(This is the unedited version of the column that appeared in The Sunday Times,on 5th July 2015. The published version can be read here.)
New Yorkers often talk of how often they enter a coffee shop and spot people like Woody Allen working casually. Or an A-list Hollywood star joining a street performer. Things like these don’t happen in India. We hardly ever see celebrities in their natural habitat. We don’t go to Juhu beach and spot Amitabh Bachchan enjoying a gola. Which is great for Amitabh Bachchan, because otherwise, he’d have to answer a lot of questions.
“Sir, how to get so tall, sir? Bless my son, sir”
“Sir, do you and Abhishek Sir and Aishwarya mam sing Kajra Re everyday? Tell na, please”
You get the drift.
Even so, a great thing happened at a Delhi bar last Wednesday. Chris Martin, the lead vocalist of British band Coldplay, performed for about 50 unsuspecting listeners on a whim, making them the most hated people in the country. The crowd grooved to acoustic versions of Coldplay’s greatest hits, while the bar owner grooved to the sound of free publicity. Delhi people who weren’t there cried at the missed opportunity of a selfie and a facebook check-in. Bombay people who weren’t there cried at something cool happening in Delhi, “of all places”. Bangalore people who weren’t there were, umm, okay: they’ve never been anywhere post 11p.m.
City clichés apart, it surely was a sign of changing times that so much noise was made in India over international music. Because otherwise, our countrymen have the endearing quality of walking up to a dubstep DJ and going “BHAI BOLLYWOOD BAJA NA!” More importantly, the fact that there have been no reports yet of a Delhi guy going “Perform at my farmhouse, Chris, I pay double. Otherwise I shoot.”, tells us that we might finally be learning how to behave with famous people. Because traditionally, we never have. We could be anyone, but show us a celebrity and we go crazy.
I remember this time I was stuck at Hyderabad airport after a delayed flight and I heard some typically angry comments. “Airline sucks. Airport sucks. Government sucks. Country sucks. You suck.” Until someone saw a familiar face and shouted “OH MY GOD, LOOK! RAJPAL YADAV!!” and the delayed flight became the best thing to have happened to everyone there. No celebrity is ever too irrelevant to get excited about.
I’m no different. Except that what I do to the said celebrity in my head is way more interesting than what I actually do. I run regularly at Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens, and almost every time, I see Jairam Ramesh on his evening walk. In the lead up to last year’s elections, only I know how I resisted the temptation to shout, “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega, BJP Jeetega!” on his face every time I ran past him. Sigh, if only I hadn’t grown up after college.
But this whole Chris Martin episode sets such a good precedent. The bar has been raised. Now if I don’t see important people in unexpected places, I’ll be very disappointed. Like, politicians in the parliament throughout the entire session. Or, going to a dargah and finding Narendra Modi offering a chaadar. So cute! I dare you not to go ‘Aww’ in a squeaky voice, even if you’re the most macho bouncer in a Gurgaon pub.
And I hope this pleasure isn’t restricted to just a certain strata of the Twitter-ised, bar hopping, iPhone owning strata of the society. We’ve got to let the benefits seep down to the deepest levels. I look forward to the day autowallahs and migrant labourers call for a strike because they just found Altaf Raja singing at a chai stall. Never mind the awkwardness Bangladeshi workers would feel on hearing ‘Tum toh tthehre pardesi’. It’ll be a great vibe, and I hope we become the kind of country where people break into unexpected jigs and states of trance at will.
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.
The writer is a Stand Up Comedian.