I know when I had just joined work at KT, a newspaper in Dubai, I got introduced to string hoppers and hoppers, and chumma! – all from the South of India. String hoppers, hoppers – no relation to creepy crawlies, are the Idi-appams in all their succulent, slippery deliciousness. But chumma, I was flummoxed with. My linguistic experience being largely limited to the North, West, and Centre of the country, to my best knowledge, chumma in Hindi meant ‘kiss’ as it still does, and to have fellow Indians mouthing it all over the place was certainly puzzling my liberal mind.
People would say chumma this, chumma that, chumma everything… and although I knew I was in a relatively more liberal space (at least for expats like us) in the UA of E, it took me a full three days to muster the courage to ask one of the interlocutors why chumma! and what did it mean. As it turned out, this “chumma” meant ‘whatever’ in one of the vernaculars of the southern part of the country.
Conversations ran something like,
#1 Me: Hey, what happened at the press meet? Other: Chumma, same old thing, what do you expect! Gotta put in my copy…
#2 Me: So, Barack Obama gets the Nobel. Other: Chumma!
#3 After a heated argument. Other: Chumma! Me: Chumma!
So, when I came across this new report about the moral police being up in arms against “chumma” in public, and then the pro-chumma-in-public brigade gearing up to give it back by organising a “chumma” protest, on November 2 that they wish to proclaim as “chumma” day… guess what I feel like saying – Chumma, kuch bhi! (translated as whatever, whatever!)
India is a place where sexist bullying (for I will not glamorize a crime by calling it eve-teasing) and sexual abuse, domestic violence, street violence, lynching, even shooting at someone with a gun, can all happen in broad daylight, but kissing, oh no! That’s where we draw the line.
We are fine, generally speaking, with expressions of lust, anger, intention to harm, humiliate, or hurt, or even kill, on the streets but an exchange of romantic affection will have us branded vulgar, maybe even thrashed by a “laila-majnu”-slayer cop, stared at disrespectfully by “well-meaning” and “decent” citizenry. Because, sorry, we are all being adults here. We may tolerate porn in our Assembly and on our TV screens, applaud as kids gyrate and twerk to racy Bollywood tracks, hell! even buy deos for the chance to meet Sunny Leone but tolerate kissing on the streets! – oh no.