(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 6th February, 2010)
I’ve always been an elitist. I like combining an Epicurean lifestyle with Victorian manners. I exaggerate my horror at the thought of eating ‘street food’, and usually refrain from dancing to ‘item numbers’ at weddings. Having had my hair plastered with coconut oil till I was old enough to object, I was quick to categorise my former kind as the ‘Coconut Oil Brigade’ in school, and found a new genum, ‘The Synthetic Salwar Brigade’ in college. At work, it was the ‘Sirrnnhh Category’ – people who couldn’t use first names without suffixing them with ‘Sir’.
But recently, an experience threw me into a conundrum and made me review my prejudices. It was an encounter with the ‘Yov Brigade’. The Yovs are the male counterparts of the ‘Paw Brigade’ (the women who say, “ei, this tops is looking nice, paw!” when they like your kurta, and who sport orange contact-lenses). The Yovs start every sentence with “yov!” and are usually found in abundance at the beach, in movie theatres and outside colleges where the Paw Brigade gets its education.
On the fateful day this incident occurred, my brother and I had gone to see a much-hyped Tamil film, which turned out to be an amalgam of ‘Titanic’, ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Apocalypto’, ‘10,000 B.C.’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘The Gladiator’ and ‘300’. Apparently, the director has promised to give up his profession if anyone can prove his movie is influenced by Hollywood, and I hope someone does. But the truth is, we would not have survived if it hadn’t been for the remarkable creativity and timing of the ‘Yov Brigade’ sitting right by us.
From yelling ‘Lakalakalakalakalaka!” when an anachronistic king gives one of the skimpily clad female actors the once-over, to drawling, “technology had improved very much!” when the remnants of a purportedly ancient Tamil kingdom began firing machine guns at the army of the anachronistic king, they kept the audience entertained enough to make me watch the film again, just to trip on it.
As we walked out of the theatre, one of them turned to his friend and said, “yov, did you understand the film?”, to which his interlocutor replied, “yov, the director himself didn’t understand the film. How do you expect us to?”
Those three hours, which I would have regretted forever if it hadn’t been for the Yov Brigade, have left an indelible mark on my life. You might curse them for keeping up a running commentary when you’re trying to lose yourself in Tolkien’s world, but there’s nothing you wouldn’t give for their company during a movie that spoofs itself. You might wish them off the face of the earth when they whistle as you walk by, but the lack of a filter between thought and action is what makes for ‘a wholesome family entertainer’ when the director fails at his job.
As a fitting tribute to the men who had rescued our afternoon, my brother and I addressed each other as “Yov” and “Paw” during our ride home. We also promised each other that the next time we see a man with the front of his hair coloured pink, a Hawaiian shirt tucked into formal trousers and belted up, wearing Dike, Reebak or Odidas shoes, we will send out a silent salute through the airwaves.