If sociologists are asked to define the modern Indian society in just one sentence, they will probably use the equation: ‘A ∝ P’ where A = ‘Aukaat’ and P = ‘Pehchaan’. Known as ‘Odkhaan’ in Gujarati and ‘Proximity to Lalu Yadav’ in Bihari, it’s literal meaning is ‘Contacts i.e. ‘a list of people who you call only when you need a favor’.It is as much a part of an Indian’s life as is burping in public places, acting sanctimonious on Internet forums and marrying a stranger the moment you hit your mid -20s. (Early-20s if you’re girl, early-10s if you’re a girl from Haryana).
I would say at the onset that having contacts is not a bad thing. Man has evolved to become a social creature and needs the help and support of others to get through in life. Hell, we even coined a name for it: ‘Networking’ and wrote countless books about it. Trust humans to turn the simple art of conversation into something with a catchy name and well-defined, methodically researched steps. I’d love to meet the guy who came up with this term. He probably calls ‘Eating’ as ‘Calorie-replenish-itization’ and ‘Breathing’ as ‘Oxo-intak-alysis’. But of course, leave it to Indians to take it too far, like we do with almost everything. There’s this thing called ‘Racism’, cool let’s be the most racist country on the planet. There’s this concept called ‘Freedom of Speech’, brilliant, let’s verbally abuse each other every chance we get because the Constitution says we can. A sport called ‘Cricket’ exists, OK, let’s act like Cersei Lannister and kill off all other sports because cricket is our Joffrey. India has grown to rely so much on contacts that tasks which can easily be done by typing a few words into a site called ‘Google’ are still being done with a call to a schoolmate with whom you haven’t spoken to in 4353012 years and asking him ‘Bhai, koi pehchan hai? Apna bhi jugaad kar de’
Nowhere and I mean, NOWHERE, is this ‘Contact Culture’ (Ha, coined a new phrase, main bhi management guru) more noticeable than at the pan stained and gutkha scented hell holes we call government offices. If you thought that simply walking into a government office with the requisite forms and documents would be enough to get your job done, you are more wrong that Mallika Sherawat’s Twitter bio which reads Bollywood Star(Air quotes swadanusar). You will be shunted from one desk to the other, asked to get inane things like your insurance policy, your first baby tooth, the 14th page of ‘The Goblet of Fire’ and the love letter you wrote to the girl in the first grade which all your friends found out about and you eventually changed schools due to the incessant teasing (Didn’t happen to me, happened to a friend, I swear). Even if you do channel your inner Hercules and perform the 12 Labors needed to procure these items, your work will drag on for months on end because the Bade Saheb who is supposed to sign the approval is at lunch. Yes, EVERY FREAKING TIME you go to see him, the guy is at lunch. I mean, not coming to work and spending his entire day at a restaurant, who does the guy think he is: an American sitcom character?
Now, envision a scenario where you ‘know a guy’ in the government office. You can saunter into the office like you own the place, cut across lines, sneer at the ‘honest’ queued people as if they were Upen Patel and get your work done faster than you can say ‘Mahatma Gandhi’. Special bonus if your daddy or mommy is in the government, then you’re treated like a prince where the government employees fill forms for you and all that daddy needs to do is treat the entire office to a cutting chai and a half-packet of Parle – G.
So, as you can see, the benefits of the Contact Culture are immense and no wonder, it has seeped like the rain through the Mumbai Metro which we call life. Want to see a cricket match? Well, find a guy who knows the local MLA and you can watch the match for free, surrounded by similar freeloading suck-ups like yourself. Want to spend Sunday night boogying at the concert in the city? Well, just find a guy who knows the sponsor and get tickets to the latest EDM concert even though your playlist consists of only Yo Yo Honey Singh songs. You’re a sad lonely mechanical engineer who wants to hit on that pretty chick in the Civil department? Well, just get her number from a friend whose brother’s kajin(Hinglish for cousin) is her classmate and you can spend all evening sending her messages like ‘Hai Dear, Hwz U?’, ‘Cn v b frnds?’ and ‘Slct 1 color nd I vl tell u scrt abt u’ which may seem like some freaky alien language but actually translates to ‘I’m a sick, sick douchebag who doesn’t understand the concept of stalking or even soap for that matter’. In short, if you know the right people and have practiced your ass-kissing skills well, your life in India will be a breeze, a desert breeze which brings the foul stench of a camel carcass with it, but a breeze nevertheless.
The vice-like grip of Contact Culture snares an Indian throughout his or her life. At birth, prospective parents ask relatives to recommend gynecologists who can help them find out through sonograms whether their child will be a boy or an abortion. When it’s time for marriage, a hunt for a Dhang Ka Ladka starts through mutual friends and family because the girl has reached a marriageable age. Proof : She has , HEAVEN FORBID, started wearing shorts and going to Barista. Finally, at the funeral pyre/ grave (See, I’m secular) a contact in the newspaper business is sought out to print an obituary along with a contact in the legal fraternity to sneakily print a different will. But, hey at least when you’re dead, you don’t need any more contacts, right? Not a chance. Sadly, the Indian obsession with contacts manifests even at the gates of Swarga or Heaven where they are found telling Yamaraj: ‘Are Meri Indra se jaan pehchaan hai, kuch setting kar do na sahab’