call just as she was leaving the house.... When would an Australian cheerily say "No worries!"? Running the risk of racial stereotyping, I should say when a guest walks in for the bar-b-q just as the last prawn disappears, forcing the host to marinate and cook another batch of jumbo prawns super fast. When would a Frenchwoman say "Du rien!"? Running the risk of racial stereotyping twice over, I should say when the paper boy forgets to deliver "Le Figaro" on a Monday morning.
However, the Delhiite is an exception to this international protocol of courtesy. If the Delhiite says, "Koi baat nahi," in that robust voice so typical of Delhiites, rest assured he/she is NOT the injured party. No, by an amazing reversal of the usual courteous give and take that cements social relationships, the Delhiite boldly utters "Koi baat nahi" when he/she is the perpetrator of the social gaffe, the social sock in the jaw, the social kick in the backside! The friend who comes late to lunch softly and comfortingly tells you who has been waiting oh so patiently for 30 minutes, "Koi baat nahi...." Imagine the friend who forces the Australian to cook afresh for the bar-b-q cooing, "No worries!" or the French paper boy muttering, "Du rien!" to the Frenchwoman on Tuesday as a full explanation for the absence of the Monday "Le Figaro"!
And it is not just the social misdemeanour. 'Koi baat nahi' is a blanket term that the Delhiite uses to cover a gamut of situations from trivial to grave. An auto bus rammed into my husband's car, the auto driver got out and said, "Koi baat nahi-these things happen in Delhi!" and sped off.
The Delhiite offers a balm to frayed nerves and tempers with this magic phrase, the utterance of which suggests, ever so gently, that you would be boorish not to accept this charming invitation to see all the shortcomings of life as a mere ripple in the vast waters of the universe. And if you are unable to see this discourtesy as the miniscule faux pas that it really is in the giant whirligig of time-well, then, there must be something wrong with you. Yes, you need comforting. You need to reassess your priorities. You need not to get so upset over trifles. You may even need to check your blood pressure.
Is "Koi baat nahi" then the Delhiite's nod to the largeness of the universe and the pettiness of all human aspirations? Is this the Delhiite's very personal understanding of the workings of maya? After all, what is a little denting and painting when all your possessions are but dust in the wind?