Saturday, December 06, 2008

Travel - TIPS TO TOES IN SERVICE OF NATION

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Travel - TIPS TO TOES IN SERVICE OF NATION

A Delhi writer follows Sign Language lessons on the Border Roads.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

She is curvaceous. Feel the curves do not test them. Keep your cool. Self control. Take it easy.

-Darling I like you but not so fast.


To the innocent, such dialogues may seem straight out of a Palika Bazaar VCD. But XXX content it's not. Rather, this love-ly language is from New Delhi writer, Mr Ajay Jain's curiously titled PEEP PEEP DONT (sic) SLEEP, a journey through Indian road signs.

Mr Jain spent 3 weeks in Ladakh on some of the highest motorable roads in the world. His mission: to photograph the many signboards put up by the Border Roads Organisation. DRIVING FASTER CAN CAUSE DISASTER and MIND YOUR BRAKES OR BREAK YOUR MIND exemplify the rhyming couplets and play-on-words that the Border Roads' bard seems to favour.

With his magic quill and penchant for the UPPER CASE, these signs offer the motorist light relief on many a high mountain pass.

Nonsensical arguments (YELLOW TAPE PARENT CRYING), poor language (HTE CAUTIOUS SELDOM ERR), and ad-hoc spelling (CHEAK YOUR BRAKE) are all part of their allure.

Who knows how effective they are? If you are anything like Mr Jain, you run the risk of almost driving right over the edge of a cliff, as you rummage around for your camera.

The book contains visual evidence of the Border Road bard's safety sonnets. From the countless snapped on his Olympus Digital SLR, Mr Jain selected the best two hundred.

Seated in the sedate surroundings of Khan Market's Café Turtle, he confessed certain safety tips have a double meaning.

Of those that made the final cut, the subtextual references of one or two of them wouldn't get past Ms Sharmila Tagore's censor board scissors. DRIVING AND DRINKING A FATAL COCK-TAIL. What is the hyphen in 'cock-tale' supposed to mean? The caption questions. Perhaps Dostana boys John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan are best equipped to answer.

LOVE THE NEIGBOUR BUT NOT WHILE DRIVING. Else? Send the Padosan's husband on a road trip north? Such musings from the bard prompted a US radio channel to ask Jain if PEEP PEEP DONT (sic) SLEEP was suitable reading material for women and children.

Which got me thinking, who is responsible for this literary brilliance?

If picture books can get the Booker, this could well be the next White Tiger. The author himself doesn't seem to know the scribe behind the scrolls. MEN CUT THROUGH THE HILLS BUT JOINS (sic) THE HEARTS. Army people on the road just laughed and shrugged their soldiers, I mean shoulders, when Mr Jain tried to ascertain the identity of Mr. A.N. ONYMOUS.

My guess is, the faceless genius from the Border Roads Organisation is a young testosterone-fuelled soldier stationed at the virgin peaks of the Himalayas. Dreams of his village possibly inspire such verse as, SAFETY ON ROADS IS SAFE TEA AT HOME. His sole companions while erecting these signs, a government issued paintbrush and a well-thumbed copy of the Rapidex English Speaking Course.

But DONT GOSSIP WHILE DRIVING. So I drove straight to the horse's mouth – the office of Border Roads Organisation in New Delhi. "Is there a team of bureaucrats here pouring their brains over the crunchiest line?" I ask. "No, we are not the creative heads," says Colonel Neema, Director, Planning, Border Road Organisation. "These slogans are area specific and are thought upon by the chief engineer of that region who take inputs from workers on the site as well as road users." Got it, Colonel.

My next appointment was with Mr Steven Baker, coordinator of the British Council's creative writing course in New Delhi, about the idiosyncratic style of these notices.

"Indian English has many distinguishing features, these signs or signage (Ind. Eng.) abound in the grammar of this English variety," he says. "The anomalous language use found on the roadside, is perhaps the reason why my jeep driver crashed when I made the trip from Manali to Leh in 2001." Luckily, no one was injured.

As I left his office, Mr Baker reported, "The last English gentleman will be an Indian." Wow. I drove away happy, or in the words of the bard, SMILE BEGENTS SMILE.

2 comments:

Kartikey said...

Very well written, Mayank.

Anonymous said...

Mayanak, I'm pretty sure you havn't had much trouble asking "Mr" Baker for appointment. Almost colleages now huh!