We all take some long rides to and from work, and if you are not driving, there are various ways to while away time. Listening to FM radio and surfing the internet are what most people do. But I have lost interest in FM once I moved to Pune as I do not like the RJ’s, the ones in Delhi had a much better sense of humour. Anyone who has heard Anant and Saurabh (Mausam-Mausi fame) will agree. Being primitive in some respects, I do not have Whatsapp and prefer to use my phone mostly for short chats with folks and close friends, so out goes the second option. Albeit I am not asleep, the rational conclusion is that I simply daydream on my journeys.
Not entirely true. I have embarked on an interesting pastime, reading banners and signs above shops, and messages behind trucks or other commercial vehicles, restaurant menus, anything where the much revered English language is morphed to some alien tongue. Some are witty, some downright foolish and some are outrageously new additions to the dictionary. The best sign I have read behind a truck remains “Pi le Rani, Iraq ka Paani “, spotted during a journey from Haridwar to Rishikesh on a cold December morning back in 2006.
What is most interesting is the kind of spelling mistakes you come across on billboards and signs, and this is true in most parts of the country which rely more on local dialect than the Queen’s language. But what humor they induce into a dull day!! There was a time when my husband and I worked in the same organization in Noida, and took the same bus to commute to and from office. This was our stress buster during those journeys. Although the little ones have skipped my aging mind, the one epic mistake which still launches us into hysteric laughter, was on the signboard of an alcohol shop. They were selling “Child Beer” instead of the chilled variety, which most people would prefer. I wonder if paranoid parents launched an attack on the shop owners to save their children from seeing this advertising menace.
Shop signs are very businesslike in other countries, and I bet there must be very few places in the world besides India where such variety in color, content and humor can be spotted. Imagine the dread when you find out you’ve been setting aside crores to invest in a “Raw House”. Whether these blunders are intentional or just mere oversight, remains a mystery. I cannot imagine how anyone would put up with a wrong spelling on their establishment’s signboard. It is sacrosanct. No doubt it provides some very good publicity to people like me, who hardly forget a shop where I spot something hilarious, like my next door property agents claiming to “Bye, Sell, Rent”. Got the joke, right?
Every few days a new eatery springs up in the neighborhood, and their menus get dropped at our doorstep. Take a minute to browse through them, and before you know, you are rolling on the floor, laughing. “Human” Style sauce might send shivers down the spine of anyone expecting Hunan sauce with their noodles, and poor “Mutton T Ghosh” might annoy the palate of hungry diners who ordered Mutton Rogan Josh.
Great artists are born of humble beginnings, like M F Hussain, who painted film posters before he became this art maestro we all know him as. Whether or not our signboard painters will have the same fortune is hard to tell. Indulge in this quirky game while you can, for soon you may be driving, and traffic may be the only thing you can watch out for.