Tales of Shivaji Park

Aniket Dhoble, like most men in his colony, was sexist but believed he was progressive. He’d often say, I’m a frogressive male. He said it so often his wife, Dhanashree Dhoble, believed it too.

I belieu him, she was heard saying on more than one occasion to her friends whose husbands also believed they were frogressive males. The men felt they were proud owners of working wives who had not lost their real focus — making tea for tired husbands.

The women were sexist too. Being sexist was something their mothers subliminally taught them, it was something their husbands reinforced. Dhanashree would often judge colony girls by the lycra in their denims. Jins are tight. See see, she’d tell her friend Sudha Kulkarni who secretly loved fitted denims and hated that the men in the colony weren’t slut-shammed for their ball-busting, green jins.

Aniket and Dhanashree had a middle-class son, Anirudhha, who from a very early age had learnt to remind himself of his Maratha pride every time someone shouted his name.

Anirudhha, he’d ferociously correct people. Not Anirudh.

A few years later, Anirudhha would go on to join Ruparel Junior College along with several studious Marathas whose fathers referred to themselves as upper middle-class but secretly knew they were just middle class.

Call me Ani, Anirudhha would say to college girls. As a nickname, Ani never stuck though. He hated being called Anirudhha and that’s what they called him. That and Dhoblesaheb.

The boys in his class would introduce him to girls. Anirudhha called such a rendezvous an intro.

Bro, give intro no, he’d say.

Dhanashree Dhoble didn’t like what hormones were doing to her son. She found a shaving razor in his bag once. She might as well have found condoms. From time to time, Dhanashree would smell her son’s t-shirts to check for perfume or lipstick stains. But all she smelt was knock-off Axe deodorants from Dadar station.

One night, she found condoms. That night, she wept. Her son was growing fast and soon he would be married and have Maratha kids.

Ten years later, Aniket Dhoble died, still a middle-class man. Anirudhha got married to his college sweetheart who would call him Ani with reasonable frequency. She’d call him Anirudhha only when she was upset or during sex.

One evening, Anirudhha was walking home from the gym. He wore flip-flops and tiny shorts. He was carrying the free gym-bag they give new members who sign up for yearly memberships. That’s when he saw some young kids in the colony practicing human pyramids for the upcoming dahi handi. They wore saffron t-shirts; gifts from the local corporator who was too fat to climb the pyramid himself.

As he saw the pyramid, Anirudhha was reminded of Dhanashree Dhoble’s words, Our culchurr is the besht. Something she believed solely because according to her women from other castes and communities had frequent sex before marriage.

And then it hit him.

Culture is dynamic. Culture is evolving. It’s not what his parents, Aniket and Dhanashree, conditioned him to believe.

The culture we have now is just a result of the acceptance and rejection of certain variables in time. Things that would be rejected today would go on to be accepted tomorrow. Like kissing or bikini scenes in Hindi films, or swadeshi politicians wearing collared shirts.

Culture, it occurred to him, has always been in a beta stage. It could never be preserved in any pristine form. He understood that the introduction of outside variables was as important to the evolution of culture as it was necessary. Examples like gobi manchurian and chinese bhel raced through his head. He liked jain capsicum pizza.

If cauliflower and manchurian sauce could co-exist, then why not people from different cultures?

Was the pride in people’s own culture dependent on their disdain of other cultures?

Were people ignorant of this idea?

In that moment he knew he wasn’t ignorant anymore. That made him smile. He felt a peaceful stillness. He knew that tomorrow he’d be more accepting of people.

Tonight he would make love to his wife. And he would be okay with her calling him Anirudhha Dhoble.