In 1835, presenting his views to the British Parliament, on the education policy for “the intellectual improvement” of the “comparatively ignorant natives” of India, Thomas Babington Macaulay stated, “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” For Macaulay, this notion, of training Indians to eventually become “fit vehicles for conveying [rational and modern] knowledge to the great mass of the population,” was integrally tied in to his larger mission to civilize India. Over time, Macaulay’s vision, to create a class of anglicized Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians, was not only realized, but so internalized by the natives themselves, that there came into existence a new social class. These Indians imbibed the belief that their relative proximity to the British, their education, wealth and affectation afforded them a level of prestige that set them apart from the hoi polloi. In short, they were the brown sahabs, and therefore inherently superior to the aam junta.
Fast forward a century or so and meet the Silverwood people – our very own living, breathing brown sahabs, the barey aadmi. The recently departed Sir Agha ji, a scientist, Mama ji, his violin playing widow, Appo ji, his aristocratic sister, his Oxonian son, the “comrade” Jaanu baba, and his daughter Bibi, who is obsessed with teaching her children propah manners, all relics from another era. While all are as different from each other as chalk and cheese, the one thing that separates them from the rest of the townspeople is their innate belief that they are actually a class apart. Hence Bibi’s constant admonitions to her children, to not blow spit bubbles and behave like cultured people, and Appo ji’s irritation with the neech log, and the maamooli midwife’s daughter, with whom Jaanu baba not only deigns to “relax,” but also has the temerity to offer her chai in Mama ji’s finest china! How dare he hang out with such unattractive (literally and figuratively) women?!
Appo ji’s ire, though funny, is not only reminiscent of Macaulay’s pompousness, but also reflective of the deeply entrenched divisions in contemporary society. Today, perhaps more so than ever before, these differences appear insurmountable, primarily because these are not just economic in nature, but have evolved over time to become an intrinsic part of our moral and social fabric. Education, which ought to have brought us out of our backward looking ways and introduced us to modernity, seems to have only deepened preexisting class divisions, where speaking the Queen’s English and spouting Shakespeare is valued more than being a good human being. Relationships, rather than being based on mutual love and respect, appear to be more and more based on making the right connections, and of course, ensuring the continuity of the brown sahab silsila by producing an heir from an equally pedigreed mother. Enter Nawab Monty.
Prince Monty, so suave and charming, was seemingly the answer to all of Bibi’s woes. Alas! He turned out to be as evil as the silver-tongued Jaanu baba and the snow queen Appo ji. Elitist to the core, all he eventually cared about was securing his wife’s jaidaad and ensuring that his nawabi superwoman of a wife could fulfill her khawahish for aulad. Gloriously oblivious to how he was trampling over Bibi’s sense of self, Monty kept on rambling and rationalizing his decision to marry this guaranteed fertile woman… Argh!! Monty had better not cross my path any time soon!!!
Sarmed Mirza was fabulous as the toofan ki soorat aaya aur ghubar ki tarah bikhar gaya Monty. As a maiden outing this was definitely an applause worthy performance. His nuanced portrayal of this eventually asinine character had us initially rooting for the gentlemanly Monty, the hapless lover who had had a crush on Bibi since his bachpan, one who gave Bibi hope, that there was perhaps a way out of the darkness engulfing her life, one who promised her the sun, the moon and the stars, … and then …. sigh! All I can say is that my frying pan has a standing date with Mr. Monty’s perfectly coiffed head.
This was an episode of endings and beginnings. Monty’s exit from the lives of the Silverwood people might have been felt much more acutely, were it not for Baloo’s entry, Kamoo’s long lost son, the kisaan leader. The children have already warmed up to him; Zoyee’s pause, to peer in to Monty’s jeep, and then merrily continuing on along her way signified, that for the children at least, Monty was a closed chapter in their life. Baloo’s utlity to the Silverwood people has been effectively established by the writer and director. Much as she hates him for his less than illustrious credentials, our brown sahaba Appo ji is forced to ask the man to fix her bathroom shower —hai Appo ji! Kin kin kami kaminon ko bardasht karna parta hai aap ko! Hina Bayat is simply outstanding as the very colorful Appo ji!
With Baloo all set to rile them up against Jaanu baba’s injustice and exploitation, will the proletariat rise to voice their claim against their mai baap? Ironically enough, though the Silverwood people view themselves as a step above, they are no better than the rest when it comes to dealing with women. Rather than hurtling abuses at Monty, as they rightly should have, they see Bibi as the antagonist. Faced with what she perceives as yet another rejection by her family, where does Bibi go from here? Though very much a part and parcel of the elitist Silverwood clique, Bibi is also its most vocal critic. Is this latest incident going to be the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back? Looking forward to seeing how the brown sahabs rally around to protect their turf and territory. Eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Silverwood saga!
Talkhiyan ~ Episode 11
Written by SZ~