As I walked the lawns of the Hofburg, the dazzling palace of the Hapsburg emperors, my eyes were drawn to a group of hippie types smoking, quite openly, a few exquisitely colored and shaped Bongs. Being a Bong myself (and a great one at that), I naturally stopped to admire.
A little context. Our conference was being held in Baden (not to be confused with Baden Baden…that’s in Germany), the pleasure retreat of a few of the dudes who habitated the Hofburg and one afternoon, I sneaked away after the bluster and verbiage to do some site-seeing in Vienna or as the locals call it Wien.
Not having a guide book and also not having much time, I just wandered around the Opera House and the lawns on the Hofburg, marveling at its grandeur and its manicured lawns (where the Bong smoking was going on). Only later did I realize that for a long time what I had been enraptured by was only the backside of the palace——feeling quite like a fool I then wended my way to the front side. Boy oh boy –all I can say is that Hofburg is no JLo— the front is much more magnificent than the back.
Coming back to the Bong thing, I then perceived two magnificent Gothic looking ladies locked in a passionate tongue kiss amidst the pastoral surroundings and in a dreamy, translucent state of foggy remembrance, my mind went back to the days of the powerful and decadent Hapsburg emperors who must have used these very lawns to engage in bacchanalian orgies to the ethereal tunes of some of the world’s greatest composers. These two exquisite ladies in the throes of passion (reminiscent of the Ecstacty of St Theresa) was to me a time warp harking me back to the days of yore…………
Brought back to reality by the mundane familiar ugliness of the word, I saw two burly desis shouting at each other in a very unMozart-like cadence——obviously two employees of a Indian restaurant very near the garden gates. Very close by was another Sher-e-Punjab and as I cast my eyes around I saw that the palace of the Hapsburgs and its classical Western European aura of orgiastic yet refined extravagance has been worn away by the depredations wrought by two of the world’s greatest cultural imperialists—India and America.
Starbucks and McDonalds rub shoulders with the India Mahal and Taste of India and as I glanced at the menu of one of these Indian places, I heard not the strains of Brahms or Strauss but an instrumental version of “Taal Se Taal” .
No such relief on the telly though. The top song on the TV stations of the nerve center of classical Western musical tradition was “Don’t cha wish your girl friend was a freak like me…Don’t cha?” by the imaginatively-titled “Pussycat Dolls” (with Busta Rhymes). But my biggest surprise was seeing the prevalence of India on European TV—–a pleasant change from what we get in the US.
While watching “Jalsaghar” and “Teen Kanya” was a surprising bonus, what really cracked me up was watching “Kuch Kuch Hota Hain” dubbed in German. “Rahul ist ein Ubenbrucker” coming from Kajol was simply ethereal. Only pity was that they kept the songs non-dubbed and subtitled—-what would I pay to hear a German singer start out with that nasal Sanuesque “He he he …..he he he” before “Ladki Bari Anjani Hain”.
I looked into my TV guide supplied by the hotel which was in both German and English. KKHH was described as ” After losing his first wife, a man realizes that his best friend in college was the one whom he ever truly loved. A heart-warming story of …………..”. On reading this, I realized , for the first time, what a masterpiece KKHH was…….I always thought of it as a saccharine monstrosity anchored by a over-precocious girl who deserved two tight slaps. But since the uber-refined Austrians consider it a gem, who am I to argue ?
Next week would be Mohabbatein–“an eternal love story” (according to the TV guide) [eternal it is…..with 5 love stories going on in parallel it does give us a glimpse into “eternity”] featuring one of the world’s most popular actors—-Shahrukh Khan. In another TV spot on “Main Hoon Na” I could make out from the German that he was being compared to Tom Cruise, Cary Grant and a few other luminaries. Of course if David Hasselhof could be God here, then why not Shahrukh?
During another conference-sponsored trip to Europe in 2003, I had marveled at how intrinsicly desi Switzerland had become—signs in Hindi, Indian honeymooners posing for Patel shots ad nauseum, a desi restaurant with giant cut outs of Sunny Deol at Jungfraujoch, a special Bollywood tourist route (for Bollyphiles who want to look at exact locations where scenes from DDLJ and Chandni were shot) and an Indian couple fighting with an exasperated proprietor who was trying to explain, in vain, that in a buffet two people cannot eat from one plate.
And now Austria. The day is not far off when the Opera House in downtown Vienna shall resonate with the cultural sledgehammer otherwise known as “Bollywood night” and European open air cafes shall start serving samosas and jalebis.
That will also be the day Amadeus Mozart, in his nameless casket, shall wring his hands in quiet desperation and start “de-composing”.