Indian Humour

One of the striking things about India is the humour of the people.

            During one visit two lawyers flew down from Delhi to meet us (they had unrealistically promised me that I could get Indian citizenship since my Grandfather had been born in India).

            Before we even sat down to breakfast I was asked who we were dealing with. I gave him a name which happened to end in ani. “Oh, that’s terrible.” he said, “they must be Sindhis” (the Sind is part of Southern Pakistan adjoining the Indian border; many Sindhis, with Hindu associations were forced to escape to India at the time of partition in 1947). He continued, “We have a saying in India- if you come across a Sindhi and a snake together, first you kill the Sindhi and then you kill the snake, they have reputation for sharp practice.”

            That was not our experience. We had a good relationship over many years with our Indian Partners.

            We were the guests of our Indian partner’s manager in Chennai (Madras). He was very hospitable taking us to ancient sites and introducing us to useful contacts, so we got to know him quite well over a few days. While driving through a village, as there often is, there were cows lying all over the road which we had to wait for until they moved, so I asked our host, “Mr Raghavan, I know cows are sacred to Hindus, but what do you do when they get old?”

            He looked at me blankly for a moment and then replied, “We sell them to the Muslims. What else can you do?”

Having finished our business in Madras and not wanting to go through the tortuous process of changing our flights back to Mumbai, we arranged a day trip to Trivandrum in the southern state of Kerala, where we were hosted by a Mr. Singh. He ran a business much closer to what we needed and talked about print runs of 70 000 and more. We had lunch at his home with me keeping my left hand firmly in my pocket and making sure I only ate using my right hand.

When we returned to Mumbai I said to Mr. Chatlani, the principal of our Indian business partners, “We spent the day with Mr. Singh in Trivandrum, he said he was a friend of yours.”

Mr. Chatlani looked at me for a moment and asked, “He said he was a friend of mine, did he?”

I nodded.

“Remember that story I told you about a man in Kerala who owes me one hundred thousand dollars but is paying me off as a result of a court sanctioned order at the rate of four dollars a month.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well your Mr. Singh is the fellow in question.”

Nobody laughed.

Guy Hallowes